A few years ago I told Steve Paikin in a TV interview that when it comes down to a choice of nuclear reactors for Ontario, I tend to cheer the same way I do in international hockey tournaments: for the home team. I feel the same way today. Distill the choice between the two nuclear technological contenders in Ontario today—the CANDU EC6 and Westinghouse AP1000—to the essence of the decision, and your choice is between Canadian and foreign technology. You can watch the interview, which took place in 2008, here:
Of course there are important technological differences between the EC6 and AP1000. The former is 700 megawatts, the latter 1,200. The CANDU runs on natural (unenriched) uranium, is heavy water moderated, and features 380 individually pressurized, horizontally arranged fuel channels; the AP1000 runs on enriched uranium, is light (ordinary) water moderated, and features a single vertically arranged fuel assembly inside a single pressure vessel.
These major technological differences give rise to many other implications regarding the day-to-day and lifetime operation of their respective power plants. These implications form the basis for arguments in favour of either of these reactors, and I must say there are good arguments both ways. But I won’t go into that here. I will just stick to the implications of either technological choice on the supply chain for reactor components.
The point is, both these machines work. Both are—and have proven over decades of continual operation to be—far more dependable and robust than any other kind of non-nuclear thermal (steam) power plant. Either would perform as expected in Ontario’s power system: either would provide decades worth of affordable, reliable, air-pollution-free electricity.
The main difference is, CANDU components are for the most part made in Canada, and the major components of the AP1000, including and especially the heavy forged pressure vessel, would come from another country.
So, all things being equal, which machine should Ontario choose?
If Ontario were to choose the CANDU, then a lot of people in Canadian firms would get a lot of work. If we choose the Westinghouse machine, less Canadians would get work. It is that simple.
I would be happy to hear an argument that puts the AP1000’s technological and operational characteristics so superior to the EC6 that they outweigh the jobs factor. But I have yet to hear such an argument. The CANDU is a pretty solid machine.