Canada will make dozens of small modular nuclear reactors

Ontario Power Generation [OPG] plans to fill a predicted supply gap in the 2030s with new nuclear capacity and the utility is collaborating with Saskatchewan on the potential for a Pan-Canadian fleet of Small Modular Reactors, Nicolle Butcher, OPG’s Vice President of Strategy and Acquisitions, said.

OPG, the province’s largest power generator, replaced coal-fired generation with renewable energy, backstopped by gas-fired capacity and life extensions of 6.6 GW of large-scale nuclear capacity. The utility plans to close its 3.1 GW Pickering plant in 2024 and new carbon-free power capacity will be needed to ensure Ontario meets its objective of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 37% below 1990 levels by 2030 and by 80% by 2050.

OPG forecasts a gap in its power generation portfolio in the 2030s and it intends to fill this gap with nuclear power, Butcher told the International SMR and Advanced Reactor Summit 2017 on March 30.

A number of advanced nuclear reactor developers are targeting the Canadian market, where the risk-informed regulatory framework is considered more supportive for licensing new designs than in the U.S. and where numerous remote communities and industrial facilities represent captive electricity consumers.

Ontario and New Brunswick are the only Canadian provinces to operate large-scale nuclear power plants but several Canadian provinces are seen as potential markets for either grid-size SMRs or Very Small Modular Reactors (VSMRs).

In October 2016, Ontario Power Generation started a US$9.6 billion refurbishment project at its 3.5 GW Darlington nuclear plant to extend the lifespan by 30 years. Bruce Power has also begun a US$10 billion life-extension project for its 6.3 GW nuclear plant northwest of Toronto.

The utility plans to close its 3 GW Pickering nuclear plant in 2024, so it needs new carbon-free power to ensure Ontario meets its 2030 goal to cut carbon emissions by 37% below 1990 levels, and its even more ambitious 2050 goal of being 80% below 1990 levels.

Saskatchewan is a key global uranium producer and is seen as a potential market for grid-size SMR deployment.

OPG and Saskatchewan’s main power utility Saskpower are examining the “potential to have the same reactor design and whether it fits into the system,” Butcher said.

“We would prefer not to have a unique reactor in our province as a single unit, we would like to have a fleet across the country,” she said.

Canada’s own new SMR company, Terrestrial Energy Inc. (TEI), has a new small modular Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) design that is ideal for this future, that is, a nuclear reactor that:

– is cheaper than coal and can last for decades longer
– is a 400 MWt (190 MWe) modular design, one able to be adapted to needs for both on and off-grid heat and power
– is small and modular enough to allow simple construction in under 4 years, and trucking of modules to the site
– operates at normal pressures, removing those safety issues, and at higher temperatures, providing more energy for the same amount of fuel
– it does not require water for cooling and has the type of passive safety systems that make it walk-away safe
– can load-follow rapidly to buffer the intermittency of renewables
– generates less waste that is also more easily managed

Terrestrial Energy’s reactor uses the natural convection of the molten salt to remove the heat to the vessel walls passively where its containment silo simply adsorbs the heat decay and conducts it away – this is passive cooling at its simplest.

SOURCES -Nuclear Energy Insider, Forbes – James Conca

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