Artist rendition of a GE-Hitachi BWRX-300 reactor. GE-Hitachi

MONTREAL, CLARINGTON, ONT., WILMINGTON, N.C., – When it comes to small modular reactors (SMRs), Saskatchewan is currently planning on building the highest number in Canada, but it definitely is not taking the lead. That is being done by Ontario Power Generation, which is building the first General Electric Hitachi BWRX-300 reactor at its Darlington Nuclear Generating Facility.

BWRX-300 stands for boiling water reactor, tenth (x) generation, 300 megawatts. That’s roughly the same size as SaskPower’s coal-fired generating units at Poplar River and Shand Power Stations, as well as Unit 6 of Boundary Dam Power Station. SaskPower is looking at building for such reactors.

And now we know exactly who will be doing the building in Ontario, as contractors were announced by Ontario Power Generation on Jan. 27. One of those names, in particular, is likely to raise some eyebrows.

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), Ontario Power Generation (OPG), SNC-Lavalin and Aecon have signed a contract for the deployment of a BWRX-300 small modular reactor at OPG’s Darlington New Nuclear Project site. This is the first commercial contract for a grid-scale SMR in North America, and the intention is to have construction complete by late 2028.

OPG said:

All parties will manage the project as an integrated team and each company will play a specific role in successfully completing the Darlington New Nuclear Project:

  • OPG: The license holder; OPG will maintain overall responsibility for the project, including operator training, commissioning, Indigenous engagement, stakeholder outreach and oversight.

  • GE Hitachi: The technology developer; responsible for design, procurement of major components, and engineering and support.

  • SNC-Lavalin: The architect engineer; provides design, engineering and procurement support.

  • Aecon: The constructor; will provide construction planning and execution.

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Saskatchewan ties

SaskPower intends on waiting until 2029 to make its decision on whether to go ahead with SMRs, according to SaskPower spokesperson Joel Cherry.

SNC-Lavalin has had something of a checkered history in recent years. That includes Saskatchewan. Its work as the engineering, procurement and construction contractor on the Boundary Dam Unit 3 Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage Project ended up in legal proceedings. According to Discover Estevan, as late as May, 2019, “SNC-Lavalin was notified of their placement on SaskPower’s bid restriction list on July 21, 2016, and has not been awarded a contract since the restriction. SNC-Lavalin must settle all claims by SaskPower in relation to their contractual performance and provide satisfactory evidence they have corrected their practices prior to reinstatement to bid to SaskPower.”

In other words, in 2016, SaskPower officially blacklisted SNC-Lavalin as a contractor. On Feb. 8, Cherry said, “The matter is still before the courts, and SaskPower is unable to provide further comment.”

Since BD3 went online in the fall of 2014, that means over eight years later, the matter is still unresolved.

With the prospects of additional carbon capture on coal-fired power now diminished, the Boundary Dam Unit 3 capture plant might end up being the only one of its kind in this province. The capture unit is on the left side of the photo. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

The BD3 project has never performed close to its promised performance, which was supposed to be one million tonnes of CO2 captured per year. In 2022, BD3 captured 749,035 tonnes, and that year saw the facility reach the five million tonne milestone.

SaskPower is currently narrowing down possible locations for its first two reactors, including the Elbow and Estevan areas.

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AECL now part of SNC-Lavalin

From the dawn of the nuclear age in Canada until 2011, nuclear reactors in this country were designed and built by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL). AECL developed and sold the Canadian Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) reactor design which did not require highly enriched uranium. But as new nuclear development stalled for many years, no new CANDU reactors were built in this country for decades. The federal government, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, sold AECL to SNC-Lavalin in 2011 for just $15 million. That means the residual nuclear development expertise in this country now resides within SNC-Lavalin.

General Electric Hitachi

General Electric’s expertise with nuclear reactors also goes back to the dawn of the nuclear age. And when it comes to small reactors, most U.S. Navy nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers in service today have a GE reactor (or two, in the case of Nimitz-class aircraft carriers). Hitachi has long experience with turbines, including the BD3 project.

In GEH’s Jan. 27 press release, GEH President and CEO Jay Wileman said, “This contract is an important milestone and solidifies our position as the leading SMR technology provider.”

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

“We aim to deliver the first SMR in North America and, in doing so, lead the start of a new era of nuclear power that will provide zero-emission energy generation, energy security and energy reliability around the globe. We can’t express our appreciation enough for the leadership role that OPG and the Province of Ontario are taking for a project that will benefit Ontario, Canada and the world.”

The multi-party agreement, through which GEH is to provide the reactor design, covers a range of project activities including design, engineering licensing support, construction, testing, training and commissioning.

“This first commercial contract for a small modular reactor in North America marks a significant milestone in deploying SMRs in Canada and across the globe,” said Sean Sexstone, executive vice president, Advanced Nuclear, GEH. “We look forward to working with our partners to ensure this project is delivered safely, on-time and within budget, providing significant opportunity for the team and the Province of Ontario. GEH is excited and humbled to be leading the industry as the world looks to adopt SMR technology to help achieve its energy and security objectives.”

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SNC-Lavalin

SNC-Lavalin’s press release of Jan. 27 noted, “SNC-Lavalin is a strong proponent for the necessary role of nuclear power in the Net Zero energy mix,” said Ian L. Edwards, president and CEO, SNC-Lavalin. “As we’ve laid out in our Engineering Net Zero report, Canada’s 2050 Net Zero commitments will require large-scale electrification of transportation, buildings and heavy industrial processes. That electricity needs to be generated from clean, reliable, and cost-efficient sources, whose employment in the energy mix will not weaken energy security. Our involvement in what will be Canada’s first SMR to come to market, and its first nuclear new build in roughly 30 years, reaffirms SNC-Lavalin’s leading position in the nuclear energy market, for both existing and new nuclear technologies.”

Darlington Nuclear Generating Station. Ontario Power Generation

SNC-Lavalin handled the refurbishment of OPG’s Darlington Nuclear Generating Facility, home of four CANDU reactors capable of generating a total of 3,500 megawatts (more power than all of SaskPower, combined, on Feb. 6). That will also be the site of the first GEH BWRX-300 small modular reactor, the aforementioned “Darlington New Nuclear Project.”

Earlier this century, OPG had been seriously looking at building two more CANDU reactors at the Darlington site, but switched gears to build an SMR instead. But that initial work meant OPG was already in the site licensing process, long before SaskPower started its work. This allowed OPG to decide to go ahead with the SMR build at Darlington. OPG’s website notes, “The Darlington site is the only site in Canada currently licensed for a new nuclear build with an accepted environmental assessment and Site Preparation Licence.”

“Following our on-time, on-budget success working with OPG on the refurbishment of Darlington’s existing CANDU reactors, we are very pleased to contribute our expertise with our alliance partners on this exciting new build,” said Joe St. Julian, president, Nuclear, SNC-Lavalin. “Canada was the second country in the world to ever generate commercial nuclear power. Together with our alliance partners, we will ensure Canada again leads the way to advance an exciting new frontier in nuclear energy. We continue to work with SMR vendors in Canada and around the world to bring more of these reactors online, coinciding with a rise in interest from jurisdictions looking to use nuclear power to decarbonize their energy mix, while maintaining their energy self-sufficiency.”

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SNC-Lavalin added, “In providing a strong array of capabilities to its alliance partners, SNC-Lavalin will leverage its Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission licensing expertise and unmatched strengths as a reactor developer. As the original equipment manufacturer of CANDU reactors, SNC-Lavalin is the only company to have a technology pass all three phases of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s pre-project design review, and will leverage its extensive nuclear new build expertise to drive a successful outcome for this first of a kind project.”

Other locations for SMRs

There is growing global interest in the BWRX-300. In August 2022, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began planning and preliminary licensing for potential deployment of a BWRX-300 at the Clinch River Site near Oak Ridge, Tennessee (one of the key Manhattan Project sites.) TVA has entered into a collaboration with OPG to coordinate efforts to move SMR technology forward. In addition, the NRC and CNSC are collaborating on licensing the two projects.

Four provinces signed a memorandum of understanding on small modular reactors – Ontario, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Alberta. In June 2022, SaskPower announced that it selected the BWRX-300 for potential deployment in Saskatchewan in the mid-2030s. In Poland, ORLEN Synthos Green Energy (OSGE) and its partners started the pre-licensing process by submitting an application to Poland’s National Atomic Energy Agency for assessment of the BWRX-300. OSGE plans to deploy a fleet of BWRX-300s with the potential for deployment of the first of those units by the end of this decade. To support the global deployment of the BWRX-300, GEH has memoranda of understanding or other agreements in place with companies in Canada, Poland, U.K., U.S. and Sweden among others. GEH has also begun the licensing process for the BWRX-300 in the U.K.

 

Pipeline Online provides the in-depth coverage and analysis in Saskatchewan’s energy sector that no one other media comes even close to. Our lead story is posted at 7 a.m., Monday to Friday. Follow on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter

 

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SaskPower provides a lot more detail for possible small modular reactor locations, with Rafferty and Lake Diefenbaker showing most promise

Boundary Dam hits 5 million tonnes CO2 captured, Aquistore hits 500,000 tonnes stored