Canadian firms team up for heavy water production

14 May 2024

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited and AtkinsRéalis have signed a memorandum of understanding to explore opportunities to collaborate on the production of heavy water for use in new Candu reactors in Canada.

The Bruce Heavy Water Plant prior to dismantling (Image: Bruce Power)

Heavy water - a form of water in which the normal hydrogen is replaced by a heavier form of hydrogen called deuterium - is used as both the moderator and as the reactor coolant in pressurised heavy water reactors, such as Candus. However, it has not been produced in Canada for more than 25 years.

The MoU brings together AtkinsRéalis' nuclear and industrial capabilities in Canada as the licensee of Candu technology, as well as Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), owner of Candu intellectual property and other heavy water production technologies, and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), a world leader in the industry with extensive experience in heavy water technologies.

The objective of the MoU is to evaluate options and select cost efficient, environmentally responsible, and viable heavy water production technologies, which could include the establishment of industrial scale heavy water production facilities to support the deployment of a new fleet of Candu reactors.

"This collaboration among important stakeholders in the Canadian nuclear sector sets the stage for Canada to lead the global heavy water market, solidifying its role as a key player in the energy transition," said AtkinsRéalis President and CEO Ian Edwards. "With Candu reactors operating across four continents, a global nuclear new build market with expected demand in excess of 1000 new reactors, a strong Candu reactor refurbishment market, and the introduction of the new Candu Monark 1000 MW reactor in addition to the existing Enhanced Candu 6, this memorandum of understanding could not have come at a better time."

AECL President and CEO Fred Dermarkar added: "I am pleased that AECL, CNL and AtkinsRéalis are collaborating and working together to advance heavy water production for Candu reactor technology. Candu technology is uniquely positioned to contribute to important national objectives such as decarbonisation, energy security, economic growth and maintaining Canada's Tier-1 nuclear nation status."

"The deployment of large-scale nuclear power in Canada is an enormous undertaking, and will require extensive alignment and coordination between organisations, industries, public officials and regulators from across the country," said CNL President and CEO Jack Craig. "Heavy water is one key piece of the larger puzzle, and CNL is working hard to play a leadership role in this process, ensuring that the broader industry is working towards a shared vision, and that the necessary inventory and production capabilities are in place to supply these reactors."

The Bruce Heavy Water Plant, which operated from 1973 until 1998, was built by AECL and located within the boundaries of the Bruce nuclear power plant, but was owned and operated by Ontario Power Generation. The plant was built to supply the heavy water needed for Canada's nuclear power programme. Candus are very efficient in their use of heavy water, which is recycled, meaning that the Bruce Heavy Water Plant's output was no longer needed after sufficient stockpiles were produced. Decommissioning of the plant began in 2004, with demolition work completed in 2006.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News