Traditional large reactors, advanced reactors and small, modular reactors (“SMRs”) are seeing a rise in interest spurred on by a number of significant events, including the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (and the clean energy associated tax credits) last August, movements toward decarbonization, and increased focus on energy security. We previously wrote about this recent surge, which we began to see emerge in earnest last Spring, largely—but not entirely—in response to the energy crises created after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February.
And these developments aren’t just in electricity generation—with X-energy and Dow announcing a few days ago the next step in their partnership to site an X-energy reactor at a Dow chemical plant to provide both carbon-free process heat for the plant and carbon-free power. This project was initially announced over the summer (and which we wrote about here), and is particularly noteworthy because it shows how nuclear can be used to abate carbon emissions in the industrial sector, a traditionally difficult sector to tackle from a climate-change perspective but which nonetheless makes up nearly 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
Of further note, also last week, Westinghouse announced that it would be seeking joint design approval from both the U.S. and Canadian nuclear regulators for its 5 MW micro-reactor design, eVinci, which is a 5MW designed to operate for eight years or longer without refueling and is factory built and assembled before shipping. This request takes advantage of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (“NRC”) and Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s memorandum of cooperation (“MOU”) signed in 2019, to facilitate technical reviews and collaboration on advanced nuclear and SMR technologies. This announcement is significant because strengthened collaborations will streamline regulatory approvals during a time where there is increased pressure to license new and innovative technologies in a timely and efficient manner. Westinghouse also had a number of new developments emerge related to projects in Europe, as did GE-Hitachi and NuScale.
And a number of Universities made announcements involving plants for new reactors. In part as a result of the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act, the federal government and universities are looking to microreactors as potential sources of power and for research. Universities are interested in the technology not just to power their buildings but to see how far it can go in replacing the coal and gas-fired energy that causes climate change.
Below is a short overview on these and some of the noteworthy announcements involving U.S. Companies from around the globe, broken down into the U.S. and Canada, Europe, and announced projects at U.S. universities.
United States & Canada
- X-energy/Dow Partnership. On March 1, 2023, Dow a materials science company announced that Dow would become a sub-awardee under X-energy’s U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (“ARDP”) grant, a 50/50 cost share award of $1B+ to demonstrate an X-energy reactor. The companies also announced that they entered into a joint development agreement (“JDA”) to demonstrate the first grid-scale advanced nuclear reactor for an industrial site in North America. Under the ARDP, X-energy is expected to build and commence operations of its reactor, the Xe-100, by the end of this decade.
Under the ARDP, Dow will work with X-energy to install their Xe-100 high-temperature gas-cooled reactor plant at one of Dow’s U.S. Gulf Coast sites, providing the site with safe, reliable, low-carbon power and steam within this decade. The signed JDA includes up to $50 million in engineering work, up to half of which is eligible to be funded through ARDP, and the other half by Dow. The JDA work scope also includes the preparation and submission of a Construction Permit application to the NRC.
Additionally, the companies have agreed to develop a framework to jointly license and utilize the technology and learnings from the project, which would enable other industrial customers to effectively utilize Xe-100 industrial low carbon energy technology.
- Westinghouse. A couple weeks ago, Westinghouse announced its plans to secure design approval from both U.S. and Canadian regulators for its eVinci reactor, which is intended to be used as a ready-made power source for industrial facilities and remote communities. At the end of February 2023, Westinghouse filed a Notice of Intent to submit licensing reports to the NRC and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission – defining transportation requirements, factory safety testing and inspection programs for the microreactor that would allow Westinghouse to deploy a standard design in both countries.
The report topics for joint review include a common set of key requirements for the classification of systems, structures and components for the eVinci microreactor. This approach will enable deployment of a standard design in both the U.S. and Canada. Other topics for review are defining the necessary transportation requirements for shipment of the eVinci microreactor across the border and factory safety testing and inspection programs.
- NuScale. In January 2023, the NRC published the final rule for NuScale’s design certification, and on February 28, 2023, the Utah Association for Municipal Power (“UAMPS”), which includes a consortium of cities in Utah, Idaho, New Mexico and Nevada, overwhelmingly voted to moved ahead with UAMPS plan to build a power plant using the NuScale reactor design at Idaho National Laboratory (“INL”).
While INL is a Department of Energy site, the project would be a commercial power project—known as the “Carbon Free Power Project”—and would include six-reactors providing about 462 MWs of power, starting in the 2030 timeframe.
- GE-Hitachi. GE-Hitachi continues to make progress on its SMR initiatives in Canada. As we have discussed previously, in late 2021, Ontario Power Generation selected GE Hitachi to partner on deployment of a BWRX-300 SMR at the Darlington site in Ontario by as early as 2028. GEH’s BWRX-300 design is a 300 MWe water-cooled, natural circulation SMR with passive safety systems that leverages the design and licensing basis of GEHs ESBWR boiling water reactor.
On May 26, 2022, a Canadian subsidiary of GE Hitachi signed an MOU with the Saskatchewan Industrial and Mining Supplier’s Association, for deployment of a BWRX-300 in Saskatchewan.
- General. On February 28, 2023, during the Council of Energy Ministers in Stockholm, ministers and high-level representatives from eleven Member States called for enhanced cooperation in nuclear energy, and signed an official declaration committing to cooperation across the entire nuclear supply chain, and to promote “common industrial projects” in new generation capacity as well as new technologies like SMRs. The signed declaration jointly reaffirms the parties’ desire to strengthen European collaboration on nuclear energy. The eleven signatories include Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
- Poland. On February 22, U.S. reactor vendor Westinghouse signed a contract with the Polish state-owned company leading the investment, Polskie Elektrownie Jadrowe, to conduct joint preparation activities for the design of the country’s first nuclear power plant. The February contract covers work in ten main areas—including the development of a detailed delivery model, preparation of a security assessment and quality program, as well as identifying potential Polish suppliers for the project.
In November 2022, the Polish government announced that it has selected Westinghouse’s AP1000 nuclear reactor technology to advance the country’s clean and secure energy future. Specifically, Poland’s Council of Ministers formally approved a resolution selecting Westinghouse to be the technology supplier for the Polish government’s six to nine GWe nuclear program. This program will start with three reactors at the Lubiatowo-Kopalino site in northern Poland, with the first unit intended to be operational in 2033.
In addition to the two reactors nearing completion at the Vogtle site in Georgia, four AP1000 units are currently setting operational performance records in China with four additional reactors under construction, and two more planned in China.
- Ukraine. Ukraine has previous announced that it intends to build nine AP1000s. According to the country's energy ministry, the target date to complete construction and start-up of the two power units at Khmelnitsky is 2030-2032, subject to the impact of the current war. On January 23, 2023, the Cabinet of Ministers in Ukraine gave the approved work to begin on project documentation for the construction of two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors at the Khmelnitsky nuclear power plant. Then cabinet decision means that a technical and economic feasibility study and other project documentation can be taken forward.
- Czech-Republic. At the end of February 2023, Westinghouse and Bechtel hosted the Czech Republic Supplier Summit and welcomed 55 potential suppliers for the AP1000 project. Both Westinghouse and Bechtel were selected to support the Czech Republic’s planned expansion of its nuclear power fleet with the AP1000 at the Dukovany nuclear site, with the potential for a second unit there and two additional units at the Temelin site. Westinghouse and Bechtel will continue to engage with the Czech supply base to fulfill key roles in procurement of equipment and construction of the reactors.
- Bulgaria. A couple days ago, on March 2, Westinghouse announced that it signed an MOU to initiate planning for the potential deployment of one or more of its AP1000 reactors at Bulgaria's Kozloduy nuclear power plant. The MOU establishes a joint working group to "evaluate regulatory, licensing and design bases to ensure full compliance with applicable regulations as well as a streamlined execution path to enable Bulgaria to achieve its nuclear energy goals.”
Kozloduy NPP-Newbuild is a special project company owned by the single operating nuclear power plant in Bulgaria and specifically established to manage the project to build one or two nuclear reactors at the Kozloduy NPP site, using the advantages of existing infrastructure and advanced licensing and environmental status.
There are currently two Russian-designed VVER-1000 reactors in operation at the Kozloduy site. Westinghouse signed a 10-year agreement in December 2022 to supply nuclear fuel to one of the units starting in 2024.
- Estonia. On February 8, 2023, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s BWRX-300 SMR was selected by Fermi Energia for potential deployment in Estonia’s first nuclear power plant initiative. The potential deployment is estimated to occur by the early 2030s. In September 2022, Fermi Energia said it would accept tenders from three SMR developers: GE Hitachi, NuScale and Rolls-Royce. Bids with the comprehensive technical documentation needed to estimate the construction cost were expected by December.
Having selected GE Hitachi, Fermi Energia announced that it will now sign a project development and preliminary works contract. It is currently undergoing a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission pre-licensing Vendor Design Review and an NRC pre-application design review.
- Romania. NuScale continues to make SMR progress in Romania. At the end of 2022, the company signed a contract with Romania's RoPower Nuclear S.A. for front-end engineering and design (“FEED”) work for the deployment of a VOYGR-6 SMR power plant at Doicești. The signing of a FEED contract by RoPower and NuScale is a significant step toward the deployment of a VOYGR plant in Romania.
The FEED contract follows a May 2022 MOU between NuScale and state-owned nuclear power corporation Nuclearelectrica to begin conducting engineering studies, technical reviews, and licensing and permitting activities for the project. The first phase of FEED work will define the major site and specific inputs for a VOYGR-6 SMR power plant at Doicești. The eight-month project will include the issuance of subcontracts to perform the environmental impact assessment and subsurface geotechnical investigation, the evaluation of site and site-specific requirements for NuScale's standard plant design, and the development of a project-specific cost estimate.
- The University of Illinois plans to advance the technology as part of a clean energy future, to apply for a construction permit for a high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor developed by the Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, and aims to start operating it by early 2028. In 2020, the University of Illinois joined with the Ultra Safe to propose deploying the first Generation IV nuclear reactor on a University campus.
- Last year, Penn State University signed an MOU with Westinghouse to collaborate on microreactor technology. Penn State wants to prove the technology so that Appalachian industries, such as steel and cement manufacturers, may be able to use it, said Professor Jean Paul Allain, head of the nuclear engineering department. Similarly, Purdue University is working with Duke Energy on the feasibility of using advanced nuclear energy to meet its long-term energy needs.
- Abilene Christian University in Texas is leading a group with other universities with the company Natura Resources to design and build a research microreactor cooled by molten salt to allow for high temperature operations at low pressure, in part to help train the next generation nuclear workforce. Additionally, in 2022, Abilene Christian University’s Nuclear Energy experimental Testing Lab submitted an application for a construction permit with the NRC for building the molten salt research reactor.
For more information on any of the latest developments, please contact Amy Roma, Partner, or Stephanie Fishman, Associate.