John Polcyn
President of AECL Technologies.

John Polcyn was named last June as the president of AECL Technologies, located in Gaithersburg, Maryland. His main mission is to sell and build AECL ‘s evolutionary ACR-700 nuclear power plant in the United States--on time and within budget.


ACR stands for Advanced CANDU Reactor, the advancement being over CANDU reactors long used in Canada and a round the world (34 are now in service, 22 of them in Canada). Currently, the ACR-700 is undergoing a pre-application review for design certification by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a similar type review in Canada by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Polcyn of course is upbeat about the prospects for nuclear in the U. S. and North America. “It is not a matter of if, but of when,” he says.

All U. S. reactors are light water reactors (LWRs) - most of which are pressurized water reactors (PWRs), while the remainder are of the boiling water design (BWRs). Light water is used as a coolant in the reactor coolant system for both PWRs and BWRs. LWRs use enriched fuel (to 4% U-235). CANDU reactors (for Canada Deuterium Oxide Uranium) do not have a reactor pressure vessel; the CANDU reactors and the ACR-700 instead use horizontal pressure tubes and a calandria. Where as the CANDU units operating today use natural uranium, the ACR-700 will use slightly enriched uranium fuel (SEU, to 2% U-235). CANDUs can be refueled without shutting down operation, a benefit that PWRs lack.


The ACR-700 technology is an advance on the traditional CANDUs. Whereas all CANDUs designed and built to date use heavy water for coolant and moderation, the ACR-700 uses light water as the coolant and heavy water for moderation. It uses only 25% of the heavy water as the currently operating, traditional CANDUs. Advocates say it combines the best of both light and heavy water designs. At the same time it retains traditional CANDU passive safety measures, on-power refueling capabilities and flexible fuel cycles.


Polcyn is quick to enumerate what he thinks are ACR’s outstanding merits. First, there is cost competitiveness. “The fifth unit (that is, the first half of a third pair because ACR units come as pairs) will produce electricity at about $1,000 a kilowatt,” he says. “Clean coal comes in at about $1,500 a kilowatt. And with natural gas at $4.50 or $5.00, we are very competitive indeed.”


Second, “we can build the first ACR-700 (creating 750 MW of power) in 48 months, first concrete to fuel loading, or 60 months from contract signing to commercial operation. We will reduce that time to 36 months and 48 months respectively for the fifth unit and beyond. Moreover, we build in parallel and not in series, which speeds projects along. We are confident of these schedules owing to our experience on recent CANDU construction in Korea ( Wolsong Units 2, 3 and 4 completed in 1997-98) and in China (Qinshan Phase III Units 1 and 2 completed in 2003). These units were all completed on time and on budget. In fact, all six of the last CANDUs projects were on budget and on schedule. Compare this to the fact that of the last 103 plants built in the U.S., only one was delivered on time. “


Third, “ACR uses slightly enriched uranium, which is not much more expensive than natural uranium. Our operations and management costs will be low and very competitive. Our fuel costs will be lower than that of any light water reactors.”


Fourth, “we’re so confident of our technology, design and construction methods, we’ll offer fixed-price, fixed-schedule contracts. I don’t believe anyone else will be doing that.”

There are additional comparative advantages Polcyn points out. These are an advanced control room with state-of-the-art controls that identifies precursor events to potential problems, allowing operators to prevent problems before they happen; a simplified design compared to those of other reactors; and a design that is complete before construction begins.

Polcyn is quick to note that the online fueling is also a major selling point. “You are not captive to fall/spring outages that coal and the current light water reactors in the U.S. require. The ACR-700 is being designed to operate on 36-month cycles. Outages are projected to be 21 days long every three years.

Thus its available capacity factor will be very good, another reason why O&M costs will be low. In the U. S., it took 20 years to get from around 60% capacity to the high 90’s, but using the lessons learned from the worldwide fleet of CANDUs and LWRs, ACR-700s will start at 95% and inch up from there. Moreover, CANDU units have not experienced any fuel integrity issues that have plagued other designs. If there were a leak, we’d just remove the bundle and keep on running the plant. Thus there is lots of flexibility.”

The ACR-700 is designed to be built in pairs, each unit supplying 753 MW; thus a pair delivers about 1,500 MW. Modular unit pairs are added to the first on a schedule convenient to the customer. “In Qinshan we finished the first unit in December ‘02 and the second unit seven months later in July ‘03, more than four months ahead of schedule because the Chinese needed the power. A more normal stagger might be one to two years.”


At Qinshan, AECL used “open-top” construction, which, according to Polcyn, saves time and money. The technique involves the use of a very-heavy-lift (VHL) crane placing equipment through the open top of a building. A steam generator can be placed in one or two days with a VHL, rather than the two weeks needed using the old methodology. The technique also allows for more work done in parallel rather than sequentially.


Moreover, the ACR design calls for modular prefabrication. Electrical and mechanical systems are to be shop-fabricated and installed as packaged systems. Polcyn says that for the larger components, his company is talking with shipyards in the U. S. that would complete the fabrications and prepare the units for transporting. “This way instead of having several thousand people on site we can hold it to 3,500 or so,” he says. Polcyn adds that all that really needs to be built in Canada is the on-line fuel feeding machine; all other components can be fabricated locally or as economic conditions require. If customers want a great deal of local involvement, they can have it.

AECL Technologies is a wholly-owned subsidiary of AECL Ltd., (Atomic Energy of Canada Limited), a corporation of the Canadian government that has jurisdiction over that country ’s entire nuclear research and development program. AECL was established in 1952, is headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario, has annual revenues of $400 million and 4,000 employees. It designed and developed the CANDU reactors; private companies make the reactor components and mine the uranium.

The conventional balance of plant (BOP) for the ACR-700 has been developed by AECL and Hatachi, Ltd., of Japan. It will be based on Hatachi’s TCF-52 impulse type turbine with a last-stage blade length of 52 inches. The turbine is made of a single-flow high-pressure cylinder and two double-flow low-pressure cylinders coupled to the generator. There are two external two-stage moisture separator reheaters working in parallel to remove moisture and reheat both the high-pressure main steam and turbine exhaust steam.


Polcyn says that as many as eight ACR-700s could be built in Ontario, where the Provincial government is committed to phasing out all the coal-fired plants by the end of 2007. He is optimistic about the market in the U. S. citing as one reason the incentives included in the Energy Bill awaiting final action. “If the Energy Bill passes and we have the opportunity to build an ACR-700 on schedule and budget, you will see a resurgence of nuclear in the U.S.,” he says. “The U. S. has not built a nuclear plant in 25 years, building predominantly natural gas-fired plants in the last 10 years. The country needs new base load plants that do not produce greenhouse gas emissions and are low cost. The ACR-700 suits theses circumstances.”


Polcyn says his company, AECLT, is talking with American customers and that the best prospects at the moment are in the Southeast, where there is good growth. He also believes that there could be good demand up and down the East Coast, notably in upstate New York for the New York market.

John Polcyn is a product of the Nuclear Navy and is a Mechanical Engineer. He has over 30 years of experience in the nuclear industry, including having spent over ten years with the Tennessee Valley Authority in increasingly responsible positions. He is a member of the American Nuclear Society, recent past chairman of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) Supplier Participant Advisory Committee and a senior management member of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) New Nuclear Plant Task Force.


AECL Technologies is capable of doing more than promoting the ACR-700s in the U. S. It offers nuclear plant services to increase capacity, reduce O&M costs and shorten outages. It offers products such as high-performance seals for safety-related pumps, and it offers specialized waste management and decommissioning consulting services, often through its parent AECL, which has 50 years of experience in the field.