The Evolution of Nuclear Power
In 1962, the NPD (Nuclear Power Demonstration) reactor came online and demonstrated the CANDU (CANada Deuterium Uranium) design. The NPD was Canada’s first electricity-producing reactor, and the world’s first heavy-water power reactor. Canada’s CANDU reactor is a Generation II commercial reactor. It’s considered one of the world’s safest and most successful nuclear reactors.
Nuclear reactor designs have continued to evolve from the Gen II designs to make them even safer, more efficient, and in some cases, smaller (i.e. small modular reactors) – but still powerful enough to power a small city.
GENERATIONS III AND III+
Generation III designs, now in use, reflect design improvements that have made these systems safer and more efficient and given them longer operating lives (typically 60 years) than earlier systems.
Generation III+ designs, which are now being built outside Canada, extend these improvements. (The “Generation” standards for nuclear technologies originated with the U.S. Department of Energy – www.energy.gov).
WHAT IS GENERATION IV?
Canada is part of an international collaboration to set the following goals for advanced nuclear energy systems, and to work toward them:
- Minimum waste
- Life cycle cost advantage
- Competitive in financial risk
- Excellent safety and reliability in operation
Technologies that meet these international standards will be called Generation IV (www.gen-4.org).
WHAT ARE SMALL MODULAR REACTORS?
Small modular reactors (SMRs) have existed for decades. As opposed to full-sized, built-on-site reactors, these units are mostly built in a factory environment and then shipped and installed. In past uses they have proven to be low-maintenance, reliable, and versatile.
SMRs can be designed to have low staffing needs, and long cycles between refuellings (four to ten years or longer). Like all reactor designs, they have made substantial advances in safety and efficiency.
In Canada and elsewhere, there is considerable interest in applying newer SMR designs:
- For electricity generation — replacing aging fossil-fuel units of similar size and power.
- For electricity in small, remote communities where diesel is currently in use.
- For process heat applications – in heat-intensive resource extraction industries (smelting ore, extracting bitumen from oilsands, cooking wood pulp).
- For local heat applications in arctic communities.
Why Go Nuke?
Nuclear energy provides a clean and reliable source of power and is an important part of Canada’s clean energy portfolio. Because there are virtually no greenhouse gas emissions from our power generating plants, it does not contribute to global climate change or smog.
Not only important in energy production, the application of nuclear science improves the health and well-being of Canadians through nuclear medicine and food safety technologies as well. Innovation in nuclear science is also being applied to address a number of societal challenges such as public health and transportation.