Tag Archives: small modular reactor

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Small Nuclear Reactors to Power Canada’s Low-Carbon Future

By John Barrett, President & CEO, Canadian Nuclear Association
Originally published in the Hill Times, August 13, 2018

Canada has a lot going for it as it seeks to establish itself as a leader in the nuclear energy space. It has world-class research and development capability, including the renowned Canadian Nuclear Laboratories and other industry-run, specialized labs, writes the CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association.

Imagine a Canada with a clean, affordable and diversified energy system that is a world leader in deep decarbonization and GHG emissions reduction. Imagine, too, an end to energy poverty in many small and remote Canadian communities that now struggle on diesel fuel.

Imagine a promising, innovative and cutting-edge technology that opens doors to economic competitiveness and puts Canada at the forefront of international supply markets hungry for clean energy solutions.

That imagined future is on the verge of becoming tomorrow’s reality. That is, if we seize the opportunity before us.

The opportunity lies in SMRs – small modular reactors.

SMRs are smaller, simpler and more portable than conventional nuclear power reactors. Many designs utilize advanced technologies to ensure intrinsic and inherent (passive) safety. Should they overheat, they automatically shut down without any human involvement or active cooling systems. Being self-contained, their environmental footprint and impact is next to nil.

These micro-energy systems will be made and fueled at the factory, transported to location, operated safely and affordably for the next five-to-ten years, then returned and replaced by another unit. Most importantly, they provide substantial quantities of clean electricity and heat on a 24/7 basis, independent of changes in wind, water or sunshine, and are designed to operate in harmony with renewable energy and storage technologies.

Canada is seen internationally as leading the way on SMRs. There are several reasons why.

First, nuclear is already a big part of Canada’s low-carbon energy supply, producing 20% of our country’s clean electricity. Nuclear power allowed Ontario to shut down its coal-fired generation for good; it supplies daily around 60% of Ontario’s electricity needs and over one-third of New Brunswick’s. That’s a fact, not an aspiration.

Second, there are distinct areas of the Canadian economy where SMRs are a natural fit. For example, SMRs can be added to existing grids, especially in jurisdictions aiming to reduce use of fossil fuels for power generation; they can be added in increments for the greater electrification needed to transition to a low-carbon economy. In addition, SMRs can be used off-grid in mining and oilsands production, providing large quantities of clean power for mine sites and bitumen extraction processes – thereby reducing GHG emissions significantly. And very small SMRs – essentially large batteries – can power remote settlements that today have no clean, reliable alternatives to diesel fuel.

Third, parliamentarians are recognizing that SMRs offer an opportunity too important to ignore. An all-party study by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources in June 2017 recommended that work be undertaken to examine and promote the beneficial contribution and impact that SMR development promises for Canada.

Fourth, in response to the Committee’s report, key public and private stakeholders have launched the SMR Roadmap Project – a series of policy discussions and workshops with Indigenous people, utilities, provincial representatives, major potential users in the resource extraction and industrial sectors, as well as communities in northern Canada. These consultations are exploring the human and environmental needs that SMRs can fulfill and mapping out the steps needed for SMRs to advance from development, to licensing, to deployment.

Fifth, Canada has an internationally recognized brand in nuclear. We have world-class research and development capability, including the renowned Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) and other industry-run specialized labs. We have utilities and operators recognized internationally for their expertise and established record of safe reactor operations. We have the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, one of the world’s foremost nuclear regulators, to ensure that SMRs must demonstrate the highest safety standards before a license to operate is issued.

Sixth, the potential for exports of Canadian-made and Canadian-licensed SMRs to international markets is enormous, with considerable job creation and supply chain impact. There is a real appetite for clean energy in many parts of the world: SMRs are a solution to those human needs, which connect directly to better health and longer lives.

If these reasons aren’t compelling enough, then consider: nuclear technology contributes to nine of the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals. With CANDU reactors, SMRs and our uranium fuel, Canada can help the world to de-carbonize, bringing our energy and environmental leadership together to provide real benefit to an energy-hungry humanity.

Dr. John Barrett is President & CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association and served as Canada’s Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

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Nuclear: A Part of Canada’s Energy Transition

The Generation Energy Council Report released last month is an important milestone in the continuous dialogue that must occur around energy innovation at the federal level. The Report highlights the importance of swift yet thoughtful decarbonization and proposes strategies to achieve the low-carbon future we all want.

The Canadian nuclear industry fully supports the spirit of the Report, and much of the advice. However, the industry would like to emphasize the greater role that nuclear energy can have in leading the energy transition.

Below are four ways in which nuclear can contribute to an energy future that is affordable, reliable and clean.

1) Small modular reactors for resource extraction, energy to remote communities and grid power

Small modular reactors (SMRs) have a smaller electrical capacity than most current power reactors, anywhere from 1-300 MW, and are modular in both construction and deployment.

SMRs are perfectly suited for on- and off-grid resource extraction, such as Canada’s oil sands operations and Ring of Fire mining. Substituting nuclear-generated heat into these processes would reduce greenhouse gases and conserve our natural gas wealth for higher-value uses.

SMRs also hold great potential for regions that currently rely on dirty diesel fuel, such as Canada’s remote and off-grid communities. Not only could SMRs provide clean energy to these communities, it could in many instances alleviate energy poverty.

Canada is already recognized internationally as a favourable market and regulatory environment for SMRs. Establishing a leadership position early would enable Canada to secure a significant share of the projected $400-600 billion global market for SMR technology.

2) Nuclear energy to produce hydrogen for fuel and energy storage

Not only can nuclear energy provide clean heat and electricity, it can also be used to produce hydrogen. Technologies that employ hydrogen as fuel or for energy storage are well established in Canada. Hydrogen-powered vehicles are on the rise, but unless the hydrogen is produced using clean energy sources like nuclear, they risk being just as polluting as gas-powered vehicles.

The comprehensive Trottier Energy Futures Project of the Canadian Academy of Engineering lays out in stark terms the magnitude of the challenge of decarbonization and concludes that to meet the government’s 2050 targets will require a massive increase in electrification of energy supply through a diverse set of low-carbon technologies, including nuclear.

3) New nuclear power reactors for on-grid power

The use of nuclear energy has allowed Canada to achieve a mostly clean energy portfolio. Nuclear energy is the largest source of clean energy after hydro, providing approximately 15% of Canada’s electricity, and 60% of Ontario’s electricity. Between 2005 and 2015, nuclear energy enabled Ontario to completely phase out coal, improving air quality and reducing respiratory illnesses and deaths.

Additional nuclear reactors could provide the same clean air benefits to other provinces that currently burn large amounts of fossil fuels, such as Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

As well as being a clean energy option, grid-based nuclear is affordable and reliable. In Ontario, only hydro is more affordable. Wind is about twice as expensive as nuclear, and solar is more than six times as expensive.

Nuclear generating stations are also extremely reliable, producing electricity day and night, regardless of the weather.

4) Social and economic advantages of a strong nuclear industry in Canada

Through clean nuclear energy generation in Ontario (60%) and New Brunswick (30%), radioisotope production for nuclear diagnoses and therapy, and numerous other technology applications throughout the country, the Canadian nuclear industry is an undeniable source of revenue, jobs and economic prosperity.

The nuclear industry employs 60,000 Canadians directly and indirectly. Careers in the nuclear industry offer challenging work, competitive salaries and benefits, and opportunities for advancement. Because many of the jobs require highly developed skills and advanced education, the nuclear industry offers a homegrown job market for skilled graduates and attracts international talent to Canada.

The nuclear industry is also in the process of refurbishing 10 of its reactors so that they can continue to provide another 30 to 40 years of clean, reliable electricity. The refurbishments are currently Canada’s largest infrastructure projects, and are progressing on time and on budget.

About Vision 2050: Canada’s Nuclear Advantage

The nuclear industry has developed a vision of nuclear technology’s role in Canada’s clean energy future. The vision (cna.ca/vision2050) describes how Canada can become a world leader in producing clean, reliable energy for all Canadians, while stimulating the economy and creating jobs. It also explains how nuclear and renewable energy can work hand-in-glove to tackle climate change. Most importantly, it sets out a pathway of partnership between industry and government which would help Canada achieve its energy policy goals.

About the Canadian Nuclear Association

Since 1960, the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) has been the national voice of the Canadian nuclear industry. Working alongside our members and all communities of interest, the CNA promotes the industry nationally and internationally, works with governments on policies affecting the sector and works to increase awareness and understanding of the value nuclear technology brings to the environment, economy and the daily life of Canadians.

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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.

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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.”