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Atomic Energy of Canada Limited

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL)

Overview

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited’s (AECL) Chalk River site was the birthplace of the Canadian nuclear industry over 75 years ago. Historically, AECL developed and designed the highly successful CANDU reactor, which provides clean, reliable baseload power on four continents. In parallel, AECL has maintained and continues to grow a comprehensive R&D program that supports the current Canadian operating fleet, enables new reactor designs and the development of new associated technologies, such as advanced materials and accident tolerant fuels.

In recent years, AECL’s role within the nuclear landscape in Canada has changed: responsibility for design and development of the CANDU reactor is now entrusted to Candu Energy Inc. (which is developing its own grid-sized SMR called the CSMR); and, the operation of AECL sites, including delivery of the R&D program at Chalk River, is now the responsibility of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) under a Government-owned Contractor-operated (GoCo) model. AECL remains a federal Crown corporation with a mandate to enable nuclear science and technology and manage the Government of Canada’s radioactive waste and nuclear decommissioning responsibilities.

AECL’s mission is to drive nuclear opportunity for Canada. From an SMR perspective, this means that AECL uses its in-depth technical, business and policy experience to evaluate SMR opportunities for Canada, and to then leverage its S&T programs, assets, and lands to enable others within Canada’s nuclear ecosystem to grow and thrive in an emerging global SMR market.

In particular, AECL, as an agent of the Government of Canada, leverages its unique “big science” assets to enable the development and demonstration of SMR technologies. It works with CNL to tailor programs and initiatives that will give access to infrastructure, expertise and know-how to Canadian researchers and businesses, in order to give them a competitive advantage in what has become a global race for SMR development.

Deployment of SMR technology in Canada has the potential to bring important environmental and economic benefits; however, these economic benefits can only be fully realized if technology demonstration happens in Canada. Indeed, it is only through national innovation projects that the Canadian knowhow, experience and intellectual property can be developed and be the basis for Canadian business to participate in the SMR market domestically and internationally. From this perspective, AECL’s strategy is focused on positioning Canada not as a buyer of SMR technology, but rather, as developers, builders and operators of SMR technologies. AECL’s efforts are centred on enabling demonstration and coordinated R&D efforts that work in conjunction with each other, including supporting and hosting Canada’s first and currently only SMR project with Global First Power, which was launched in 2019; and leveraging AECL’s Federal Nuclear Science and Technology Work Plan.

AECL also has an important role in considering the waste management and decommissioning implications of SMRs in Canada. AECL and CNL are unique organizations in Canada with knowledge and experience in managing non-CANDU wastes. Furthermore, AECL has unique research and waste management infrastructure that can be leveraged for the development of SMR-associated waste knowledge and technologies. AECL is also actively working to support longer-term planning for waste management in Canada associated with SMRs, including leveraging its federal role to support the Government’s development of nuclear policy.

AECL’s commitment to the SMR Action Plan Statement of Principles is manifest in the activities outlined below.

Central to AECL’s effort is the Federal Nuclear Science and Technology Work Plan, which supports core federal priorities while ensuring that relevant R&D capabilities are developed and/or maintained at CNL. The Work Plan represents a yearly investment by the Government of Canada in nuclear R&D to be performed by CNL in four broad topical areas: health, safety and security, energy and the environment. AECL is responsible for the management and oversight of the Work Plan, and engages with various federal departments and agencies to develop a program of work that meets their collective needs and priorities. In response to the federal government’s growing interest in SMRs, over the last few years there has been an increase in the number of SMR projects, which will, amongst other things, build knowledge and expertise in Canada, provide science-based information for decision-making and inform regulation, and allow continued Canadian participation and collaboration with international organizations, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and Generation IV International Forum.

Building on the broad capabilities already resident at CNL, AECL’s Federal Nuclear Science and Technology Work Plan, coupled with a $1.2B investment by the Government of Canada for new and renewed site and science infrastructure at Chalk River, has helped CNL expand specific capabilities and facilities. These same facilities and expertise are also commercially available to SMR vendors/operators as they progress through their design and licensing phases. They also provide a foundation that can be used for any future SMR development program established by the federal Government.

For SMRs to meaningfully contribute to the future energy needs of heavy industry or remote communities, or significantly penetrate international markets, AECL is of the view that an SMR demonstration project must be in operation by the late 2020’s. The organization is working with CNL to advance CNL’s four-stage Invitation for Demonstration process, which aims to allow SMR proponents an opportunity to construct and operate their demonstration project(s) at a CNL-operated and AECL-owned site by 2026. AECL also supports CNL’s aspirations to demonstrate the integration of SMRs with renewables and other clean energy sources via a Clean Energy Development, Innovation and Research park that would be located at Chalk River.

Beyond enabling others, AECL subject matter experts participate in many of the SMR-focussed working groups that have been convened, including the COG SMR technology forum, technical committees focussed on SMR fuel and waste management, and a working group that focuses specifically on meaningful and respectful engagement of Indigenous communities.

AECL, as a federal Crown corporation and agent of the Government of Canada, is committed to engaging with Indigenous peoples, local communities, and stakeholders to understand perspectives, share information, and create meaningful opportunities for participation and collaboration. These engagement activities are integral to advancing AECL’s mandate to enable nuclear science and technology and to protect the environment by fulfilling the Government of Canada’s radioactive waste management and decommissioning responsibilities.

Actions

DEMONSTRATION AND DEPLOYMENT
Site preparation for SMR demonstrations
STATUS: COMPLETE
AEC01

Responds to SMR Roadmap recommendation(s): 1, 26, 40, 41, 46

ACTION

In response to recommendation 26, AECL and CNL have evaluated sites at the Chalk River and Whiteshell Laboratories sites, and have identified several at both locations that have potential for SMR demonstration projects.

EXPECTED RESULTS

The expected results include acceleration of the timeline for demonstration of SMR technology in Canada based on enabling work in the areas of site selection, evaluation, environmental assessment and research and development.

The AECL-owned Chalk River Laboratories has been in existence for 75 years, and its lands are therefore extremely well characterized – essential information for a prospective SMR operator to prepare an Environmental Assessment. Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), the operator of the Chalk River site, identified a number of locations on the 3,700 acre complex that could be made available to an SMR proponent that successfully progresses through CNL’s 4-stage Invitation for Demonstration Process. Of the four proponents that have successfully completed Stage 1, Global First Power is the first proponent to progress to Stage 3 of the Invitation Process (i.e. Negotiation of Land Arrangements and Other Contracts). As a result, in 2019 Global First Power submitted to the CNSC an Application for a Licence to Prepare a Site. Global First Power plans to initiate further characterization of their chosen site in the summer of 2020.

CNL has similarly identified a number of locations within AECL’s Whiteshell site that could house a successful proponent’s SMR. As a result of the current decommissioning activities and a previous R&D program that included two operating research reactors, the Whiteshell site is also very well characterized.

CNL’s Invitation for Demonstration Process continues for any new or previously successful Stage 1 proponents that want to take advantage of any of the remaining sites at either Chalk River or Whiteshell.

It is important to note that public consultation as well as Indigenous engagement are key parts of any project being considered.

DEMONSTRATION AND DEPLOYMENT
Federal Nuclear Science and Technology Work Plan
STATUS: IN PROGRESS
AEC02

Responds to SMR Roadmap recommendation(s): 8, 13, 27, 38

ACTION

In response to recommendation 27, AECL continues to consider federal priorities around SMRs when assessing projects under the Federal Nuclear Science and Technology Work Plan for the federal role on SMR development and future deployment, informed by the outcomes of the SMR Roadmap.

EXPECTED RESULTS

The FNST Work Plan is investing in SMR research in order to build knowledge and expertise that will be needed both by government and industry as Canadian companies pursue an SMR market.

By design, the Federal Nuclear Science and Technology Work Plan serves the collective interests of 15 federal departments and agencies. AECL is responsible for the management and oversight of the Work Plan and engages with the various federal departments and agencies to develop a program of work that meets their needs and priorities. A key objective of the Federal Nuclear Science and Technology Work Plan is to examine new innovative nuclear technologies, which includes topical areas such as the investigation of SMR technologies and their potential applications and integration with other clean technologies; fabrication, testing and testing methodologies for advanced fuels; participation in Canada’s bilateral partnerships on nuclear science and technology with countries such as the United States and United Kingdom, as well as multilateral partnerships including the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Nuclear Energy Agency, Clean Energy Ministerial, and the Generation IV International Forum; additive manufacturing; and, verification and benchmarking of codes, which informs regulation by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. The Federal Nuclear Science and Technology Work Plan also includes investments in topical areas such as cyber security, and technologies/methods related to safeguards and security, which are important considerations for SMR technologies in any of the three streams.

Building on the broad capabilities already resident at CNL, AECL’s Federal Nuclear Science and Technology Work Plan, along with the $1.2B investment by the Government of Canada in new and renewed site and science infrastructure at Chalk River, has helped CNL expand specific capabilities and facilities. These same facilities and expertise are also commercially available to SMR vendors/operators as they progress through their design and licensing phases. They also provide a foundation that can be used for any future SMR development program established by the federal government.

DEMONSTRATION AND DEPLOYMENT
Invitation for SMR demonstrations
STATUS: IN PROGRESS
AEC03

Responds to SMR Roadmap recommendation(s): 1, 28, 40, 41, 46

ACTION

In response to recommendation 28, CNL continues its Invitation for Demonstration process to enable, support and accelerate SMR demonstration projects proposed by industry.

EXPECTED RESULTS

AECL and CNL are working hard to see that Canada benefits from early-mover advantage by supporting industry-driven, SMR demonstration projects that will help entrench the know-how and experience in Canada that will be needed to compete in the global market.

CNL’s Invitation for Demonstration is a 4-stage process. Stages 1 and 2, Pre-qualification and Due-Diligence, respectively, require proponents to respond to a number of different criteria that examine areas such as financial, organizational, and technology readiness; plans for their supply chain, including opportunities for Canadian companies; required research and development (R&D) activities; and, plans/needs for obtaining their nuclear fuel, which is widely regarded as a key enabler for any of the Stream 2 or Stream 3 SMR technologies.

Although the Invitation for Demonstration process is run by CNL, AECL, as owner of Chalk River and Whiteshell sites, must grant approval to an SMR Proponent wanting to establish a facility on AECL’s land.

The first intake from CNL’s Invitation process occurred in 2018, and there have been four successive intakes since. CNL intends to continue the process as long as there is interest. Of the first five intakes, four proponents have passed through Stage 1; one of those, Global First Power, is currently in Stage 3.

It is important to note that public consultation as well as Indigenous engagement are key parts of any project being considered.

INTERNATIONAL PARTNERSHIPS AND MARKETS
International lab-to-lab collaboration
STATUS: IN PROGRESS
AEC04

Responds to SMR Roadmap recommendation(s): 29

ACTION

In response to recommendation 29, AECL and CNL are advancing international collaboration on SMR research and development.

EXPECTED RESULTS

AECL and CNL are leveraging international partnerships and science and technology collaboration to accelerate SMR development by taking advantage of complementary expertise and resources for mutual advantage.

One of the roles of AECL’s Federal Nuclear Science and Technology Work Plan is to expand CNL’s expertise by enabling their participation in international fora that are of interest to federal departments. Funded in part through AECL’s Federal Nuclear Science and Technology Work Plan, CNL participates in several collaborative research projects through the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Nuclear Energy Agency and the Generation IV International Forum. The Federal Nuclear Science and Technology Work Plan also enables bilateral collaboration with the United States and United Kingdom through specific action plans. Collectively, international participation and collaboration provides opportunities to leverage and maximize research and development activities, share best practice and knowledge on advanced reactor technologies, nuclear materials and fuels, and modeling and simulation, that can advance SMR development domestically and internationally.

AECL also provides its own subject matter experts to participate in the Generation IV International Forum (Co-chair of a Steering Committee for the Supercritical Water Reactor, and Canadian representative on the Generation IV International Forum Experts Group); and, initiatives by the International Atomic Energy Agency that examine technologies and options for disposing of high level waste.

POLICY, LEGISLATION, AND REGULATION
Radioactive Waste Leadership Forum (RWLF)
STATUS: IN PROGRESS
AEC05

Responds to SMR Roadmap recommendation(s): 36, 45

ACTION

In response to recommendation 36, AECL is supporting the work of the Radioactive Waste Leadership Forum, including its consideration of SMR waste.

EXPECTED RESULTS

AECL is supporting the RWLF in its consideration of smaller waste producers, including SMR proponents, so that reasonable pathways for disposal of all radioactive wastes, including from SMRs, may be identified. This will help reduce barriers to SMR proponents entering the market.

AECL supports this process in a number of ways as follows.

As a waste owner, AECL, a federal Crown corporation is a member of the Radioactive Waste Leadership Forum and can leverage its unique knowledge and experience in managing non-CANDU wastes to help advise on the needs of potential SMR waste.

  • AECL has unique research and waste management infrastructure and expertise that can be leveraged for the development of SMR-associated waste knowledge and technologies.
  • AECL also continues to support the Government of Canada’s development of nuclear policy, including consideration of SMR waste.