Small Modular Reactors in Canada’s future

By: Donald Jones, retired nuclear industry engineer, 2019 December 04

The announcement on 2019 December 01 by the premiers of Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick about cooperation in the development and deployment of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) (Ref. 1) should not have come as a total surprise. Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has been working with a Micro Modular Reactor (MMR- a smaller version of a SMR) vendor to assist in getting its design through the pre-licensing vendor design reviews of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). Bruce Power and New Brunswick Power have also been working with SMR vendors. There are many (Ref.2) SMR vendors at different stages in the review pipeline of the CNSC with no two reactors being the same. In some cases the design is an improved version of small reactors that have operated successfully in the past but now meeting current design codes and safety regulations in a modular configuration. Small reactors of various capacities and capable of rapid power manoeuvring have been used for many years to power submarines, aircraft carriers (U.S.A) and heavy duty ice breakers (Russia). Small reactors of many different designs are not new but the concept of designing  them for serial construction and collectively to comprise a large nuclear power plant is new.

In Ontario OPG is supporting the regulatory application for a MMR (Ref. 3), led by Global First Power (GFP). The application was submitted to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) on March 20, 2019. The application is also supported by nuclear-technology-innovator Ultra Safe Nuclear™ Corporation (USNC). The MMR is being proposed for the Chalk River, Ontario, site of  Canadian Nuclear Laboratories. The proposed project includes a nuclear plant, which would contain a MMR High Temperature Gas-cooled Reactor that would provide process heat to an adjacent plant, via molten salt. The MMR would produce approximately 15 MWt of process heat to generate electrical power, up to 5 MWe, and/or heat as required, over an operating life-span of 20 years. The MMR™ plant is based on USNC’s proprietary Fully Ceramic Micro-encapsulated™ (FCM™) fuel technology which will bring an unprecedented level of safety as well as improved economics and reduced environmental impact for remote power applications.The MMR concept draws on operational experience from the high-temperature gas-cooled reactors developed by the U.S., Germany, China and Japan.

OPG is also working with NuScale (Ref.4) to support it in its CNSC  pre-licensing vendor design reviews and in its larger efforts to develop, license, and deploy the first NuScale SMR plant in Canada. NuScale has also partnered with Bruce Power on a project to develop a business case for introducing safe, scalable, economic, and carbon-free SMRs to the Canadian market. NuScale`s SMR is based on well proven light water reactor technology. The NuScale SMR is a 50 MWe (gross) pressurized water reactor and a power station would consist of up to 12 of these small reactors to provide a 570 MWe (net) output. Each NuScale power module is a 160 MWt reactor core housed with other primary system components in an integral reactor pressure vessel and surrounded by a steel containment pressure vessel. The World Nuclear Association says that a preferred site has been identified for the construction of a NuScale SMR at the US Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL), near Idaho Falls. In 2016 NuScale confirmed it intends to participate in a U.K. government competition to identify the most suitable SMR design for possible future deployment.

In New Brunswick, NB Power is cooperating with Advanced Reactor Concepts (ARC) Nuclear and Moltex Energy, the two companies carrying out research and development of small modular reactors at offices in Saint John, New Brunswick.

The ARC-100 (Ref.5) is a 100 MWe sodium cooled, fast flux, pool type reactor with metallic fuel that builds on the 30-year successful operation of the EBR-II reactor built and operated by the Argonne National Laboratory in the U.S. It can be fuelled with fuel derived from the spent fuel produced by traditional reactors like Point Lepreau,

The Moltex SMR (Ref. 6) is classified as a stable salt reactor (SSR) and unlike other molten salt reactors uses molten salt fuel held inside vertical fuel tubes similar to current LWRs. The plan calls for Moltex to deploy its first SSR-W (Wasteburner) at the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant site before 2030. The SSR-W300 is the physically smallest and simplest design in the SSR family. The reactor is rated at 750 MWt and is capable of providing a mean electrical output of 300 MW. It is fuelled with uranium, plutonium and higher actinide trichlorides that have been derived from spent fuel from traditional thermal reactors like Point Lepreau, and hence is identified as a “wasteburner”.

In addition to the interest in SMRs shown by the utilities and Bruce Power the main driving force behind it all comes from Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), Canada’s premier nuclear science and technology organization,  that has plans to become a global leader in SMRs (Ref. 7) and intends to site a small modular reactor (SMR) demonstration unit at one of its managed campuses.

Natural Resources Canada has produced a roadmap for SMR development (Ref 8) and the World Nuclear Association has a global view of SMRs and small reactors (Ref. 9).

 

References

1. Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), 2019 Oct.1,  https://nuclearsafety.gc.ca/eng/reactors/research-reactors/other-reactor-facilities/small-modular-reactors.cfm

2.  CNSC Pre-Licensing Vendor Design Review, 2019 Oct.24,  https://nuclearsafety.gc.ca/eng/reactors/power-plants/pre-licensing-vendor-design-review/index.cfm

3. Micro Modular Reactor Energy System, https://usnc.com/MMR.html

4, NuScale SMR, https://www.nuscalepower.com/technology

5. ARC-100 SMR,  https://www.arcnuclear.com/arc-100-reactor

6. Moltex Stable Salt Reactor (SSR), https://www.moltexenergy.com/

7. Update on CNL`s SMR invitation process, 2019 Feb. 15,  https://www.cnl.ca/en/home/facilities-and-expertise/smr/progressupdate.aspx

8. Canadian Small Modular Reactor Roadmap, 2019 Feb. 5,  https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/our-natural-resources/energy-sources-distribution/nuclear-energy-and-uranium/canadian-small-modular-reactor-roadmap/21183

9. Small Nuclear Power Reactors, World Nuclear Association, 2019 November, https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/nuclear-power-reactors/small-nuclear-power-reactors.aspx

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