“The best way to skin a bear is to skin a bear”
I’m told the foregoing is an aboriginal proverb that points out the virtues of the direct approach to problems. To be direct we need to be absolutely clear about the objective of building new reactors in Canada. Clearly the aim is to supply much needed electricity for the nation. It is not the development and testing of new reactor types such as the ACR-1000.
If governments decide that the best course is to construct Canadian reactors for domestic use then I strongly believe the CANDU-6 is now a much better bet than the ACR-1000.
The CANDU-6 has been the workhorse of the AECL fleet for the last 25 years. It’s a tried and tested design with good performance that’s been successfully built and operated in New Brunswick, Quebec, Korea (4), Rumania (2), and China (2). The last CANDU-6’s were built in time frames in the order of five years and (miraculously for the nuclear industry) on budget. This reactor is now called the EC-6, Enhanced CANDU-6, and I can only hope that this renaming is mostly for marketing purposes and the fundamentally robust design is there.
The CANDU-6 is an unmitigated AECL success story achieved well before the MAPLE disaster and without the uncertainties of the ACR-1000.
Three of the first CANDU-6’s (in NB, Korea and just announced in Quebec) are now undergoing refurbishment. This means that the technical knowledge, personnel with necessary skills and the supply chain for this reactor type are all currently available domestically and ready for new construction. Furthermore, the design has been licensed by the CNSC for many years and recent environmental assessments related to refurbishment projects have been done.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that several CANDU-6 reactors could be quickly put in place using only Canadian resources.
I simply don’t understand why a small province like New Brunswick would want to go through the long and painful process of bringing the first ACR-1000 on line particularly with the risks raised by the MAPLE fiasco. Why not just build a second CANDU-6 beside the current one now being refurbished? There are so many obvious advantages in terms of operations, maintenance, training and so forth. Needless to say there’s no way that Generation III+ reactor projects would be feasible in Alberta or Saskatchewan.
As for Ontario, the McKinsey report said “[the differences in life time costs] are not enough to rule out a contending design as fundamentally disadvantaged — save the EC6, which would not benefit from the same economies of scale as its Generation III+ competitors.” My feeling is that the report underestimates the longer times and higher costs associated with bringing Generation III+ reactors into service. In my opinion they’ve got it wrong.
As for the argument that Canada needs to successfully build and operate an ACR-1000 at home so it can export them, that falls under the category of nuclear R&DD and not electricity supply. Assuming, of course, that there is any export market left after the domestic demonstration is done. AECL may want to continue developing the ACR-1000 which would be OK for the future. For the present, let’s build CANDU-6’s.
The one problem I can see with is strategy is the heavy water supply issue discussed previously on this blog.