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Ontario Power Generation announces resumption of path toward small modular nuclear reactors at Darlington station

A Canadian power generator has received both praise and criticism for its recently announced plan to resume progress toward building three prototype small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) at its Darlington Nuclear Generating Station.

Ontario Power Generation officials said the utility is resuming planning activities for future Darlington generation. OPG has applied to national regulators to renew its license for developing SMRs. If approved, it’s only one step in a series of license approvals needed prior to construction and operation of new reactors.

“OPG is paving the way on the development and deployment of the next generation of nuclear power in Canada,” said Ken Hartwick, OPG President and CEO. “A new SMR development on this site as early as 2028 would benefit all Ontarians while further cementing Durham Region and Ontario as the clean energy capital of the world.”

Darlington (pictured), which is in the Durham region of Ontario, currently houses four CANDU reactors with a total capacity of around 3,512 MW. All of the units were commissioned in the early 1990s, so are approaching 30 years of operation.

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Supporters of the SMR projects say it will provide strong economic benefits to the province from construction and 60 years of expected operation. OPG already owns Canada’s largest fleet of nuclear reactors, and Darlington is the only site currently license for new nuclear.

Large-scale nuclear construction has slowed to a relative crawl because of cost, scheduling and regulatory hurdles. The massive challenges has impacted the $25 billion Vogtle 3 and 4 expansion, the only ongoing U.S. project, as well as forced abandonment of the Summers project in South Carolina.

The technology does have its detractors, too, underlining concerns vs. nuclear as a while despite its carbon-free generation profile.

“If these proposed new reactors sound too good to be true, it’s because they are,” Shawn-Patrick Stensil, Greenpeace Canada’s Program Director, told local media. “OPG has promised new reactors at Darlington before, but has been unable to deliver in spite of subsidies and protection from their radioactive waste and accident liabilities.”

One well-known developer of SMR technologies, U.S.-based NuScale Power, applauded the OPG announcement. NuScale is working with the utility on the potential future deployment of smaller nuclear.

NuScale and TerraPower were presenters in POWERGEN+ this month. See more

“Today’s important announcement builds upon the historic 50-year legacy of nuclear energy in the Durham Region and ensures nuclear power remains a cornerstone of Ontario’s energy supply mix for many decades to come,” the company said in its release. “These scaled power plant configurations are exceptional fits for OPG’s SMR objectives announced today at Darlington, and we very much look forward to presenting a comprehensive business case to OPG for their consideration and evaluation.”

Other startup companies exploring or developing their own SMR or next-gen advanced reactor technologies include StarCore, Advanced Reactor Concepts and TerraPower, while traditional names like Rolls-Royce, Framatome, GE Hitachi and Westinghouse also are making moves into the sector.

(Rod Walton is content director for Power Engineering, POWERGEN+ and POWERGEN International. He can be reached at 918-831-9177 and [email protected]).