PPL expands Kentucky nuclear feasibility study

28 June 2024

US utility PPL Corporation announced that two of its subsidiaries will build on an earlier assessment of nuclear feasibility at the Ghent coal-fired power plant site in Kentucky by exploring additional locations and partnerships that could support nuclear energy in the state.

The Ghent power plant site (Image: PPL)

Ghent is a four-unit, coal-fired power plant with a combined net generating capacity of 1919 MWe and is planned for phased retirement, with units 1 and 2 retiring first and units 3 and 4 retiring afterwards. The plant is located within five miles of several industrial companies that consume large amounts of electricity and may be potential process heat customers. PPL owns about 2300 acres of land around and including the Ghent plant site.

The earlier study, funded by a grant under the Department of Energy's (DOE's) GAIN - Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear - initiative and published in March, found that the Ghent site is suitable for a small modular reactor (SMR) plant. However, the site was found to have potential size constraints for a larger conventional reactor.

GAIN - Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear - is an initiative launched in 2016 by the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy which helps businesses overcome critical technological and commercialisation challenges of nuclear energy technologies through a voucher system, giving stakeholders access to the DOE's R&D facilities and infrastructure to support the cost-effective development of innovative nuclear energy technologies. All awardees are responsible for a minimum 20% cost-share, which could be an in-kind contribution.

As with earlier feasibility assessments at PPL subsidiaries Louisville Gas & Electric Company's and Kentucky Utilities Company's Ghent site, PPL's research and development team plans to partner with GAIN and nuclear design engineering company X-energy in the next phase of assessments.

X-energy says its Xe-100 is a Generation IV advanced reactor design based on decades of high temperature gas-cooled reactor operation, research, and development. Designed to operate as a standard 320 MWe four-pack power plant or scaled in units of 80 MWe, it is engineered to deliver reliable and load-following grid-scale power to electricity systems and to pair seamlessly with renewables. At 200 MWt of 565°C steam, the Xe-100 is also suitable for other power applications including mining and heavy industry.

Phase two of the study will explore alternative locations and industrial partnerships that could enable energy-intensive customers - including manufacturers and data centres - to achieve their zero-carbon objectives while maintaining reliability and affordability, PPL said.

"We understand that achieving our goal of net-zero carbon emissions will be challenging, and we continue to pursue an all-of-the-above technology strategy to replace aging generation with a cleaner, more diverse energy mix capable of safely, reliably and affordably meeting our customers' future energy needs and supporting continued economic growth," said PPL President and CEO Vincent Sorgi.

"Nuclear energy is a carbon-free solution that has the potential to meet our customers' needs and support manufacturing and data centre growth, particularly if technology such as nuclear SMRs become more cost-competitive," he added. "These in-depth studies are important to determining whether nuclear energy at our locations may be a viable solution moving forward."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News