Canada receives over 15 SMR proposals ahead of test center expansion

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) plans to use a deluge of submissions from international SMR developers and stakeholders to shape the deployment of CA$1.2 billion ($940 million) investments in new CNL research facilities, laboratory directors told Nuclear Energy Insider.

Canada has emerged as a leading market for SMR development, driven by supportive regulatory regimes, research support and numerous deployment opportunities.

CNL has designated SMR technology as a research priority and the research centre aims to demonstrate the commercial viability of an SMR plant by 2026. CNL estimates the cost of hosting a prototype SMR at CA$600 million, including contributions from commercial entities, although this figure will depend on chosen technology type.

In June, CNL launched a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEOI) on SMRs from vendors, suppliers, academics and potential end-users to establish existing capabilities, technology gaps and needs.

The RFEOI closed August 9 and CNL received an "overwhelming response" from interested parties, Bronwyn Hyland, Program Manager, SMR Technologies, CNL, told Nuclear Energy Insider.

"Over 70 responses were received from a wide range of stakeholders representing all aspects of a potential SMR industry. This includes more than 15 expressions of interest to build prototype or demonstration reactors at a CNL site," Hyland said.

CNL plans to begin the generic site selection and licensing process for Canada’s first demonstration reactor later this year.

Seven vendors have already filed their designs to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for phase 1 of the pre-licensing review process, including Terrestrial Energy’s integrated molten salt reactor (ISMR) and LeadCold’s Swedish Advanced Lead Reactor (SEALER).

Terrestrial Energy expects to complete the pre-licensing review process in the second half of 2017.

In June, Terrestrial Energy announced that CNL had begun feasibility studies for the siting of its first ISMR.

“This is an important milestone for Terrestrial Energy. It maintains our momentum for 2020s deployment of IMSR power plants,” Simon Irish, the company's CEO, said.

Multiple designs

CNL's SMR development program will be supported by CA$1.2 billion of federal funding distributed by Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL) to upgrade and modernize nuclear research infrastructure.

CNL’s Chalk River site will be transformed into a modern, efficient and collaborative nuclear research campus as the institution looks to position itself as a global leader in nuclear science and technology.

The site investment would drive forward Canada's SMR development program, supporting the design, build and licensing processes and potentially hosting multiple SMR designs, Kathy McCarthy, Vice President Research and Development, CNL, told Nuclear Energy Insider.

“The SMR initiative ended up being one of the very important [investment initiatives] because there is this very strong international interest in SMRs and with Canada’s strong and technology-agnostic regulatory framework, it’s very inviting to non-traditional designs,” she said.

                           CNL's key science delivery milestones

                                                              (Click to enlarge)

Source: CNL Long Term Strategy (2016).

In the U.S., NuScale became the first SMR developer to file a complete Design Certification Application (DCA) to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in January this year. The NRC began the full licence review for NuScale's IPWR light water reactor (LWR) design in March.

Faced with limited resources, the NRC has been developing new regulatory guidelines for ‘advanced’ or ‘non-LWR’ designs and the regulator aims to be able to review non-LWR designs by 2025.

Supply gaps

A range of international SMR stakeholders submitted interest in Canada’s RFEOI and the scope of the request was widened to include power consumers, Hyland told Nuclear Energy Insider.

“We’re looking at stakeholders broadly and so we also wanted to hear from the potential user-community...So, this is a little different from a typical, technically-focused sort of request,” she said.

Input from both the supply side and the demand side of the emerging SMR market is key to ensure appropriate technology selection, Richard Sexton, President and CEO, AECL told Nuclear Energy Insider.

“I think experience would suggest that the process that we’re on - of understanding the market, understanding the stakeholders - is a wise way to move forward on new technology,” he said.

Ontario Power Generation [OPG], one of Canada’s largest power suppliers, plans to fill a predicted supply gap in the 2030s with new nuclear capacity. The utility is collaborating with Saskatchewan authorities on the potential for a Pan-Canadian fleet of SMRs, Nicolle Butcher, OPG's Vice President of Strategy & Acquisitions, said at the International SMR and Advanced Reactor Summit 2017 in March.

While Ontario's clean energy initiatives have supported major refurbishments of OPG’s two large-scale nuclear plants, uncertainty over long-term demand trends and a need for shorter development timeframes support SMR build, Butcher said.

"Being able to see 15 years out is becoming more difficult...We need something that can be competitive with a [gas-fired] plant from a decision-making perspective," she said.

              Forecast winter peak demand, supply in Ontario
                                  (Click to enlarge)

Note: Outlook lines represent future demand scenarios.
Source: Ontario's Independent Electricity System Operator (September 2016).

To feature in utilities' long-term power generation plans, SMR developers should aim to limit the time between investment decisions and plant delivery to 5 to 7 years, Butcher said.

"We can keep stability in the decision-making for that period of time," she said.

A number of advanced nuclear reactor developers are targeting Canada's remote communities and industrial facilities which represent captive energy consumers.

Sweden’s LeadCold aims to deploy its SEALER design within the remote Arctic regions where power users are off-grid and depend on high-cost diesel-fired generators, Janne Wallenuis, CEO, told Nuclear Energy Insider in March.

More than 20 mining projects in North West Territories and Nunavut have been identified as suitable for SEALER, offering a potential annual market value of CA$200 million based on the delivery of two units each year, he said.

                         North West Territories electricity supply

                                                              (Click to enlarge)

Source: NWT Power 2012, published in the CNL nuclear review (2016).

International projects

CNL plans to publish a summary of the RFEOI responses this fall, after which the CNL will work with the AECL to develop the next steps of the program. An open public forum is planned for October.

RFEOI feedback will help CNL plan its CA$1.2 billion facility investments and CNL will build flexibility into its facilities to respond to current and future areas of importance, McCarthy said.

Investments will include the development of CNL’s advanced nuclear materials research center and an upgrade of the existing hot cell to accommodate the latest post-irradiation examination equipment, she said.

CNL's comprehensive approach to understanding SMR technologies and practical applications could open up partnerships with other countries, McCarthy noted.

“We’re looking to form partnerships or build on existing partnerships for capabilities that don’t make sense to develop here," she said.

"The nuclear research world is international and nuclear facilities are very expensive, so we want to appropriately leverage what exists while building what is right for Canada here at CNL.”

By Karen Thomas