By Michael A. Moore

Emerging markets for Canadian shippers of breakbulk and project cargo revolve increasingly around the energy industry. As globalization spreads, production of nuclear power technology and support of the global oil-and-gas industry are increasingly becoming Canada’s breakbulk export leaders throughout the world.

This past July brought big news from Canada’s nuclear power export front – Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin inked a deal to work with the China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) to develop reactors using technology developed by SNC-Lavalin subsidiary Candu Energy Inc.

Signed by Preston Swafford, Chief Nuclear Officer at SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. and President and Chief Executive of Candu Energy, and Qian Zhimin, President of CNNC, the formal memorandum of understanding creates a joint venture in which SNC-Lavalin and CNNC develop and pursue power generation, mining and metallurgy and nuclear-related, environmental protection projects.

Unlike conventional light water reactors that operate on enriched uranium, Candu reactors operate on natural uranium. In addition, heavy water, rather than light water, is used to moderate the nuclear reactor and to provide cooling. Candu reactors provide significant operator advantages, among which are a unit cost of produced electricity some 15 per cent lower than that achieved by conventional light water reactors, refueling while the reactor is in operation which, combined with a high level of reliability, results in “uptime” near the top of nuclear industry standards. Further advantages include the ability for most client nations to manufacture their own fuel rods, the ability to use recovered uranium from light water reactors for fuel, and the ability for the technology to be adapted to run on fuels such as plutonium-mixed oxides, thorium and actinides.

Candu has an established presence in China with a pair of 700-megawatt reactors at Qinshan Phase III, located southwest of Shanghai. Completed in 2003, the Qinshan units are among the best-performing nuclear units in China, with lifetime power availability exceeding 91 per cent of the time. “This (new) project stands to make a meaningful contribution to Canada’s economy and support highly skilled jobs here at home,” Mr. Swafford said. “It demonstrates the tremendous export value of Canadian nuclear expertise.”

“We are pleased to sign this strategic partnership agreement with CNNC to develop nuclear and uranium projects in China, while pursuing high-potential opportunities abroad,” he said. “These projects have the potential to generate billions of dollars for the Canadian and Chinese economies, while supporting China’s growing demand for energy.”

Also in July, Candu Energy signed an exclusive cooperation agreement with China Nuclear Power Engineering Company, Ltd. (CNPEC) for the construction of Candu Units 3 and 4 at the Cernavoda Nuclear Power Plant in Romania. Romania already has two operating Candu 6 nuclear reactors, which started up in 1996 and 2007. Combined, they are the largest power producer in the country, accounting for about 20 per cent of Romania’s energy supply. This agreement follows a letter of intent signed by CNPEC parent China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) and Romanian utility Societatea Nationala Nuclearelectrica (SNN) in November 2013 for investment in and development of two additional nuclear units at the Cernavoda site.

Candu Energy’s Enhanced Candu 6 reactor is a 700-megawatt Generation III reactor based on the highly successful Candu 6 reactor plus a number of safety enhancements to meet the latest Canadian and international standards. It is ideal for small and medium electric grids, and benefits from the Candu 6 history of proven design, construction and operation.

“Candu Energy looks forward to working with CNPEC to meet Romania’s growing nuclear energy requirements,” Mr. Swafford said during the announcement. “This is an exciting opportunity to build on Candu technology’s international track record for the highest levels of safety, reliability and efficiency. This agreement deepens our strong ties with both the Romanian and Chinese nuclear industries, as Candu reactors have operated in both countries for more than a decade.” The China connection with SNC-Lavalin and Candu Energy spreads the benefits of Candu technology beyond China and Romania. The partners also are working together in Argentina.

China is moving forward rapidly to take the global lead in nuclear reactor technology and construction. More than a dozen new reactors are under construction in China and Chinese companies are making deals for new plants that include financing with countries that need power but do not have the money or expertise to build plants by themselves.

“The great advantage of Candu reactors is their ability to burn uranium fuel that is recycled from conventional light-water reactors,” said Ron Oberth, President of the Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries (OCI). OCI has led trade missions to countries that are in the process of expanding their nuclear generating power. The missions have taken OCI members, as well as Canadian government officials, to Argentina, the U.K., the U.S., India and China, with South Korea on the books for 2015.

During a recent China mission, an MOU was signed between OCI and the Haiyan Nuclear Power Related Industrial Alliance. This pact will facilitate collaboration among OCI’s 180-member companies and the 70 companies in Haiyan that supply equipment and services to nuclear projects in China and other countries. “We are working with China to exploit unique Candu features by jointly developing an Advance Fuel Candu Reactor (AFCR) that would be optimized to burn both recycled uranium from pressurized water reactors as well as thorium – a resource abundant in China,” said Katherine Ward, Communications Director at Candu Energy. “The AFCR will use spent fuel from China’s fleet of light water reactors – we estimate the proportion will be one AFCR for every four light-water reactors.”

Candu Energy and OCI know that their success with the home-grown Candu reactors is dependent on a multitude of suppliers back home. “We are a reactor vendor and service provider,” Ms.Ward said. “We design, engineer and procure the numerous precision components that go into a reactor. We have a strong Canadian supply chain base, and we fully expect that when we sell a reactor, the supply chain follows.”

Candu continues to develop technology that is tailored to specific export markets. One example is the Canmox process, which is being developed for the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). The Canmox process is an option for managing separated plutonium stocks. One Canmox solution would involve building a mixed oxide (MOX) fuel plant and four Generation III Enhanced Candu 6 reactors to reuse the U.K.’s existing plutonium stockpile to produce up to 2,800 megawatts of competitive, low-carbon power for sale to U.K. consumers. The 60-year design life EC6 reactor has recently completed its formal regulatory design review against modern safety standards by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

“Candu Energy’s aim in the U.K. is to develop an integrated solution to safely, securely and efficiently reuse the country’s civil plutonium stockpile,” said Ala Alizadeh, Senior Vice-President of Marketing and Business Development at Candu Energy. “Construction of safe, reliable and economic EC6 reactors will provide many U.K. jobs in construction and supply chain followed by 1,500 to 2,000 high-quality, long-term operational positions in the fuel plant and reactors.”