Canadian federal Crown corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) and AtkinsRéalis (part of the SNC-Lavalin Group) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to collaborate on the successful deployment of Candu reactors in Canada and internationally and to expand their intellectual property licensing agreement (IPLA).

The subsequent collaboration and licensing agreement will accelerate the development of Candu reactor technology, including the new Candu Monark reactor announced in November 2023. When the IPLA was initially signed in 2011, transitioning to a low-carbon world was not a consideration. The expanded agreement will reflect the changing priorities.

“We will collaborate with AECL, the Canadian nuclear supply chain partners and our customers to complete the Candu Monark design for domestic and international deployment,” said Joe St Julian, President, Nuclear, AtkinsRéalis. “Candu technology is the only home-grown Canadian power reactor technology; it competes on a global stage, providing energy security, creating export opportunities and thousands of well-paying, highly skilled jobs, while also supporting the local supply chain and creating economic value to Canada. The deployment of the Candu Monark will provide safe, carbon free, base load power to the country and the world.”

All of Canada's operating commercial nuclear reactors are pressurised heavy water reactor Candu units. Currently, there are some 27 Candu power reactors operating in seven countries. The design was developed by AECL, in cooperation with Canadian industry, from the late 1950s onwards and the first commercial unit began operation in 1971. AtkinsRéalis is the original equipment manufacturer of Candu technology and has a Canadian supply chain of more than 250 companies providing fuel, components, services and tooling that employ 76,000 people. SNC-Lavalin Group rebranded to AtkinsRéalis in 2023.

As the vast majority of Candu components, fuel and services are sourced domestically and more than 85% of a Candu reactor’s equipment and parts can be supplied by Canadian manufacturers, AtkinsRéalis said this offers compounded economic benefits to stakeholders across the country.

The Candu Monark reactor features a larger output of 1,000 MWe, improved cost per megawatt-hour, a longer operating life of 70 years, sustainable design principles to minimise environmental impact, the latest in robotics, predictive maintenance and high integration with flexible electricity grids of the future.

AtkinsRéalis says the Candu Monark leverages the existing strengths of the proven Candu design. This includes using natural uranium as a fuel source (which can be produced domestically in the reactor's host country), on-power refuelling, and online maintenance. Like other Candu reactors, the fuel flexibility of Candu Monark technology also allows it to safely use other fuel sources with minimal adjustments, including recycled uranium, thorium and mixed oxide fuels.

The technology is designed to leverage the latest engineering techniques, including full interoperability with digital twin technology to reduce costs for construction, operation, and maintenance. It is the easiest reactor design to build, operate and maintain in AtkinsRéalis's Candu nuclear portfolio. The reactor has been designed to simplify maintenance, while incorporating a module-based construction strategy that reduces construction compared with previous generations of Candu technology. When combined with the enhanced control afforded by digital delivery concepts, it will be constructed faster and with lower risk.

The Candu Monark will continue the ability of Candu technology to produce medical grade isotopes to sterilise medical equipment, and for use in both fighting and researching cancer. Ontario's Candu reactors produce 50% of the world's supply of the Cobalt-60 isotope. As part of its design, the Candu Monark can integrate a hydrogen production plant and storage facility into a nuclear station, as well as use surplus heat from the plant to make hydrogen generation more efficient.

“The MOU underscores our mutual interest in advancing the Candu technology suite of reactors,” noted AtkinsRéalis President & CEO Ian L Edwards. “We’re committed to continuing the work we’ve undertaken for over a decade – successfully refurbishing, servicing, and developing Candu technology in Canada and abroad to meet the growing low-carbon energy needs here and abroad – while enabling Canada to maintain its status as a Tier-1 nuclear nation.”

Fred Dermarkar, President & CEO of AECL welcomed the opportunity to advance Candu reactor technology. “We believe this path can position Candu reactor technology, developed in Canada by Canadians, to remain a viable reactor product offering at home and abroad.”

Image: Cutaway of the Candu Monark reactor design (courtesy of AECL)