AECL bows out of UK race

07 April 2008

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) has deferred the participation of its ACR-1000 reactor design in the UK's current design assessment program, saying it wanted to address "major nuclear new build opportunities in the Canadian utility market." 


ACR-1000 (Image: AECL)
This means that Areva's EPR, GE-Hitachi's ESBWR and Westinghouse's AP1000 will go forward to the next stage of more detailed analysis by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) and the Environment Agency before likely gaining Generic Design Acceptance (GDA). Because of time and manpower constraints, the NII only has the manpower to examine three designs concurrently. Once a reactor design has GDA, a prospective builder could combine that with certification of a site as suitable for a nuclear reactor and make a formal planning application to build.


Keith Bradley of AECL told World Nuclear News that the company expects UK regulators to be ready to begin more reactor analyses "by early 2011", by which time the results of a pre-licensing review from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission should be available as a reference. Bradley said the UK market was "open and confident that nuclear power will become well established," adding that the country would remain "a high potential market for the ACR-1000."


Bradley cited ACR-1000's abilities to run on mixed-oxide (uranium oxide and plutonium oxide) nuclear fuel as well as recovered uranium from reprocessed light-water reactor fuel as selling points for the reactor. The UK has undertaken decades of reprocessing activity in order to recover these materials for re-use and minimise volumes of high-level radioactive waste. Currently however, the long-term future of reprocessing has not been decided by politicians, while the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is deciding what to do with national plutonium and recovered uranium stockpiles.


AECL president and chief executive Hugh MacDiarmid said in a release: "We feel very strongly that our best course of action to ensure the ACR-1000 is successful in the global market is to focus first and foremost on the opportunities in Canada." Bradley told WNN that AECL was confident that commitments for ACR-1000 units would have been made by Canadian utilities by around 2011. Some 22 earlier-design AECL Candu reactors already exist in Canada while there are plans developing in Ontario, Alberta and New Brunswick for at least seven ACR-1000s.