Toshiba Corporation has developed a small nuclear reactor to power oilsands extraction in Alberta and hopes to have it operational by 2020, according to news reports from Japan.
The Daily Yomiuri reports Toshiba is building the reactor at the request of an unnamed oilsands company.
The reactor would generate between one per cent and 5 per cent as much energy as produced by a typical nuclear power plant, and would not need refueling for 30 years. It would be used to heat water in order to create the steam used to extract bitumen from the oil sands.
Toshiba has completed design work on the reactor and has filed for approval with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Nikkei.com reported. The company is expected to seek approval from Canadian authorities as well.
The New Energy and Fuel blog speculates that the company has been at work on the reactor for a long time, given the relatively short amount of time in which it expects to have the reactor online.
While the news of nuclear reactors potentially dotting the oilsands landscape is already raising concerns among some environmentalists, the technology could actually prove greener than current methods. Oilsands producers typically use natural gas to power bitumen extraction, which contributes significantly to Canada’s carbon emissions.
Toshiba reportedly plans to build the main part of the reactor underground, in order to enhance safety, and the reactor will be built within an earthquake-resistant structure.
Paul Carroll, program director at the anti-nuclear Ploughshares Fund, told The Raw Story that small reactors are not immune to accidents, but “the individual accident scenarios are probably orders of magnitude less.”
Thinking Machine Blog notes thatnatural gas prices are very low right now, making nuclear reactors for the oilsands less economically attractive.
“[I]t appears that nuclear power is not needed,” the blog reported. “However, the Canadian oil sand deposits are located in remote areas, far from the main Canadian natural gas pipeline networks. One must assume that the cost of obtaining natural gas in such remote locations is high enough to justify the costs of Toshiba’s nuclear reactor.”