Saskatchewan is working towards getting a microreactor in the province to research, but also supply heat and power to smaller communities.
The province is supplying $80 million for the Saskatchewan Research Council to start working through the regulatory hoops to obtain the microreactor, which will be built by Westinghouse Electric Company.
“This project has the opportunity to be transformative for our economy, industry and communities,” Premier Scott Moe said. “Microreactors provide a custom solution for Saskatchewan’s unique energy needs.”
Moe said this new technology will be beneficial globally in creating more sustainable energy.
“Our vision is to see the first eVinci microreactor in an industrial application and lay the groundwork for many more projects in the future,” said Mike Crabtree, Saskatchewan Research Council president and CEO. “What we learn through this project will prepare SRC to assist communities and industries in future projects.”
Crabtree explained that this microreactor will generate less than 20 megawatts of power, and is different than the small modular reactors slated for Saskatchewan, adding that an SMR can generate 300 megawatts of power.
The microreactor is capable of creating five megawatts of electricity, over 13 megawatts of high-temperature heat, or can run in a combined heat and power mode.
He said these microreactors can run for about eight to 10 years, at which point they need to get sent back to a factory and refuelled so that they can operate at full power again.
“It is essentially a rechargeable battery.”
He said the fuel that is spent at the end of that time period that needs to be put into long-term storage is equivalent to three 200-litre drums, saying that is much less than a power source like diesel.
“Three drums of spent fuel replaces one million drums of diesel.”
He said those one million drums of diesel would create half a million tons of CO2.
Crabtree said this can power a 3,000-person community for those 10 years.
He said there are a number of microreactor designs, but said this one was very simple, very safe and didn’t use water.
Crabtree said the fuel comes in little pebbles called TRISO (Tri-structural Isotropic particle fuel).
“So it’s a little grain of uranium surrounded by a silicon carbide shell.”
He said the $80 million from the government goes towards the first phase which covers the regulatory, licensing and public engagement part of this development, which he says will take five years.
Crabtree said once this microreactor is in Saskatchewan, they want it to pay its way and help power a community while also being used for research.
The project is expected to be operational by 2029.
A location hasn’t been picked yet, but the province said that will be determined as the regulatory process gets underway.
It was noted that the surrounding infrastructure for this microreactor will be less than two-thirds the size of a hockey rink.
John Root, executive director for the Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation, said it makes sense for Saskatchewan to consider a microreactor for future technology.
Root said the province has many remote areas, whether it be communities or resource extraction locations, noting both require power and heat.
“Currently this is delivered by burning fossil fuels and so you can reduce your carbon footprint by a lot by replacing the burning of fossil fuels with some other technology that’s reliable, steady and always available.”
He said nuclear fits that bill, but a big power plant isn’t needed for something like that.
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