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ONTARIO FNR POLICY

By Charles Rhodes, P.Eng., Ph.D.

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

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
On December 1, 2019 Ontario signed a MOU with the provinces of New Brunswick and Saskatchewan relating to Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). There is a subset of SMRs known as Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs) that are essential because there is no other technology that can provide the dependable, sustainable and economic non-fossil electricity and heat required to fully displace fossil fuels. This document focuses on the steps necessary for commercial development and deployment of FNRs.

1) During the 1970s Ontario Hydro and Toronto Hydro offered a peak demand based electricity rate to promote efficient use of electricity supplied by the then new Pickering Nuclear Generating Station. That rate was [($6.00 / peak kW-month) + ($0.01 / kWh)]. That rate was successful at incenting major residential building developers to include behind the meter thermal energy storage in each building, which minimized the blended cost of electricity supplied by nuclear generation. That rate structure also enabled major industrial expansion in Ontario.

2) During the 1980s the management of Ontario Hydro was corrupted by the coal industry and changed the aforemented electricity rate structure to favor use of coal fired electricity generation rather than hydraulic and nuclear electricity generation. However, due to political inerta that energy based electricity rate structure has continued up to and including the present day (2020) even though coal fired electricity generation was abandoned in 2012.

Under the coal based electricity rate residential and small business consumers are charged about $0.16 / kWh for energy but are charged nothing for peak demand. This electricity rate sends the wrong message to consumers because with emission free nuclear generation almost all the costs are peak demand related, not energy related. The cost of a marginal electricity kWh which does not impact peak demand is less than $0.01 / kWh. A consequence of the coal based electricity rate structure is that about 20 Twh per annum of surplus non-fossil electricity are discarded, which makes no sense when that surplus non-fossil electricity could be profitably used for displacement of about $2 billion per annum of fossil fuels, with a potential annual CO2 emission reduction of as much as _____ megatonnes achieved by using electricity displacement of propane and furnace oil.

3) Due to the fossil fuel biased change in Ontario Hydro electricity rate structure, by 1984 new major buildings in Ontario were no longer designed to include energy storage because after 1984 the Ontario retail and small business electricity rates no longer recognized the advantage to the electricty system of high load factor. This rate structure problem continues to the present. The root of this rate structure problem is a widespread false belief that electrical energy conservation without corresponding monthly peak damand reduction is a good thing. In reality all this rate structure achieves is an increase in consumption of fossil fuels. This wide spread false belief contributed to the Ontario Hydro insolvency during the 1990s. To solve this rate problem today it is necessary for the Ontario electricity distribution companies to adopt a retail retail rate plan similar is structure to the peak demand based rate structures offerred during the 1970s.

4) Ontario should immediately adopt a new voluntary retail electricity price plan which reduces the blended cost of electricity per kWh by making available to Ontario consumers at a fossil fuel competitive price all the interruptible non-fossil electricity that is presently either being discarded or being exported at a very low price.

5) This new electricity price plan will enable in Ontario immediate intermittent displacement of liquid fossil fuels by low marginal cost electricity, thus reducing both consumers' energy costs and Ontario CO2 emissions.

6) 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.

7) Carbon taxes will not significantly reduce CO2 emissions until consumers have available to them an alternative dependable, sustainable and economic source of non-fossil energy.

8) 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.

9) Subject to availability 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 increasing daily.

10) 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.

11) The FNR fuel cycle must not produce a significant long lived waste stream.

12) To enable private sector investment in FNR development and deployment, and hence progress in mitigation of climate change, there must be certainty about future availability of FNR fuel.

13) 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 part of these funds to disposal of used CANDU fuel by converting it into FNR fuel.

14) Residual funds should be used to further encourage FNR deployment.

15) Ontario voters have clearly indicated that they are not interested in pursuit of climate change mitigation measures that 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 fuel waste disposal.
 

NEW ELECTRICITY RATE:
Ontario could save its electricity ratepayers 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 renewable generated electricity. This higher value is necessary to enable private sector investment in FNRs.
 

FOSSIL CARBON TAX:
The federal Liberal refundable fossil carbon tax in Ontario currently does not significantly reduce CO2 emissions because 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 by the provinces 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 energy consumption.

A FNR outputs two units of heat for each unit of electricity. However, if FNRs are installed at remote locations the heat is often not usable and must be discarded. Hence for economy it is crucial that FNRs be installed in cities.

For urban siting FNRs must be modular. The individual modules must be 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 in cities. 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.
 

FIRE PREVENTION:
FNRs must be sited on local bedrock high points to ensure that the reactors are physically stable in an earthquake and 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.
 

STEAM SAFETY:
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.
 

FNR FUEL:
The fuel for a FNR should be made by recycling of existing used CANDU fuel that is presently in dry cask storage in Ontario.

The recycling of used CANDU fuel concentrates should be done at a remote site such as Chalk River.

This fuel cycle cannot produce weapons grade plutonium.

Metallic FNR fuel with liquid sodium bonding can be designed so that a FNR will blow up in any credible state of prompt neutron criticality.

Certain FNR fuel availability is essential to securing the private sector FNR investment required to mitigate climate change.

Recycling of used CANDU fuel into FNR fuel reduces the material toxic lifetime from 400,000 years to 300 years and saves the tax payers/rate payers over $20 billion 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 with recycling the FNR process releases 100X as much energy per kg of uranium and the fuel lasts 100X 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.
 

FNR STRUCTURE:
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 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.
 

FNR ENCLOSURE:
The main issue related to FNR enclosure design is making the enclosure sufficiently robust to safely withstand any credible aircraft or missile impact. The reactor external enclosure is a robust steel and concrete structure surrounded by impact absorbing materials. The reactor fuel assembly is designed 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 continuing opportunity for FNR fuel export.
 

This web page last updated January 27, 2020.

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