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GE Hitachi wins Canadian order for small nuclear reactor

Deal marks first for Hitachi since 2011 Fukushima disaster

SMRs, such as GE Hitachi's BWRX-300, can be built faster than conventional reactors. (Source photo by Takaki Kashiwabara)

TOKYO -- An atomic power joint venture between Japan's Hitachi and General Electric of the U.S. says it has won an order to supply a small modular reactor to Ontario Power Generation, one of Canada's leading utilities.

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy did not disclose the value of the deal, which marks the first commercial order placed with a Japanese-affiliated company for a small modular reactor (SMR), a technology hailed by some as the next generation of nuclear power.

The reactor order is the first for Hitachi since 2008. It follows a series of setbacks for Japan's nuclear power industry at home and abroad, starting with the 2011 Fukushima disaster, which was triggered by a devastating tsunami.

Just last year, the Japanese industrial group pulled out of the Wylfa Newydd nuclear power project in the U.K. after negotiations with the British government foundered on rising costs.

SMRs provide a way forward for Hitachi through these headwinds.

SMRs, such as GE Hitachi's BWRX-300, can be built faster than conventional reactors, with claims they are also theoretically safer due to their smaller size.

The core can be cooled by water convection alone without pumps, and the amount of radioactive material in the reactor is lower than with larger units. Some expect SMRs to gain widespread use as nations seek to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

South Korea has embraced mini-reactors as part of the government's approach to achieving carbon neutrality. The U.S. and U.K. are conducting research and development on the small-scale reactors. In 2020, a model from American startup NuScale Power won design approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Ontario Power plans to file for a permit next year to build up to four BWRX-300s, with the first completed in 2028 at the earliest.

The 300,000-kW BWRX-300 uses Hitachi's advanced light-water reactor technology.

SMRs have a lower generation capacity than the 1,000-MW reactors now used for producing commercial energy. But they can be built faster and are less costly as they can be assembled before installation at a power station. Managing quality is also easier.

Hitachi's nuclear power plant business generated 169.3 billion yen ($1.50 billion) in sales for fiscal 2020, down 12% from fiscal 2016.

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