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Canada’s nuclear ‘renaissance’ prompts Ontario factory expansion

 After a brief period of fluctuating support, opens new tab, Canada’s federal government is throwing its full backing behind the nuclear industry, announcing life extensions, opens new tab at major plants, billions of dollars in planned investment, and granting nuclear a key position in the latest federal budget.
The industry’s re-birth has been especially pronounced in the province of Ontario.
Ontario – home to almost 40% of Canada’s population and producing around 38% of the country’s gross domestic product – uses nuclear power to generate over half its electricity needs.
Ontario operates three nuclear plants at Pickering, Bruce and Darlington that run 18 CANada Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) pressurised heavy-water reactors to produce a net capacity of over 13 GW.
All three plants, connected to the grid between 1973 and 1990, are undergoing, or are scheduled to undergo, refurbishment, with six of Bruce Power’s, opens new tab eight reactors in the midst of a CAN$13-billion ($9.5-billion), multi-year, major component replacement (MCR) program.
BWXT Canada forms a major part of Ontario’s nuclear supply chain, serving CANDU and conventional Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs) and manufacturing nuclear-ready steam generators, heat exchangers, tube and pipe assemblies, pressure vessels, tanks, and spent fuel containers.
Last month, the company said it was expanding its operations through a CAN$80 million investment.
“We really have long term visibility to what our load is, and the demand is coming,” John MacQuarrie, BWXT Canada’s President of Commercial Operations, told Reuters Events.
“When you look at that, you can see we need more space and what’s driving that is the ongoing and the emerging life extension work.”
On the shop floor
The BWXT Canada facility in Cambridge, Ontario, just two hours west of Toronto, covers some 210,000 square feet (19,500 square meters) and is one of the largest nuclear commercial manufacturing facilities in North America.
Of the total investment, CAN$50 million will go toward expanding the plant’s footprint by 25%, while the remaining CAN$30 million will be poured into advanced manufacturing equipment nuclear components.
The expansion will also create more than 200 new long-term, highly skilled jobs, adding to the company’s around 1,600 employees in Canada.
At a press event following the expansion announcement, the Cambridge facility’s shop floor hosted several 70-foot (21 meters) long, 145-ton steam generators ready to be shipped to Bruce Power’s MCR program almost 200 kilometers away.
BWXT has a contract with Bruce Power for 32 of these steam generators and has already delivered eight for its Unit 6 reactor.
Train tracks crisscross the factory floor and lead through loading docks to connect to the Canadian train network which can ship even the largest components to within 30 kilometers of the Bruce site where trucks will, carefully, carry the pieces the final stretch.
Canadian efforts to decarbonize and increase electrification will mean Ontario needs to double the size of its nuclear capacity before 2050, according to the Ontario public grid operator Independent Electricity System Operators (IESO).
Building another 17.8 GW of nuclear capacity over the next three decades will need a strong network of licensed suppliers.
“I think the supply chain has to respond to meet that demand and that demand is at a new level. If we didn’t expand, it would be difficult to deliver on that,” MacQuarrie said.
BWXT’s expansion comes just a couple of months after the announcement of the Pickering life extension , opens new tabprogram, starting in 2027 and aiming to grant the aging plant another 30 years of operations, and it is connected to the small modular reactor (SMR) programs in Darlington.
It is also looking further afield.
To date, 34 CANDU reactors have been exported around the world, including to Argentina, China, India, Pakistan, Romania, and South Korea, with 29 of those already operable.
The Ontario government recently announced plans to build another 4.8 GW of new nuclear capacity at Bruce Power’s site in Kincardine and, while interest is growing around SMRs, a new CANDU reactor remains a likely candidate.
“I believe we will see more CANDU reactors here in Ontario, and if we are to double, or maybe even triple, the amount of nuclear energy, it’s going to be a mix of big and small,” says MacQuarrie.
The vast majority of components, fuel and services for the CANDU reactor are sourced domestically, and more than 85% of a the reactor’s equipment and parts can be supplied by Canadian manufacturers, AtkinsRéalis’ Executive Vice-President of Nuclear Canada Gary Rose wrote in a recent editorial in the Globe and Mail.
AtkinsRéalis is a licensed supplier of CANDU original equipment parts and its latest CANDU upgrade, the MONARK, opens new tab, has an operating life of 70 years, a capacity of 1 GW, and a so-called ‘defense in depth’ security system.
In an era where cost and delay overruns have become common, the last seven CANDU reactors, and the 10-unit life-extension projects being executed by AtkinsRéalis’ joint ventures at Darlington and Bruce Power, have all been delivered on time and on budget, Rose wrote.
Backing the industry
Canada’s 2024 Federal Budget, tabled mid-April, clearly earmarked nuclear as one of the key tools in reaching net zero, with ‘nuclear’ appearing 41 times in the document, compared to just nine times in the 2023 budget and not at all in 2020.
The budget highlighted commitment of CAN$3 billion in export financing to Romania for two new CANDU reactors there, CAN$50 million to support Bruce Power’s MCR program, CAN$970 million from the Canada Infrastructure Bank to support Ontario Power Generation (OPG)’s grid-scale SMR, as well as almost CAN$300 million for other SMR programs.
Another CAN$3.1 billion over 11 years, starting 2025-26, was pledged to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) to support Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ nuclear research.
The budget also updated its Green Bond Framework to make certain nuclear energy expenditures eligible, a reversal of a previous decision to exclude the technology from Green Bonds.
“Nuclear energy will play a key role in achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions,” the government noted in the budget proposal.
Source: Reuters