Chalk River nuclear plans

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Sophie Demers
Local Journalism Initiative

CHALK RIVER – Global First Power (GFP) hosted a virtual open house on November 29, presenting updated information on their Micro Modular Reactor (MMR) project and collecting feedback.

The Ontario-based company, jointly owned by Ontario Power Generation and Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, plans to build and operate an MMR at Chalk River Laboratories in Chalk River, Ontario. The process for the MMR project began in 2019, and plans estimate the reactor to be in operation by 2028.

An MMR is a type of small modular reactor (SMR) designed by Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation. SMR’s nuclear reactors are an alternative to fossil fuel, used to generate low-carbon power for industry and remote communities. Canada is leaning toward this new technology to meet their goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

According to GFP, one MMR can replace 1.2 billion litres of diesel and require minimal operation and maintenance. The company also presented their updated plan for the nuclear reactor. The original design was for 15 megawatts of thermal energy and5 megawatts of electrical. Now the design includes plans for 45 megawatts for thermal and 15 megawatts electrical.

The lifespan of the MMR has now been extended to up to 40 years before it will need to be decommissioned. This doubles the technology’s lifespan compared to the original design. However, the MMR will require periodic refueling and the site will store new and used fuel temporarily before it’s transported elsewhere.

According to the company’s estimations, at the end of its 40-year lifecycle, the reactor will produce about 12 cubic meters of waste.

Concerns expressed
Many concerns have been raised by the community about the MMR; residents still recall nuclear accidents at the Chalk River Laboratories site in the 1950s, including the world’s first nuclear meltdown in 1952. During the cleanup of that accident, 4.5 million litres of radioactive water were dumped into ditches 1.5 kms from the Ottawa River. A second incident requiring a major cleanup followed in 1958.

“We’re in a climate crisis. We need to take action now, and nuclear is not ‘now’; it’s going to take quite a few years to implement this. There’s solar, wind, and water – these energy sources don’t need to be tested,” said Deborah Powell, president of Pontiac Environmental Protection. “I don’t believe this is a good picture to grab onto for a better future,” she added.

However, according to Natural Resources Minister, Seamus O’Reagan, without nuclear energy, there’s no model that will allow Canada to reach its emissions goals.

An environmental assessment in accordance with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is underway. The assessment must prove the project is notlikely to cause significant environmental effects. More information about the assessment will be available in 2024.