Toshiba Corp. has been developing a small nuclear reactor for mining oil sands at the request of a firm engaged in such mining projects in Alberta Province, Canada, and aims to begin operating the reactor by 2020, it has been learned.
As the situation regarding the construction of new nuclear power plants and reactors in Japan remains unclear, Toshiba’s move will likely attract attention as an effort toward utilizing the nation’s nuclear technology in fields other than power generation.
Steam generated in the reactor will be sent to strata located at a depth of about 300 meters, where oil sands are found, to turn the sand into slurry. The slurry will then be extracted from the strata using a separate pipe.
To ensure the reactor’s safety, Toshiba reportedly plans to construct a nuclear reactor building underground, while the building itself will be equipped with an earthquake-absorbing structure.
The firm has completed a basic design for the reactor and has already started approval procedures for construction in the United States. After getting the official go-ahead from the U.S. government, Toshiba will then undergo safety checks in Canada.
Currently, oil sands are mined using boiler-generated steam. However, as this method requires natural gas to fuel the boilers, it is necessary to transport the gas as needed. Also, carbon dioxide emissions from burning natural gas is seen to be a problem.
By contrast, the planned small reactor would not require refueling for up to 30 years after construction or release any carbon dioxide. Furthermore, nuclear reactors would also be cheaper should the general price of natural gas increase.
Toshiba also plans to use the small reactor for purposes other than oil sands mining, the sources said.
For example, the firm is considering using it at desalination plants, which convert seawater into freshwater, or as a power source for electrolysis equipment to produce hydrogen for fuel battery-powered vehicles.
Usually, constructing a small reactor costs between 50 billion yen and 100 billion yen, less than 20 percent the cost of building a regular reactor. This would make the new reactor easier to introduce in frontier areas. Therefore, Toshiba has been working in Alaska and municipalities in northern Canada to introduce its small reactor as a small-scale power station.
To gain the understanding of local residents, Toshiba will disclose information about its small reactor to locals and carefully explain its safety to them.
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