General Electric-Hitachi BWRX-300 small modular nuclear reactor cutaway. GE

 

It might take a decade or so to get the first one online, but SaskPower has chosen the reactor design for its first nuclear reactor ever. The announcement was made on June 27.

Following a thorough assessment of several Small Modular Reactor (SMR) technologies, SaskPower has selected the GE-Hitachi BWRX-300 for potential deployment in Saskatchewan in the mid-2030s.

“This is an important milestone as Saskatchewan works towards a cleaner, more sustainable future,” said Don Morgan, Minister responsible for SaskPower. “Today’s announcement further acts on the Saskatchewan Growth Plan goal of advancing potential development of zero-emission small modular reactor technology.”

The “300” in the name denotes 300 megawatts in electrical power production capacity. This is roughly the same size as SaskPower’s Poplar River Units 1 and 1, Boundary Dam Unit 6, and Shand Power Station. As the province is considering building four of these SMR, that would be a roughly one-to-one replacement for the largest coal generators in Saskatchewan.

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As far as small nuclear reactors go, General Electric has probably more experience than any other company on the planet, building reactors to power the United States Navy submarine fleet since the 1950s. The second nuclear submarine ever built, the USS Seawolf, was powered by a General Electric reactor. Nearly all US Navy submarines built since the 1970s have had GE reactors, without any critical incident occurring during that time.

According to Hitachi, the footprint of a BWRX-300 would sit inside of a CFL football field.

“Using a combination of modular and open-top construction techniques, the BWRX-300 can be constructed in 24-36 months while achieving an approximate 90 percent volume reduction in plant layout. In addition, reducing the building volume by about 50 percent per MW should also account for 50 percent less concrete per MW,” says the GE website.

“As a “smart reactor” the BWRX-300 uses natural circulation and passive cooling isolation condenser systems to promote simple and safe operating rhythms. In the global race for advanced nuclear power, the BWRX-300 sets itself apart with its proven, less complicated processes.”

SaskPower said its assessment focused on several key factors including safety, technology readiness, generation size, fuel type and expected cost of electricity. The selection follows an independent and comprehensive assessment process that also included close collaboration with Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and a review by Calian, an independent engineering firm with extensive experience in Canada’s nuclear industry.

“GEH has been selected by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) as the technology partner for the Darlington New Nuclear Project. GEH will work with OPG to deploy a BWRX-300 at the Darlington site that could be complete as early as 2028,” GE notes on its website.

“We are excited that SaskPower has chosen our technology as it looks to SMRs for the generation of carbon-free electricity,” said Jay Wileman, president and CEO, GEH, in a release. “We believe the BWRX-300 is an ideal solution for SaskPower and customers that want to make an impact on climate change and energy security in a meaningful timeframe. Decades of design and licensing experience coupled with our proven and existing fuel supply chain position the BWRX-300 as the leading SMR solution.”

“Today marks the beginning of an exciting relationship between SaskPower and GE-Hitachi, a leader in the nuclear energy field that has the potential to benefit SaskPower and Saskatchewan for many decades to come,” said interim president and CEO at SaskPower, Troy King. “We are committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions while providing safe, reliable, and sustainable power for our customers, and GE-Hitachi’s SMR technology could play a powerful role in this future.”

Saskatchewan is currently considering the construction of four small modular reactors in this province, each 300 megawatts in power capacity. The total would almost, but not quite, replace existing coal-fired power generation capacity, if all coal is to be retired. (Boundary Dam Power Station now is rated for 531 megawatts, Shand is 276 and Poplar River is 582 megawatts, for a total of 1,389 megawatts) However, the bulk of that coal retirement is scheduled to take place several years before any nuclear plants are planned to go online.

 

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