A feasibility study was carried out by Ontario Power Generation (OPG), Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), and Mining Innovation, Rehabilitation, and Applied Research Corporation (MIRARCO), surrounding the use of very small modular reactors (vSMRs) to provide remote Canadian mines with clean, economical, and reliable power and heat sources.
The aim of the study was to determine an alternative solution to conventional diesel generators used for remote mining operations. The study has highlighted the most suitable way to produce onsite energy with minimal impact from diesel carbon emissions. The study shows the best-case scenario would use vSMRs for 90% of the power required and leave diesel generation as a last resort during peak demand. This plan is set to reduce emissions by 85% and could be reduced further by utilising further forms of renewable energy - which would come at a cost.
The Advantages of Very Small Modular Reactors
Small modular reactors (SMRs) are non-conventional reactors, which can be used remotely for energy generation. An ‘SMR’ refers to a reactor that produces 300MW of power, while a ‘vSMR’ refers to one that produces up to 10MW per module. vSMRs come with a list of benefits for the remote mining industry:
- They are small, which makes them easily transportable and offers faster installation in remote settings.
- They are capable of safely producing reliable power.
- Operates for a longer period of time without the need for a fuel reserve.
- Factory fabrication and modular design of the units allow for quicker installation.
Providing Remote Mining Power
According to the study, OPG and USNC-Power have taken part in a joint venture, which is the most advanced vSMR project in Canada. The project recently gained approval from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to begin a technical review. Upon acceptance for the federal government’s financial backing, the companies will begin construction of a demonstration at CNL’s Chalk River campus. The companies believe this demonstration will serve as a catalyst for future deployments of modular reactors, in line with the clean energy requirements of remote communities and heavy mining operations.
According to Robin Manley, Vice President of New Nuclear Development at OPG, “Nuclear power and SMRs play an enormous and critical role in meeting Canada’s climate change goals. This study demonstrates that not only can a vSMR dramatically reduce emissions in an industry that currently relies heavily on diesel, but it can do it in a cost-effective way.”
François Caron, Director of the Energy Center and Bruce Power Chair for Sustainable Energy Solutions, MIRARCO, says, “This study paves the way for the future of mining: not only does it show that vSMRs could provide a cost-effective and reliable energy source, it demonstrates that vSMRs are long-term solutions that can help diversify and intensify a mining operation while also providing a surplus that will benefit communities in the area.”