A repurposed parking lot at Atomic Energy of Canada Limited’s (AECL’s) Chalk River campus has been selected as the site for construction of a demonstration Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR), according to a joint statement by AECL, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) and Global First Power (GFP).

The 15 MWt (5 MWe) demonstration plant will use Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation's (USNC’s) MMR technology for the first commercial deployment of private sector funded small modular reactor (SMR) technology in Canada. It is intended as a model for future SMR deployments to support remote and industrial applications.

The selected site will provide good access to campus utilities and to CNL's technical and operational support services. Once the reactor is operational, CNL may also be able to use the energy produced both for campus operations and research activities, the companies said.

GFP submitted an application for a site preparation licence to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) in 2021, and work on an environmental assessment for the project is under way. Site preparation and construction is expected to begin in 2025, subject to the necessary approvals, for operation in 2027.

GFP is a joint venture launched in 2020 by USNC and Ontario Power Generation to build, own and operate an MMR at the Chalk River Laboratories site. In addition to the Chalk River project, the MMR is also under consideration for the Ontario campus of McMaster University.

GFP President & CEO Jos Diening said the site demonstrates the "unique suitability" of the technology to become fully integrated into remote and industrial facilities and their operations. "These are precisely the qualities that make advanced nuclear microreactors essential in decarbonising beyond the electric grid," he said.

"Once constructed, this proposed reactor can demonstrate the economics, safety and performance of a new and exciting SMR technology, giving the public confidence in this next-generation nuclear solution, said CNL President and CEO Joe McBrearty. “Overall, I believe that this location could go down in history as one of many at the Chalk River Laboratories where first-of-a-kind nuclear technologies were brought to life," he said.

AECL Vice-President of Science, Technology & Commercial Oversight Amy Gottschling said: "The Chalk River Laboratories have been at the forefront of nuclear innovation for more than 70 years, and we continue to push the envelope, leveraging science to solve problems and benefit Canada and the world."

AECL is a federal Crown corporation with a mandate to promote nuclear opportunities for Canada. AECL owns the Chalk River Laboratories and other sites, and manages the Government of Canada’s radioactive waste responsibilities. It oversees and evaluates CNL’s work through contracts.

USNC’s MMR comprises a high temperature gas-cooled reactor that provides process heat to an adjacent plant, via a molten salt heat exchange system. The MMR produces approximately 15 MW (thermal) of process heat to generate electrical power and/or heat, over an operating life-span of 20 years. It is based on USNC’s proprietary Fully Ceramic Micro-encapsulated (FCM) fuel technology. USNC has been progressing the design of the MMR over the last several years. This includes completing the Phase 1 Vendor Design review with CNSC.

The FCM fuel comprises industry standard TRIstructural ISOtropic (TRISO) particles, which contain the radioactive by-products of fission within layered ceramic coatings encased within a fully dense silicon carbide matrix. UNSC says this combination provides an extremely rugged and stable fuel with extraordinary high temperature stability.

USNC’s Pilot Fuel Manufacturing Facility contains full scale production equipment for TRISO particles, FCM Fuel, and novel particle-based fuels and moderators. It is the only operating commercial-scale TRISO production facility in the Western world and is located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on the Manhattan Project site occupied by the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant. In 2022, the facility produced the first uranium bearing TRISO particles.

Image: The world's first micro-modular reactor will be built at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories site in Chalk River, Ontario (courtesy of AECL))