Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) has announced that it has entered into a collaboration agreement with New Brunswick-based ARC Clean Energy Canada, which is working to develop and licence its sodium-cooled advanced small modular reactor (SMR) technology. The agreement, funded through CNL’s Canadian Nuclear Research Initiative (CNRI), includes work to advance the fuel development and manufacturing processes to produce fuel for ARC Canada’s technology.

“Fuel development is a particular strength of the team here at the CNL,” commented Dr Jeff Griffin, Vice-President of Science and Technology. ”We have supported the fuel development for Canadian heavy water reactor technology since its inception back in the 1950s; we continue to support the fuel needs of low-power and research reactors across Canada and the globe; and, and in recent years, we have been investing and growing our capabilities in small modular and advanced reactor technologies and fuels.” He added that the new CNRI project will benefit from this experience, “helping ARC Canada move their product closer towards commercialisation, while enriching our skill set for supporting this growing industry into the future”.

CNL said it is uniquely qualified to efficiently manufacture and test nuclear fuel at its Chalk River Laboratories site. “Both pellet- and pin-type fuel – similar to those used in the ARC Canada technology are fabricated, and CNL is able to further support the work through on-site analytical capabilities including non-destructive examination, metallographic and ceramographic examination, mechanical testing, thermal and physical property measurements, and analytical chemistry.”

Dr Maggie Manley, Fuel Systems Engineer, leading the project for ARC Canada said: “This is a significant first step towards establishing capability in Canada to manufacture fuel assemblies for the ARC technology.” She added that collaboration with CNL “is critical to validate our fuel qualification programme and deployment approach”.

The ARC Canada technology is an advanced SMR, designed to produce 100MWe. The technology is based on a proven design, using sodium coolant and a metallic uranium-zirconium alloy fuel enabling operation at near-atmospheric pressure which produces high quality steam for electrical generation and industrial processes. CNL will work in partnership with ARC Canada to establish the capability to fabricate the metallic uranium sodium bonded fuel pins using surrogate fuel material. While the focus for this initial CNRI agreement is on a pilot system, the work will result in a qualified set of procedures for the development of a full production line to support the Canadian fleet.

The CNRI programme. launched in 2019, was established by CNL to accelerate the deployment of SMRs in Canada by enabling research and development, and connecting the SMR industry with the facilities and expertise within Canada’s national nuclear laboratories. The next call for CNRI proposals is expected to be released later this year.

ARC Canada’s advanced SMR is scheduled for deployment at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station (PLNGS) in New Brunswick, Canada, within the decade. The joint project with CNL will begin in July 2022 and is expected to be completed within two years.

Image: Artist's impression of a plant based on the ARC-100 (courtesy of ARC Clean Energy Canada)