Canada’s first new nuclear reactor in decades is an American design. Will it prompt a rethink of government support?

by AryanArtnews
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Visitors to the Darlington Nuclear Generating Plant in Clarington, Ontario, overlook the facility’s grounds during the February 2016 tour.Fred Lamb / Globe and Mail

Ontario Power Generation has selected GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to help build a small modular reactor (SMR) at Darlington Station in Clarington, Ontario, which has the potential to shape the Canadian nuclear industry over the next few decades. The movement event has started.

The OPG selection announced in December is the BWRX-300. This is a light water reactor, the most popular variety in developed countries and quite different from Canada’s existing fleet. CANDU Heavy water reactor. Although not exactly small, the BWRX’s 300 MW nameplate capacity is about the same as a large wind farm, but produces only one-third the power of a traditional nuclear reactor. It uses different fuels, produces different waste and probably has different safety implications.

The Darlington SMR will be the first BWRX-300 ever manufactured. By moving first, OPG wants Ontario to be part of the global supply chain for these reactors.

“OPG itself, we don’t really get anything, it’s a lot of work,” said Robin Manly, Vice President of Nuclear Development at OPG. “Our goal is to sign as many contracts as possible with Canadian suppliers.” But to satisfy some critics who protested North Carolina-based GE Hitachi’s choice of OPG for US design. May not be possible.

It seems to mark the end of Canada’s homegrown reactor tradition. The BWRX-300 will be Canada’s first new reactor since Darlington Unit 4 in Ontario, completed in 1993. According to MycleSchneiderConsulting, the average age of 19 operating reactors in Canada is 38 years. Attempts to update the CANDU design have had little success. OPG and Bruce Power chose to refurbish the reactors at Darlington and Bruce stations and operate them for decades, and decided on the size of the SMR as the next action.

I don’t have enough time. The last decade has been widely regarded as important for building emissions-free power generation capacity. Even if this BWRX-300 is manufactured on time, the SMR will be late for the party. Delays and cost overruns, the risks that are always present in any reactor, can kill that outlook.

The partnership with OPG represents a major coup of GE Hitachi, a US-Japan alliance that established an SMR subsidiary in Canada within a year. There are at least 50 SMR designs around the world, but most are only on paper. Vendors are fiercely competing to sell to experienced nuclear operators such as OPG to provide the opportunity to build genuine reactors that can seduce other clients. For the same reason, the OPG decision was made by Terrestrial Energy Inc, based in Oakville, Ontario. And hit the candidate who lost the US vendor X-energy.

“There is a lot of enthusiasm for SMR among reactor designers, developers, national laboratories, and the academic nuclear engineering department,” said Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists. I am. 2021. “Power companies don’t want to be guinea pigs, so they have a lot of supply but not much demand.”

Nuclear industry executives and government officials We hope that Darlington SMR will be the first of many deployed in Ontario and beyond. Sask Power is also shopping. It has been working with OPG since 2017 and states that the BWRX-300 is one of the candidates. Due to Canada’s small population, observers are wondering if Canada can support the supply chain of multiple reactor designs.

However, OPG’s choice of the American SMR has received some sharp criticism. Some observers assumed that terrestrials enjoyed the advantage of private land, especially in light of the federal government’s decision to invest $ 20 million in its integrated molten salt reactor (IMSR). “Canadian design should have been a priority,” said the Society of Professional Engineers and Associates, a union representing engineers and others working on the CANDU reactor.

MV Ramana, a professor at the Institute for Global Studies, University of British Columbia, said: “It’s not a good sign for Canada’s nuclear industry.”

Professor Ramana added that the OPG’s decision may encourage reconsideration of government support for SMR developers. In addition to terrestrial funding, Mortex Energy received $ 50.5 million from the Federal Strategic Innovation Fund and the Atlantic Canada Opportunity Agency to advance the stable salt reactor-waste burner they are working on in New Brunswick. ARC Clean Energy has received $ 20 million from the New Brunswick State Government for the ARC-100 reactor.

“If these companies can’t convince OPG, they may have to stop funding,” he said.

However, observers said GE Hitachi was a conservative choice among the three publicly announced candidates for OPG. Most SMR vendors are start-ups that have not yet built a single reactor, but GE Hitachi has been in business since the mid-1950s. The BWRX-300 is billed as the 10th generation of the company’s light water reactor design.

“I would bet money that was the decisive factor,” Lyman said. “The supply chain is probably more established than these other designs with little or no operational experience and many other unknowns are associated with it.”

Other experts have reached similar conclusions. Tractebel, an engineering company working on nuclear projects in 20 countries, evaluated dozens of SMR designs in Estonia a few years ago. The BWRX-300 has created a short list that has been endorsed as a simple “proven technology”. (Although they scored high on the ground, Tractebel concluded that molten salt reactors such as IMSR are farther away.)

Unlike CANDU, which consumes unconcentrated uranium, light water reactors need to concentrate fuel to increase the content of uranium-235. By adopting a design other than CANDU, Lyman said Canada will rely on enriched fuels imported from the United States, Europe, or other countries.

The industry also needs to learn how to dispose of unfamiliar waste. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), which is in the final stages of choosing an underground storage site for radioactive spent fuel in Canada, says that spent BWRX-300 fuel produces more heat and radioactivity than CANDU fuel. He said it could be stored in fewer containers. , Placed further away.

“We will learn from international partners who already have plans to permanently store this type of waste in geological disposal sites,” NWMO said in a statement.

All this assumes that an OPG reactor will be built. In the first place, the BWRX-300 doesn’t really have a license to build anywhere. GE Hitachi participates in the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s Vendor Design Review, through which we receive early feedback from regulatory agencies regarding reactors. After completing that process, you can be sure that CNSC did not find any features that deviated from Canadian requirements.

After that, GE Hitachi will need construction license. Like other SMR vendors, GE Hitachi will market SMRs with “passive” safety features. This means that in the event of an accident, the plant will have enough water and electricity to operate without intervention for days or even weeks. A safer reactor could also be a cheaper reactor. For example, SMRs require less containment than traditional designs, resulting in less concrete. GE Hitachi says BWRX-300 accounts for less than 10 percent Of its predecessor’s volume. However, the CNSC must first agree that the reactor has actually acquired low safeguards.

“It’s a fairly early stage in the licensing process,” Manley admitted. “We, the operators, are confident that we can obtain a license for this reactor.”

However, critics say it will be difficult to complete the reactor by 2028. According to Mycle Schneider Consulting, one-eighth of the reactors that began construction since 1951 were not connected to the grid. Many survivors, on the other hand, arrived many years later than promised.

Manly said 2028 is an “ambitious goal” rather than a tight deadline. The project schedule will be finalized over the next two years.

OPG hasn’t released a cost estimate yet, but according to a report released by PwC, the SMR project is “expected to spend $ 2 billion over seven years.” This is already higher than the $ 1 billion price tag that GE Hitachi promised to the BWRX-300 in 2019. (In a public presentation, GE executives declared that keeping prices below US $ 1 billion is important for plans to expand the customer base exponentially.)

Still, Mr. Manly said The intent of OPG is for SMR to be cost competitive with other clean energy options.

Professor Ramana said rising costs are virtually inevitable.Westinghouse Pressurized Water Reactor AP1000 Reactor It generated 1,110 MW and was initially expected to cost US $ 2 billion. However, the price of the two-unit Vogtle plant in Georgia was estimated at US $ 14 billion and subsequently exceeded US $ 30 billion. Westinghouse marketing materials emphasize that reactors have been significantly simplified, resulting in lower construction, operation and maintenance costs.

“Historically, vendor quotes are always much lower, much lower than the actual cost,” said Professor Ramana. “I don’t think there is any reason to expect this to be different.”

Over the last two decades, Manly acknowledged that large nuclear power plants are “a challenge to complete on schedule and budget.” But that’s one of the reasons OPG decided to build an SMR. They are “lower cost of capital, simpler, smaller, and therefore faster and easier to build,” he said.

And this is not the first time OPG has managed a complex and risky capital project. According to the company, the $ 12.8 billion renovation of Darlington Station is now half-completed and is on schedule and on budget. That experience “shows that by taking the time to plan your work properly, you can make good estimates and schedules,” says Manly.


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