Laurentis Energy Partners, in the fall of 2021, launched its program to produce Helium-3 (He-3), a rare and valuable isotope used in quantum computing, neutron research, border security and medical imaging.
Laurentis will obtain the He-3 from tritium stored at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station, about 100 kilometers east of Toronto. The tritium is removed from heavy water in the CANDU station, owned and operated by Ontario Power Generation (OPG), the parent company of Laurentis.
A stable (non-radioactive) and inert gas, the He-3 will be extracted using a new custom-designed tool, which Laurentis installed and is now commissioning at Darlington. Production of the valuable isotope will occur before year-end.
“Our advanced He-3 technology is an example of Laurentis engineers and project managers delivering innovative solutions to move the energy industry forward,” Jason Van Wart, Vice President of Laurentis, said. “We’re especially proud to be the first civilian, non-military source of He-3,” he added. “By increasing the supply of this rare isotope, we can help save lives, advance high-tech industries and expand the frontiers of science.”
Laurentis will seek to develop a long-term commercial agreement with a company to further refine and distribute the He-3 to customers around the world in health care, security, and advanced research.
Applications of He-3
The Helium-3 isotope has a wide range of applications, helping to save lives, advance high-tech industries, and expand scientific frontiers. Applications include:
Quantum Computing and Cryogenics
He-3 is used in quantum computing and modern cryogenics research to achieve extremely low temperatures (as low as a few millikelvin). For quantum computing, this reduces noise or interference in calculations. For cryogenics, this allows advanced research, medical, and industrial processes to take place such as medical resonance imaging coil cooling, high-capacity power transmission and supercomputing. In certain cryogenic applications such as dilution refrigerators, no known alternatives exist for He-3.
Medical Lung Imaging
As a medical isotope, He-3 is used as a non-toxic inhalant to scan for lung function. Following inhalation, gas mixtures containing the hyperpolarized He-3 gas can be imaged with a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner to produce highly detailed anatomical and functional images of lung ventilation. This advanced procedure allows for the diagnosis and treatment of many chronic respiratory diseases.
Neutron and Fusion Research
He-3 is used in neutron research in colliders, to study the shadow world of anti-matter, helping to uncover some of the greatest mysteries of the universe. As stated at the CERN website: “The Big Bang should have created equal amounts of matter and antimatter in the early universe. But today, everything we see from the smallest life forms on Earth to the largest stellar objects is made almost entirely of matter. Comparatively, there is not much antimatter to be found. Something must have happened to tip the balance. One of the greatest challenges in physics is to figure out what happened to the antimatter, or why we see an asymmetry between matter and antimatter.”
Helium-3 is also used in modern fusion research, as a nuclear fusion fuel. It offers a reaction which produces no radioactivity, yet the protons it produces possess a charge. The protons can therefore be contained using electric and magnetic fields, resulting in direct electric generation that is twice as efficient as thermal electricity generation. He-3 fusion has been demonstrated in labs; however commercial viability remains many years in the future.
Helium-3 is an essential isotope in neutron detectors, used for security applications. It is used in radiation portal monitors for border security and nuclear installation security, as well as for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear material tracking and safeguarding. The He-3 captures neutrons, causing the release of electrons that can be counted – and thereby tipping security agents to the presence of nuclear materials.
When He-3 is extracted from the Immobilized Tritium Containers by Laurentis, impurities such as tritium, oxygen and water vapor are removed, using a series of chemical reactors.
Laurentis is seeking to develop a long-term commercial agreement with a company to ship and distribute the Helium-3 to customers around the world.
“Laurentis is becoming a major player in the isotope field, now involved in Molybdenum-99, He-3 and others. The production of He-3 bodes well for many future opportunities in isotopes, including new innovations, partnerships, and advancements. I’m excited to watch and be involved in Laurentis’s continued growth as a leader and innovator in the clean-energy industry,” Jennifer Chapin, Project Director at Laurentis, noted.
Laurentis Energy Partners, a subsidiary of Ontario Power Generation, provides solutions for customers across the energy spectrum: from nuclear, hydro and solar generation to the advancement of new technologies such as small modular reactors, and production of medical isotopes.
As a global climate-change leader and the largest, most diverse electricity generator in the province of Ontario, OPG is helping to lead Canada’s charge to a post-carbon economy. OPG’s ongoing and successful refurbishment of four CANDU reactors at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station is a 10-year, $13 billion project that will provide 30 more years of clean energy.
Laurentis Energy Partners in Romania
In Romania, Laurentis Energy Partners operates as Canadian Nuclear Partners (CNP), a subsidiary incorporated in Romania in 2019 and part of the country’s regulated nuclear industry. Laurentis opened its office in Bucharest in 2020.
In February this year Laurentis was awarded a contract worth EUR 3.156 million, through its subsidiary Canadian Nuclear Partners, to support refurbishment at Romania’s nuclear station in Cernavoda.
In August, Laurentis has announced a new contract to support refurbishment at Romania’s CANDU nuclear generating station in Cernavoda. This is Laurentis’ second contract with Societatea Nationala Nuclearelectrica (SNN) for its upcoming refurbishment, scheduled to begin in 2026-27 pending regulatory approval.