Nuclear power is grabbing the attention of the mining industry, to the point where there is a real possibility there could be portable reactors powering mines in less than 10 years.
That was the news delivered at a historic panel discussion at the annual convention of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) in Toronto on March 3.
The panel included Vic Pakalnis, president and CEO of Sudbury-based Mirarco, which is involved in the development of the technology to create small modular reactors (SMR); Diane Cameron of Natural Resources Canada; Ryan Blinn of Westinghouse Electric Company in Pittsburgh, Pa.; Corey McDaniel of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in Chalk River, Ont.; Frank Saunders of Bruce Power in Tiverton, Ont.; and Nathan Tedford from Hatch Ltd., in Mississauga.
Organizer Darroch Harrop, a policy advisor with Natural Resources Canada, said the country is in a very good position to capitalize on growing interest in nuclear technology. It is in the nation's best interest to seize the opportunity to shape SMR technology with the mining industry.
"Or, we can wait and buy an SMR off the shelf designed to fit the competitor's needs," he said. "We could be trailing game-changing innovation."
He stressed that actions taken by the country in the next 12 months to two years could determine the country's future of this technology.
Pakalnis said the federal government is considering 35 designs of varying power levels and sizes, ranging from a few kilowatts and the size of a stage podium to something that could fit into two or three transport containers and generate power for up to 20 years.
All have to be transportable, self-contained and autonomous.
"Canada is already known for their CANDU reactors, which are quite large and deemed among the safest nuclear reactors in the world," Pakalnis said. "This will build on that reputation, but this time the designs will be smaller and the power output much lighter."
Ontario already gets 60 per cent of its power from nuclear generation, and Canada is deemed one of the cleanest mining jurisdictions in the world, he added.
The reason for mines wanting SMRs is the ongoing issue with providing reliable and safe power to mine sites. Currently, that is provided largely by diesel fuel, and, if a mine site is close enough to a transmission line, electricity. Both have their issues with storage, consistent power output and price.
The average price to use diesel fuel is around 32 cents a...