A new niche for nuclear

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″][mk_dropcaps style=”simple-style”]S[/mk_dropcaps]purred by China’s growing desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Canada’s once stagnant nuclear power industry seems to have found a new niche. Leading the charge is the simple yet flexible design of the CANDU reactor, created in the 1960s.

[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]“There’s an interest in CANDU for a couple of reasons,” says Jerry Hopwood, the vice-president of marketing and product development for CANDU Energy Inc. The reactors use natural as opposed to enriched uranium, which means the fuel is cheaper, easily available and extremely difficult to weaponize, he says, and they can potentially use a variety of fuel sources.

Indeed, in November CANDU reported that their Advanced Fuel CANDU Reactor, which is capable of using recycled uranium or thorium, had received a “positive recommendation” by Chinese nuclear experts. Two days later, CANDU announced that Natural Resources Canada and the China National Energy Administration had signed a memorandum of understanding stating that the organizations will explore the development of civilian nuclear energy, including new advanced fuel reactors.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”http://www.energy-exchange.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/new-niche-nuclear.jpg” image_width=”800″ image_height=”1130″ crop=”false” lightbox=”false” frame_style=”simple” target=”_self” desc=”PHOTO: COURTESY CANDU ENERGY INC.” caption_location=”outside-image” align=”left” margin_bottom=”10″ title=”The typical fuel bundle used for Canadian nuclear technology may hold new promise by using new elements or recycled fuel.”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]Underlying these announcements are CANDU’s two reactors in Qinshan, China. With only slight modifications, the reactors are able to reuse 95 per cent of spent fuel from other nuclear reactor designs. That means that one CANDU can use the recycled fuel from four reactors to power 500,000 homes for a year.

But there’s more than just saving money behind China’s plans to recycle reactor fuel. In March 2014, with Chinese air quality at a notorious low, Li Keqiang, Premier of the People’s Republic of China, declared “war against pollution.” And it seems that one of China’s technologies of choice to combat the emissions from its coal-power plants is nuclear.

In Canada, the desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is likewise driving renewed interest in nuclear, says John Stewart, director of policy and research at the Canadian Nuclear Association, a national nuclear advocacy group that represents about 100 organizations with a stake in nuclear technology. Ontario declared itself coal free in April 2014, a move made partially possible by the refurbishment of its reactors at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station in western Ontario. Now more than 50 per cent of Ontario’s energy comes from Bruce and nuclear plants in Pickering and Darlington, east of Toronto. But nuclear power isn’t only large scale.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][mk_blockquote style=”line-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”18″ align=”left”]Small modular reactors, which provide efficient, easy-to-use power at remote sites, are the new wave of nuclear.[/mk_blockquote][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]Leading the new wave of nuclear power in Canada are small modularreactors. SMRs could be used to melt bitumen from the oilsands, or as an efficient, easy-to-use energy source at remote mine sites.

Despite the advances, there are still concerns regarding nuclear power. Though Canada’s nuclear safety record is “excellent” according to Stewart, there nevertheless remain fears of disasters such as the recent Fukushima disaster in Japan.

While accounting for natural disasters such as earthquakes is difficult, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission sets rigorous safety standards for the industry.

In 2002, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization was established to create a long-term plan for Canada’s nuclear waste. The NWMO has developed a management plan, similar to strategies in France, Finland and the United Kingdom. Central to the plan is finding geologically stable locations, several hundred metres deep, for long-term storage.

But there’s more to nuclear than just power, Stewart adds. Canada’s expertise in nuclear has also played an important role in innovation in a range of industries. In the 1950s, Saskatchewan was a hotbed for research in nuclear medicine (which led to the creation of a radioactive cancer treatment called Cobalt-60). Now, research reactors at universities across Canada are helping push the boundaries not only in medicine, but also in manufacturing by allowing designers to test the effects of stress on products, such as what the impacts of landings are on a plane’s landing gear.

Stewart says the future of nuclear looks bright. Constant innovation in nuclear technologies have made Canada a world leader at a critical time. “Canada [is positioned to offer] the full spectrum of nuclear technologies in what is increasingly a renaissance of nuclear power in Asia.” [mk_font_icons icon=”icon-stop” size=”small” padding_horizental=”4″ padding_vertical=”4″ circle=”false” align=”none”][/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″ el_class=”Story-Author”]– Thomas Hall[/vc_column_text][mk_padding_divider size=”40″][mk_button dimension=”three” size=”large” outline_skin=”dark” outline_active_color=”#fff” outline_hover_color=”#333333″ bg_color=”#13bdd2″ text_color=”light” icon=”moon-reading” url=”/resources/energy-exchange-magazine/issue-3/” target=”_self” align=”left” fullwidth=”true” margin_top=”0″ margin_bottom=”15″ animation=”fade-in”]Read more stories from the Winter 2015 issue of Energy Exchange magazine[/mk_button][/vc_column][/vc_row]