Several experts blinked a few weeks ago when the province announced its intention to begin research into new types of nuclear reactors, smaller and producing less electricity. It would not be the first time the New Brunswick government has turned to nuclear power for its energy supply. Should the province proceed more cautiously this time? The New Brunswick government recently pledged $10 million to create a nuclear research group. The province also announced on July 9 a partnership with the American company Advanced Reactor Concepts, which will try to build a new type of more compact nuclear reactor designed to produce 100 MW of electricity, nearly six times less than the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant. Then a week later, the province announced another partnership with the English company Moltex. The latter is even promising a reactor capable of producing energy by reusing nuclear wastes (from uranium fuel). This perspective is tempting at first. Among the advantages of Moltex’s reactors are (1) the ability to produce clean energy at low cost and (2) the ability to reduce environmental impacts by burning irradiated uranium fuel. William Cook, professor of chemical engineering at the Centre for Nuclear Energy Research at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, believes that small modular reactors could be quite efficient in terms of energy production, and that they could overcome many of the problems created by conventional CANDU (Canada Deuterium Uranium) reactors such as Point Lepreau. On the one hand, Mr. Cook says that the small reactors under development are small enough to be built in a factory and then transported to a destination by train or ship, which would significantly reduce their cost of installation. He also mentioned the possibility of reusing the uranium fuel from the Point Lepreau reactor. “Not all compact reactor models can use irradiated nuclear fuel, but [Moltex] is advertising that they can process the old fuel on site to prepare it for reuse. There is still an enormous amount of energy remaining in the spent fuel when it comes out of a CANDU reactor,” says the chemical engineering professor. But this concept of a small reactor that reuses nuclear fuel is only a dream for now. In fact, the project is still in its infancy. “Certainly [small modular reactors are] very far from commercialization, or even feasibility,” says Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, a non-profit organization based in Montreal. According to Edwards, the deployment of these reactors would create a host of new problems. He disputes the benefits promised by Moltex. “The benefits of small modular reactors are zero,” he says. “For used fuel from Point Lepreau to be recycled, it would first have to be reprocessed after it is removed from the reactor.” He explained that this would result in the creation of liquid and volatile [gaseous] radioactive waste. He also noted that [the Moltex] small modular reactor would use plutonium, unlike Point Lepreau, which uses uranium. The use of uranium creates plutonium as a byproduct. So part of the [Moltex] plutonium fuel could come from Point Lepreau, but the province could also import it from the United States.
Telegraph-Journal 9th Aug 2018 read more »