British Columbia

B.C. fusion reactor project to get more scrutiny

The mayor of Burnaby, B.C., says he's concerned about the development of a fusion reactor in his city as revealed in a CBC News report Monday.
General Fusion issued a statement Tuesday saying it is in full compliance with regulations in development of its fusion reactor. ((General Fusion))

The mayor of Burnaby, B.C., says he’s concerned about the development of a fusion reactor in his city as revealed in a CBC News report Monday, and wants assurance the company involved has the proper licensing and oversight.

"I think that it’s very healthy the CBC is out there examining this process," Mayor Derek Corrigan said Tuesday. "I'm glad that you've brought it to our attention because sometimes these things pass by the radar."

Corrigan said the company, General Fusion Inc., obtained a business license for research and development into alternative energy and that city staff had no idea the company plans to build a prototype fusion reactor.

General Fusion, which occupies four adjoining warehouses in a Burnaby industrial park, said it is not yet using radioactive materials and would build its functioning reactor in a larger building, likely somewhere else in Metro Vancouver.

Company issues statement

But Corrigan said there still could currently be other safety issues.

"Even during the research process, if there are processes that could pose a danger to the public, we want to be aware of them and be assured that our community's safety issues are taken care of," he said.

Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan says he wants to investigate the company's compliance with city regulations. (CBC)
General Fusion maintains that its nuclear reactor design is safe and its research work is in compliance with all regulations.

The company issued a statement Tuesday, saying it has, "proactively engaged the Burnaby Fire Department, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and our insurer’s risk prevention engineer."

The company hopes to build the world's first commercial fusion reactor within the next three years.

The reactor would be a three-metre-wide steel sphere filled with a spinning mix of molten lead, lithium and super-heated plasma gas. The contents would be compressed with 200 computer-controlled pistons and the resulting shock waves, in theory, would produce a fusion reaction.

Regulatory hurdles

General Fusion’s CEO, Doug Richardson, said the design is not dangerous.

"Fusion is fundamentally, inherently safe," he told CBC News.

Some physicists at the University of B.C.’s nuclear research lab, disagree.

"Of course there's a hazard, an explosive hazard," said physics professor Erich Vogt.

Nuclear energy is prohibited in B.C., but that can change — although it would not be a simple process, provincial energy minister Rich Coleman said Tuesday.

"Even if they were successful, they would have to go through a significant regulatory process, which would then have us looking at our nuclear power policy," Coleman said.

With files from the CBC's Eric Rankin