Why not the CANDU- 6?

“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.    



One Response to “Why not the CANDU- 6?”

  1. Don Jones Says:

    Re Why not the CANDU-6?
    Re Why Generation 3+?

    You could have added that the CANDU-6 does not use enriched uranium. You are right about the C-6 being a robust design. Up to end of 2007 the average lifetime, repeat lifetime, capacity factor for the 11 operating C-6 reactors (none of which operate in Ontario) was 88.8 percent with an annual average capacity factor also of 88.8 percent in 2007, down from 90.8 percent for 10 reactors in 2006. The four C-6 units in South Korea had an average lifetime capacity factor of 93 percent up to the end of 2007. In countries that have both C-6 reactors and PWRs, like South Korea and China, the C-6 has out performed the American and French reactors in Korea and the French reactors in China. Truly outstanding performance.

    The distinction between Generation 2 and Generation 3 reactors is imprecise but generally Generation 3 units could be said to, have fewer systems, have a 60 year design life, generate less waste, have a standardized design, be easier to build, and have lower core damage frequencies than the earlier Generation 2 reactors in service today. All the contending plants are “safe” and all are said to be Generation 3 +. The difference between Generation 3 and Generation 3+ is not clear. One definition is that Generation 3+ units have passive safety features not available on Generation 3 units. However, the U.S. EPR relies more on engineered safety systems and less on passive safety systems than either the AP1000 or the ACR-1000 and would not be a Generation 3+ by this definition.

    The Enhanced CANDU-6 a Generation 3 reactor. The ACR-1000 is a Generation 3+. What did it take to get from 3 to 3+? Apparently it took a four quadrant design engineered safety system and other changes to make an already safe reactor even more safe and an already reliable reactor even more reliable and easier to build.

    I assume the reason EC-6 was not considered for Ontario was because size does matter ($/kWe and LUEC) and because it was not a Generation 3+ reactor. The ACR-1000 will be competing in the International market where its competitors are Generation 3+ reactors. There will be markets for the EC-6 in countries that have reserves of uranium and want to be independent of foreign enrichment. There is no way the industry could afford (money and people) to build a fleet of C-6s to supply the power Ontario needs and at the same time develop the ACR-1000 design. The ACR-1000 is a good design that Team CANDU is well capable of building and will take us to the next stage, the Generation 4 reactor. The C-6 was a new design and was a success from when it first entered service in 1983 so there is no reason why the ACR-1000 will be any different. Remember China is taking a risk with the AP1000 with untried passive safety systems.

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