Canada’s SNC-Lavalin Group said on 22 September that it has an agreement in principle for a joint venture with China’s state-owned company China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) and manufacturing conglomerate Shanghai Electric Group Co to design, market and build the Advanced Fuel Candu Reactor (AFCR). SNC signed an initial memorandum of understanding with CNNC to pursue power generation, mining and nuclear-related environmental projects around the world more than two years ago.
The joint venture will be the first between a foreign company and CNNC involving the development of new technology, and is expected to be registered in China by mid-2017. However, Canada’s Globe and Mail quoted AltaCorp Capital analyst Chris Murray as warning that the agreement is only one step in a drawn-out process. “It is a very, very slow process,” he said. “We don’t expect there to be any near-term financial impact.”
John Luxat, professor of nuclear safety analysis at McMaster University and a former board member of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) said the new reactor technology has a high potential for use in China because of the large number of existing light-water reactors whose spent fuel would be reused by the AFCRs. In 2011 the Canadian government sold the commercial CANDU design and marketing business of AECL to Candu Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin.
Each new AFCR unit would have the ability to use recycled uranium from four light-water reactors to generate six million megawatt-hours of additional carbon-free electricity without needing any new natural uranium fuel, said SNC.
The joint venture is expected to establish two design centres – one in Canada and one in China. Completion of the technology “could lead to construction of the world’s first two AFCR in China, and possibly subsequent builds in China and around the world,” SNC said.
“The potential for this is very, very large” and the joint venture also offers the possibility of exporting the technology to other parts of the world, said Sandy Taylor, president of the power division at SNC-Lavalin. Already, CNNC is working on a Candu-based project in Argentina, with SNC’s involvement, he added.