Tag Archives: small modular reactor

CNA2016

Small Reactors: Big Questions, Big Opportunities

By John Stewart
Director of Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

An Ontario politician asked me this week what I thought the prospects were for deploying nuclear energy in Alberta.  He seemed surprised when I said I thought Ontario was an equally big opportunity.

He shouldn’t have been. Yes, there’s a great future for low-carbon power in Western Canada (and I argued that Saskatchewan and Alberta should be viewed more or less together for this purpose). But I drew the politician’s attention back to his own province. While Ontario’s economy has had some challenges in the past decade-at times looking like a “have-not” compared with Alberta-its growth story is probably far from over. Managed well, it could generate enormous income and wealth for all Canadians in the century ahead.

Nuclear energy has been powering Ontario since 1962 and provides 60 percent of the province’s electricity, and a core part of its science, engineering and manufacturing capacity. But still, nuclear technology is young and its potential applications have barely been tested.

Efficient, ultra-safe small reactors look set to deliver a lot of those applications. The obvious one is making low-carbon power to displace fossil fuels wherever we use them-particularly by expanding the use of electric vehicles. There’s also processing minerals and other natural resources, driving ships, making medical isotopes, researching new materials and desalinating seawater.

There’s a huge amount we don’t know about how these opportunities will unfold and how big the market will be. We can’t see the future. But Ontario can do things to raise its already healthy changes of being part of it. Some of these are electrifying transportation, driving with this low-carbon generation (including new nuclear), and nurturing small reactors that can get our northern, native and remote communities off dirty diesel.

I explored prospects for SMR deployment in a presentation to the Ontario Power conference in Toronto in April. You can see that presentation here.

Environment

SMRs: From Small Beginnings

You might have missed it, because there wasn’t any fanfare.  But this country’s small modular reactor industry now has an advocacy group of its own, dedicated to nurturing a flourishing small reactor industry in Canada.

The Emissions-Free Energy Working Group (EFEWG), like CNA, is a membership-supported industry organization.  Member companies join to create a common voice.  It was clear in recent years that regulators like CNSC, and other stakeholders, needed to have a point of dialog with the industry on SMRs – a point of dialog that no one SMR designer/vendor could provide very well by itself.  EFEWG Executive Director Roger Humphries has led the conception and creation of EFEWG, which now has by-laws and paid members.Supplier to Host CountryEFEWG has already been involved in at least one valuable regulatory research project:  INPRO’s “Case Study for Deployment of a Factory Fuelled SMR.”  The Canadian team (EFEWG, CNA and CNSC) elaborated a case study of the regulatory problems posed by deployment of a land-based SMR across international boundaries.

CNA is proud to have helped in the creation of EFEWG.  We will continue to give Roger and his team our support in realizing their vision of a flourishing Canadian small reactor industry.

Nuclear Innovation

New SMR Association to Present on November 18

The Emissions-Free Energy Working Group, Canada’s new small reactor association, will make a
presentation on the margins of next week’s Annual General Meeting of the Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries on Nov 18 in Ajax, Ontario.  This AGM is themed on Small Modular Reactors Development and Applications.

Here’s what EFEWG Chair Neil Alexander has to say about this event:

OCI is pleased to announce that the Emissions-Free Energy Working Group (EFEWG) has chosen to use the opportunity provided by the OCI AGM and conference on small reactors to hold a follow-up meeting of its own on the work it is doing.  All members of OCI are invited to attend. The meeting is free to members of OCI and CNA but organizations are asked to limit their attendance to one or two representatives.   The meeting will be of interest to SMR vendors, potential SMR operators, EPCs seeking to build SMRs, safety and licensing consultancies and other supply-chain organizations that may benefit from the development of this new industry that will be complementary to the nation’s CANDU expertise.

 The vision of the EFEWG, a not-for-profit industry association, is a flourishing small reactor industry in Canada and it is presently identifying what must be done to turn that vision into a reality.  In the first phase of its activities it is in a dialogue with regulators, both nationally and internationally, and other stakeholders with a goal of ensuring that a framework for regulation is in place that assures public safety and is appropriate for these new technologies. 

 The meeting will start at 10:00am and will be held in one of the board rooms at the Ajax Hilton Garden Inn.  Details will be provided at the conference. The meeting will include presentations by the Chairman of EFEWG, Neil Alexander, and its Executive Director, Roger Humphries, on the activities of EFEWG and will include discussion of work that is taking place by IAEA through its Innovative Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO)  program.

Uncategorized

Terrestrial Energy Says Molten Salt is the Future of SMR Technology

IMSR core sizes
IMSR core sizes.

Terrestrial Energy is on the path to commercializing its Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR), which it says holds the greatest promise as an alternative to conventional energy sources.

“We believe we have a technology that is ideal for the small modular reactor market,” said Simon Irish, chief executive of Terrestrial Energy, based in Toronto. “We believe our technology will provide industry with a small modular reactor that provides power which is simply more convenient and more cost competitive than using coal.”

Global energy demand will grow substantially over the next generation, driven primarily by population growth and industrialization in Asia. Many countries seek secure, cost-competitive energy sources that avoid the climate-changing greenhouse gases generated by coal, natural gas and oil.

IMSR plant
IMSR plant.

“The need for game-changing innovation is far, far stronger this decade than decades before,” said Irish. “We face many problems identifying secure, safe and economically competitive energy supplies over the next two decades. Solving that problem with existing approaches is probably not practical.”

The molten-salt reactor system differs fundamentally from today’s water-cooled commercial reactors. Instead of using solid uranium as fuel, it dissolves the uranium in liquid salt mix. Irish said the technique gives the molten-salt reactor a unique safety profile.

“You can’t lose primary coolant because your fuel and your coolant are one and the same,” Irish explained, “and they are not under pressure as they are in traditional solid-fuel reactors.  The IMSR system is passively safe – meaning safety is assured even in the absence of backup power.”

IMSR section view
IMSR section view.

Although the molten-salt reactor is not yet commercially available, it uses a recognized, proven nuclear technology demonstrated in the late 1950s to the 1970s by the illustrious Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

The trick is to change a working laboratory reactor into a reactor suitable for industry – and that’s where Innovation comes in.

Building on the Oak Ridge demonstrations, Terrestrial Energy has developed a reactor system that appears simple, safe to operate, convenient and highly cost effective for industry.  It could enter service early next decade.

“The first step on our path to commercialization involves the manufacturing and construction of our first commercial reactor at a site in Canada, and obtaining a license to operate it from the CNSC,” explains Irish. “We intend to have it up and running and connected to the grid by early next decade.”

Uncategorized

Technologies Take a While to Turn the World Around

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

Asked in the 1970s about the influence of the French Revolution on western civilization, Chou En Lai is said to have paused and replied: It’s too soon to tell.

You might say the same thing about nuclear technology’s impact on the world.  Sure, we’ve had it for about 70 years. But is that long enough for a fair test?

Newcomen
The Newcommen steam pump, circa 1710.

Practical steam engines were in use for a century before they really changed most people’s worlds.

Steam engines were first commercialized around the year 1700 to pump water out of mineshafts (which they did better than humans), and shortly thereafter to drive textile mills (which they did better than waterwheels).

They weren’t successfully applied to transportation (steamboats and locomotives) until just after 1800. Before they could operate on these mobile platforms, steam engines had to get smaller, lighter, safer, more applicable, and far more efficient.

When they did this, steam engines dramatically reduced transport costs. That made the world a very different place in the nineteenth century – and in many ways, and for many people, a much better one.

Coalbrookdale
The Trevithick locomotive, circa 1803.

A recent announcement by Mississauga-based Terrestrial Energy Inc. (TEI) reminds us again that we’ve probably not even glimpsed where revolutionary reactor designs might take society in a carbon-constrained world.

Remember, we’ve come less than six decades from the opening of the first utility-scale nuclear generating station – which operated successfully in Pennsylvania from 1957 until 1982.

Reactor technology has spent those decades generating cleaner and cheaper electricity than nearly any other source, and probably doing it more safely than any other source. But that’s not the end of the story.

Because reactor technology has also spent those decades getting better and better.

A number of CNA member companies have designs that reflect this progress, and that could change our children’s and grandchildren’s world in very positive ways. Terrestrial’s is just one example of this.

Shippingport
The Shippingport atomic power station.

On January 7, Terrestrial Energy announced a collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory to advance the design of its concept for an integral molten salt reactor (IMSR). Oak Ridge is where early molten salt reactors were proven, decades ago.

Terrestrial
Terrestrial Energy’s IMSR80.

More recent Molten Salt Reactor technology could represent a revolution in nuclear safety, waste and proliferation resistance, and in energy cost-competitiveness. Terrestrial’s is a small modular design, with models ranging from as small as 80 MWth – about one-tenth of the typical utility-scale reactor installed today.

The company wants to start commercial deployment of IMSRs by early next decade. Edge-of-grid and off-grid locations in Canada, many of them currently using dirty, expensive diesel generators, could benefit dramatically from these or other advanced and smaller reactor designs.

Think nuclear had its heyday in the 1960s? Sure. And the piston engine was just a better way to get water out of coal mines.