Sudbury

Nuclear technology to power mines being researched by Sudbury scientist

A Sudbury scientist is leading research into the idea of powering remote mines with small nuclear reactors.

Franç​​​​​​​ois Caron says using nuclear technology to power mines is 'a very nice match'

Franç​​​​​​​ois Caron is the Bruce Power Chair in Energy Systems at the Mining Innovation Rehabilitation and Applied Research Corporation or MIRARCO and also a professor at Laurentian University. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

A Sudbury scientist is leading research into the idea of powering remote mines with small nuclear reactors.

"The nuclear industry needs customers [and] the mining industry needs clean power," François Caron, the Bruce Power Chair in Energy Systems at the Mining Innovation Rehabilitation and Applied Research Corporation or MIRARCO said.

"So the two of them being put together is a very nice match."

Caron, who is also a professor at Laurentian University, says as the mining industry explores increasingly remote areas, it needs a new source of energy. Typically, mines rely on diesel or electricity for power, which can be challenging to get to a remote site.

He says to power an entire mine site, a contained nuclear reactor the size of a fridge would be needed.

"One of the advantages of this is that they're portable," he said. "When I say portable, you can put it in the back of a truck, you can put it on a train and then bring it to a desired location."

He acknowledges there is controversy around nuclear technology, including what to do with nuclear waste.

"When you're talking about a mine project, you'd bring the reactor in and you take it out," he said. "With respect to the waste, some designs of reactors can burn the current waste." 

Nuclear technology can also raise questions about safety, but Caron says steps have been taken to address that issue.

"What's happening with these new reactors is we've learned from lessons from the past," he said.

"They are fail-safe in the sense that we can walk away from the reactor and it will stop on its own. So it's part of the new design and new safety features of these small reactors."

He says the technology isn't new as it's been in use for about 60 years to power submarines and naval vessels. Caron adds the technology is not yet in use in mines, but producing and using these small reactors is not far in the future.

Small nuclear reactors may soon be coming to remote mines. The idea is being studied here in Sudbury. We heard more from Francois Caron, the Bruce Power Chair in Energy Systems at MIRARCO (the Mining Innovation Rehabilitation and Applied Research Corporation). 7:40

With files from Kate Rutherford

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