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This web page sets out Ontario governmental policy changes with respect to Small Modular Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs) that are essential to sustainably mitigate global climate change.
ISSUES RELATING TO THE DEC. 1, 2019 NEW BRUNSWICK, ONTARIO AND SASKATCHEWAN SMR MOU
On December 1, 2019 Ontario signed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) with the provinces of New Brunswick and Saskatchewan relating to Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). A subset of SMRs known as Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs) can provide the sustainable and dependable non-fossil electricity and heat that is required to fully displace fossil fuels. This document identifies the measures necessary for commercial development and deployment of FNRs.
1) During the 1970s Ontario Hydro and Toronto Hydro offered to major building developers an electricity rate designed to promote efficient use of electricity supplied by non-fossil electricity generation. That rate was [($6.00 / peak kW-month) + ($0.01 / kWh)]. That rate was successful at incenting major building developers to include behind the meter thermal energy storage in many major buildings, which energy storage minimized the blended cost of electricity produced by hydraulic and nuclear electricity generation. That electricity rate also enabled major industrial expansion in Ontario.
2) During the 1980s the management of Ontario Hydro was corrupted by the coal industry. The aforementioned electricity rate structure was changed to preferentially benefit coal fired electricity generation rather than hydraulic and nuclear electricity generation. However, due to political inerta that coal based electricity rate structure has continued to the present day (2020) even though coal fired electricity generation was discontinued in 2012.
3) Under the coal based electricity rate residential and small business consumers are charged about $0.16 / kWh for electrical energy but are charged nothing for monthly peak demand. This electricity rate sends the wrong message to consumers because with non-fossil electricity generation almost all the costs are peak demand related, not energy related. The cost of a marginal electricity kWh which does not impact the peak demand is less than $0.01 / kWh.
4) A consequence of the coal based electricity rate structure is that about 20 TWh per annum of surplus non-fossil electricity are discarded, at a cost to Ontario residents of almost $2 billion per annum. This coal based electricity rate structure makes no sense because the surplus non-fossil electricity could profitably be used in Ontario for displacement of fuel oil and propane.
5) Due to the change in electricity rate structure by 1984 new major buildings in Ontario no longer included thermal energy storage, because it no longer made financial sense for the building owner.
6) This electricity rate structure problem continues to the present. At the root of this rate structure problem is an erroneous belief that electrical energy conservation without corresponding monthly peak damand reduction is a desirable objective. In reality all this coal based electricity rate structure achieves is electricity system insolvency and an increase in fossil fuel consumption.
7) To solve this rate problem today it is necessary for the Ontario electricity distribution companies to adopt a retail rate plan similar in structure to the peak demand based rate structure used during the 1970s.
8) Ontario should immediately adopt a new retail electricity price plan which makes available to Ontario consumers at a fossil fuel competitive price all the interruptible non-fossil electricity that is presently either discarded or exported at a very low price.
9) This new electricity price plan would enable intermittent displacement of liquid fossil fuels by low marginal cost electricity, thus reducing both consumers' energy costs and Ontario CO2 emissions.
10) This new electricity price plan is also needed to enable investment in small modular Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs) and to promote use of electric vehicles.
11) A fossil carbon tax will not significantly reduce CO2 emissions until consumers have available to them a suitable alternative source of non-fossil energy.
12) The only dependable and sustainable energy source capable of total fossil fuel displacement is liquid sodium cooled Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs) fueled by recycled used CANDU reactor fuel.
13) Subject to construction of a suitable electrolytic fuel recycling facility Ontario presently has enough used CANDU reactor fuel in storage to power all of Canada with FNRs for more than 300 years. The used CANDU reactor fuel inventory is also increasing daily.
14) To be economic the FNRs must be suitable for urban installation and hence must be both modular and safe. In particular, it must be impossible for a FNR to blow up as did a reactor at Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986.
15) The FNR fuel cycle must not produce a significant long lived waste stream.
16) To enable private sector investment in FNR development and deployment, and hence progress in mitigation of climate change, there must be certainty about the future availability of FNR fuel.
17) Ontario should immediately redirect electricity ratepayer funds that are presently flowing into the NWMO (federal Nuclear Waste Management Organization) $11 billion trust fund for disposal of used CANDU fuel by burial and instead apply those funds to disposal of used CANDU fuel by converting it into FNR fuel.
18) Residual funds should be used to incent FNR deployment.
19) Ontario voters have clearly indicated that they are not interested in pursuit of climate change mitigation measures which astronomically increase both taxes and the cost of electricity. The measures set out herein can be funded just by redirecting existing monies already allocated to nuclear waste disposal.
NEW ELECTRICITY RATE:
Ontario could save its rural residents almost $2 billion per year by implementing a voluntary retail electricity rate which enables sale to Ontario consumers of surplus interruptible non-fossil electricity for displacement of liquid fossil fuels and charging of electric vehicles.
There is no cost for implementing this voluntary electricity rate change because at present the surplus non-fossil electricity is being either discarded or exported at a very low price.
The proposed new retail electricity rate provides an opportunity for immediate and quantifiable CO2 emission reduction.
For many rural consumers the blended cost of electricity per kWh would drop by about 50% and the consumer's total energy costs would drop by more than $1000 / year.
This proposed new electricity rate recognizes the higher real value of dependable nuclear generated electricity as compared to intermittent renewable generated electricity. This higher value is necessary to enable private sector investment in FNRs.
FOSSIL CARBON TAX:
The present federal Liberal refundable fossil carbon tax does not significantly reduce CO2 emissions because most electricity consumers have no economic alternative source of dependable non-fossil energy.
A refundable CO2 tax must reach about $200 / CO2 tonne before it is sufficient to trigger private sector investment in non-fossil energy supply.
A lower non-refundable fossil carbon tax will not reduce CO2 emissions but its revenue could be used to encourage construction of new dependable nuclear electric and thermal power capacity which, if sold at appropriate retail rates, would reduce CO2 emissions by displacement of fossil fuels.
Conservation of non-fossil electricity does not reduce CO2 emissions because for indoor electricity loads such as lighting energy conservation during the heating season triggers additional fossil fuel consumption for heating.
SUSTAINABLE NUCLEAR POWER:
The only source of sustainable non-fossil power sufficient to fully displace fossil fuels is liquid sodium cooled Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs) with fuel recycling.
FNR fuel can be made by recycling existing used CANDU reactor fuel.
The federal government is legally responsible for disposal of used CANDU reactor fuel and should accept responsibility for recycling of used CANDU fuel to make FNR fuel. This nuclear fuel recycling involves sophisticated molten salt electro-chemistry that is outside the skill set of electricity utilities.
Provincial energy ministers should stop the flow of provincial electricity ratepayers' money to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) and its $11 billion trust fund and redirect that money to making FNR fuel by recycling of used CANDU fuel.
The private sector cannot invest in FNR development and deployment until there is certainty about timely future availability of FNR fuel.
Without major private sector FNR investment there is no sustainable solution to CO2 induced climate change.
Today failure to properly redirect funds allocated to CANDU used fuel disposal is standing in the way of meaningful climate change mitigation in Canada.
Canada needs sufficient FNRs to displace fossil fuels used in transportation, industry and heating which collectively account for 85% of total Canadian energy consumption.
A FNR outputs about two units of heat for each unit of electricity. However, if FNRs are installed at remote locations most of the heat must be discarded. Hence for economy it is crucial that most FNRs be installed in cities.
For urban siting FNRs must be modular. The individual modules must be easily truck transportable along city streets, over bridges and under highway overpasses.
Making use of the heat provided by FNRs requires installation of buried district heating pipes. There must be corresponding changes to the codes and standards relating to municipal energy utilities, easements for the required buried pipes and buildings.
IMPORTANT FNR FEATURES:
NO MELT DOWN:
Material thermal expansion causes the heat output of liquid sodium cooled FNRs to decrease as the FNR temperature increases. At the reactor's design peak operating temperature (~ 500 degrees C) the nuclear fission stops. This peak operating temperature is far below the lowest FNR or fuel material melting point. Hence a FNR will not “melt down”.
If there is a prolonged loss of AC power, such as occurred after the earthquake and tsunami at
Fukushima, the FNR fission product decay heat is safely removed by natural convection.
NO BLOW UPS:
FNRs use fuel that in a prompt critical condition will linearly rapidly expand within the fuel tubes, causing the chain reaction to cease. This mechanism provides certainty that the FNR can not blow up as did the reactor at Chernobyl.
There is no water present to release hydrogen and thus cause hydrogen explosions such as occurred at Fukushima Daiichi.
FNRs must be sited on local bedrock high points to ensure that the reactors will remain physically stable in a violent earthquake and to ensure that the contained sodium will never be exposed to flood water.
For additional fire safety the sodium pool is contained within nested steel and concrete enclosures and is covered by an argon atmosphere.
The liquid sodium pool surface of a FNR is at atmospheric pressure.
Heat is extracted from the liquid sodium pool via multiple isolated non-radioactive sodium heat transfer loops and is used to make non-radioactive steam. If for any reason the steam pressure becomes too high the steam, which is not radioactive, is vented to the atmosphere.
The fuel for a FNR should be made by recycling of existing used nuclear fuel that is already in dry cask storage in Ontario.
The recycling of used CANDU fuel concentrates should be done at a remote site such as Chalk River.
Due to Pu-240 content this fuel cycle cannot produce weapon grade plutonium.FNR fuel with liquid sodium bonding can be designed so that a FNR will blow up in any credible state of prompt neutron criticality. FNR fuel availability is essential to securing the private sector FNR investment required to mitigate climate change.
Recycling used CANDU fuel by converting it into FNR fuel reduces the fuel's toxic lifetime from 400,000 years to 300 years and saves the tax payers/rate payers many $billions in long term storage costs.
Recycling of used CANDU fuel allows extraction of 100% of the potential energy contained in the uranium, rather than just 1% as at present. Thus the FNR fuel cycle releases over 100X as much energy per kg of uranium and the fuel lasts much longer than in a CANDU reactor.
After complete removal of its stored potential energy the spent fuel is a non-radioactive rare earth element mixture that potentially has a high commercial value.
FNRs should incorporate a liquid sodium guard band around the fuel assembly with a thickness sufficient to absorb all the free neutrons. Then outside the guard band there is no neutron induced radio activity or material deterioration. This feature contrasts with CANDU reactors where the fuel channels and moderator channels must be replaced about every 20 years, the entire reactor must be junked after about 60 years and some of the reactor structural materials remain a radio-toxic hazard for centuries.
FNRs are fabricated from relatively common metals, primarily: iron, chromium, nickel and sodium. The core fuel is a depleted uranium-plutonium-zirconium alloy made from used CANDU fuel. The blanket fuel is a uranium-zirconium alloy also made from used CANDU fuel.
A FNR enclosure is a robust water tight structure surrounded by impact absorbing materials. This enclosure should safely withstand any credible aircraft or missile impact. The reactor fuel assembly is suspended on ball bearings to safely withstand any credible earthquake.
FNR FUEL EXPORT:
A facility for CANDU nuclear fuel recycling likely requires an investment of the order of $2 billion. The recycling processes are well known but they must be scaled up and automated. Since there is no substitute for FNRs for dependable and sustainable fossil fuel displacement there will be a long term opportunity for FNR fuel export.
This web page last updated February 2, 2020.
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