Although any decision is years down the road, New Brunswick is considering building a second nuclear reactor at its Point Lepreau power station and turning it into a manufacturing hub for a new generation of small modular reactors.
“If the plan is successful, the small modular reactors, also known as SMRs, would be exported around the world while creating ‘thousands of jobs’ in New Brunswick,” CBC reports, citing the two project proponents, ARC Nuclear and Moltex Energy. “Both companies talk freely of an international high-tech nuclear manufacturing industry they would like to develop here in New Brunswick.”
“Our vision is really not only building a power plant, it’s the manufacturing piece that’s the economic benefit for the province,” said ARC President Norm Sawyer. “We’re talking about thousands of jobs here as we move forward.”
So far, the province has put C$10 million into the development of a local “nuclear research cluster”, and each company has pledged another $5 million for research and development. Those amounts pale in comparison to the billions the project could eventually require, CBC notes.
While utility NB Power is promoting the potential of SMRs in local meetings across the province and helped select the two companies to open offices in St. John, CBC says a decision on the project could be years away. “It has not been decided yet whether we’re building another reactor here at Point Lepreau,” said Brett Plummer, NB Power’s vice-president for nuclear operations. “That decision has not been made.”
Sawyer and Moltex CEO Rory O’Sullivan said the 150-megawatt plant they envision at Point Lepreau would be a fraction the size of a standard Candu nuclear design or a U.S.-style light water reactor, would not require the classic pressure containment dome associated with conventional nuclear plants, and would consume its own spent fuel, much of which would be stored on the reactor site.
“The ability to use spent fuel or have flexible electricity is beneficial, but it’s low-cost electricity that’s really going to transform clean energy moving forward,” O’Sullivan told CBC. “Our plan is to develop and demonstrate that low-cost, clean electricity first in New Brunswick, and then you’ll be able to sell that around the world.”
Apart from the total cost of developing the business, CBC points to a couple of flaws in the plan: neither Moltex nor ARC Nuclear has ever built a nuclear reactor, and the project would have to go through public licencing and public hearings.
And before it even gets to that point, Edwin Lyman, acting director of the nuclear safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the economics won’t be in the proponents’ favour.
“The problem is that there is not sufficient private capital around to finance the development of even a single new non-light-water reactor, much less many different types,” he told CBC. “When you shrink the size of a nuclear reactor, you increase the unit cost of electricity because of those economies of scale. The tendency has been for reactors to get bigger over the decades to actually reduce the cost of electricity they generate.”