The use of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors for Canadian Oils Sands Applications: A proposal and way forward
34th Annual CNS Conference - 2013 June 09-12

Presented at:
34th Annual CNS Conference
2013 June 09-12
Toronto, Canada
Session Title:
Advanced Reactors and Fuels

Dennis Attwood (Human Factors Applications)
Mohamed Moledina (WorleyParsons Resources & Energy Canada)


It has been estimated that Canada’s Oil Sands contain between 160 and 200 billion barrels of oil reserves – the second largest accumulation of oil in the world after Saudi Arabia. It is also estimated that by 2015, output from the oil sands should increase from about 1 million barrels per day (mbbl/day) to approximately 4 mbbl/day.


However, Canada and the world have to pay a price for oil extraction from the sands.It is estimated that about 40 cubic metres of natural gas as fuel must be burned for each barrel of synthetic crude produced. Therefore, if oil sands production did reach 4 mbbl/day, natural gas use for oil production could seriously limit exports of natural gas to the US. It has also been estimated that every barrel of synthetic oil pollutes about  950 liters of fresh water and emits about 100 Kg of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) along with other pollutants.


Clearly an alternate source of energy is required for oil sands production that will allow our natural gas to be put to better use while simultaneously sustaining our environment. The energy must be continuously obtainable and not be subject to the intermittentavailability of wind or sunlight. Nuclear energy is the obvious choice. Nuclear energy for power generation has been prevalently used around the world since the 1950’s. Today, there are more than 440 Nuclear Power Plants(NPPs) operating safely worldwide. Each has different characteristics that would make them comparativelyacceptable for operation in Northern Canada.


This paper will briefly review the various types of nuclear plants that are currently in operation or are being licensed worldwide,as well asthose that are proposed for operation in the near future including small nuclear power reactors (< 300 me). Moreover, it will propose a list of the NPP characteristics that are best suited to oil sands operation. This will lead to a proposal to encourage the development of small modular reactors (SMRs) for installation in oil sands operations.

The paper will further underscore the necessity for government and industry to take prompt action. It has been suggested that due to licensing delays, the implementation of nuclear power in the oil sands region may not be possible until 2020. Given the environmental and hydrocarbon costs associated with the four-fold increase in anticipated production, we may not have until 2020 to find a solution to oil sand production.

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