Global First Power enters Stage 3 of CNL SMR programme

GFP's design is first to enter environmental assessment, having passed rigorous due diligence requirements.

Global First Power's MMR has a modular, scalable design with 20-year lifetime.

Global First Power (GFP) has entered Stage 3 of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ (CNL) SMR development programme, putting it in pole position.

The Canadian Federal government announced the commencement of the environmental assessment (EA) on 15 July in support of the project led by GFP and supported by Ontario Power Generation and technology designer Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC). As of 9 August, a public participation period is now underway.

Under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, GFP's proposal requires approval and licensing by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). An EA conducted under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 is required, and an EA decision affirming that the proposed activities will not cause significant adverse environmental effects, before the CNSC can make a licensing decision on the proposal.

The project aims to construct and operate a 15 MW thermal (approximately 5 MW electrical) high-temperature gas-cooled Micro Modular Reactor (MMR) plant at the Chalk River Laboratories, owned by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited and operated by CNL.

If approved, the project could serve as a model for future SMR deployments that could provide a viable option to displace fossil fuel use and help achieve climate change goals. The GFP project reflects a number of firsts in Canada, including being the first design in the CNL SMR program to advance to Stage 3 of the review process.

Stage 3 includes preliminary, non-exclusive discussions regarding land arrangements, project risk management, and contractual terms. The fourth and final stage, Project Execution, would include construction, testing and commissioning, operation and ultimately decommissioning of the SMR unit.

In June, USNC CEO Francesco Venneri told Nuclear Energy Insider that the company's experience engaging with Canadian regulators and CNL for more than four years gave them greater understanding of the licensing process.

“We have a good path to commercializing our design quickly because of the low cost of prototyping. With the right set of financing we’re set to break ground in about three years," said Venneri.

Design difference

The MMR design is a high-temperature gas reactor (HTGR). There are other HTGR designs elsewhere in the world, however GFP says its MMR has important features that set it apart.

These include having accident tolerant fuel. The MMR plant uses USNC’s proprietary Fully Ceramic Micro-encapsulated (FCM) fuel technology. Tiny grains of uranium are clad in layers of silicon carbide and encased in structural, fully-dense silicon carbide to provide the strongest possible barrier to the release of fission products. The fuel is designed to remain safe and undamaged under all operating and postulated accident conditions.

The MMR is only fuelled once in its lifetime, so no refuelling is required and no fuel is stored on site. However, the 20-year limit refers to the reactor fuel, so at the end of 20 years, the reactor core can be removed, shipped off-site and replaced by a new core, if required.

If the energy is no longer needed in that area, for example at remote mining operation, the entire installation could be removed and supporting infrastructure dismantled. GFP says that given the modularity of the design, this is a relatively simple process compared to other energy infrastructure designs.

GFP adds that the MMR is simple to operate, and its output is flexible. The use of molten-salt thermal storage can supply both electricity and/or process heat. Being completely modular and fully scalable, each nuclear power unit is self-contained, and additional units can simply be added to the power plant as needed, up to 150 MW.

Meeting energy needs

GFP says the recent drive towards zero emissions is driving the development of SMRs and their MMR.

“From a global perspective, there is a need to bridge the gap between the increasing worldwide demand for energy and the urgency to manage environmental impacts and achieve climate change goals,” GFP CEO Joe Howieson told Nuclear Energy Insider.

“No single energy source can meet that need. The world needs clean reliable nuclear energy to complement other renewable energy sources. In Canada, we have similar needs – meeting energy demands while achieving climate change goals. Nuclear has a long, rich history in Canada and we have the opportunity to leverage the experience and expertise that has been gained through 50 years of safe, nuclear generation, including technical depth and knowledge, existing supply chain, and energy industry infrastructure.”

In a press release, the MMR is described as being “economically competitive”, and will have lower development costs compared to other SMRs and 4th generation reactor concepts.

“We expect the MMR to produce power at prices that will become increasingly competitive, starting at a price point similar to solar PV about 10 years ago,” said USNC CEO Francesco Venneri. “Due to its inherent safety features which make our technology distinctively non-nuclear in its risk profile, MMR-sourced power will follow a price trajectory similar to renewables, with consistent cost reductions as manufacturing expenditures are reduced.”

According to Lazard’s latest annual Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis (LCOE 12.0, published in November 2018) there has been a continued decline in the cost of generating electricity from alternative energy technologies, especially utility-scale solar and wind in the US.

In 2009, according to the report, the cost of solar was US$359/MWh. In 2018, that figure dropped to just US$43/MWh – a fall of 88% over nine years.

First in the race

The number of countries and companies joining the SMR race is constantly growing, and the race is unquestionably hotting up. CNL’s current SMR development programme features four project proponents in the following stages:

• Completed Phase 1: U-Battery Canada Ltd.’s 4 MW high-temperature gas reactor.
• Completed Phase 1: StarCore Nuclear’s 14 MW high-temperature gas reactor.
• Completed Phase 1: Terrestrial Energy’s 190 MW integral molten salt reactor.
• Entered Stage 3: Global First Power’s 5 MW high-temperature gas reactor.

Of those four, U-Battery – a concept developed by the University of Manchester in the UK and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands – was the latest to announced it had submitted its prequalification package. U-Battery completed Phase 1 on 29 July.

“This is an exciting time for U-Battery as we are now a step closer to establishing a first-of-a-kind SMR at the Chalk River research facility," said U-Battery General Manager Steve Threlfall. "U-Battery has the potential to drive significant regional economic benefits across Canada while addressing urgent climate change needs.”

In this ‘race’ GFP is clearly leading the way, but with other nations including China also in advanced stages of development, the pressure is on to take full advantage of the SMR opportunity.

Source: CNL's 'Request for Expressions of Interest' report (October 2017).

“Canada has the opportunity to lead SMR development around the world,” said Eric McGoey, Engagement and Communications Director at GFP.

“Being first enables Canada to embed supply chain for this new technology in Canada, rather than buy it from elsewhere. That means jobs in manufacturing, operations, services, etc, that could support this sector both in Canada and abroad.

“There is an appetite in the Canadian industry to move forward, but there is risk if we don’t move quickly (within the next 10 years); we will follow the rest of the world and lose first mover advantages.

“The industry needs a new nuclear success story. Canada has the ability and capability to do this with the first SMR deployment.”

Scott Birch