Canadian partnership announces SMR fuel research

27 February 2020

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) has agreed to collaborate with USNC-Power, a subsidiary of Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC), on research in support of USNC's Micro Modular Reactor (MMR). The project will also include preliminary activities to explore the feasibility of siting a manufacturing facility for USNC's fuel at CNL's Chalk River campus.

Chalk River Laboratories (Image: CNL)

The project, which is funded through CNL's Canadian Nuclear Research Initiative (CNRI), will include research related to the manufacturing of USNC's proprietary Fully Ceramic Microencapsulate (FCM) fuel, the design of an irradiation programme for the reactor's graphite core, and the establishment of a laboratory for fuel analysis at Chalk River. It will also include the development of a multi-year testing programme to support the validation of USNC's fuel and core as they progress through the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission's vendor design review process.

CNL President and CEO Mark Lesinski said the agreement with USNC-Power represented a step forward in pursuit of the organisation's goal of making the "next generation" of nuclear reactors a reality. " Based on our ongoing dialogue with SMR vendors, it's clear that there is a need for increased access to our expertise and facilities to support SMR research and development. The CNRI program is intended to fill this void, and I'm pleased that we will be working alongside USNC on our first CNRI research project," he said.

The MMR features a core of hexagonal graphite blocks containing stacks of FCM fuel pellets, which USNC says has a low power density and a high heat capacity resulting in very slow and predictable temperature changes. The helium-cooled reactor is fuelled once for its 20-year lifetime. USNC CEO Francesco Venneri said the joint research will be "an important next step in validating our approach to SMR reactor and fuel design".

The agreement with USNC is the first under the annual CNRI programme, launched by CNL in 2019 to accelerate the deployment of SMRs in Canada by enabling R&D and connecting the SMR industry with the facilities and expertise within Canada's national nuclear laboratories. The agreement includes CAD1.5 million (USD1.1 million) of in-kind contributions from CNL for the project and will be completed by the spring of 2021. Three other applications under the programme are at various stages of review and negotiations. The next call for proposals for cost-sharing R&D projects under the programme will be released during the spring of this year, CNL said.

CNL has identified SMRs as one of eight strategic initiatives it is pursuing as part of its long-term strategy, with the goal of siting an SMR by 2026. At present four proponents are engaged in a four-stage invitation process launched in in 2018 to evaluate the construction and operation of a demonstration SMR at a CNL site. U-Battery Canada Ltd, with a design for a 4 MWe high-temperature gas reactor; StarCore Nuclear, with a proposed 14 MWe high-temperature gas reactor; and Terrestrial Energy, with a 190 MWe integral molten salt reactor, have all completed the first stage of the process. Global First Power, with a proposal for a 5 MWe MMR supported by USNC and Ontario Power Generation, has completed the first two stages and begun the third stage.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News