Shaping Canada's energy transition

Low-Carbon Future

Shaping Canada's energy transition

Queen's researchers receive over $1M to help turn Canada's Small Modular Reactor Action Plan into reality.

By Kayla Dettinger, Special Projects Officer

May 9, 2024


Oxide growth on a copper surface under a microscope

"Copper is the material chosen as a barrier as part of Canada's nuclear waste strategy. This barrier is designed to last 1 million years, making corrosion studies critical." Art of Research Photo: Copper Oxide Growth Patterns by Jeffrey Wang, Graduate Student, Mechanical and Materials Engineering.

The federal government’s Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Action Plan outlines a roadmap for SMRs to become the future of Canada’s nuclear industry. On Tuesday, the federal government announced $12.7 million in funding through the Alliance grants program to support the development of this technology, which will position Canada as a clean energy leader in the transition to a low-carbon future. A funding partnership between the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), this round of Alliance grants is focused on advancing research into SMRs by facilitating collaborations between universities, industry, and not-for-profits. 

Queen’s researcher Laurent Karim Béland (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) was awarded $1.2 million to explore a joint experimental and computational approach to the accelerated qualification of nuclear materials for SMRs.

Extreme conditions

Dr. Béland’s research seeks to enhance the understanding of how materials behave under extreme conditions in the context of next-generation nuclear reactors. From the computational approach, the team, including researchers from the Université de Montréal, will work to improve the kinetic Activation Relaxation Technique, a code that simulates how materials respond to radiation damage. This Canadian-based code—considered best-in-class internationally—is unique in its ability to capture atom-by-atom changes in the materials over timescales comparable to experiments and reactor operations. Their efforts to rewrite the code will make it more versatile and user-friendly, helping them to understand the long-term behaviour of materials in SMRs and potentially accelerate their qualification process.

Dr. Laurent Karim Béland

Dr. Laurent Karim Béland (Mechanical and Materials Engineering)

Using an experimental approach, the team will employ proton irradiation to study the effects on various materials with a focus on their microstructure and mechanical properties. These experiments will work hand-in-hand with the computational approach to validate the output of the simulations. Dr. Béland will also be collaborating with several other research groups advancing SMR research such as MIT, NRCan, CanmetMATERIALS, and the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), with whom Queen’s recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to expand our nuclear research program. 

The overall goal of the project is to develop safer and more efficient SMRs through providing valuable insights into material performance under extreme conditions and a more enhanced scientific understanding of those underlying processes, potentially accelerating the deployment of SMRs by several years.

Materials degradation

Queen’s researchers Suraj Persaud (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) and Mark Daymond (Mechanical and Materials Engineering; Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy), Canada Research Chair in Nuclear Materials and Mechanics of Materials, are also co-applicants on a successful Alliance grant led by Western University. Their project will examine the long-term containment of SMR fuel waste. 

Expanding Queen’s nuclear research program

“This round of Alliance-funded projects is working towards realizing Canada’s Small Modular Reactor Action Plan, addressing critical areas of research around supply chains, fuel supply, and safety,” says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). “With recognized research strength in nuclear materials, Queen’s is a key player actively sought out to partner with industry, government, and other prominent research institutes to help shape Canada’s low-carbon energy transition.”

Queen’s is leading nuclear engineering research through several initiatives including the Nuclear Materials Group, of which Drs. Béland, Persaud, and Daymond are members, and the Reactor Materials Testing Laboratory (RMTL), a state-of-the-art facility built to advance the development and increase the lifespan of existing and new nuclear reactors which recently received a $8.6 million investment from the Canada Foundation for Innovation. Queen’s also welcomed the appointment of Yanwen Zhang as the new Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Impact of Radiation in Energy and Advanced Technologies. Dr. Zhang’s research program, which seeks to predict the degradation of alloys in the high-intensity environments of nuclear reactors, will relocate to Queen’s and receive an investment of $8 million through the CERC program.

To learn more about the other Alliance-funded projects, visit the NSERC website.

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