Conference Proceedings Paper
Introducing Small Modular Reactors Into Canada
33rd Annual CNS Conference - 2012 June 10-13
J.R. Humphries (AMEC NSS Limited)
In recent years there has been a growing interest in smaller, simpler reactors for generating electricity and process heat. This is evidenced in the growing body of literature and the increasingly frequent meetings and conferences on the subject. The interest in Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) is driven to a large extent by the desire to reduce capital costs, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to replace retiring fossil plants that do not meet today’s environmental standards, and to provide power in locations away from large electrical grids. These drivers are as important in Canada as they are in the U.S., where the design and licensing of SMRs is being most vigorously pursued. They have led to a growing interest in Canada as a potentially significant market for SMRs, particularly in the Western Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan and in the remote First Nations communities of Northern Canada.
There is a growing body of literature addressing the regulation and licensing of Small Modular Reactors in the U.S. Issues being identified in there can generally be categorized as licensing framework issues, licensing application issues, and design and manufacturing issues. Many of these issues are embedded in the US regulatory framework and can only be resolved through changes in the regulations. For the most part these issues are equally applicable in Canada and will need to be addressed in introducing SMRs here. A significant difference, however, is that these issues can be addressed within the Canadian regulatory framework without requiring changes in the regulations. The CNSC has taken a very proactive stance regarding the licensing of small reactors in Canada. They have published two new Regulatory Documentsstipulating the requirements for licensing small reactors. A key feature is that they allow the application of a “graded approach” in which the stringency of the design measures and analyses applied are commensurate with the level of risk posed by the reactor facility. Because of this the CNSC has stated publicly in a variety of presentations and meetings that it is prepared now to license small reactor projects and that they expect that SMRs can be licensed in Canada in less time than would be required in the U.S. They have urged SMR vendors to bring their designs to Canada and to engage with them in the rather unique pre-licensing Vendor Design Review process that is available in Canada.
Notwithstanding the rather ‘promotional’ licensing stance being taken by the CNSC, there remains a significant level of uncertainty around the many other issues that need to be addressed to successfully introduce an SMR into Canada. These include, among other things and in no particular order: safety; risk (licensing, economic, schedule, public perception); economics (is economy of scale offset by modular fabrication, serial introduction); siting (remote or industrial complex); design and engineering (FOAK or prototype); manufacturing/construction (central fabrication facility, who gets ‘construction’ license); staffing (number, training); operations (who owns, who operates); maintenance and refuelling (on-site refuelling allowed or at central facility, what level of maintenance required); and decommissioning (on-site or centralized storage of waste, decommissioning funds).
Addressing these and other infrastructure issues will need to be a key part of any considerations given to the possible introduction of Small Modular Reactors into Canada.
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