Read this story from Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun on manufacturing giant Toshiba's development of a small nuclear reactor to power bitumen extraction in the Alberta Tar Sands. (Jan 16, 2012)
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.
To ensure the reactor's safety, Toshiba reportedly plans to construct a nuclear reactor building underground, while the building itself will be equipped with an earthquake-absorbing structure.
The firm has completed a basic design for the reactor and has already started approval procedures for construction in the United States. After getting the official go-ahead from the U.S. government, Toshiba will then undergo safety checks in Canada.
Currently, oil sands are mined using boiler-generated steam. However, as this method requires natural gas to fuel the boilers, it is necessary to transport the gas as needed. Also, carbon dioxide emissions from burning natural gas is seen to be a problem.
By contrast, the planned small reactor would not require refueling for up to 30 years after construction or release any carbon dioxide. Furthermore, nuclear reactors would also be cheaper should the general price of natural gas increase.