Canada and US show growing interest in SMRs

20 October 2020

The past few weeks has seen a spate of developments, especially in Canada and the USA, intended to promote and support the development of small and advanced reactors, as Judith Perera reports


Canada in late October undertook to support SMR development with funds for Terrestrial Energy. The Canadian Government said that, “as a global leader in nuclear energy and nuclear safety, Canada is poised to be a leader in the safe and responsible development of small modular reactor (SMR) technology”.

It added: “SMRs are expected to play a key role in Canada’s efforts to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and in providing economic benefits as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains announced a CAD20 million ($15.1 million)  investment that will enable Ontario-based Terrestrial Energy “to take a critical step toward commercialising its cutting-edge SMR technology, creating significant environmental and economic benefits for Canada”.

The contribution is being made through the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF), a programme designed to attract and support high-quality business investments across all sectors of the economy.

The investment will help Terrestrial Energy to complete a key pre-licensing milestone through the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to assess the acceptability of the Generation IV technology that the company is developing as part of its $68.9 million Integral Molten Salt Reactor  (IMSR) project. In addition, Terrestrial is spending at least another $91.5 million on R&D.

Terrestrial Energy's 192MWe IMSR has already completed the first phase of the CNSC's review process. The project supports Canada’s SMR Roadmap, which outlines a long-term vision for the development and deployment of this technology. Terrestrial Energy said this is the first such investment from the SIF announcing support for a SMR, directed to a developer of innovative Generation IV nuclear technology.  In September, Terrestrial Energy awarded L3Harris Technologies a contract to develop an engineering and operator training simulator for the IMSR.

Bruce Power to study eVinci

Earlier, Canada’s Bruce Power and US-based Westinghouse Electric Company (now owned by Canada’s Brookfield Business Partners) announced an agreement to pursue applications of Westinghouse’s   eVinci™ micro reactor programme within Canada. The eVinci Micro Reactor is a next-generation, small battery for decentralised generation markets and micro grids such as remote communities, remote industrial mines and critical infrastructure.

The eVinci Micro Reactor is a pseudo “solid-state” reactor with minimal moving parts. Westinghouse President and CEO Patrick Fragman said the eVinci technology can provide clean, reliable energy to remote areas and industrial applications across Canada. Over the next year, the two companies will work to accelerate the roadmap for Canada to host a globally recognised demonstration as part of its federal SMR action plan.

OPG to work with three SMR developers

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is also advancing engineering and design work with three grid-scale SMR developers: GE Hitachi, Terrestrial Energy and X-energy.

“Our work with these three developers, along with our partnership with Global First Power and its SMR project to support remote energy needs, demonstrates OPG’s unique position to become a world leader in SMRs,” said Ken Hartwick, OPG president and CEO.

X-energy is developing the 80MWe Xe-100 high-temperature SMR, scalable to a "four-pack" plant to generate about 320MWe. The company earlier this year initiated a Vendor Design Review (VDR) for the Xe-100 with CNSC.

In September, X-energy signed a collaboration agreement for engineering and project management with Ontario-based Hatch Ltd for projects in Canada and globally. Hatch will provide technical services to assist X-energy in advancing the design for the Xe-100, as well as associated engineering required for site-specific infrastructure planning for potential projects. 

GEH made the first submittals for the VDR of its BWRX-300 water-cooled SMR in February. In April, GEH conducted a webinar for Canadian suppliers interested in providing material, equipment and services in support of the possible BWRX-300 construction in Canada.

OPG recently concluded a due diligence process, in collaboration with other major energy utilities, to advance the development of an SMR in Ontario that would pave the way for the potential deployment of SMRs in other jurisdictions. In December 2019, the Provinces of Ontario, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) putting in place a framework for action on the deployment of SMRs in their respective jurisdictions. In August 2020, Alberta also signalled their intention to join the MOU.

New legislation aims to restore US leadership

In the USA extensive funding has been allocated for SMR and AMR development since the US Senate has passed the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA) in July. The NELA legislation seeks to restore US leadership in nuclear power with an emphasis on demonstrating advanced reactors. It directs the Department of Energy (DOE) to create a strategic vision for developing next-generation nuclear and authorises demonstration of two designs by 2025 and two to five additional designs by 2035.

In October, DOE approved a $1.355 billion cost-share award, allocated over ten years to a new special purpose entity named the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP), wholly owned by Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS). The award is for the development and construction of a 720MWe NuScale power plant to be located at DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory site, and will serve as a funding vehicle to advance the CFPP as funds are appropriated by Congress, UAMPS said. The CFPP will be the first NuScale SMR project in the USA.

DOE said the award demonstrates its commitment to accelerate the decarbonisation of electrical generation nationwide and globally, and to support stable, carbon-free electrical supply to complement intermittent renewable energy.

DOE Assistant Secretary Dr Rita Baranwal said the agreement “is a big step forward in helping to lower the risk of first-of-a-kind advanced nuclear technologies like NuScale Power. Global leadership starts at home and this project will be instrumental in the deployment of SMRs around the world”.

In August, NuScale Power announced that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) had completed Phase 6 review—the last and final phase—of the Design Certification Application (DCA) for the company’s SMR with the issuance of the Final Safety Evaluation Report (FSER). This allows customers to proceed with plans to develop NuScale power plants assured that the NRC has approved the safety aspects of the design. It is the first SMR to reach this stage.

NuScale spent more than $500 million, with the backing of Fluor, and over 2 million labour hours to develop the information needed to prepare its DCA application. NuScale has already signed agreements with entities in the USA, Canada, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Jordan, with additional agreements being negotiated.

TerraPower and X-energy win funding for advanced reactor demos

Earlier DOE selected two teams to receive $160 million in initial funding under the new Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), announced in May.

ARDP is designed to help domestic private industry demonstrate advanced nuclear reactors in the United States. DOE is awarding TerraPower and X-energy $80 million each in initial funding to build two advanced nuclear reactors that can be operational within seven years. The awards are cost-shared partnerships with industry that will deliver two first-of-a-kind advanced reactors to be licensed for commercial operations.

“The awards are the first step of a new programme that will strengthen American leadership in the next generation of nuclear technologies,” said Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. “These partnerships will help maximise DOE’s investment in advanced reactors, which play a vital role in our clean energy strategy.”

Specifically, TerraPower will demonstrate the Natrium reactor, a sodium-cooled fast reactor developed by TerraPower and its partner, GE Hitachi.

The high-operating temperature of the Natrium reactor, coupled with thermal energy storage, will allow the plant to provide flexible electricity to complement variable renewable generation. In addition, the project will establish a new metal fuel fabrication facility that is scaled to meet the needs of this demonstration programme.

Earlier in October, TerraPower named Bechtel as its plant design, licensing, procurement, and construction partner in its federal grant application to build a demonstration plant for the Natrium™ reactor and energy system architecture. Bechtel joins a team that also includes GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, PacifiCorp, Energy Northwest, and Duke Energy.

X-energy will deliver a commercial four-unit nuclear power plant based on its Xe-100 high temperature gas-cooled reactor. The project will also deliver a commercial scale TRi-structural ISOtropic particle fuel (Triso) fuel fabrication facility, leveraging DOE’s substantial investment in development of this highly robust fuel form.

DOE said both projects incorporate design features that will enhance safety and make them affordable, paving the way for the US to deploy highly competitive advanced reactors domestically and globally.

Congress appropriated $160 million for the Fiscal Year 2020 budget as initial funding for these demonstration projects. Funding beyond the near-term is contingent on additional future appropriations, evaluations of satisfactory progress and DOE approval of continuation applications. Fhe Fiscal Year 2020 appropriation also provided initial year funding of $30 million for two to five Risk Reduction for Future Demonstrations projects and $20 million initial year funding for at least two Advanced Reactor Concepts-20 (ARC-20) projects.     

General Atomics and Framatome to develop fast modular reactor

October also saw General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) announce collaboration with Framatome on the development of its helium-cooled, 50MWe fast modular reactor (FMR).

Framatome's US engineering team will be responsible for designing several critical structures, systems and components for the FMR. The goal is for the FMR to be built in a factory and assembled on-site, to reduce capital costs and enable incremental capacity additions. The gas-cooled reactor design uses a helium coolant, eliminating the need for the graphite that is common in other helium-cooled designs. The FMR's fuel is optimised to support reactor operations for up to nine years before refuelling and the system does not use complex steam generators and pressurisers.

A demonstration of the FMR, which will verify the design, manufacturing, construction and operation of the technology, is targeted for the early 2030s for commercial deployment in the mid-2030s.

Ultra Safe Nuclear plans micro modular reactors in US and Canada

Also in October, Seattle-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) proposed a partnership with Idaho National Laboratory (INL), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) to deploy its 15MWe high-temperature, gas-cooled Micro Modular Reactors (MMR™) in the US by 2026. The joint proposal to host the microreactors was put together under DOE’s ARDP programme.

UIUC plans to develop the first generation of commercial microreactor operators and will also be involved in the MMR design and integration. USNC also proposes to site a MMR Energy System at the INL to support the demonstration of INL’s Integrated Energy Systems.

The deployment of the MMR in the USA will be supported by a first-generation reactor demonstration at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories at Chalk River, USNC said.

The regulatory review of the proposed ARDP project will benefit from the Canadian project, as design verification and licensing work with CNSC will be shared with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), under a Memorandum of Cooperation signed in 2019.

In the summer, a joint venture was formed between USNC and Ontario Power Generation to build, own and operate the proposed MMR project at the Chalk River Laboratories site. The joint venture - the Global First Power Limited Partnership - is owned equally by OPG and USNC-Power, the Canadian subsidiary of USNC.

In July, USNC also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with South Korea's Hyundai Engineering (HEC) and the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) for co-operation in the development of the MMR.

Register today for Nuclear Engineering International's Virtual Event on small and advanced reactors on 18 February 2021 -

X-energy has been awarded $80m in initial US government funding to deliver a commercial four-unit nuclear power plant based on its Xe-100
Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation proposes to build Micro Modular Reactors at two US sites, and at Chalk River in Canada

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