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James Hansen has described it as "game over for the climate" if Canada continues to exploit its vast oil sands hydrocarbon reserves. I don't know how much of that might be hyperbole. I see China's and India's coal consumption as a bigger issue. Nevertheless, many environmentally conscious people see great danger in the Canadian oil sands development in general and the Keystone XL pipeline in particular.

Part of the issue is the oil sands need to be heated in order to extract the usable bitumen hydrocarbon, either by steam injection into the deposits or by processing of the sands after they are mined from the surface. Fossil fuels have traditionally been used for that heating, which increases the amount of CO2 generated for each barrel of oil equivalent. There might be a way to reduce this CO2 production by using small nuclear reactors for the oil sands processing. Toshiba is reportedly working on a small, modular reactor design for this type of use, and they also reportedly have a customer.

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.


The design will most likely be Toshiba's "4S" reactor. 4S for Super Save, Small and Simple.

Usually, I never see any fossil fuel company that want's anything to do with nuclear power. They don't like the competition. If nuclear power was significantly developed as a power source, it would adversely impact the natural gas companies profits, and the big fossil suppliers usually sell both petroleum products and natural gas. However, perhaps the Alberta oil sands companies have a different perspective.

- Pete
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