Canada’s McMaster University, Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC), and Global First Power (GFP) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to further examine the feasibility of deploying a Micro Modular Reactor (MMR) at McMaster University, or an affiliated site.

The MMR can be factory constructed with a far smaller footprint and expected economies from fleet operation, has enhanced safety features and is suitable for powering remote communities and providing process heat to industry.

Seattle-based USNC has developed the MMR technology for worldwide deployment. GFP is the partnership between USNC and Ontario Power Generation (OPG) that is deploying USNC's MMR technology in Canada. Both USNC and OPG are contributors to Canada's SMR Action Plan.

Dave Tucker, McMaster's assistant vice-president, research (nuclear) said: "Combining our capabilities with those of USNC and GFP will allow us to conduct life-cycle studies on the optimal utilization of SMRs and train the next generation of experts that will build, operate, maintain, monitor and regulate these facilities."

GFP is developing Canada's first commercial demonstration SMR at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratory's (CNL) Chalk River site, where much of the research and training will take place, according to Dominique Minière, GFP's president and CEO. GFP's MMR Project at Chalk River is expected to be operational in 2027.

Tucker said the partnership is an important step in the launch of the University's SMR feasibility study – an estimated 18-month initiative in consultation with community, business, and government stakeholders, including Indigenous communities and municipal councils. Based on those findings and McMaster's decision to pursue SMR deployment, the process of seeking the necessary licences from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission will begin.

The MMR is a micro-reactor that operates as a flexible nuclear battery and may fulfil nontraditional roles for nuclear power, including service to remotely sited areas, backup power generation, hydrogen production, desalination, process heating, and supporting military and critical national infrastructure facilities. The energy system consists of two plants.

The nuclear plant: This is the nuclear facility which contains the MMR High Temperature Gas-cooled Reactor(s) (HTGRs) and includes all the equipment required to transport the heat produced to the adjacent plant.The adjacent plant: A non-nuclear facility which harnesses the heat for client specified applications. These applications could be electrical generation, process heat (for example, steam), hydrogen production, district heating etc.

From a licensing perspective, the nuclear plant is independent of the adjacent plant, which reduces the nuclear footprint of the overall facility. The nuclear plant generates approximately 15MW of thermal energy, and can generate 5MW of electricity. The MMR operates for 20 years with no refuelling.

The MMR reactor uses USNC’s proprietary Fully Ceramic Micro Encapsulated (FCM) fuel. FCM is manufactured with industry-standard Triple Coated Isotropic (TRISO) fuel particles, whose primary purpose is to retain fission products within layered ceramic coatings, is further encased within a fully dense silicon carbide matrix. There is no on-site fuel handling.

The adjacent plant molten salt system acts as an intermediary to transport the heat generated in the nuclear plant and transfer it through heat exchangers to a steam cycle for the purpose of generating power and the supply of heat for customer applications. The adjacent plant molten salt system consists of pumps and pipes containing molten salt as well as hot and cold storage tanks. These tanks serve as an energy storage system and help to regulate the flow of molten salt.

The MMR using the adjacent plant concept allows the micro-reactor to operate as a flexible nuclear battery. The adjacent plant allows nuclear heat to be applied to many traditional or new roles. These include service to remotely sited areas, backup power generation, hydrogen production, desalination, process heating, and supporting military and critical national infrastructure facilities.

MMRs are typically deployed in groups of 1-10 units. The philosophy is to allow for several construction approaches, from all units in parallel to the construction of additional units on a site where MMR units are already operating. Modules will be assembled at off-site facilities with complete systems housed as pre-assembled modules.

The application for a Licence to Prepare Site (LTPS) was lodged in March 2019 to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), the first Canadian application for a SMR. The application was accepted and published by the CNSC as a Notice of Commencement and details can be found on the CNSC website.

Prior to the submission of the LTPS application, the MMR design was subjected to a Phase 1 Vendor Design Review (VDR) assessment by the CNSC and obtained favourable assessment results. Currently USNC is engaged in VDR Phase 2. The aim of VDR Phase 1 was to demonstrate that USNC understands the regulatory requirements and VDR Phase 2 is to identify any fundamental barriers to licensing. The VDR process is a non-mandatory licensing requirement but rather a voluntary action to mitigate potential licensing risks.

Application for a site licence is planned for 2023 with site preparation and construction planned for 2023-2027. Operation is planned for 2025-2052 and decommissioning for 2044-2058.

Image: Artist's impression of USNC’s micro modular reactor system (courtesy of Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation)

Date: Friday, 16 December 2022
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