UK Gives First Consent for Hinkley Point C EPRs.The UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) on March 27 gave its approval to allow a consortium to begin placing structural concrete for a series of underground reinforced concrete structures at the Hinkley Point C site. The consent is the first of many the project will need from the agency, which said it will continue to regulate activities at the site at “hold points” to ensure it has full regulatory control over the various construction and commissioning stages through the start of operation. The first consent, though, is an important milestone for the controversial $28 billion nuclear project in Somerset, England. The project—the nation’s first new nuclear plant in nearly 20 years—will comprise two AREVA-designed EPRs. The plant is majority-owned by France’s EDF Energy; China General Nuclear has a 33.5% stake in the project.
UK Green Lights Westinghouse’s AP1000 Reactor Design. On March 30, the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation, the Environment Agency, and Natural Resources Wales deemed Westinghouse’s AP1000 nuclear reactor design suitable for construction in the UK. The much-awaited approval came a day after the U.S. company that is owned by Japan’s Toshiba Corp. sought bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Westinghouse in 2007 initiated the generic design assessment that is required for new builds in the UK. The UK regulatory agencies granted Westinghouse interim design acceptance confirmation in 2011, but they required the company to resolve 51 issues before they could close the assessment. In early 2015, Westinghouse’s parent company Toshiba bought a majority stake (60%) in NuGeneration, a company that has announced plans to build three AP1000 units at Moorside in West Cumbria. France’s Engie owns the remaining 40%. While Toshiba and Westinghouse have reported steep losses stemming from delays at its four AP1000 reactors that are under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, the companies said the bankruptcy filing wouldn’t affect projects outside the U.S. These include four AP1000 reactors under construction in China, the three proposed Moorside reactors, and six reactors proposed for construction in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
European TSOs to Explore Power Link Islands in North Sea. Three European transmission system operators—TenneT TSO B.V. from the Netherlands, Danish firm Energinet, and Germany’s TenneT TSO GmbH—on March 23 signed an agreement to develop a “North Sea Wind Power Hub,” which, they said, has the potential to supply 70 million to 100 million European consumers with renewable energy by 2050. The hub involves building one or more large artificial islands in the middle of the North Sea that could connect thousands of future offshore wind turbines. The TSOs said one of these “Power Link” islands, which would be built in shallow waters and in optimal wind conditions for offshore wind farms, could distribute and transmit wind power via direct-current connections to all countries bordering the North Sea: the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, the UK, Norway, and Belgium. The wind connectors could also function as interconnectors between the energy markets in these countries, allowing them to trade power. TenneT and Energinet will now “spend a few years” investigating the details and potential for one or more Power Link islands. If the project comes to fruition, an island could be built as soon as 2035.
TenneT in March also noted that a decrease in natural gas prices and high import volumes of solar and wind energy from Germany prompted a record drop in average day-ahead electricity prices within the Western European electricity market over the first eight months of 2016. From September to December, however, prices increased due to a power crunch stemming from nuclear plant troubles in France and Belgium. In October 2016, “an interesting switch took place” as the Netherlands, which typically imports power, began exporting power, and France began importing power, it said.
Kudankulam 2 Begins Commercial Operation.The second unit of the Kudankulam nuclear power project in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu started commercial operation on March 31. The VVER-1000 reactor was built by ASE Engineering Co., the engineering arm of Russian state-owned nuclear power entity Rosatom, for the Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd., an Indian government enterprise that oversees its nuclear power plants. It was synchronized to the grid in August 2016, having attained criticality in July 2016. It joins Kudankulam Unit 1, which has been grid-connected since October 2013. Both reactors were built with technical cooperation with the Russian Federation. Excavation on the second phase of the Kudankulam project (Units 3 and 4) has already been sanctioned by the government and is in progress.
GEH, ARC Nuclear Partner to Accelerate Commercialization of Sodium-Cooled Fast SMR. GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and Advanced Reactor Concepts (ARC Nuclear) on March 13 signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to collaborate in the development and licensing of an advanced small modular reactor (SMR) based on Generation IV sodium-cooled reactor technology. GEH and ARC Nuclear have each developed advanced reactor designs based on the EBR-II, an integral sodium-cooled fast reactor prototype that was developed by Argonne National Laboratory and operated for more than 30 years at Idaho Falls, Idaho. GEH’s PRISM reactor is designed to refuel every 12 to 24 months, while the ARC-100 is a 100-MW unit designed to operate for up to 20 years without refueling. While the companies noted there are more than 90 advanced nuclear technology and SMR designs under various stages of development, the company said sodium fast reactors are the most mature advanced reactor technology. Under the MOU, the companies agreed to enter into a pro-competitive collaboration to speed up progress on the joint SMR design for global power generation, planning to initially deploy it in Canada. Their next steps will entail pursuing a preliminary regulatory review by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission through its vendor design review process. They will also now work to confirm projected construction and operating costs, and identify a lead plant owner/operator for the SMR.
Iberdrola Bags Contract for 766-MW Combined Cycle Plant in Mexico.Spanish multinational power firm Iberdrola on March 22 announced it had been awarded the contract for the Topolobampo III combined cycle power plant, a 766-MW facility to be built in the municipality of Ahome, Sinaloa. The company, which is Mexico’s largest private power producer, will build, operate, and maintain the $400 million project. It will also sell its production to the Mexican Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) under a 25-year contract with fixed capacity fees when the project begins operation, likely in January 2020. The project will be equipped with HO1 gas turbines fabricated by GE. In March, Iberdrola also announced it will begin construction on its first two large-scale photovoltaic power plants in Mexico: the 100-MW Hermosillo and 170-MW Santiago photovoltaic plants, located in Sonora and San Luís Potosí, respectively.
MHPS Inks New Deal for J-Series Gas Turbine. Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems(MHPS) signed an agreement with Iberdrola on March 20 for two M501J gas turbines, a steam turbine, a spare gas turbine rotor, and a long-term service agreement for the 850-MW El Carmen combined cycle power plant, located in Nuevo León, Mexico. The El Carmen turbines are scheduled for delivery in 2018, with commercial operation expected in September 2019. MHPS said that its fleet of G- and J-Series Advanced Class Gas Turbines recently achieved a major milestone by registering 4 million actual operating hours of service, making MHPS the only original equipment manufacturer to offer long-term product verification prior to commercialization.
Kansai to Mothball Three Oil-Fired Units. Japan’s Kansai Electric Power Co. on March 16 announced it would mothball three of four oil-fired generation units at its 2,100-MW Kainan oil-fired power plant in western Japan, citing diminished power demand. Units 1 and 2, each with a capacity of 450 MW, were expected to be mothballed on April 1. The 600-MW Unit 3 will be mothballed on June 9. Kansai pegged falling power demand on Japan’s drive to improve energy efficiency after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.
European Commission OKs Belgian Plan to Keep Reactors Open. On March 17, the European Commission said Belgium’s plans to compensate Engie-Electrabel and EDF Belgium for potential financial risks linked to long-term operation of three Belgian nuclear reactors—Tihange 1, Doel 1, and Doel 2—are in line with European Union state aid rules. Belgium struck two agreements with the power companies between 2014 and 2015 to prolong the operational lifetime of the nuclear reactors. Under the agreements, the companies will invest around €1.3 billion in the plants in exchange for regulatory approval to run them for another 10 years. It means that if Belgium moves to shutter the reactors before the 10-year period ends, the companies will receive financial compensation. The European Commission concluded that the measure would ensure liquidity on Belgian electricity markets and help increase competition between electricity suppliers. ■
—Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor