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Alternate power source pitched
Resident urges politicians to consider Integrated Molten Salt Reactor

Shane Magee
Northern News Services
Friday, July 17, 2015

A city resident believes once side-lined nuclear technology could be the answer to the territory's power woes.

NNSL photo/graphic

Daniel Gillis hopes a revived nuclear power technology could help the territory and has been promoting it to politicians in recent weeks. - Shane Magee/NNSL photo

Daniel Gillis has been meeting with politicians pitching an Integrated Molten Salt Reactor as an alternate to costly diesel and hydro production that's declining due to low water levels.

Such reactors were developed in the 1950s at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the U.S. but essentially abandoned in the 1970s by the American government.

"It was a technology that I hadn't heard of before so it piqued my interest," said Gillis, who has a civil engineering background. He began reading up on it and found Ontario-based Terrestrial Energy Inc., which hopes to turn the lab-proven technology into a commercially viable power generation source.

The company website states the reactor, with models ranging in generation capacity from 29 megawatts to 290 megawatts, could be ideal for remote communities such as those in the North. Terrestrial aims to have a reactor clear regulatory approval and a demonstration reactor built by early in the next decade, according to the website.

"It could be an extremely great opportunity for us," Gillis said. He said he has no connection to the company other than personal interest.

Both he and Terrestrial go to lengths to point out the differences between traditional nuclear energy and an Integrated Molten Salt Reactor, which they say makes the concept safer.

Traditional nuclear reactors work by having nuclear reaction creating heat. That warms water which turns a turbine, generating power. If coolant for the reactor core is lost, a meltdown can take place such as in Japan following a massive earthquake in 2011.

The reactor Gillis hopes to see is already liquid and doesn't have the same level of pressure as standard nuclear plants. That makes it safer, he said.

According to Terrestrial, the reactor also uses less fuel and almost all of that fuel, leaving less waste that needs to be stored.

The reactor can use several fuel types, such as thorium, spent uranium and plutonium. It's mixed in hot, molten salt. A heat transfer process turns a turbine to create electricity.

Gillis has been in contact with Terrestrial and said its looking for a community that would be interested in hosting the demonstration model.

There's no hard numbers attached to that concept, though the website states it would be on par with the construction of a fossil fuel power plant.

Gillis first met with Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley on the topic.

"It was certainly intriguing," Bromley said about the concept.

He directed Gillis to Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger, who is responsible for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation.

An interview request with the minister was declined.

"Ministers are often approached by individuals looking to promote a variety of initiatives and ideas," cabinet spokeswoman Roya Grinsted wrote in an e-mail response. "Minister Miltenberger met with Mr. Gillis to hear what he had to say, but does not have a comment on his proposals."

According to Gillis, the minister was receptive to the idea and was told the government is "tracking" the technology. Asked whether that is the case, Grinsted again said the minister has no comment.

Mayor Mark Heyck also met with Gillis recently. He said he'd never heard of the technology prior to the meeting.

"I think it's a timely technology to raise," Heyck said, referring to the recent energy charettes the government has held in hopes of addressing the ballooning cost of power.

"At this stage I'd say we're interested in learning more," the mayor said, adding that the GNWT would have to be involved in investigating the pros and cons of the idea.

Bromley, who has advocated for a shift toward more environmentally friendly power generation, did say he is left wondering why the technology hasn't been more widely adopted if it is as good as it sounds.

"I'm wondering what, if anything, we're missing," he said.

Gillis said from what he's learned, shifting priorities killed the project during the Cold War.

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