Tag Archives: SMR

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.”

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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.

Nuclear Education Nuclear Energy

The Evolution of Nuclear Power

In 1962, the NPD (Nuclear Power Demonstration) reactor came online and demonstrated the CANDU (CANada Deuterium Uranium) design. The NPD was Canada’s first electricity-producing reactor, and the world’s first heavy-water power reactor. Canada’s CANDU reactor is a Generation II commercial reactor. It’s considered one of the world’s safest and most successful nuclear reactors.

Nuclear reactor designs have continued to evolve from the Gen II designs to make them even safer, more efficient, and in some cases, smaller (i.e. small modular reactors) – but still powerful enough to power a small city.

We've come a long way, baby!

GENERATIONS III AND III+
Generation III designs, now in use, reflect design improvements that have made these systems safer and more efficient and given them longer operating lives (typically 60 years) than earlier systems.

Generation III+ designs, which are now being built outside Canada, extend these improvements.  (The “Generation” standards for nuclear technologies originated with the U.S. Department of Energy – www.energy.gov).

WHAT IS GENERATION IV?
Canada is part of an international collaboration to set the following goals for advanced nuclear energy systems, and to work toward them:

  • Sustainability
  • Minimum waste
  • Life cycle cost advantage
  • Competitive in financial risk
  • Excellent safety and reliability in operation
  • Secure

Technologies that meet these international standards will be called Generation IV (www.gen-4.org).

WHAT ARE SMALL MODULAR REACTORS?
Small modular reactors (SMRs) have existed for decades.  As opposed to full-sized, built-on-site reactors, these units are mostly built in a factory environment and then shipped and installed.   In past uses they have proven to be low-maintenance, reliable, and versatile.

SMRs can be designed to have low staffing needs, and long cycles between refuellings (four to ten years or longer).   Like all reactor designs, they have made substantial advances in safety and efficiency.

In Canada and elsewhere, there is considerable interest in applying newer SMR designs:

  • For electricity generation — replacing aging fossil-fuel units of similar size and power.
  • For electricity in small, remote communities where diesel is currently in use.
  • For process heat applications – in heat-intensive resource extraction industries (smelting ore, extracting bitumen from oilsands, cooking wood pulp).
  • For local heat applications in arctic communities.

Why Go Nuke?
Nuclear energy provides a clean and reliable source of power and is an important part of Canada’s clean energy portfolio. Because there are virtually no greenhouse gas emissions from our power generating plants, it does not contribute to global climate change or smog.

Not only important in energy production, the application of nuclear science improves the health and well-being of Canadians through nuclear medicine and food safety technologies as well. Innovation in nuclear science is also being applied to address a number of societal challenges such as public health and transportation.

Nuclear Energy Nuclear Outreach

Nuclear in the Oil Sands: Building On Canada’s Strengths

Canada has high-quality uranium deposits and a highly developed base of nuclear technologies, including power generation, medicine, food safety, mining and processing, and materials science – in all of which Canadians have done well, as innovators and as businesses.

That Canadian power reactor designs have been sold in six other countries — against substantial US, Japanese and European competition — is a remarkable technological and commercial success story, especially considering that they were developed and marketed independently by a small country, and only for civilian uses.  Management of this business has passed to Candu Energy Inc., and Canadians will soon see what private industry can do with this opportunity given the current nuclear revival, which is being led by emerging economies.

There are diverse examples of nuclear energy being used for process heat applications such as smelting minerals and desalinating seawater.   And today there are various new nuclear reactor technologies available or on the horizon (Generation III and IV reactors, small modular reactors and others) that promise to make nuclear power options even safer than they currently are, as well as easier to finance.

The development of the oil sands has repeatedly faced difficult technical and economic challenges.  While private industry was the main driver and investor, public sector actors played a significant role.  Backed by industry consensus and assisted by economic policy through such measures as royalty and tax adjustments, these public sector champions enabled the development of the oil industry that Canada has today:  our largest export earner and a huge wealth generator for the private and public sectors.

Capturing more of the value of this resource within the Canadian economy is of interest to many in policy circles.  So would be extracting the bitumen in ways that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and conserve cleaner fossil fuels.  Among the options would be to apply nuclear power in place of natural gas to generate the heat needed for bitumen extraction.   While innovators in the oil sands industry are aware of the long-term possibilities of nuclear, for the most part they are currently occupied with closer-to-deployment technical advances.

Currently deployed reactor designs would not be easy to apply to bitumen extraction in the oil sands.  They require large, permanent installations with large support staffs.  Even with these challenges, however, nuclear appeared in a 2003 study by the Canadian Energy Research Institute  to be approximately competitive with natural gas in in-situ applications.

Newer reactor designs such as the Enhanced CANDU 6, the Advanced CANDU Reactor (ACR-1000), and other so-called Generation 3 and 4 reactors, some of which are close to deployment but have not yet established multi-year track records in operation, will further advance the safety of nuclear energy and could substantially improve its economics.  Also, several small modular reactor (SMR) designs are being promoted – in varying degrees of proximity to deployment – with promises of further reductions in the financing, building and maintenance costs of nuclear energy, improving its applicability to non-power uses.  These promised advances are mainly based on SMRs’ portability, modularity, steam characteristics, and maintenance needs.

Conversations with a number of industry experts in Alberta in mid-2011 elicited views like these:

“When they advance the technology, we might be interested.  It’s too far from deployment right now.”

“Coal and gas are abundant and cheap here, at least for now. Why should the province help nuclear, an outside industry, rather than coal or gas?”

“Nuclear will be the likely option because it’s the alternative with no greenhouse gases.  But it takes time to develop that option.”

“The oil industry is actually quite risk-averse.  They need to see a new technology demonstrated before they’ll invest in it.”

Those are anecdotal and attitudinal comments, but they reflect an industry state of mind:  there is an economic opportunity in nuclear that is not being seized.

The likely steps to realizing this opportunity could be:

  • First, some academic and/or think-thank studies to build awareness of the scope of the opportunity.
  • Second, a technical survey of the bitumen operations’ energy requirements, and of the available nuclear technologies, to shorten the list of technical options.
  • Third, a multi-stakeholder technology development process, aimed at narrowing the technology gaps to a point where cost ranges and time frames would be sufficiently defined that business models could be contemplated.

The opportunity in bringing nuclear to the oil sands should stand on its own merits, and we have a responsibility to future generations to evaluate it based on the facts.

But having a vision of what we want, and the imagination to get there, is indispensable to winning as a country.  The successes we have today in Canada’s nuclear and oil sands industries, the pioneers who foresaw them, and the roads we travelled to achieve them, tell us that.

Messages Nuclear Energy

Size Matters: Small Nuclear Reactors and Alberta’s Oil Sands Development

Earlier today, Denise Carpenter, President and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association, gave a presentation at the Oil Sands Infrastructure Summit in Calgary. The presentation focused on developing and maintaining a sustainable oil sands infrastructure, and on the role nuclear technology can play in achieving that objective.

President & CEO of the CNA – Denise Carpenter

The Canadian Nuclear Association represents all nuclear technologies in Canada.  The tens of thousands of Canadians whose jobs are connected to those technologies work in nuclear power generation, nuclear medicine, pharmaceuticals, food safety, materials science, engineering, science and technology services, and many other areas.

We believe that small modular reactor technology represents a unique and discrete change in the possibilities for applying nuclear energy in the oil sands.

SMR technology creates an opportunity for Alberta to show the world that you have the courage and commitment to live up to your vision.

Small Modular Reactors: How Small Is Small?

The acronym SMRs originally referred to Small and Medium Reactors, where “small” was defined to be less than 300 megawatts of electricity and “medium” reactors to be between 300 and 700 megawatts. The SMRs of interest in the oil sands typically fall into the “very small” range.

Why Small Nuclear for the Oil Sands?

At this point you may wonder why I think nuclear is a good fit for the oil sands. After all, haven’t there been a number of studies that seem to suggest that it’s not?  Well, the problem with these studies is that they were looking at the wrong size reactors.

Large reactors present a challenge for use in the oil sands. These include, among other things:

  • Large, permanent installations with high capital cost;
  • Large support staff with high operation and maintenance costs;
  • Relatively short maintenance and/or refueling cycles;
  • Excessive energy production (thermal & electric);  and,
  • Concerns about whether the steam is of adequate temperature and pressure.

To our knowledge, there have not been any comparable studies of SMRs for the oil sands. However, very preliminary evaluations that have been carried out by some in the nuclear industry suggest that SMRs can overcome these shortcomings and that they provide a vastly better match for Steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD).

The Hydrocarbon Value Chain
Today, most bitumen production is from in-situ processes, and of these, the SAGD process is the fastest growing. The SAGD process uses high-temperature, high-pressure steam for extraction of the bitumen from the oil sands, and for the most part this steam is currently generated using natural gas.

 

–    Quote Source: Oil Sands Technology Roadmap.

 

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Possibly the most critical issue that has stimulated interest in using nuclear power to produce steam for the SAGD process rather than natural gas is the growing concern over greenhouse gas emissions.

At present it takes up to 30 cubic meters of natural gas to produce a barrel of oil.  With projections of three million barrels per day by 2016, a great deal of natural gas will be required.

Quite apart from the question of gas availability, this has major CO2 implications.  Essentially, the equivalent of about 20% of the energy in the oil is required to produce it and about 80 kilograms of CO2 is released for every barrel of oil produced.

This is even before refining begins – and without even talking about a price on carbon.  If any substantial price were put on carbon, we could be talking about a very great deal of money indeed in this context.

Nuclear power generation is an important part of a clean energy solution for Canada as it produces virtually no greenhouse gas emissions.  The emissions are actually zero from the heat generation process itself, but we say “virtually no emissions” because building and servicing any plant still requires using trucks, equipment and so on that do emit some greenhouse gases.

How clean is nuclear compared to the alternatives?  Well, it has been calculated that the use of nuclear power generation instead of coal avoids about 90 million tonnes per year of GHG emissions.  And nuclear is a strategy for making that kind of change in the oil sands.

Click here for the the full speech (PDF).