New Energy and Fuel blogged about a Canadian oil sands company working with Toshiba to use their small, fast, sodium cooled 4S nuclear reactor. Here is an excerpt from an article published in The Daily Yomiuri.
‘ Toshiba Corp. has been developing a small nuclear reactor for mining oil sands at the request of a firm engaged in such mining projects in Alberta Province, Canada, and aims to begin operating the reactor by 2020, it has been learned.
As the situation regarding the construction of new nuclear power plants and reactors in Japan remains unclear, Toshiba’s move will likely attract attention as an effort toward utilizing the nation’s nuclear technology in fields other than power generation.
Oil sands are sandstone deposits which contain a viscous form of petroleum, and can be used as petroleum-based fuel. Compared with oil fields, it has so far been difficult to develop oil sands. However, technological advances have led to the promotion of oil sands development in Venezuela and Canada. Canada is said to have about 100 oil sands deposits totaling about 170 billion barrels–the equivalent of about 100 years’ worth of petroleum consumption in Japan.
The output of Toshiba’s new small reactor will be 10,000 kilowatts to 50,000 kilowatts, about 1 percent-5 percent that of a regular nuclear reactor, according to the sources.
Steam generated in the reactor will be sent to strata located at a depth of about 300 meters, where oil sands are found, to turn the sand into slurry. The slurry will then be extracted from the strata using a separate pipe.‘
Currently, natural gas is used as the heat source for generating steam. Since natural gas prices are low and will remain so for the foreseeable future due to the ever increasing supply from shale formations in Canada and the US, at first it appears that nuclear power is not needed. 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.
It will be interesting to follow developments to see if these plans ever transition to reality.
More information about Toshiba’s 4S reactor can be found here.