Areva modular reactor selected for NGNP development

15 February 2012

An Areva prismatic steam-cycle high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (SC-HTGR) concept has been selected by the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) Industry Alliance as the optimum design for next generation nuclear power plants. In addition to generating electricity, these modular plants could produce process heat for use by industry.

Antares (Areva)
Areva's Antares HTGR design

The US Energy Policy Act of 2005 established the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) project to develop, construct and operate a prototype HTGR and associated electricity or hydrogen production facilities by 2021. The legislation stipulated that the NGNP project was to be led by the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and that a cost-sharing arrangement should be entered into with the private sector. For this purpose, the NGNP Industry Alliance - which includes major reactor vendors and potential end users - was established in 2009. The total cost of the project is currently estimated at some $4 billion.

Three companies were selected to conduct design and engineering studies for the NGNP: General Atomics, Areva and Westinghouse/PBMR. General Atomics submitted conceptual plant configurations based on its Gas-Turbine Modular Helium Reactor (GT-MHR), while Areva put forward concepts based on its similar Antares HTGR design. Meanwhile, Westinghouse and PBMR submitted conceptual configurations based on the pebble bed modular reactor (PBMR). A subsequent evaluation by INL considered comparative advantages of the concepts for design, analysis, safety and operational performance attributes. The NGNP Industry Alliance has now evaluated the work completed by INL.

The Alliance said that it had reached the same conclusions as INL: that there is "currently no substantive technical differentiation that provides the basis for choosing the reactor design concept - whether pebble bed or prismatic; there currently is no reason to believe that there will be a substantial difference in the costs and plant economic evaluations outside of the achievable power rating; and, either design concept can be successfully licensed." However, the Alliance noted that the "only practical differentiators are associated with the anticipated difference in capital cost for the range of reactor concept ratings achievable for each and the business case for reactor design development and licensing." Capital costs for a plant with an installed capacity of 2400-3000 MWt would be some 30% less using 625 MWt prismatic reactor modules than with 250 MWt pebble bed modules.

The Alliance said that it had selected an unspecified Areva reactor concept, presumably based on the Antares design, "as the optimum design." It said, "The Areva HTGR technology's capability and modular design would support a broad range of market sectors, providing highly-efficient energy to industries such as electrical power generation, petrochemicals, non-conventional oil recovery and synthetic fuel production." Areva, it said, "has the technical and design capabilities to develop a HTGR for the process heat co-generation and generation markets."

It added that "additional investors are being pursued to fully capitalize a venture in order to build an initial fleet of HTGR plants for industry." The Alliance noted, "Deploying next generation nuclear technology is a critical step in solving the long-term needs for secure sources of energy, conserving fossil fuels and slowing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. Clean, safe nuclear energy from HTGR would increase US energy independence and extend the life of domestic oil and natural gas resources."

The Alliance noted that the reference steam cycle-based prismatic reactor is intended "to satisfy a broad range of industrial heat needs while relying on existing and available technologies for the reactor and the plant." However, follow-on applications requiring higher application temperatures would consequently introduce "greater design challenges."

The NGNP Industry Alliance has eleven member companies, including reactor vendors Areva and Westinghouse, utility Entergy, and potential end-users of electricity and process heat such as Dow Chemical and ConocoPhillips. The NGNP licensing plan was submitted to Congress by the DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in August 2008. Entergy Nuclear, as a member of the Alliance, has assumed the role of applicant for the HTGR pre-application and licensing activities for the Alliance.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News