ASET Technology Alberta Winter 2023 - 18

" The cost per unit of generation capacity, cost per kilowatt
or cost per megawatt, will be higher for a small reactor
compared to a large reactor. This is not going to work out,
but the nuclear industry is quite strong in Canada and so
the government sort of wants to placate them. And that's, I
think, why they are pushing for small modular reactors, " he
surmises.
Issues of cost are a problem of newer nuclear reactors in
general. Ramana says that with the U.S. and France, which
have the highest number of nuclear plants, newer reactors
have been on the whole more expensive than earlier ones.
" And while the cost per SMR will be lower due to much
smaller size, several reactors would typically be installed at
a single site, raising total project costs for the purchaser
again, " according to the EWG article.
There are also dangers around production. With a massmanufactured
template product, there's a real risk of recall.
That's a headache for any business. With something as impactful
and high stakes as an energy source with volatile
materials, that elevates to catastrophe.
This isn't a matter of conjecture, either. Problems around
pressurized water reactors, commonly used for light water
SMRs, have shown up before.
" One of the big economic problems of pressurized water
reactors, the design commonly chosen for light water
SMRs, including the NuScale design, which has recently
received conditional certification from the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission, was the need to prematurely replace the
steam generators - the massive, expensive heat exchangers
where the high-pressure hot water from the reactor is
converted to the steam that drives the turbine generators, "
the EWG article explains. This has led to the permanent
shutdown of two reactors in California and one reactor in
Florida.
If the same problem was to happen in a design where the
steam generator was inside the reactor vessel, replacement
would be more tricky. Such cases might necessitate a permanent
reactor shutdown, the article writes.
Another criticism of SMR development, specifically in Alberta,
is around prospective greenwashing. The Alberta
Wilderness Association raised this issue in its position
statement on SMRs.
" AWA does not support the use of nuclear energy as a
means to help oil sands operations reach net-zero emissions.
This would only serve to allow oil sands operators
to maintain or increase production levels, which evidence
shows is incompatible with achieving global climate targets, "
the statement reads.
" The campaign to employ SMRs in the oil sands reflects a
concerted green-washing effort to allow business-as-usual
production, keep profits flowing for corporations, and actively
obfuscates the calls for reduced production and the
rapid, large-scale decommissioning of fossil fuel infrastructure
to avoid the most severe predicted climate change scenarios, "
it adds.
Philip Meintzer, a conservation specialist with AWA, says this
is fairly standard given the country's energy background.
" We have a history of relying on oil and gas development.
And this is a way on the one hand it can sort of be like a way
for a government to acknowledge that they're trying to cut
emissions but without actually changing the way we pursue
energy, or think about energy development in the province. "
" It's kind of a band-aid ... to enable the oil sands to keep functioning
as they are and green them in a way, " Meintzer says.
Kennedy Halvorson, also a conservation specialist with
AWA, has noted a level of idealism happening with government
plans to use the small reactor technology, to keep everything
business as usual.
" I think often, especially with technology they're kind of
looking for a silver bullet solution, which I think is maybe
what this is, " she says. " I think it's because there is a desire
in this country to allow oil and gas to continue as it is, it's
really hard it seems for any of our governments to stand
up and be like, 'maybe you do need to cut your production
levels,' instead of, 'don't worry, you won't lose any money;
you can keep producing as is, but here's a great solution to
cut your GHGs.' "
The Ministry of Energy and Minerals did not reply to questions
about criticisms of greenwashing in its response.
Regardless of the actual efficacy of nuclear power to lower
emissions, there's another element at play: time. More specifically,
the protracted length it takes to get reactors commissioned
and plants running.
18 | WINTER 2023 | TECHNOLOGY ALBERTA
https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1204/ML12041A579.pdf

ASET Technology Alberta Winter 2023

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