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2014-05-14 China Nuclear Industry Magazine Interview with Dr. Ron Oberth, President of the Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries (OCI)

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Wednesday, 14 May 2014 16:07

Ron Oberth small headshot


CNIM: In order to make China nuclear industry have a better understanding on OCI - AIC, could you please give us a brief introduction of the organization? In addition, would you please briefly introduce yourself to China nuclear industry?
Dr. Ron Oberth: Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries (OCI) is an association of 180 leading Canadian suppliers to the nuclear industry in Canada and foreign markets. OCI companies employ more than 10,000 highly skilled and specialized engineers, technologists and trades people who design reactors, manufacture major equipment and components, and provide engineering services and support to CANDU nuclear power plants in Canada as well as to CANDU and Light Water Reactor (LWR) plants in offshore markets.
Dr. Ron Oberth has been president of the Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries for three years. He has worked in the Canadian nuclear industry for more than 30 years at Ontario Power Generation and at Candu Energy (formerly the AECL Reactor Division). His nuclear experience includes reactor safety, used fuel management, medical isotopes, and the marketing of CANDU reactors both domestically and internationally. Ron is a graduate of the University of Manitoba and the Rotman School of Business and received his PhD from Princeton University.


CNIM: An outstanding aspect of The Canadian nuclear industry is the front-end of uranium resources. Abundant uranium resources for Canada provide a good foundation for the development of the nuclear power industry. So what is the Canadian nuclear global strategy? Please talk about Canada in the front of uranium resources development and utilization of the latest ideas and measures. What do you think that the global nuclear industry needs to focus on what progress of Canada nuclear industry? What help do you think Canada is looking forward to other countries?
Dr. Ron Oberth: Canada was a pioneering nuclear nation with more than 60 years of experience in the development and deployment of nuclear energy for both power generation and medical applications. Canada is the world’s second largest producer of uranium. The 22 CANDU nuclear power plants that have been constructed in Canada have operated safely and reliably for more than 40 years – supplying more than 50% of the electrical energy in Ontario.  Canada’s unique natural uranium and on-power fuelled CANDU reactor has captured almost 10% of the world market.
Canada has had a close and productive relationship with China’s nuclear industry through the very successful construction of two CANDU units at the Qinshan Phase III site that have now been operating safely and reliably for more than 10 years. Building on this base of success Candu Energy (successor to the AECL Reactor Division) is working with China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) on a program to exploit unique CANDU features by jointly developing an Advance Fuel CANDU Reactor (AFCR) that would be optimized to burn both recycled uranium from PWR reactors as well as thorium - a resource which is abundant in China. In addition several Canadian suppliers are planning to strengthen their collaboration with their Chinese partners on both Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR) and Small Modular Reactor (SMR) projects in helping China meet its expanding energy needs.
The major challenge facing the global nuclear industry is the need to earn the confidence of governments, investors and the public that the nuclear industry can deliver major nuclear projects around the world on time and on budget. A second challenge is to demonstrate that both existing and new nuclear power plants have safety measures in place that enable them to operate and shut down safely in the event of severe accident conditions such as the extreme flooding and loss of electrical power at Fukushima. Canada has a strong track record in constructing CANDU power plants on time and on budget in Korea, Romania and especially in China with the Qinshan Phase III CANDU units.
This Canadian Nuclear Trade Mission will help to forge new partnerships among Canadian and Chinese companies by combining their nuclear expertise and capital resources in exploiting opportunities in both traditional CANDU markets such as Argentina and Romania as well as in other third country markets.


CNIM: Please briefly introduce OCI’s plans for the year. Do these plans will be interacting with China nuclear agencies interaction? Please talk about the current progress.
Dr. Ron Oberth: A key strategy for OCI in the coming years is to support our member companies in offshore markets. For example in the last 16 months OCI has led trade missions to Argentina, the UK, the USA, India and China.
One of the highlights of the Trade Mission to China was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between OCI and the Haiyan Nuclear Power Related Industrial Alliance in Haiyan on April 11, 2014 in Haiyan. The MOU will facilitate collaboration among some of OCI’s 180 member companies and the 70 companies in the Haiyan Nuclear Power Related Industrial Alliance in supplying equipment and services to nuclear projects in China and in other countries. The MOU will also encourage cooperation among Ontario research institutes and universities in fostering nuclear innovation and assisting Haiyan universities in developing nuclear engineering programs to help supply China’s huge demand for trained nuclear professionals. In addition the MOU calls for collaboration between OCI and the Haiyan Alliance in promoting the further joint development and construction of Advanced Fuel CANDU Reactors (AFCR) in Haiyan region that would burn recycled uranium and thorium fuels in order to expand China’s nuclear fuel resources. Dr Reza Moridi, Ontario’s Minister of Research and Innovation, who led the Canadian Trade Mission to China, was present at the signing of the MOU and stated that “the MOU will provide increased business opportunities for Ontario companies and foster nuclear innovation among Ontario research institutes and universities.  Ontario’s pioneering nuclear sector is ideally positioned to be a value-added supply chain partner in China and its success strengthens our economy at home.”
OCI signed a second MOU on April 17 with the Chinese Nuclear Society. This MOU will facilitate close collaboration among OCI staff and the leaders of the Chinese Nuclear Society on technical exchanges and on improving how we communicate the environmental and safety benefits of nuclear power to broad public audiences in both countries.  Canada is pleased to welcome Mr. SHEN Lixin, Deputy Secretary General of the Chinese Nuclear Society, to be a keynote speaker at the Pacific Basin Nuclear Conference that Canada is hosting in late August of this year in Vancouver.


CNIM: In the NIC technology exchange meeting, your mainly talked about the Canadian nuclear power technology and service, what did you want to convey in the speech?
Dr. Ron Oberth: By satisfying the very stringent regulatory requirements and quality standards of the Canadian nuclear industry, OCI companies have developed world class capabilities across a broad spectrum of the nuclear supply chain including: reactor design, project and construction management, precision manufacturing of specialized and safety-related equipment including various pumps and valves, design and supply of reactor control systems and full scope training simulators, as well as fabrication of steam generators and various heavy components and modules. OCI companies also have capabilities in supporting operating reactors through reactor inspection and non-destructive testing, safety and risk analysis, and various operational support services.  
The Canadian nuclear industry brings a strong “team” approach to offshore markets.  For example the Canadian delegation on recent Trade Mission to China included representatives of both the Canadian Government and the Government of Ontario where most of the operating nuclear plants and the nuclear suppliers are located; representatives of both Ontario-based nuclear plant operating companies (Bruce Power and Ontario Power Generation), a representative from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), the Canadian nuclear research laboratory (AECL) as well as 11 suppliers with a broad range of capabilities. While Canada has a small population compared to the major nuclear exporting countries such as the USA, France and Russia – we bring a strong and coordinated team approach. Canada also has a strong track record in responsible nuclear power governance in safety and security.


CNIM: In your opinion, what are characteristics of the Canadian nuclear industry ? Compared to other powers, what unique competitiveness does the Canadian nuclear industry have?
Dr.Ron Oberth: An important strategic consideration for China is that it has limited indigenous uranium resources.  It does, however, have considerable reserves of another potential nuclear fuel resource called thorium. Unlike light water reactors, the CANDU heavy water reactor is uniquely configured to use thorium as a fuel source. Candu Energy and CNNC are collaborating on a parallel initiative to develop the new Generation III Advanced Fuel CANDU Reactor (AFCR) that will increase uranium utilization by employing thorium as an alternate fuel source. This 24-month joint Candu Energy/CNNC conceptual design project will be completed in 2014 when joint work will start on detailed design and pre-project work. It is anticipated that a full deployment project could start by the end of 2015.
The Chinese government’s equipment localization strategy means that foreign firms hoping to succeed in the Chinese market will need to build strong relationships with local firms in order to identify suitable points of entry into the world’s fastest growing nuclear market. Plant owners have integrated procurement and manufacturing scopes for various types of major equipment and will select foreign firms that are willing to provide technology transfer and technology services for key equipment. Canadian suppliers can succeed in China by forming relationships with Chinese nuclear design institutes, utilities and construction firms and jointly undertaking development projects that generate solutions to existing challenges.
Finally, Canada and China have long had a very special relationship that dates back to the work of revered Canadian Dr. Norman Bethune, who performed emergency battlefield surgical operations in China on war casualties and undertook training for Chinese doctors, nurses and order lies in 1938 and 1939. Canada was also one of the first nations to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. The two CANDU reactors were built in China with the forceful support of the Government of Canada. Today there exists a very strong Chinese diaspora in Canada with influence that extends to both political and business sectors in China that can be invaluable in developing ties with local Chinese companies. This special relationship affords Canadian companies a unique advantage in China that can be exploited through skillful diplomacy and respectful business negotiations.


CNIM: Both in the domestic and international nuclear power market, please introduce the current status of nuclear power projects in Canada. What is the latest situation?
Dr. Ron Oberth: Canada has 19 operating CANDU nuclear power plants – 18 are located in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province. The eight units from Darlington and Bruce B sites are operating at over 90% capacity factor.
Ontario’s Updated Long Term Energy Plan, released in November 2013, calls for the refurbishment and life extension of six more units at Bruce and four units at Darlington over the period 2016 to 2030.  Two of the eight Bruce units were refurbished and returned to service in 2012.
Nuclear power supplies more than 50% of Ontario’s electrical energy needs and will continue to do so for years to come. In fact the excellent performance of Ontario’s nuclear power plants was one of the reasons that Ontario was able to close its last coal burning power plant in April of this year becoming the first jurisdiction in North America to phase out coal powered elected generation.


CNIM: Based on the current ongoing bilateral nuclear cooperation project, how do you evaluate it? In the future cooperation, do you think of the two sides in what fields and expand space? Why is that?
Dr. Ron Oberth: The Government of Canada signed a Nuclear Cooperation Agreement Protocol with China in July 2012 that will expand Canada’s exports of uranium to fuel China’s rapidly growing production of electricity from nuclear power plants. This initiative will also strengthen Canada’s broader cooperation with China on the peaceful use of nuclear power and create further opportunities for Canadian companies to supply nuclear products and services to China under the terms of the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement Protocol.
Canada and China are also cooperating on development of advanced fuels that will extend China’s limited uranium reserves and make China less depended on imported uranium. Specifically, Candu Energy Inc., in collaboration with the Third Qinshan Nuclear Power Company (TQNPC), the China North Nuclear Fuel Corporation(CNNFC), and the Nuclear Power Institute of China (NPIC)successfully completed a test of a first-of-a-kind “Natural Uranium Equivalent” (NUE) (combining recycled and depleted uranium) at Qinshan CANDU Unit 1. The 24 month in-reactor test and subsequent fuel bundle examination proved that NUE fuel can be implemented in existing CANDU stations without any major modifications to the plant or the licensing basis.The parties are now working on a project to convert the Qinshan CANDU reactor units to full core use of NUE fuel by the end of 2014.  
In August 2012 Candu Energy Inc. signed an agreement with China National Nuclear Corporation’s subsidiary companies: Third Qinshan Nuclear Power Company (TQNPC), China North Nuclear Fuel Corporation (CNNFC) and Nuclear Power Institute of China (NPIC), to cooperate in the development of recycled uranium and thorium as alternative fuels for existing and future CANDU reactors in China. The agreement would result in a conceptual design of the Advanced Fuel CANDU Reactor (AFCR) by late 2014. The AFCR is a further evolution of the successful CANDU 6 and Generation III Enhanced CANDU 6 reactors that would be optimized for use of recycled uranium and thorium fuel.

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