Is there enough heavy water for more CANDU reactors? (Upated March 11, 2014)

Update: This is one of the most popular posts on this blog and so merits an update. Since 2008 Canada’s nuclear situation has radically changed. There are now no prospects for more domestic CANDUs and any more CANDU exports are also very doubtful. The Quebec reactor, Gentilly II, has been shut down and in addition to the two reactors already shutdown, the remaining six at Pickering will be taken out of service by about 2020. Therefore, lots of heavy water will be available in future but likely no more new CANDUs to use it.

Heavy water (deuterium oxide) is fundamental to CANDU reactors.  For example, a CANDU 6 reactor requires 265 Mg (metric tons) of heavy water for its moderator and 192 Mg for its heat transport system (coolant) making a total of 460 Mg per reactor. In comparison a Darlington reactor needs 592Mg. The Advanced CANDU Reactor (ACR-1000) will require 250 Mg all for its moderator but none for its coolant which will be light water.

 

Approximately 3Mg of heavy water are needed to make up the annual losses in operating CANDU reactors. For example, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is committed to providing Bruce Power with 18 Mg to make up losses in the reactors it leases. The 18 Mg was based on the 6 reactors operating at the time of the agreement.  

 

The last heavy water production plant in Canada, at the then Ontario Hydro Bruce site, closed in 1997 and has since been decommissioned. A 1 Mg per year prototype plant in Hamilton Ontario operated for about two years ending in 2002. Since then there has been no heavy water production plants in Canada nor have plans for new plants been announced.

 

Heavy water may be available from sources outside Canada principally India which produces about 600 Mg per year mainly for its own heavy water reactors.

 

The financial statements in Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) Annual Reports for the past few years list an asset of $300M as “heavy water inventory”, mostly in storage at a site in LaPrade, Quebec adjacent to the Gentilly reactors. If the price of heavy water is assumed to be $600/kg, a reasonable ballpark number, then the asset would consist of 500 Mg and $300/kg would give 1,000 Mg. However, these simple minded calculations are unlikely to be correct because of the eccentricities of government book keeping in terms of asset valuation as the next paragraph shows.

 

Notes to the AECL financial statements indicate that the $300M includes the 1,003 Mg belonging to AECL on loan to the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO), a physics experiment. Therefore, the heavy water price used to value the inventory must be $300/kg or less.

 

Paraphrasing a recent OPG document, OPG owns 14,440 Mg of heavy water, of which 13,440 Mg is radioactive, and 1,000 Mg is non-radioactive.  Most of the radioactive heavy water is in OPG (6,300 Mg) and Bruce Power (6,000) reactors; the other 1,140 Mg of radioactive heavy water are available in the closed down Pickering 2 and 3 reactors. With a provision of 500 Mg for make-up to operating reactors OPG also sells modest quantities from its stocks and leases some heavy water to AECL and other utilities.  

 

At this time the maximum potential for building ACR-1000 reactors in Canada would appear to be two in Ontario, two in Alberta and one in New Brunswick for a total of five.  It would appear that OPG’s existing stock of heavy water could cover the 1,250 Mg required, provided other arrangements for sale or lease don’t complicate the matter. However, it is doubtful that sufficient heavy water would be available to supply five Enhanced CANDU 6 reactors requiring 2,300 Mg.

 

The foregoing contains too much guess work and speculation to form a prudent basis on which to order heavy water reactors.

 

The proponents of CANDU reactors need to clarify the issue of heavy water supply by publicly quantifying the inventories they have on hand.

 

 

 

 

Will forgings be available for Canadian light water reactors?

If light water reactors (LWR’s) such as those proposed by Areva, Westinghouse and GE Hitachi (now out of the race) are to be built in Ontario then these companies must assure their Canadian customers  that the forgings for them are available. This is a critical resource problem limiting the building of new LWR’s everywhere in the world for the next five to ten years.

 

A Bloomberg article appeared March 12, 2008 that explains this: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601109&refer=home&sid=aaVMzCTMz3ms

It reports that Japan Steel Works Ltd. is the only manufacturer of these forgings left in the world. They developed the technology during the Second World War for producing large bore guns for battleships. All the facilities elsewhere in the world were shut down during the long drought in reactor orders that is only now ending.

 

This is a major bottleneck because each new LWR requires at least one of the largest forgings for its pressure vessel but Japan Steel Works makes only four per year. Ultimately this means only four new light water reactors can come on stream per year. It takes in the order of eight to ten years or more to construct an LWR and at any given time many reactors may be on order and in various stages of completion.  Even though some reactor vendors may have a few forgings “in the bank” at an estimated $100 million, four LWR’s per year is now a fundamental limitation.

 

The limit may be eased in the next two years if Japan Steel Work’s plans to double its production facilities materialize. However, the company is leery of a possible down turn in orders such as the one that left it unprofitable for three years running. Other producers are contemplating the large investments in new facilities and technology development needed to compete with Japan Steel Works and may come on stream in the next five to ten years. Much depends on the pace of new reactor orders world wide.

 

The question is whether Areva and Westinghouse can guarantee Ontario and perhaps Alberta that the forgings required to built the LWR’s they are proposing will be available. Have they reserved slots for the Canadian LWR’s in Japan Steel Works production schedule?

 

The McKinsey Report on New Ontario Reactors

The McKinsey Report for the Ontario Government

The executive summary of the McKinsey report doesn’t tell us much.

The Ontario Ministry of Energy commissioned McKinsey & Company to report on the reactor choice issue and they duly produced an undated report entitled “A strategic assessment of Ontario’s economic and technology options in the growing global nuclear market”. 

The Ministry of Energy will only release the executive summary (ES) as posted on its website and that’s all that they will release.  The usual reason is quoted for hiding the report well away from public scrutiny namely “commercial confidentiality”.

You might well ask what confidential information reactor vendors would tell consultants representing a jurisdiction considering buying their products?  It’s hard to imagine they heard anything other than strong pitches from reactor salesmen.  It seems they are over playing the confidentially card.

McKinsey’s first criterion for assessing the competing reactor designs was the expected in-service date namely when the vendor could have a reactor on the grid. Of course, all the vendors said they could have a reactor on the grid by 2018 but presumably with an implicit “if all goes well” caveat. What recourse would Ontario have if a reactor falls behind schedule like for example the Areva EPR now under construction in Finland? The answer seems to be little or none.

The second was the LUEC (Levelized Unit Electricity Cost) which essentially includes all the costs involved with the plant. To say the least this is a very iffy estimate for reactors not yet constructed or in the design stage. In fact there are enough ways of handling the cost accounting of the existing reactors operating in Ontario to derive a range of LUEC’s. For example, utilities have overheads they can choose or not choose to assign to their reactors depending on the costs they need to book. Claims about the economics of reactors not yet built ring hollow.  Why not just set an electricity price in 2008 dollars that the design has to meet when the reactor is in operation?

 The third and final criterion concerns what they choose to call the “Macro-economic impact” which means the money that would go into the Ontario economy from the purchase.  However, they don’t consider any offsets “potentially offered by vendors” which would be the key to a sale by a non-Canadian vendor.  Applying this macro-economic criterion, cost overruns would increase the economic inputs from Ontario based suppliers and so be a good thing.  I’d suggest it might also be worth considering the impact on both Ontario and Canadian Taxpayers. 

The only specific conclusion I was able to find was the elimination of the so-called EC6 (Enhanced CANDU 6, an AECL product) on the grounds that “it would not benefit from the same economies of scale as its Generation III+ competitors”   Since the EC6 is just a slight variant of the successful CANDU 6 it could be built relatively easily with all aspects of licensing, engineering, construction, suppliers, and so on already well in hand.  That would be a huge advantage over all the other reactors under consideration but the authors of the report apparently would prefer to see Ontario spend a great deal of time and money going through the long and uncertain process of bringing new Generation III+ reactors into service or perhaps that’s what the Ministry of Energy would like.  

The Ontario RFP for New Reactors

The Ontario Nuclear RFP

The Ontario nuclear Request for Proposal can be downloaded from the Infrastructure Ontario website (hint: allow pop ups and search for its official title Nuclear Procurement Proposal).

 Let’s have a brief look at the main points of this RFP.

The introduction says that the government of Ontario “commissioned an independent and comprehensive review of the current commercially available nuclear reactor designs, presumably the report by McKinsey of which more later.  It also mentions a “similar review was carried out by Ontario Power Generation and Bruce Power”.  That’s not available either but it would be interesting to see if there is a joint report or two separate ones. If it was joint, it might tell us what the two companies agree upon. 

On the basis of these reviews, the following companies (designs) were invited to respond to the RFP:

·         AREVA NP (US EPR)

·         Atomic Energy Canada Limited (ACR-1000)

·         GE -Hitachi Nuclear Energy International LLC (ESBWR)

·         Westinghouse Electric Company LLC (AP1000).

Note that GE-Hitachi opted out of the competition shortly after this RFP was issued because its Canadian branch plant will be a partner in an AECL proposal.

The purpose of the RFP is to identify a contractor to perform all the steps to provide a “stand-alone two-unit nuclear power plant, at an Ontario site to be specified …..”, providing “roughly 2,000-3,500 MWe of baseload generation capacity to the Ontario grid” with an option …”for an additional one or two units”, if Ontario decides it wants them.

The primary criteria on which the first pass of proposals will be judged are:

·         “capability to execute a plan to provide the support necessary for a successful construction licence application;

·         ability to deliver a successful Canadian safety case on schedule and in compliance with Canadian regulatory requirements”

In other words each reactor vendor must be able to prove its product is licensable by the Canadian nuclear regulator, the CNSC (Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission).  The RFP is asking for a plan for licensing rather than a license itself.  Nevertheless, it’s not immediately apparent how this could work since the CNSC has little or no experience with any of the proposed designs. Convincing that agency to make the very large investments necessary to establish the capability may not be easy but would have to be a key step in the plan.  Regulatory aspects will be a topic on this blog. 

Now we come to what I consider the most annoying and outrageous part of the RFP and that’s section 3.3 entitled “Communications Restrictions” This explicitly prohibits all discussion of the RFP not only by those having a stake (all of the nuclear enterprises in Ontario) but also it forbids  participation in  “any media release, public announcement or public disclosure (whether for publication in the press, on the radio, television, internet or any other medium) that relates to the RFP ………or any matters related thereto” or to make “any public comment, respond to questions in a public forum”  all of this “without Infrastructure Ontario’s prior written consent”.

The Ontario government is clearly stating in the RFP that it considers all discussion of the RFP as “confidential commercial information”. Therefore, we can only conclude the government of Ontario wishes to prevent meaningful public discussion of the momentous multi-billion dollar decision on Ontario’s nuclear future.

This brings us full circle to the purpose of this blog namely a full and open discussion of new reactors choices not only for Ontario but for New Brunswick, Alberta and perhaps Saskatchewan. 

 

Rules for Moderating the Discussion

Rules for Moderating the Nuclear Technology Discussion

A fair, focussed, and transparent nuclear blog

I will moderate the discussion on this blog to make it fair, appropriate, focussed and of high quality. In order to achieve this objective I will reject or edit any post I feel that violates the spirit of our discussion.

 In order to avoid the spurious spam comments that plague today’s blogs you must register as a contributor before your first post on this blog and at registration provide me your email address so I can verify that you are a legitimate contributor. I will keep your information confidential to the best of my ability.  In fact, I will allow a pen name (pseudonym) from a registered contributor to protect your identity if you feel that’s needed.  I do this in order to encourage contributors who might otherwise not participate because for example they are still working for a nuclear industry company.

Profanity, vulgarity, libellous and unsubstantiated claims against companies and individuals, racism, sexism and nasty content of all kinds will cause a post to be rejected out of hand.  This will be a civilized discussion.

This blog will be focussed on nuclear technology choices.  Rehashes of the standard arguments for and against nuclear power per se won’t be posted.  Unfortunately, there are fanatics on both sides of the debate and I’m sure like me the people who read this blog have heard these shibboleths ad nauseam and don’t want to hear them yet again.  

In order to focus the discussion, comparisons of nuclear power with other forms of energy, a frequent source of spurious arguments on both sides, are out.  Climate change is another swamp of controversy that I don’t want to steer the discussion into. There are already enough blogs devoted to that topic.

Given the purpose of the blog I should state my personal biases at the outset.  I’m in favour of nuclear power.  The issue for me is not whether nuclear power will play an important role in providing energy to our society – I firmly believe it will. Rather my concerns are around the choice of nuclear technologies we Canadians are about to make.

I’m retired from AECL. A well-known quote from the novelist L.P. Hartley sums up my feelings about AECL “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”. It is indeed a very different company than I left almost ten years ago and I hold no bias one way or the other for the present day version of AECL. To be fair in the past I’ve (unsuccessfully) pitched AREVA for consulting work, and at various times owned appliances made by GE and Westinghouse. These experiences also generated no bias.   

I don’t claim to be an expert on the issues discussed and that’s why your contributions are so important to making this discussion a success.

If you need to know more about me then have a look at

http://engphys.mcmaster.ca/faculty_staff/faculty/jackson/index.htm

However, I must stress that the opinions I express in this blog are strictly my own and should not be attributed to nor reflect upon any of the organizations listed there. 

Let the games begin!

David Jackson

An urgent need to discuss Canada’s nuclear technology choices

Canada is on the verge of making multibillion dollar investments in new nuclear technology. These decisions will have consequences lasting for many decades into the future. Nevertheless, there is no forum for open informed technical discussion of the critical choices that will be made in the next year or two.  The purpose of this blog is to provide such a forum.

In Ontario an RFP was issued on March 7, 2008 for vendors to provide two new reactors plus perhaps one or two more.  It explicitly forbids reactor vendors and anyone associated with them (pretty much everyone with any nuclear expertise) from discussing the new reactors in public. In other words the Ontario government has stated that it wants no public discussion of reactor choices.

The incident that outraged many in the nuclear community and gave me the push to start this blog was the Ontario government handling of a meeting organized by the Association of Polish Engineers in Canada on March 27, 2008 in Toronto. This meeting was intended as a public information session at which the four reactor vendors could briefly present the essential features of their designs and a general discussion could ensure.  Interest was high; about 300 were expected to attend the event that had been planned for some six months. Nevertheless, Infrastructure Ontario prohibited the vendors from participating although I understand that some people from Westinghouse to their credit did attend in the end.  The Ontario government’s bid to close down this meeting was in the opinion of many including me both unacceptable and inappropriate. 

Ontario invoked “commercial confidentiality” (similar in effect to “national security” or “privacy rights”) as their justification for restricting information citizens need to make informed choices on these complex issues.  “Fairness” to the vendors is their highest priority but their behaviour in this incident indicates transparency must be their lowest. 

While the Ontario approach consists of secret negotiations with no public input, it appears that the processes for the new reactor proposed for New Brunswick and the reactors for Alberta and perhaps Saskatchewan are more transparent and will be covered in future postings. 

Generic environmental assessments of the new Ontario reactors to be located at the existing Bruce Power and Darlington nuclear sites are being organized.  The value of these assessments is questionable when the number and type of the reactors to be considered is unspecified. However, in an even more bizarre turn of events initial indications are that these reviews will be conducted by commissioners of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) who will in effect be reviewing their own licensing process.

Although it has not yet been announced, we may safely assume the environmental assessments will include “public consultations” of the sort staged for public relations purposes. Unfortunately, in the past such events have mainly consisted of diatribes by proponents and opponents of nuclear power generating much heat but little light. They don’t really help.

Up to now, the media coverage of these critical decisions is sporadic with little in the way of substantive discussion.  Blogs are a new type of media that I hope will remedy this deficiency.