NuScale, the developer of a 60 MWe small modular reactor, announced this week its submittal to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) for pre-licensing vendor design review (VDR). In doing so it hopes to take advantage of the joint agreement between CNSC and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that was inked in 2019.
World Nuclear News reported last August that the agreement will expand the agencies’ cooperation on activities associated with advanced reactor and SMR technologies. Both regulators are already carrying out regulatory activities related to proposed SMR projects. The collaborative technical reviews are intended to increase regulatory effectiveness as well as reaffirm the agencies’ commitment to safety and security.
NuScale’s VDR will be completed in four submittals. The first submittal occurred on December 10, 2019. Significantly, NuScale’s submission is a combined Phase 1 and 2 level VDR as the company’s SMR design is mature and can directly enter VDR Phase 2.
Combining the two phases shaves a boat load of time off the process. This is a big deal because a number of other VDRs by NuScale’s competition do not have this advantage. [See CNSC table of VDR submissions and status.]
The remaining three submittals will be conducted at approximately six month intervals. A look at the calendar indicates NuSale’s entire VDR process would be completed by the middle of 2021.
The NRC is scheduled to complete its safety evaluation report in August 2020 and NuScale expects the application to be approved the following month.
Bruce Power Support for NuScale
NuScale said in its most recent press statement that it has signed an agreement with Bruce Power to develop a business case to support the company’s efforts to bring SMR technology to Canada. Bruce Power is supporting evaluation, planning, and licensing activities for NuScale’s Canadian efforts.
Bruce Power operates eight CANDU PWHR reactors in Canada. Privately owned Bruce Power operates 6400 MWe of nuclear capacity. It supplies 30% of Ontario’s electricity.
The firm has committed to a $13 billion program to refurbish six of the units which will significantly extend their operating lives. It follows that any new construction of SMRs, or anything else such as a molten salt or other type of advanced unit,, will have to get past a significant financial hurdle in terms of verified cost competitiveness for any utility to decide to proceed with it.
Mike Rencheck, president and CEO of Bruce Power, said in a press statement that the NuScale design had “advanced to a stage where Bruce Power can participate in understanding and developing a conceptual business case as part of our efforts to provide low-cost, clean, reliable electricity to Canadian families and businesses.”
Assessing the Demand for SMRs to Provide Electricity in Canada
According to 2018 data from Natural Resources Canada, nuclear energy currently accounts for 15% of the supply of electricity generated in Canada. By comparison, hydro accounts for four times that amount or 60% of the power generation capacity. Coal is at 9% and oil/gas is at 10%. Renewables are 7%.
If NuScale and other SMR developers enter the Canadian market, their target for gaining market share for electricity generation at the expense of other souces will be oil and gas.
The reason is that Natural Resources Canada estimates that demand for electricity in that country will grow at a slow rate of about 1% a year between now a 2040. About 10% of the electricity generated in Canada is exported to the U.S.
Some of the developers of advanced designs working with the Canadian Nuclear Laboratory don’t see their units as necessarily being connected to the national grid by customers or used primarily for electric power. Process heat for industry and mining, and district heating, may turn out to be applications well suited for mini-reactors.
Canada is Chock Full of Competition
NuScale, which plans to bring its first unit into production in the U.S. by 2026 for UAMPS, its first customer, at a site in Idaho, sees opportunities for booking customers in Canada. Unlike the U.S. where no developers of SMRs or advanced nuclear designs have ink on their order books, Canada is chock full of developers hot on the trail of landing their own orders there.
Two other developers of light water based SMR designs also have similar VDR filings with the CNSC. These firms are GE-Hitachi with its 300 MWe BWRX SMR and Holtec with a 160 MWe SMR. The BWRX VDR, like NuScale, will combine Phases 1 & 2. Holtec is reported on the CNSC website as having a Phase 1 VDR in process
Behind the two LWR type SMRs there are half a dozen developers of advanced nuclear reactors including molten salt, sodium cooled, and high temperature gas designs.
Other Developers of SMRs in Canada
The Canadian Nuclear Laboratory has a robust program to support a variety of SMR development efforts, but all of them are advanced designs.
According to conventional industry wisdom, this means that their time to market will probably occur after leading light water designs, like NuScale’s, have completed their regulatory reviews, signed customers, ramped up their supply chains, and broken ground at customer sites.
Naturally, the responses of firms developing non-light water designs to this perspective is a quick “not so fast.” There may some justification for their confidence. For instance, Terrestrial Energy, like NuScale, has initiated a joint review with the CNSC and the NRC for its molten salt design.
Other developers of advanced designs have also made significant progress especially the firms collaborating with the Canadian Nuclear Laboratory in its program to support SMRs n Canada.
- Terrestrial Energy
World Nuclear News reported in December the CNSC and the NRC selected Terrestrial Energy’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) for their first joint technical review of an advanced, non-light water nuclear reactor technology.
The 195 MWe reactor is the only advanced reactor so far to have progressed to the second phase of the CNSC’s Vendor Design Review process, and it is also the subject of NRC pre-licensing activities in the U.S. supported by grant funding from the US Department of Energy.
- Global First Power
Elsewhere, SMRs of all design types face competition from mini-reactors. For instance, Global First Power, with support from Ontario Power Generation, and which is being developed by Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation plans to to deploy a 5 Mwe mini modular reactor plant at Chalk River site of the Canadian Nuclear Laboratory (CNL) in Ontario.
In February 2019 Global First Power’s proposal became the first design of its type to qualify to collaborate with the Canadian Nuclear Laboratory (CNL) to discuss land arrangements for a site, project risk management, and contractual terms to build one of their units at a CNL site.
The proposed GFP project includes a molten salt design nuclear plant. It will provide approximately 15 MW (thermal) of process heat (up to 5 MWe of electricity) to an adjacent plant where it will be converted to electrical power or heat for clients. The electrical power could also be supplied to the area grid.
The Global First MMR™ energy system consists of two plants, the nuclear plant and the adjacent power plant. The nuclear plant contains the MMR™ reactors including all the equipment required to transport the heat to the adjacent plant. The adjacent power plant contains the equipment that converts heat to electricity or process heat as required by customer.
In the middle of the pack, in terms of SMR electrical power, is a 100 MWe SMR, the ARC-100, a 100 MWe sodium cooled, fast flux, pool type reactor with metallic fuel, is being developed in collaboration with the electric utility in New Brunswick province.
ARC Nuclear and New Brunswick Power (NB Power) have agreed to work together to take the necessary steps to develop, license, and build an advanced small modular reactor (SMR) based on ARC Nuclear’s Gen IV sodium-cooled fast reactor technology.
At the CNSC the ARC-100 completed Phase 1 of the VDR in November. In its report about the achievement of this milestone, WNN noted that back in March 2017 the firm signed an agreement with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) to collaborate on development and licensing. Plus, it uses proprietary technology from GEH’s PRISM reactor.
Both the PRISM and ARC-100 designs are based on the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II) integral sodium-cooled fast reactor prototype which operated at the Argonne National Laboratory site in Idaho. Despite being proven to be inherently safe, it was shut down by the federal government in 1994.
According to WNN this is the third successful advanced reactor design review conducted by the CNSC, the other two being Terrestrial Energy’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor and Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation’s MMR-5 and MMR-10 high-temperature gas reactor.
SMR Prospects in the U.S.
NuScale’s Idaho project is the first mover for commercial LWR type SMRs. Other states may also offer new business opportunities, but much depends not only on NuScale’s success as the first of a kind effort, but also on more mundane issues like demand for electricity, rate issues, e.g., merchant markets v. regulated rates of return, and public acceptance. Here is a short list of possibilities, but only time will tell whether any of them will pan out.
Wisconsin’s legislature in 2016 lifted a three decade ban on new reactors after Dominion closed a full size nuclear plant back in 2013. The new law also specifies that regulators must consider nuclear energy as an option when designing new and replacement energy projects, and it contains this stipulation; “Advanced nuclear energy using a reactor design or amended reactor design approved after December 31, 2010, by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”
With coal being a major fuel source for generation of electricity in Wisconsin, and the emerging threat of climate change from CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels, SMR developers may see Wisconsin as being a good market opportunity assuming other factors are not deal breakers.
Policy ideas to promote a new nuclear plant for Wisconsin range from offering tax incentives or imposing a carbon tax, to the creation of a mandates that require utilities to purchase a specified amount of nuclear power, similar to renewable portfolio standards. Policy is one thing, customers are another. So far there are no public announcements for an SMR project in Wisconsin.
TVA just got an early site permit from the NRC for SMRs at Clinch River, but the permit is good for 20 years and the utility has no near term plans for building new nuclear generation capacity. The utility referenced four SMR LWR type designs in its application without expressing a preference for any of them. If and when it decides to pursue an SMR, it cites in the permit a plan for 800 MWe of electrical power which would imply the use of multiple units of any of the SMRs that we know about today.
Florida might go with SMRs after killing off plans for two 1150 MWE AP1000s at Levy County on the state’s west coast due to projected high costs and worries about the cost of the next two AP1000 units at Turkey Point.
Missouri could potentially see a utility build an SMR after the legislature twice rejected pleas to allow for construction cost reimbursement as a new plant is built. The third time might be the charm if the cost of the SMR can be validated by experience with other units.
Dominion invested in GE HItachi’s300 MWe BWRX SMR in May 2018 for North Anna which might be more affordable on a per kilowatt basis than a full size ESBWR (1530 MWe)
Fluor is maintaining its lead investment role in NuScale despite financial headwinds for other parts of the business, and last July NuScale went overseas to get investment funds from its RPV supplier Doosaninvestment funds from its RPV supplier Doosan. Other SMR developers may also seek equity investments from their key suppliers.
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