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Nuclear industry eyes more federal support of ‘small modular reactors,’ as advocates push for Ottawa to hit pause

By Jolson Lim
Originally published in The Hill Times, December 3, 2018

The Canadian nuclear industry is looking for more federal government involvement in supporting the development of a new generation of reactors, after Natural Resources Canada put out a “roadmap” report earlier this month, spelling out steps different players in the sector could take.

The small modular reactor (SMR) roadmap was published on Nov. 7, and was co-developed between different public and private sector stakeholders. It recommends that federal, provincial, and territorial governments, along with utilities, industry, and the federally-funded national laboratory support demonstration of the use of SMR technology.

It also proposed: financial risk-sharing between the different players to support early deployment; the modernization of legislative and regulatory requirements to make development economically viable and timely; the development of a “robust knowledge base” for SMR technology; and for commitment to proactively engage with Indigenous communities.

SMRs are typically defined as nuclear reactors generating less than 300 megawatts of energy, and proponents see it as a promising source as the world struggles to fight climate change.

In Canada, backers see SMRs as a way to phase out diesel power for remote and Northern communities. However, to make it economically feasible within a small window of time for it to become a tool in reducing emissions, it would require demonstration soon, and eventually would require a fleet of reactors so manufacturers could benefit from more efficient and financially stable production.

But there is strong opposition to new nuclear energy development based on both environmental and safety concerns.

Nevertheless, any future development would likely have to involve government funding to support demonstration, on top of a regulatory review and placing a stronger emphasis on such technology in climate change plans.

“What would be so important now is for the government to show its policy support,” said John Barrett, president and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA). “But that kind of holistic policy statement is not available yet.”

Mr. Barrett’s association submitted a letter addressed to Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Toronto Centre, Ont.) following the release of his fall economic update in November.

The letter calls for the extension of clean technology and clean infrastructure funding and support programs, such as the ability to expense of 100 per cent of capital investments and loan guarantees, to nuclear technology in the next budget.

It also asks the federal government to recognize nuclear as part of Canada’s suite of clean energy technologies and to create a funding mechanism for applied research and development of the next generation of reactors.

“Such measures would go a long way in creating the supportive business innovation climate needed in Canada today to encourage clean technology developers and start-ups in the nuclear sector,” it reads. “Only with a significant scale-up of such sources can Canada meet its Paris climate targets.”

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) is currently partnering with small-reactor proponents to get a prototype built at one of its sites by 2026 for future demonstration. The company wants to prove the commercial viability of such reactors, and position Canada as a global hub for testing and development.

The company is aiming for it to occur at its Chalk River research facility, which sits about 200 kilometres northwest of Ottawa. CNL manages and operates the two research laboratories in Canada for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the crown corporation that owns such facilities.

Interest in SMRs is particularly strong in New Brunswick, where the local utility, NB Power, has partnered with an American firm to develop a small reactor in the province.

Mr. Barrett said Canada is in a commanding place with the development of SMRs, given its good regulatory and research environment and interest from different players. Globally, it makes the country an attractive place for development.

However, he said more federal focus is needed on nuclear energy.

“Nuclear is one of the tools that is sitting in the box and government hasn’t really pulled it out and taken a good look at what it can do,” said Mr. Barrett, adding it has a lot of export potential as well.

Concerns with SMRs

There are concerns that nuclear’s advantage as a low-carbon energy source is offset by serious safety and other environmental concerns.

Ole Hendrickson, a researcher for the advocacy group Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area—where the Chalk River facility is located—said proponents of nuclear energy ignore other emissions, including various noble gases, iodine, and radioactive waste that has to be expensively and carefully managed. Such waste remains dangerous long after its use, and disposal remains a major concern and question.

“We don’t see small modular reactors as any different,” he said.

Earlier this month, the group appeared on Parliament Hill alongside Green Party leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.) to voice their concern over SMRs ahead of the release of the roadmap report.

Lynn Jones, a member of the citizens’ group, also questioned whether federal government funding is worth it, given there are concerns about its economic viability that has recently seen nuclear power struggle to grow globally.

“They can’t possibly succeed without significant government subsidies, the private sector has backed away from them all over the world,” she said. “They’ve come to Canada to try and get the government to subsidize them.”

Her group recently submitted two petitions to the Auditor General of Canada, with the first voicing concerns that any investment in future nuclear power would tie-up funds that would otherwise go to other proven renewables that could more quickly and effectively reduce carbon emissions. The second petition asks federal ministers to provide a justification for considering nuclear power to be a form of clean energy.

“It would take way too long to develop SMRs, apart from the fact there’s lots of other concerns about them,” she said.

The road ahead

John Stewart, director of policy and research at the CNA—speaking as the project manager of the SMR roadmap—said the report makes recommendations to a wide range of players, including governments, waste management organizations, industry, researchers, and the regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

He said the “logical next step” is for one facilitating player to survey all those players to see what commitments they’re willing to make to further SMRs development.

“You need someone to do all that and elicit offers from the different players, get them to make specific commitments and eventually translate that into sort of national action plan,” he said.

He said he was pleased to see Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi (Edmonton Mill Woods, Alta.) attend the roadmap launch last month, despite not seeing a “lot in the way of signals” for nuclear power from the federal Liberal government.

Mr. Stewart said if the federal government offers a strong signal that SMRs can be a serious energy source, other players will follow up with tangible commitments.

“That would be a positive signal for other players to step up,” he said.

Nuclear energy accounts for almost 15 per cent of all electricity generated in Canada, particularly from two massive power plants in Ontario providing power to the Toronto region.

Mr. Stewart said nuclear power’s outlook has improved, but attitudes toward the severity of climate change haven’t matured fast enough that would see countries move quickly on SMRs.

“It looks better than it has in the past. Good would be going too far,” he said.

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WiN-Canada sponsorship opportunities

Women in Nuclear Canada (WiN-Canada) is coming to the end of it’s annual funding campaign for 2019. We have experienced strong support from our industry partners once again. However, there are a few outstanding opportunities for those who have yet to sponsor us, but would like to show their support. Note that there will also be opportunities to show your support at our upcoming conference in Bruce County (September 22-24, 2019) and at the WiN-Global conference that we will be hosting in Niagara Falls (October 4-9, 2020).

WiN Sponsorship Package 2019

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Canada thinks big about small

By John Stewart, Director of Policy and Research, Canadian Nuclear Association
Originally published in Nuclear Engineering International, December 2018

Canadians are thinking about how to dramatically reduce greenhouse emissions from a modern economy like Canada’s, without destroying economic activity and living standards.

According to those who have seriously studied this problem, like the Trottier Energy Futures Project (TEFP), there are two steps. First, you convert many energy applications – lawn mowers, boat motors, building heat, and other fossil fuel burners – to electricity. Then, you generate electricity for that while minimizing greenhouse gas emissions.

In this article, we’ll see that generating electricity in a reliable and economical way, without setbacks in incomes and living standards (and therefore lifespans), requires much more nuclear energy. TEFP scenarios, for example, see nuclear power generation growing by more than 200% in Canada.

Where in Canada do we need to build all this electrical generating capacity?

The answer is, pretty well everywhere. Particularly as long as power transmission lines remain as unpopular and as hard to build as they are today, generation will have to be physically close to the demand, and power demand will grow just about everywhere.

That being said, growth in demand for low-emissions power looks to be concentrated in certain types of locations:

  • where fossil-fuel-burning power plants reach the end of their lives (notably coal plants in Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and perhaps Nova Scotia) and need replacing with something cleaner;
  • at energy-intensive industrial sites, particularly oil sands operations (which often burn natural gas in large quantities) and remote mining sites (which generally use diesel fuel for heating, vehicles, and power generation); and
  • in communities that currently use diesel-fuel-burning generators – of which there are hundreds across Canada’s provinces and territories.

No, wind and solar won’t do it here.

So what clean energy source can help meet this demand?

Biofuels aren’t the option they’re made out to be, partly because they can’t be scaled up to the extent that would be required (we need land to grow food and other crops), and partly because, on a full life-cycle basis, they’re really not very low-carbon.

Hydro power is wonderful, where dams can be built. It’s clean (at least once the dam is constructed), and stations can be run on a schedule that fits demand. But only so many places have undeveloped hydro sites, and the public and Indigenous acceptance challenges are usually large.

Other renewables have severe limitations. In remote communities, for example, accumulating experience is suggesting that, even when generously subsidized, wind and solar only dent the use of diesel by 20% or so, and then only at the expense of building triple infrastructure (diesel, renewables, and storage) in one place to carry the same small load.

Similar conclusions apply to larger power grids, due to the variability of wind and solar over time. When their contribution gets above something like 20-25% of the power supply, grid stability becomes a serious problem – one that’s hard to mitigate, even with large-scale storage.

So, even with contributions from each of these options, there’s a large need for another low-carbon energy source that can be sited close to demand. That includes urban areas, where a small land footprint will be essential, and also very remote locations, where the unit should be modular, transportable when new, and re-locatable later.

And in many cases, particularly in Canada, the source should supply heat (such as piped steam) in addition to electricity, so it can help heat a building complex, smelt metal from ore, cook wood pulp, or melt bitumen out of oil sands.

Nuclear reactors – on a much smaller scale in size but covering a wider area than today – could deliver low-carbon power to homes, offices, and businesses. They could also deliver process heat to industry and heat to buildings, and support clean fuels through battery charging or hydrogen generation for vehicles.

The industry making the nuclear reactors could:

  • streamlinethe servicing and refuelling;
  • achieve economies of scale in design, construction, and operation (the reactors may be smaller, but could be more standardized);
  • simplify designs and add many inherent safety systems;
  • ideally, move the reactor location if customer needs require it;
  • locate reactors underground, increasing security; and
  • supply fleets of many identical modules, with units that need refuelling or servicing being swapped out and returned to the factory.

Most nuclear power reactors are built to a certain scale (600-1400 megawatts of electricity, or MWe) mainly to achieve economies of scale in power production. But nuclear reactors can be orders of magnitude smaller than this.

Reactors that currently drive marine vessels (submarines, aircraft carriers, and icebreakers) are much smaller than most power plant reactors.

These propulsion reactors have a 60-year record of operating in hundreds of moving vessels that spend long periods in remote places.

Canadians have designed small or very small reactors for research, electricity generation, and district heating.

Demonstration units (Canada’s early NPD and Douglas Point reactors) and research units (currently operating at six Canadian universities and at research institutes around the world) are also small, extremely low-power, very safe, easy to regulate and operate, and easily secured.

There’s plenty of precedent for small modular reactors (SMRs) in Canada.

How close is the vision of widespread, commercial SMR deployment in Canada, and what does the path forward look like?

A pan-Canadian team recently roadmapped the path through a 10-month multi-stakeholder process. More than 180 individuals representing 55 organizations across 10 sectors and sub-sectors were engaged in workshops and Indigenous engagement sessions. Five expert groups looked at issues related to technology, economics and finance, Indigenous and public engagement, waste management, and regulatory readiness.

Canada’s SMR Roadmap, released in early November 2018, charts a path forward across four thematic areas:

  • Demonstration and deployment – The Government of Canada and provincial governments interested in SMRs would help pay for demonstration projects with industry.These governments would share the risk with private investors as incentive for the first commercial deployment of SMRs in Canada, with the potential of exporting SMR technologies and related innovations developed in Canada to international markets.
  • Indigenous engagement – Building on the helpful dialogues launched under the Roadmap, the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, together with utilities interested in SMRs, would have meaningful, two-way engagement with Indigenous communities about SMRs, well in advance of specific project proposals.
  • Legislation, regulation, and policy – The Roadmap includes recommendations on federal impact assessment, nuclear liability, regulatory efficiency, and waste management. For example, the Government of Canada is asked to make sure that changes to its federal impact assessment process don’t get in the way of initiatives to develop and deploy infrastructure like SMRs that can help deep de- Another recommendation is asking key players to make sure future waste streams from SMRs are part of waste plans.
  • International partnerships and markets – The federal government, with support from industry, laboratories, and academia, would continue strong and effective international engagement on SMRs, in particular to influence international

What’s the SMR Roadmap’s vision?

SMRs are a source of safe, clean, affordable energy – opening opportunities for a resilient, low-carbon future and capturing benefits for Canada and Canadians.

What’s the CNA’s take on all this?

The CNA, as just one of the organizations involved in the Roadmap, has this view:

  • SMRs are real and they are happening now. Utilities in Canada have begun to consider SMRs as a low-emissions replacement for fossil-fuelled electricity generation.
  • Decisions made in 2018-19 could lead to SMRs supplying power to Canadian electricity grids by around 2030, particularly where coal plants need to be replaced.
  • Mines and oil sands operations could be using SMRs for heat and power around the same time (2030) or soon thereafter, if technology decisions were made soon. These reactors would be different in scale and technology from those deployed on public electricity grids.
  • Application of SMRs in small, remote communities has great potential to improve energy supply, local air quality, and emissions by replacing the burning of diesel fuel – potential that has attracted attention from Canadian governments and others. While we too are excited by this opportunity, strong stakeholder engagement processes (including capacity-building in many cases) are needed to build understanding. Also, many of these communities are small, so the commercial business case is very constrained. These factors could put these applications on longer time-lines, depending on the extent of policy-level support.
  • Canada is one of only a few countries that have built up their investments in the full spectrum of civilian nuclear capabilities, from uranium mining, to fuel design, to manufacturing, to power generation, to life sciences and nuclear medicine, and to world-class excellence in regulation and governance. These strategic assets matter.There is an opportunity for Canada to lead the world on SMRs.

In summary, small modular reactors aren’t another over-hyped or far-away technology – some are based on reactors that have been operating for decades. SMRs are under construction now in at least three countries. In Canada and worldwide, these reactors have the potential to meet real, growing needs. What’s more, SMRs draw on skills that Canadians excel in. Because strategic partnerships are key, Canada’s SMR Roadmap has a plan of action that will engage many players. The CNA will continue reaching out to share information and help the players work together.

More on the SMR Roadmap can be found through www.cna.ca or www.smrroadmap.ca.

CNA2019

Innovation in action panel at CNA2019

Left to right: Jeff Lyash, Gaëtan Thomas, Mike Rencheck

On Thursday, February 28, at 2:00 p.m., Jeff Lyash, Mike Rencheck and Gaëtan Thomas will take the stage at CNA2019 to discuss new nuclear, innovation in action.

Not everyone realizes the full range of climate and health solutions offered by nuclear technology. Many of these solutions flow from the operations of nuclear utilities. Refurbishment and Major Component Replacement are sources of highly innovative advances in environmental protection, clean energy generation, and life-saving medical isotopes. New Nuclear is innovative, relevant to society’s needs, capable, job-creating, and impactful.

Jeff Lyash is President and CEO of Ontario Power Generation (OPG)  Jeff was formerly the President of CB&I Power where he was responsible for a full range of engineering, procurement and construction of multi-billion dollar electrical generation projects in both domestic and international markets. He also provided operating plant services for nuclear, coal, gas, oil and renewable generation.

Mike Rencheck is President and CEO of Bruce Power. Over the past 30+ years, Mike has served in a number of roles and most recently was the Deputy Chief Operating Officer for AREVA overseeing its extensive Global capital portfolio of nuclear and renewable projects. Prior to this, he served as President and CEO of AREVA Inc. in North America leading its diverse nuclear services business in Canada and the United States with a workforce of about 5,000 people.

Gaëtan Thomas is President and CEO of New Brunswick Power. He is a committed industry leader and agent of change, driven by his deep connection to customer and employee grassroots.

His vision for NB Power includes a made-in-New Brunswick smart grid supported by customer-centric technology and a workforce aimed at creating a greener, more sustainable province. This plan, now in its fourth year, is helping to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, lowering costs and keeping customer rates low and stable.

For more information about CNA2019 visit https://cna.ca/cna2019/.

CNA2019

The promise of SMRs and energy communities panel at CNA2019

Top to bottom: Bernd Christmas, Mark Lesinski, Madeleine Redfern

On Friday, March 1, at 10:30 a.m., Bernd Christmas, Mark Lesinski, and Madeleine Redfern will gather onstage at CNA2019 to discuss new nuclear, the promise of SMRs and energy communities.

New Nuclear holds the promise of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) and how these may be integrated with other sources, such as Variable Renewable Energy, to create energy parks or “hybrid” energy communities. What kind of scenarios can we foresee for smart, integrated/hybrid energy systems, with SMRs providing the load-following foundation? Will such ideas be a defining characteristic of New Nuclear?

Bernd Christmas is the Chief Executive Officer of Gitpo Storms Corporation, a national Indigenous firm. He is also a member of Investors Group Board of Directors and the President of Outside Looking In. He is a recognized and accomplished leader in the Indigenous and business communities. He was the first Mi’kmaw to become a lawyer in Canada.

Mark Lesinski is President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), Canada’s premier nuclear science and technology laboratory managed by the Canadian National Energy Alliance (CNEA). He has a distinguished career in nuclear science, operations, projects, and decommissioning. His 38 years of experience spans commercial and government nuclear facilities, from power reactor operations and major retrofit projects to management of decontamination and decommissioning (D&D).

Madeleine Redfern is the mayor of the City of Iqaluit. She was elected mayor in a by-election on December 13, 2010. Redfern graduated from the Akitsiraq Law School before becoming the first Inuk to be offered a clerkship at the Supreme Court of Canada.

For more information about CNA2019 visit https://cna.ca/cna2019/.

CNA2019

Environmental Impact and Climate Change Targets Panel at CNA2019

Top to bottom: Steve Aplin, Andrew Rowe, Laurie Swami

On Thursday, February 28, at 3:30 p.m., Steve Aplin, Andrew Rowe and Laurie Swami, will gather onstage at CNA2019 to discuss new nuclear, environmental impacts and climate change targets.

Our governments promise evidence-based approaches to policy. Nowhere is such an approach more needed than in the analysis of climate change impacts and GHG reduction. How to temper high-flown aspiration with hard data and engineering? New Nuclear aims to make a real contribution to the low-carbon economy, while protecting the environment. Can we find new ways to engage communities on science-based solutions and gain their support?

Steve Aplin is data strategist at emissionTrak. He has launched and led energy- and environment-related projects dealing with current and future energy production and use at the macro and micro levels. In addition to the technical, technological, and organizational aspects, all these projects involve also a political dimension, which often necessitates advocacy at various levels of government as well as in the public arena.

Andrew Rowe is the director of the Institute for Integrated Energy Systems, and professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, at the University of Victoria. He is a principal investigator with the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions’ 2060 Project examining decarbonization of Canada’s energy system.

Laurie Swami is President and CEO of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO). She was appointed to the role in 2016 and is responsible for implementing Canada’s plan for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel. Ms. Swami previously served as Senior Vice-President of Decommissioning and Nuclear Waste Management at Ontario Power Generation (OPG). She holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Chemistry from Queen’s University and a Master of Business Administration from the Schulich School of Business.

For more information about CNA2019 visit https://cna.ca/cna2019/.