Innovation Abroad: Nuclear Energy
Development and Innovation Canadian companies have an impressive record and reputation when it comes to innovation in the global energy sector, and nuclear power generation plays a significant part in that success.
There is a long history of demand for Canadian experience and expertise when it comes to safe and reliable electricity generation.
"The development of alternative and flexible fuel cycles is another aspect in which Canadian expertise is being utilized abroad. "
Nuclear may just be Canada’s most successful and sought-after energy technology export, with Canadian-designed CANDU nuclear reactors operating successfully in six different countries around the world.
“The role of Canadian nuclear suppliers in the creation and success of nuclear projects abroad is extremely important,” explained Ala Alizadeh, who is the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Candu Energy.
“When Canadian nuclear suppliers first entered the international market in the 70s, we used the experience that we had gained in building many reactors domestically. Large international projects would utilize a diverse supply chain of up to 150 small and medium-sized companies.”
Between the mid 90s and 2007, Canadian nuclear suppliers were responsible for building seven CANDU reactors overseas — three units in South Korea, two in Romania and two in China.
“The so-called Nuclear Renaissance did not really take off in the way that was projected five years ago,” explained Alizadeh. “This is mainly due to lower gas prices, the discovery of shale gas and, in the last couple of years, Fukishima has created a bit of a pause as countries reviewed their nuclear programs.”
"Reactor life extension projects — refurbishing and retubing units that are reaching the end of their first half of life — are big business in the nuclear supply chain."
This slow down in global production hasn’t halted Canadian activity abroad. Reactor life extension projects — refurbishing and retubing units that are reaching the end of their first half of life — are big business in the nuclear supply chain. The refurbishment of the Wolsong 1 plant in South Korea has recently been completed, and work on refurbishing the Embalse plant in Argentina has begun.
The development of alternative and flexible fuel cycles is another aspect in which Canadian expertise is being utilized abroad.
Over the past three years, Candu Energy has been working with Chinese partners to develop an efficient closed fuel cycle, a process in which the waste from light water reactors (recovered uranium) is used to power the heavy water CANDU units, creating new electricity.
Recovered uranium still has a fissile content of around 1 percent, making it powerful enough to power the Candu reactors installed in China.
“As a first step, we targeted the CANDU reactors in Qinshan, developing a recovered uranium fuel that we then tested in 2010,” noted Alizadeh.
“The tests were successful and they are now manufacturing recovered uranium fuel for the existing CANDU reactors in China. The licensing agreements will be completed in the next 6 months, so in 2014 the plan is to convert Qinshan completely, full core, to a recovered
uranium fuel cycle.”
Candu Energy is also working with the UK to devise a plan to dispose of, and utilize, their stockpile of civilian plutonium. Internationally, holding a large amount of plutonium is not looked upon very positively, but, because it’s such an effective fissile material, there is an opportunity to create a huge amount of electricity.
“We have demonstrated to the UK that we can burn their plutonium efficiently and safely,” said Alizadeh. “It would be a combination of creating energy for the grid on one hand, and getting rid of their plutonium on the other.”
Candu has completed its work on assessing the commercial feasibility of its proposal and is working with the UK to further the project, which could see four new CANDU reactors built to burn the plutonium over a period of 30 years.