Major Nuclear Players Team on Innovative Construction Delivery Approach for BWRX-300 SMR at Darlington

Ontario Power Generation (OPG), GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), SNC-Lavalin, and Aecon have signed a trailblazing six-year alliance agreement designed to bolster the deployment of a BWRX-300 small modular reactor (SMR) at the Darlington New Nuclear Project (DNNP) in Clarington, Ontario.

The contract unveiled on Jan. 27—a year after OPG selected GEH’s BWRX-300 for the DNNP amid stiff competition for the pioneering SMR project—is the first of its kind for a grid-scale SMR in North America. The contract notably represents a deliberate effort to tackle construction complexities, potential delays, and cost overruns associated with the DNNP new build, which could become one of the first commercial SMR projects built in Canada and the U.S.

A Heavyweight Team for a High-Stakes Project 

While OPG is currently still spearheading the engineering design process for DNNP—and expects to make a construction decision by the end of 2024—it has made substantial inroads on project development. In October 2022, it kicked off site preparation and submitted a License to Construct application to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). A CNSC decision is expected in 2024, and site preparation is expected to continue through 2025. The project’s preliminary schedule is to complete construction of the reactor by 2028 with commercial operation starting in 2029,” OPG said on Dec. 22, 2022.

The alliance agreement, meanwhile, will bring together four of the project’s most significant participants under an innovative Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) model. In contrast to a traditional “design-bid-build” construction project delivery model, an IPD approach enjoins various parties involved in project design, fabrication, and construction under a single agreement. The approach is designed to circumvent potential delays and cost overruns through a system of efficient collaboration and communication.

Under the agreement, OPG will serve as the license holder and maintain overall responsibility for the project. OPG’s purview will also include operator training, commissioning, Indigenous engagement, stakeholder outreach, and oversight.

Technology conglomerate GEH will, meanwhile, provide the BWRX-300 reactor design along with a range of project activities, including design, engineering licensing support, construction, testing, training, and commissioning. GEH will also procure major components for the DNNP. GEH on Friday underscored the significance of the commercial contract for the OPG project, noting that the DNNP will effectively showcase GEH’s first global deployment of its 300-MWe SMR.

Successful development could cement potential deployments in Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Alberta. GEH’s other near-term potential deployments include projects in Tennessee and Poland. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in August 2022, notably, signed an agreement with GEH to begin planning and preliminary licensing for potential deployment of a BWRX-300 at the Clinch River site near Oak Ridge, Tennessee. “TVA has entered into a collaboration with OPG to coordinate efforts to move SMR technology forward. In addition, the NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] and CNSC are collaborating on licensing the two projects,” GEH noted on Friday.

An artist’s rendition of a GE-Hitachi BWRX-300 nuclear unit. The BWRX-300 is a 300-MW boiling water reactor (BWR) that derives from the Gen III+ 1,520-MW ESBWR, which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission certified in 2014. Courtesy: GEH

Significant Prospect for Canadian Nuclear Giants

Under the alliance agreement, SNC-Lavalin, an original equipment manufacturer of CANDU reactors, will serve as DNNP’s architect engineer. “SNC-Lavalin will provide OPG with a diverse range of expertise for the engineering and build of the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station’s SMR,” the company said. “This is expected to include deploying project management, licensing, engineering, design, procurement, construction support and commissioning, as well as digital delivery capabilities in both the nuclear island and balance of plant scopes for the project.”

SNC-Lavalin also said it will “leverage” its CNSC “licensing expertise and unmatched strengths as a reactor developer” and “extensive nuclear new build expertise to drive a successful outcome for this first-of-a-kind project.” SNC-Lavalin is the only company to have a technology pass all three phases of the CNSC’s pre-project design review, it noted.

Construction and infrastructure development company Aecon Group—the preeminent nuclear constructor in Canada—separately on Jan. 27 said it would provide all construction services, including project management, construction planning, and execution.

For OPG, SNC-Lavalin, and Aecon, leading the pioneering DNNP project represents a substantial opportunity to position Canada as an SMR leader. SNC-Lavalin and Aecon are currently halfway through OPG’s 10-year refurbishment of Darlington’s existing CANDU reactors. That project remains on time and on budget,” the companies noted. DNNP would “support Canadian efforts to become a global SMR technology hub in a market estimated to be $150 billion per year by 2040,” they said.

Sonal Patel is a POWER senior associate editor (@sonalcpatel@POWERmagazine).

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