Thought Leadership

Canadian Nuclear Optimism and Action-Based Strategy a Model for Other Countries

Category: Thought Leadership
James Carter • November 18, 2019

Advancing a nuclear agenda in the current atmosphere is an uphill climb. But activity currently underway by the Canadian nuclear industry gives me hope that we can find a way forward with a coordinated strategic approach.

The Canadian industry is well represented at various forums in the U.S. as well as in Canada. Involvement ranges from technical and regulatory collaboration, conference sponsorships, exhibits, and speaking engagements. The Canadian SMR roadmap convened by Natural Resources Canada gets high visibility at these forums. The roadmap reflects strategic actions to advance the development of SMRs and advanced reactor technologies.

Advanced reactor and SMR developers are pursuing licenses in Canada, taking advantage of a favorable Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) mechanism for preliminary review of early-stage technologies – the Vendor Design Review (VDR). VDR provides early stage developers with an indication of CNSC licensability before they proceed with extensive and costly development activities. The CNSC Is ubiquitous at conferences, informing attendees about their process and encouraging participation.

The CANDU Owners Group (COG) is engaged with international CANDU owners, laboratories and supporting organizations to share resources, research and solutions, and Canadian utilities are very public about their commitments and plans for advanced nuclear projects.

It’s clear that the Canadian nuclear industry is united, organized, and taking action to support the success of SMRs and advanced reactor technologies. Moreover, the effort is very visible and credible. It seems to be drawing supporters from within and outside the industry, including mining, non-nuclear utilities and communities, suppliers, and indigenous peoples.

Nowhere has the Canadian effort been more visible than at the 2019 Canadian Nuclear Society’s Annual Meeting, which was held in Ottawa this past summer. There was a sense of optimism that went beyond aspiration to real problem solving. Unlike other conferences I have recently attended, attendees at this conference presented specific current activities that will advance nuclear power in Canada.

Emphasis was on small modular reactor (SMR) and advanced reactor (AR) technologies. Representatives from utilities, regulators, private developers, COG, academia, suppliers, contractors, and others painted a picture that suggested collaboration and coordination of purpose. Proactive innovation was an underlying theme of many presentations and off-line discussions.

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) discussed its X-Lab, which invites ideas from employees to drive change and innovative culture, and acts on those with greatest merit. One example of X-Lab’s success is the establishment of a monitoring and diagnostic center that employs artificial intelligence to optimize nuclear plant maintenance.

An OPG representative also discussed the utility’s activity associated with the roadmap’s recommendation that “Interested utilities should engage in the demonstration of one or more SMRs in Canada to share risks; bring expertise, judgement, and credibility to project proposals and business plans; and potentially cost-share funding.” He pointed out that OPG has engaged with Global First Power’s proposal for commercial demonstration of a 5MWe micro modular reactor (MMR) unit at Chalk River. OPG also holds the only licensed nuclear site in Canada available for new nuclear build and is evaluating SMR alternatives for that location.

I presented my own thoughts and experience associated with the path forward to commercializing new technologies such as SMRs and ARs. The challenges are many: technical, staffing, licensing, supply chain, and funding to name a few. (Details are laid out on my paper, A Realistic Look at the Path to SMR and Advanced Reactor Commercialization.)

However, Canada is moving from aspirational discussions that focus on problems to addressing these challenges in strategic, innovative ways. Other countries, including the U.S., can learn from and perhaps collaborate with the Canadian approach.