The Toronto Star
April 26, 2012
Ontario zeroes in on two nuclear reactor designs
Ontario is in talks with two nuclear suppliers about submitting detailed plans for proposed new reactors at the Darlington nuclear station.
But provincial sources say it will be more than a year before a decision is made on which design to choose – if any.
The two designs in the running are:
- The Enhanced Candu 6 reactor made by Candu Energy Inc., a unit of SNC-Lavalin, which bought the assets of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. last year.
- The AP 1000 reactor made by Westinghouse.
Both reactor designs are currently be assessed by Canada’s nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).
Public documents show that the CNSC is not actively examining the technology of a third potential candidate, made by the French nuclear manufacturer Areva.
The province and Ontario Power Generation are currently negotiating the terms of “service level agreements” with Westinghouse and Candu Energy.
The agreements would commit the companies to preparing detailed construction plans, schedules and cost estimates for the proposed reactors, a process that would take a year or more.
The province is considering building two new reactors, each of about 1,000 megawatts, at Darlington.
But a source emphasized there’s no guarantee either proposal would be accepted, and the province could still forego building new reactors altogether.
Nuclear power remains a sensitive option. While the province currently gets half its electricity from nuclear power, past projects have run far over budget. The “debt retirement charge” on hydro bills is a legacy of past nuclear cost over-runs.
Although a federal panel has given preliminary clearance to proceed with new reactors, the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan remains a background to any decision.
And the Liberals’ current ally in the minority Ontario legislature – the New Democratic Party – is opposed to new nuclear plants.
Choosing the Candu 6 would be the less surprising option if Ontario decides top build new reactors.
It uses technology similar to those used in Ontario’s existing reactors. They use heavy water – water containing a special hydrogen atom that’s about 11 per cent denser than ordinary water – to control the nuclear reaction. It uses natural uranium as a fuel.
Contractors, engineering firms and manufacturers who have worked on past Candu projects are also concentrated in Ontario.
The Westinghouse reactor uses ordinary water under pressure to control the nuclear reaction, and uses enriched uranium as a fuel. That means it is processed to ensure a higher concentration of certain uranium atoms than exists in natural uranium.
One of the big question for both reactors is cost.
Patrick Lamarre, who heads Candu Energy, told the Toronto Board of Trade last fall that his company could build reactors for $5,000 to $7,000 per kilowatt of capacity. That translates into $10 to $14 billion for 2,000 megawatts.
Lamarre said that means power from the reactors would cost 6 to 9 cents a kilowatt hour.
Published figures for Westinghouse reactors in the U.S. indicate a price $10.4 billion for a similar capacity.
A big question in any contract is who accepts the risk if the project runs over budget. In the past, provincial taxpayers and ratepayers have been stuck with paying for the overruns.
Asked about the possibility of Ontario choosing a non-Candu design, Ron Oberth of the Organization of Candu Industries said his members would adapt.
The organization represents firms that supply goods and services for Candu projects.
“Our members are ready to supply whatever technology Ontario Power Generation and the government choose,” he said in an interview. “We’re not in the business of picking the winner and telling the provincial government which technology to choose.”
“I’ve told our members we’ve got to be ready to diversify and support whatever technology choice is made in Ontario.”