- Will it force the government to reconsider its support?
Ontario Power Generation selected GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to construct a light-water reactor at its existing Darlington nuclear power plant, a decision that will shape Canada’s nuclear industry for decades to come.
The selection of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy by Ontario Power Generation to assist in constructing a small modular reactor (SMR) at its Darlington station in Clarington, Ont., set in motion events that will shape Canada’s nuclear power industry for decades to come.
The BWRX-300 is OPG’s choice, which was announced in December. It’s a light water reactor, the most common type in developed countries, and it’s pretty different from Canada’s existing fleet of CANDU heavy water reactors.
Though not precisely small – the BWRX’s 300-megawatt nameplate capacity is roughly equivalent to a large wind farm – it would produce only one-third the amount of electricity produced by traditional reactors. In addition, it would use a different fuel, generate other waste, and may have additional safety implications.
The Darlington SMR would be the first BWRX-300 to be built. OPG hopes that Ontario will become a part of a global supply chain for these reactors by moving first.
“We don’t get much out of it at OPG – it’s a lot of work,” said Robin Manley, OPG’s vice-president of nuclear development. “Our goal is to sign as many contracts with Canadian suppliers as possible.” However, some critics have expressed dissatisfaction with OPG’s choice of a North Carolina-based design by GE Hitachi.
It appears to be the end of Canada’s tradition of building its reactors. The BWRX-300 would be Canada’s first new reactor since Darlington Unit 4 in Ontario in 1993. The average age of the country’s 19 operational reactors is 38 years, according to Mycle Schneider Consulting.
Attempts to update the CANDU design were largely futile; OPG and Bruce Power chose to refurbish reactors at the Darlington and Bruce stations to keep them operational for another few decades while considering SMRs as a possible next step.
The clock is ticking. This decade is widely regarded as critical for developing zero-emissions generation capacity. However, even if this BWRX-300 is built on time, SMRs will be late to the party. Delays and cost overruns, which are always a risk with any reactor, could doom its prospects.