Gentilly 2's refurbishment for longer life

20 August 2008

Hydro-Quebec will invest some C$1.9 billion ($1.8 billion) to refurbish the Canadian province's sole operating nuclear power reactor, Gentilly 2, thereby extending the unit's operating life to about 2040.

Gentilly 2 
Gentilly 2 (Image: Hydro-Quebec)
Gentilly 2 is a 675 MWe gross (638 MWe net) Candu pressurized heavy-water reactor (PHWR) built by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) between 1974 and 1982. The unit was commissioned in October 1983. Candu reactors require refurbishment and replacement of core components after about 25-30 years of operation. The process normally extends the unit's life by about the same amount.

In a statement, Hydro-Quebec said that after conducting many technical, economic and safety-related studies, it has determined that "it is justified to continue operating the existing facility." It said that Gentilly 2, "a reliable, continuous source of energy," plays "an important role in maintaining the stability and reliability of Hydro-Quebec's transmission grid." The reactor currently accounts for some 3% of Quebec's energy output, with most of the remainder coming from hydroelectric plants.

Thierry Vandal, president of Hydro-Quebec, said, "It's a good project that will allow us to continue to operate for many more years a plant that is safe ... a plant that will produce electricity at a competitive price."

The project comprises two components: refurbishment of the Gentilly 2 reactor and the construction of a solid radioactive waste management facility (SRWMF). Marc Chapleau of Hydro Quebec told World Nuclear News the C$1.9 billion cost was mostly for engineering work, including some work on the power unit's steam turbines. He added that the cost for the waste facility is to be about C$50 million ($47 million) and there would be a C$200 million ($188 million) contingency fund.

Hydro-Quebec said that engineering and procurement work for the refurbishment would start this year and construction work would begin in 2011. Construction activities consist of refurbishing the reactor, the turbo-generator unit, as well as the control and support systems. The current schedule is for the refurbished reactor to return to service in 2012. Hydro-Quebec said that the unit cost of energy generated from 2012 onward will be 7.2 Canadian cents (6.8¢) per kilowatt-hour. Chapleau said that generation cost figure includes an allowance for decommissioning costs, as well as all operating costs for 25 years and amortisation of the C$1.9 billion. Over C$1 billion ($940 million) has already been set aside to eventually decommission and dismantle Gentilly 2 in the middle of the century.

Hydro-Quebec received a licence from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to construct and operate the SRWMF in April 2007. Construction work on the SRWMF is divided into four phases. The initial phase, already under way, will meet the plant's immediate operating requirements with the building of storage units for low- and medium-level solid radioactive waste. The second phase will provide storage for radioactive waste arising from plant refurbishment work. The other two phases will meet the plant's needs until the end of its operating life.

Murray Elston, president and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA), said: "The Gentilly 2 nuclear reactor has provided essential, low-cost base-load electricity supply for Quebec and has served as a useful complement to Hydro-Quebec's system based primarily upon hydraulic generation for over 25 years."

He added, "Refurbishing Gentilly 2 by Hydro-Quebec is part of the resurgence in the renovation of existing nuclear reactors that we are currently seeing in Canada both in New Brunswick and in Ontario. This renaissance of the nuclear industry is resulting in increased economic activity through high paying jobs, a demand for skilled labour, investment in research and development and education."

The Point Lepreau nuclear power plant in New Brunswick - considered Gentilly-2's twin as both use Candu-6 reactors - is currently being refurbished at a cost of C$1.4 billion ($1.3 billion) to add another 25 years of operating life.

Another reactor at the Gentilly site, Gentilly 1, was a 250 MWe prototype boiling water reactor also built by AECL. The reactor entered commercial operation in May 1972 and was shut down in June 1977.