Proposal to test, build mini-reactors at Chalk River

0
71

Fred Ryan


Fred Ryan

CHALK RIVER – June 9, 2020, an American joint venture, Global First Power Ltd of Seattle, linking three corporations, announced it is proposing to Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in Chalk River a project to construct, test, experiment, operate and, finally, to market and ship out micro-modular nuclear reactors, all from its own facility attached to the CNL facilities along the Ottawa River.  Such proposals must explain all steps in the process, and to describe testing and the operation of micro-reactors.
The mini-reactors are to be self-contained and small enough to be shipped around the world, including to northern and rural communities to provide electrical power to distant communities and military bases and for isolated industrial projects like mines, oil sands, construction, sawmills, even use in outer space. Further uses of the small reactors are for bulk-product transportation. The promoters claim this will reduce reliance on petroleum to generate power in isolated locations, and will also do away with regular deliveries of oil to those locales. In foreign countries these plants might replace coal-fired generation projects, and could be used to produce industrial hydrogen (useable as a livestock feed as well as for fuel). 
The similarly-portable fuel, "Fully Ceramic Encapsulated Fuel,” uses enriched uranium (LEU 9-12%), which is not produced in Canada and must be imported from, and via, undisclosed sources and distances.
These reactors produce an outlet temperature of 630 degrees C and are designed to last twenty years with no re-fueling. Each reactor will be assembled, commissioned and tested at the Chalk River site. All materials, including fuel, must be transported to the site via "standard shipping containers … by ship, rail or road", says the company.  The reactors can be linked to provide between 5 and 50 MW of electricity and/or up to 150 MW of heat.
Other claims by the promoters appear to be unsubstantiated, such as that the fuel
cannot be re-processed for military purposes and that "there are no environmental impacts during accidents" since the fuel is locked away "permanently". Also unsubstantiated in documents submitted with the proposal is that "fission product retention" does not require containment other than the fuel itself.
It also states that
the reactor switches
itself off "in all accident conditions". There are no descriptions of these potential "accidents".
The project would be located on one of Canada’s major waterways, which provides water and
transportation for millions, including Ottawa, Gatineau, Montreal, and the MRC Pontiac.
Final approval of the project appears near, despite a large number of objections filed by citizens, scientists and various organizations, in particular those from the Ottawa Valley and the Pontiac, the area most vulnerable to any nuclear accidents or even leaks into the Ottawa River.
The volume of objections is remarkable in their number and detail, many coming from scientists within the nuclear field.  While there are complaints about the reactor design and the company’s claims about its safety and efficiency, most problems have to do with the lack of information provided by the company. The proposal appears not to have fulfilled the information needed by the regulatory bodies, and, in particular, appears to ignore questions about waste removal and disposal.  It appears the company wishes to use the proposed massive radioactive dump at Chalk River, which does not meet international standards.  Disposal of the used reactors around the world also appears ignored by the company, and others have questioned the safety of the reactors from terrorist or rogue-state weapon
conversion. The proposal ignores these concerns.
For critiques of this proposal, see websites for the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive, and Professor M. V. Ramana at the Liu Institute for Global Issues of the University of British Columbia. The promoters also have more details on their site. Technical details:  the International Atomic Energy Agency and The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.