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July Nuclear News Round-Up

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📸: Vogtle 3 and 4 (Image: Georgia Power)

Welcome back to another Nuclear News Round Up – where we delve into the latest developments and stories from the ever-evolving world of nuclear energy. July 2023 was an exciting month in the nuclear energy industry. Highlights include key milestones achieved by Georgia Power for their Vogtle unit 4 nuclear power plant, Energy Harbor's license renewal application for the Perry nuclear power plant, and a significant shift in financial and investor interests toward nuclear power. Let’s get into it!

Next Steps Taken for the Vogtle 4 by Georgia Power

Georgia Power has announced that all 364 inspections, tests, and analyses, known as Inspections, Tests, Analyses, and Acceptance Criteria (ITAACs), have been successfully completed and documented for the Vogtle unit 4 nuclear power plant. These ITAACs must be confirmed before fuel can be loaded into a new reactor, ensuring that the facility has been properly built and will operate in accordance with its license, the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954, and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) regulations.

The next step involves receiving the 103(g) finding from the NRC, after which no further NRC findings will be necessary for Southern Nuclear, a subsidiary of Southern Power like Georgia Power, to load fuel and commence the start-up sequence. All 157 required fuel assemblies for the operation of Vogtle 4 have been delivered to the site, inspected, and transferred to new fuel storage racks. Fuel loading is expected to occur later in 2023, with Vogtle 4 set to start service either later in the year or early in 2024.

This comes over a decade after the construction of two Westinghouse AP1000s began at the site near Waynesboro, with work starting on unit 3 in March 2013 and unit 4 in November of the same year. Vogtle 3, the first new reactor to start up in the USA since 2016, reached full power in May and is currently in the final stages of start-up testing. The construction project was taken over by Southern Nuclear and Georgia Power in 2017 after Westinghouse filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The units are co-owned by Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power, and Dalton Utilities, and will be operated by Southern Nuclear.

Perry Nuclear Power Plant Files for Extension

Energy Harbor has submitted its initial license renewal application for the Perry nuclear power plant, requesting an extension for an additional 20 years of operation, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The application, dated July 3, and spanning 2,427 pages, is now accessible on the NRC’s website.

Energy Harbor, based in Akron, Ohio, owns and operates the Perry plant and two other nuclear plants, Davis-Besse in Ohio and Beaver Valley in Pennsylvania. The company had announced its intention to seek a license renewal for the Perry plant in May 2020. Perry’s original 40-year operating license, for its 1,273-MWe boiling water reactor, is due to expire on November 7, 2026.

The two pressurized water reactors at Beaver Valley and the PWR at Davis Besse received NRC approval for license extension in 2009 and 2015, respectively.

The NRC staff is currently reviewing the Perry application to ascertain its completeness, after which it will conduct detailed safety and environmental reviews. If approved, the application will be docketed, and staff will publish a notice of the opportunity to request a hearing before an NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.

In related news, in March, Texas-based Vistra Corporation, owner of the Comanche Peak nuclear plant, announced a $3.43 billion deal to acquire Energy Harbor. The approved deal will merge Vistra's nuclear and retail businesses and its renewables and storage projects with Energy Harbor's nuclear and retail businesses, under a new subsidiary called Vistra Vision. The acquisition would make the new entity the second-largest competitive nuclear fleet in the nation.

In October last year, Vistra submitted a license renewal application for Comanche Peak's two PWRs. The current operating licenses for these reactors, Units 1 and 2, will expire on February 8, 2030, and February 2, 2033, respectively.

Increased Need for Nuclear Power and Energy in Wake of Record-Breaking Heat Waves

The recent record-breaking heat waves have highlighted the pressing issue of grid reliability, increasing the demand for new nuclear power due to its consistent maximum power production. The Department of Energy and McKinsey & Company both anticipate an expanded role for nuclear power in the energy transition, a perspective that's gained the attention of the financial sector.

A few significant trends have emerged this year. First, uranium, the mineral essential for fueling most future and existing reactors, has been experiencing a bull market, attracting the interest of Wall Street and retail investors. Second, the role of nuclear power in Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing has been frequently discussed. Finally, the financial community is beginning to view advanced nuclear—especially small modular reactors—as an emerging market deserving of attention.

Several notable announcements have driven these conversations, including developments by U.S. companies pushing nuclear industry innovation, such as Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp.'s plans for a $232 million micro-reactor assembly plant, NuScale Power's case for small modular reactor applications in industrial processes, and Westinghouse's unveiling of its AP300™ Small Modular Reactor.

Internationally, nuclear power is gaining recognition as a global solution for climate change and energy security. Westinghouse secured a key contract for its AP1000® Reactor with Bulgaria’s Kozloduy NPP-Newbuild, and the Biden Administration announced a global public-private commitment of up to $275 million to advance NuScale VOYGR Deployment in Romania.

With the increasing consensus around clean, reliable nuclear energy in response to climate change and energy security needs, investors and customers are expressing interest. These developments point to a future where nuclear power helps secure an affordable, net-zero energy solution. In other news, Oklo recently revealed plans to go public through Sam Altman’s SPAC.

Wrapping Up

This month's round-up serves as a powerful reminder of the dynamic and forward-moving nature of the nuclear energy sector. As we continue to see, nuclear power is increasingly recognized as a crucial player in the transition towards sustainable energy, both in the US and globally. It also reiterates the key role of regulatory bodies like the NRC, ensuring the safety and efficiency of nuclear operations. The intersection of technology, finance, and energy policy provides a fascinating landscape for future developments in nuclear energy. So, keep an eye on this space for more updates, as we navigate through the exciting advances and the challenges the sector faces in its quest to provide clean, reliable, and affordable power.

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