Canada signs flurry of SMR contracts as innovation support widens

After a surge of SMR proposals, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories has started research work to support four different design technologies and is working with public and industry partners to support deployment in remote locations and mining applications.

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) plans to spend CA$1.2 billion in new research facilities, including new buildings at its Chalk River site. (Image credit: CNL)

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Canada's SMR development program is advancing at a rapid rate, as developers respond to ambitious research initiatives, supportive regulatory regimes and a wide variety of deployment opportunities.

CNL has designated SMR technology as a research priority and aims to build a demonstration SMR plant on site by 2026. A recent Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEOI) by CNL yielded responses from 80 SMR vendors, suppliers, academics and potential end-users.

CNL received 19 expressions of interest for a prototype or demonstration reactor at a CNL site and a further three developers propose to move straight to commercial deployment in Canada, CNL said in a report published October 17.

CNL has so far signed MOU's with seven companies to develop and site an SMR at a CNL facility and projects are already underway to support four different reactor types, CNL sources have told Nuclear Energy Insider.

As the below chart shows, a large number of different SMR technologies were submitted into the RFEOI. Power capacities ranged from 2 MW up to 1 GW.

   Proposed SMR technologies in Canada's RFEOI

                               (Click image to enlarge)

Source: CNL

In addition to four active contracts for SMR development work, a further 22 contracts are under discussion, Corey McDaniel, VP Business Development, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, said in a webinar hosted by Nuclear Energy Insider on October 19.

"We are hoping within the next couple of months to get the rest of those contracts signed," McDaniel said.

Construction timelines for the new reactor designs will depend on financing capabilities, technology readiness and licensing progress, Bronwyn Hyland, CNL's Program Manager, SMR Technologies, told Nuclear Energy Insider.

"The construction of seven reactors concurrently at CNL would be a challenge...however, we can support the development of many different reactor types concurrently through Science and Technology (S&T) projects in our more than 50 facilities," Hyland said.

Licensing push

Eight developers have already applied for pre-licensing engagement with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission [CNSC] using the vendor design review process for new reactor designs.

                     Current pre-licensing vendor design reviews

                                                         (Click image to enlarge)

Source: CNSC

Terrestrial Energy has emerged as one of the front-runners in Canadian SMR development, announcing in June that it has begun feasibility studies with CNL for the siting of its first ISMR.

CNL's siting feasibility studies consist of a generic siting studies combined with vendor specific studies.

Siting studies are currently being carried out with Terrestrial Energy and a "couple" of other vendor designs, McDaniel said October 19.

"We are developing right now a process for negotiations and agreements with the vendors, to determine how sites might be assigned...Then we will determine how we might actually provide licences to prepare sites and construct," he said.

Innovation support

CNL is studying a range of financing options to support Canada's SMR development program.

Almost 60% of SMR technology developers said that the financing of first of a kind (FOAK) reactors is a critical challenge for SMR development, CNL said in its October 17 report.

The estimated cost of financing a FOAK ranged between "several hundreds of millions to over $1 billion," CNL said in its report. No single company said they would be comfortable shouldering all of the development risk and respondents said government support would be required, it said.

Canada’s latest federal budget includes a range of initiatives to expand federal support for clean energy technologies, including the recapitalisation of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC)’s SD Tech Fund with $400 million in new funding over five years.

"Although they are not exclusively targeted to the nuclear energy sector, these initiatives could support nuclear energy technologies at different points in the innovation spectrum, recognizing that nuclear energy is an important component of Canada’s clean energy mix," the government said in responses to a Standing Committee report on "fostering innovation and energy security," published in June.

The Canadian government has also made available a total $950 million over the next five years to support business-led innovation "super clusters" that have the greatest potential to accelerate economic growth. In July, The Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC) and the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation submitted a letter of intent for a mining supercluster which, they said, would "transform the mining sector’s productivity, performance, and competitiveness."

Diesel dominance

CNL’s SMR report highlights the demand for industrial applications for SMR projects in Canada.

A number of SMR developers are targeting Canada's industrial facilities and remote communities, proposing an alternative to high-cost diesel fired generators.

"In that particular case...for very small reactors there is a real opportunity, a real niche, a real benefit," Kathryn McCarthy, VP Research and Development, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, said in the October 19 webinar.

In one example, 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, Leadcold CEO, told Nuclear Energy Insider in March.

More than 20 mining projects in North West Territories and Nunavut could host SEALER plants, offering a potential annual market value of CA$200 million based on the delivery of two units each year, he said.

Offtaker needs

The competitiveness of new SMR designs will be scrutinised by potential end customers such as Ontario Power Generation [OPG], one of Canada’s largest power suppliers.

OPG plans to fill a predicted supply gap in the 2030s with new nuclear capacity and 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.

In the RFEOI, most technology developers estimated a levelized cost of energy below $100/MWh, "with the lowest cost estimates at almost half that level,” CNL said in its report.

Average LCOE estimates remained below $100/MWh for medium and large plant capacities (100 MW or above) and the LCOE rose dramatically for smaller reactor sizes targeting niche markets such as diesel-powered remote communities, CNL noted.

Some 15 of the reactor proposals reported technology readiness, either by component or system as a whole. One of the vendors reported technology readiness levels in the range of TR7 to TR9, implying completed prototype or operational deployment. A further 12 developers reported technology readiness levels of (TR4 to TR6), implying component or subsystem validation in a laboratory or simulated environment.

           Technology Readiness Levels submitted to Canada's RFEOI

                                                           (Click image to enlarge)

Source: CNL

SMR vendors predict their first demonstration plant could be fully operational within eight to thirteen years (2025 to 2030), CNL said in its report.

"The most optimistic or aggressive estimates were full operation as early as 2022," it said.

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