Bringing the eVinci Micro Reactor to Saskatchewan
Bringing the eVinci Micro Reactor to Saskatchewan
27 November 2023 marked the culmination of three years’ creative and ultimately successful endeavour by Portolan Global Inc. to bring the Westinghouse eVinci Micro Reactor to its first commercial customer anywhere in the world. It was the day on which the eVinci nuclear battery came to Canada. Perhaps surprising to many, the announcement came from the province of Saskatchewan – and the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC).
Government of Saskatchewan Funds Microreactor Research | News and Media | Government of Saskatchewan First Canadian eVinci™ Microreactor Targeted for Saskatchewan (westinghousenuclear.com)
This is a huge step forward for micro nuclear reactors and SMRs worldwide. And I can testify from first-hand experience in occupying a ringside seat throughout the three years, it came to fruition thanks to the perseverance, faith, creativity and initiative of a handful of people – led by Eddie Saab, President, Westinghouse Canada.
As President, Portolan Global Inc., I am proud to have played a central consultancy role, providing advice to Eddie and to the larger Westinghouse company on Government Relations and Strategy for the Canadian market in nuclear new build.
How did it happen? Let me take you back three years ago whe it all started.
The first time I saw the design of this little machine, I was star struck by it. Back then, it was stuck away in a corner of the Westinghouse HQ just outside of Pittsburgh. I remember being fascinated listening to the small team of eVinci engineers, headed by Jurie van Wijk.
It seemed almost too good to be true. From the outside – elegant, compact, small size (fits on as large flatbed truck), transportable, with heat exchanger integrated into the unit. Sits on a concrete slab (not digging into the ground or permafrost), arrives at site fuelled and ready-to-go. Ready to churn out eight years of clean electricity and heat daily at 5 MWe (13 MWth).
And all this on a total footprint of 2/3rds of a hockey rink! Something that most Canadians can easily visualize!
But it was the “internals” that completely swayed me. The eVinci uses heat-pipe technology developed first at Los Alamos National Laboratory and used by NASA on its spacecraft. Jurie and others at Westinghouse scaled up the technology, adding to it along the way. The upshot is a micro-sized nuclear reactor that functions similar to any common battery – you pull energy out when you need it; otherwise it stays in and at the ready.
More importantly, the fit for Canadian needs is absolutely compelling. The eVinci contains no liquids so it can’t leak into the water table, the soil or atmosphere. It uses an ultrasafe and proliferation-proof uranium fuel called Triso. Moreover, the eVinci can’t melt down; it’s internal chemistry is such that the reaction cancels if temperatures climb beyond the safety point.
For Canadian communities – just think: no legacy residual contamination or health hazards. The eVinci and its fuel are removed in their entirety once the community or mine or industrial user is done. Nothing left on site.
After admiring the machine’s attributes, my imagination took over.
We could construct an eVinci in Canada to be the first of a kind (FOAK). We could demonstrate how the machine works, how it can support mining operations or be integral to a renewable micro-grid or become the life-saving source of reliable clean power to remote communities – or power data centres wherever in Canada, help large electricity users crush their carbon emissions, reinforce weak grid lines so that more people in rural areas have the electricity they need for modern life and economic progress.
We could demonstrate all these attributes and applications right here in Canada – and invite the rest of the world to come and see it. Here at home, Indigenous leaders could see the eVinci up close and be confident of its safe, simple, reliable functioning.
Over the past three years, what has struck me is the growing interest and excitement in the eVinci Micro Reactor from almost all quarters - utilities, northern communities, mining companies, universities, as well as federal and provincial governments, political leaders and bureaucracies.
The path from concept to the actual Saskatchewan announcement, however, was arduous and relied on personal relationships and stubborn refusal of a few not to give up. We who were trying to push forward the eVinci in Canada soon found that no potential customer, no matter how enthused over eVinci, was willing to go first. They wanted to wait and see it land somewhere before queuing up.
Nobody willing to take the initiative to host the first eVinci Micro Reactor – except one.
Just over three years ago, after I had stepped down as President & CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) and formed my own consultancy company (Portolan Global Inc.), I found myself in conversation with my former boss at the Privy Council Office (PCO) in the Canadian government. Dale Eisler had returned to Saskatchewan after retirement from the government and was now connected with the University of Regina’s President’s Office.
Dale told me the Vice-President (Science & Research), Kathy MacNutt, was keen on establishing the University as a hub for nuclear energy research and engineering, in anticipation of SaskPower's interest in acquiring grid-scale SMRs to replace fossil fuels for electricity generation – sometime in the early 2030s.
This, I thought, was a job for Portolan Global Inc. So, I leapt in. Thanks to Dale's intervention, I connected with Kathy. Together we discussed her vision, and I designed the outlines of how the University of Regina could become Western Canada’s hub for power reactor research & engineering – and, importantly, for operational capacity-building in Saskatchewan. I talked to her about eVinci, SMRs and large nuclear. But she was especially intrigued by eVinci and suggested I talk to Mike Crabtree at the Saskatchewan Research Council, since the SRC had operated a Canadian-build “Slowpoke” research reactor until recently.
Turned out that Mike Crabtree was the exception we’d been looking for. His enthusiasm for the eVinci was immediate. He saw right away how an eVinci could support SRC's mandate - to prove out technologies for industrial and commercial purposes. And he was bound and determined to get one for SRC.
Thus began the three-year journey leading up to the 27 November announcement. It was filled with discussion, planning, convincing, despair, setbacks, progress – we went through it all. Lots of work with politicians and government leaders, lots of federal-provincial considerations.
Meanwhile, technical design and engineering work on eVinci has been moving ahead in Westinghouse – both in the US and Canada. Components of the first demonstration machine are already being manufactured and tested at Westinghouse facilities in Burlington and Peterborough, Ontario.
Hats off especially to Mike Crabtree at SRC. He is the driving force on the customer side – essential in making vision a reality – the original “first mover”, bringing the eVinci to Saskatchewan.
And special kudos to my Westinghouse Canada friends (Eddie Saab, Michael Valore, Agata Leszkiewicz) who powered it through from the company side. https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:7134932859814903808?updateEntityUrn=urn%3Ali%3Afs_feedUpdate%3A%28V2%2Curn%3Ali%3Aactivity%3A7134932859814903808%29
There’s more to the story that I’ve described here.
For example, the equally arduous pathway to getting a Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) award of $27 million from the federal ministry of Innovation, Science & Economic Development (ISED). Some thought we would never be successful in securing this award – which is a cost-sharing program to advance the R & D leading to commercialization of a clean technology such as the eVinci Micro Reactor. We managed it anyway.
I am proud that, through Portolan Global Inc., I could play a leading consulting role in getting the SIF award to help progress the eVinci in Canada – and then to help steer the eVinci through the hoops and over the barriers along the way to the first finish line: a customer (with provincial backing) for the first commercial eVinci Micro Reactor in Canada.
This is just the first chapter in the Canadian eVinci story. There will be more to come…..for sure.