February 24, 2017
The following is the transcript of Terrestrial Energy Chairman Hugh MacDiarmid’s comments at the CNA 2017 SMR Panel on February 24, 2017.
Good morning. I want to speak today about what advanced reactors can mean for Canada and what benefits will be derived from exploiting this exciting new technology.
My first comments will be familiar to all of you.
We offer advanced reactor designs that bring significant direct benefits relative to current Gen 3 and 3+ reactors. These benefits include being lower cost, offering inherently-passive safety features, and beginning to walk the pathway to a closed fuel cycle and dramatic reductions in long-term waste management requirements. Through modularity and smaller size, as SMR’s, we also decrease construction time and financing risk.
These advanced designs will mitigate the economic and social concerns about nuclear power that today constrain the usage of this amazing technology. Having a diverse supply mix is always good policy, but perhaps we will now see nuclear grabbing a bigger slice of the pie, especially as we move into a deep decarbonization era where the options for carbon-free baseload power generation are limited.
If we as a country show initiative and grab a lead position, we open up significant export opportunities and create the potential for Canada to be a global centre of excellence in advanced nuclear technology.
You’ve heard all that before.
What I think is new and very important is the opportunity to extend the benefits of nuclear energy beyond our traditional domain of electric power generation to become a tool for enhancing the competitiveness of a range of industrial sectors. Electricity production has been our only industrial vertical market for the simple reason that it has been the only industrial application that has the scale to absorb the high fixed costs of a conventional full-size nuclear plant. As an industry we exploited economies of scale for decades until we actually over-reached and designed plants that are too big to build and too risky to finance. The SMR is a natural response to the shortcomings of bigness.
Scale is one factor. Heat is another. The Terrestrial Energy molten salt design produces a continuous stream of 600 degree celsius hot salt. That compares to a stream of 300 degree steam from a conventional nuclear plant. We have studied the industrial applications of our hot salt and are quite frankly amazed at what this heat can do. Applications in the petrochemical and refining industries, in ammonia production, in hydrogen production, in clean steel production, natural resource extraction, desalination…the list goes on. Our output is dramatically more useful than the output of a conventional nuclear plant for the simple reason that it is hotter, can be coupled simply to many industrial applications, and is easily delivered over many kilometres to the point of need.
Advanced nuclear can be a tool to completely re-order the primary energy system of our planet. In a decarbonized world, a nuclear power plant that produces 600 degree hot salt will become a primary tool for heat generation, displacing fossil fuel combustion. Countries that convert their industries quickly to advanced nuclear as a heat source will have a fundamental competitive advantage other those that don’t. Economic heat can also tip the balance in the production of transportation fuels and the movement toward the use of hydrogen as a basic building block for industrial processes.
So, what can advanced reactors do for our country? We can be the core of an industrial revolution that boosts the competitiveness of Canadian industry and takes us to the top ranks of industrialized nations. Or, we can stand by and watch while others do it. I like “plan a” myself.
An IMSR power plant will produce the hot salt output without the need for pressurization. There is no physical driving force that demands extensive and expensive containment. The reduced setbacks for one of these plants will eventually make them broadly deployable such that it will be quite commonplace for a refinery complex or an industrial complex to have a dedicated nuclear plant. It will produce electricity, or heat, or both, or hydrogen or whatever industrial product is needed.
I realize that this is a bold vision. But we won’t be world leaders unless we dream big. The change is coming and we can either lead, follow or get out of the way. I vote for leading.
What does all this mean for the role of government..? Funding is always good, but it isn’t the core of my ask. My ask is that governments start to believe in what we say we can do, and promote us, rather than excluding us from any communications about clean energy, renewables or clean tech. Help the leaders of industries that will benefit from what we have to offer to make the leap into the future and embrace change rather than defaulting to safe, but tired, solutions.
Believe in us. We won’t disappoint.