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Promising Developments in the Nuclear Industry: What Engineers Need to Know

by Anna

The nuclear industry in the United States is witnessing significant advancements, from power plant expansions to legislative initiatives encouraging the development of advanced reactors. Here’s a rundown of key developments engineers should be aware of in 2024.

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1. Vogtle Nuclear Plant in Georgia Reaches Initial Criticality

Unit 4 at Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle has achieved initial criticality, marking a crucial milestone in its operational readiness. This reactor is now generating a self-sustaining nuclear fission reaction, heralding the production of nuclear heat to generate electricity. The upcoming phase will involve integrating primary coolant and steam supply systems, gradually ramping up power to full capacity. With Unit 3 already online, both reactors boast enhanced safety features and simplified designs, positioning Plant Vogtle as a cornerstone of America’s nuclear power infrastructure.

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2. Illinois Nuclear Plant Pursues License Renewal

Constellation has filed for license renewal with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for its Clinton Clean Energy Center in Illinois. This move seeks to extend the plant’s operational lifespan, ensuring continued generation of clean energy for Illinois residents. The renewal, if approved, would enable the plant to operate through 2047, bolstering Illinois’ clean energy portfolio and supporting federal and state energy policies.

3. GE Vernova’s Advances in Enriched Uranium Fuel

GE Vernova’s nuclear fuel division, Global Nuclear Fuel (GNF), has obtained NRC approval to manufacture and transport nuclear fuel enriched with Uranium-235 up to 8 weight percent (wt%). This development underscores the company’s commitment to advancing accident-tolerant fuel technologies, enhancing reactor safety, and supporting power uprates. With its Wilmington facility now licensed for 8 wt% fuel fabrication, GNF is poised to meet growing demand for higher enrichment fuels.

4. Virginia Legislates Support for Small Modular Reactors

Virginia lawmakers have passed legislation enabling utilities to recover costs associated with deploying small modular reactors (SMRs). These bills aim to incentivize the adoption of SMRs by facilitating rate adjustments to cover project development expenses. With utilities like Appalachian Power and Dominion Energy eyeing SMR deployment, Virginia is poised to play a pivotal role in advancing this innovative nuclear technology, offering potential solutions to future energy challenges.

Despite these promising developments, economic hurdles persist in the commercialization of SMRs, underscoring the need for continued innovation and investment in the nuclear sector.

In summary, 2024 holds immense promise for the nuclear industry, with advancements in reactor technology, regulatory support, and operational expansions driving the sector forward. Engineers must stay abreast of these developments to contribute to the safe, efficient, and sustainable growth of nuclear energy.

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