Canada and China team up on AFCR

23 September 2016

An agreement in principle to form a new joint venture to develop, market and construct the Advanced Fuel Candu Reactor (AFCR) has been signed by Canada's SNC-Lavalin, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and Shanghai Electric. The reactor reuses used fuel from light water reactors.

SNC Lavalin-CNNC-SEC September 2016 - 460 (CNNC)
The agreement was signed yesterday in Ottawa in the presence of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese premier Li Keqiang (Image: CNNC)

The agreement follows the signing of a framework agreement in November 2014 between CNNC and SNC-Lavalin's parent company, Candu Energy. The latest agreement is subject to all government and regulatory approvals, SNC-Lavalin noted.

The joint venture company is expected to be registered in mid-2017. This would be followed by the formation of two design centres - one in Canada and the other in China - to complete the AFCR technology. SNC-Lavalin said this could lead to the construction of the world's first two ACFR units in China and "possible subsequent builds in China and around the world".

The AFCR is described as "a 700 MW Class Generation III reactor based on the highly successful Candu 6 and Enhanced Candu 6 (EC6) reactors with a number of adaptations to meet the latest Canadian and international standards." The reactor features a heavy-water moderator and heavy-water coolant in a pressure tube design and can use both recycled uranium and thorium as fuel. Candu reactors can be refuelled online.

Units 1 and 2 of the Qinshan Phase III nuclear power plant in China use the Candu 6 pressurised heavy water reactor technology, with Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) being the main contractor of the project on a turnkey basis. Construction began in 1997 and unit 1 started up in September 2002 and unit 2 in April 2003.

In September 2005, AECL signed a technology development agreement with CNNC which opened the possibility of it supplying further Candu-6 reactors and undertaking fuel cycle developments based on them. This agreement with CNNC was passed to its subsidiary, the Nuclear Power Institute of China. From 2008, it has focused on joint development of the AFCR.

SNC-Lavalin said it considers the market potential for AFCR technology in China to be "considerable". It noted each AFCR unit can use recycled fuel from four light water reactors to generate some six million MWh of additional carbon-free electricity - sufficient to power four million Chinese homes - without needing any new natural uranium fuel. This, it claims, will avoid the emission of six million tonnes of carbon per year, compared with coal-fired plants.

Mainland China has 35 nuclear power reactors in operation, 20 under construction, and more about to start construction. Additional reactors are planned, to give a doubling of nuclear capacity to at least 58 GWe by 2020-21, then up to 150 GWe by 2030, and much more by 2050.

SNC-Lavalin president for power Sandy Taylor said, "This is a game changer in the nuclear industry, and a great endorsement of our expertise and Candu nuclear technology from the largest nuclear market in the world." He added, "Each new build in China, and anywhere in the world, will benefit Canada in terms of job creation, innovation and nuclear R&D, environmental stewardship, and will contribute to reduce global carbon emissions."

Preston Swafford, chief nuclear officer and executive vice-president for nuclear at SNC-Lavalin, said: "Recognized globally to deliver safe, reliable, affordable and low-carbon energy, each AFCR would contribute to Canada's commitments within COP21: to increase accessibility, efficiency and affordability of clean nuclear energy."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News