Small and mighty — Canada’s play for a clean energy future

20 November 2020

In 2018, a collective comprised of Canadian government and industry players unveiled Canada’s SMR Roadmap, a vision and related blueprint for development and deployment of small modular reactors. Two years later, the country is picking up speed toward commercial deployment as early as 2028. Jacquie Hoornweg reports

IN THE NUCLEAR INDUSTRY, IT is not unusual for government support to come in tepid announcements largely made at conferences with an industry-only audience.

So, strongly supportive comments coming from Canadian government officials over several months have felt uncharacteristically bold, not only for what the officials said, but for the public forums in which they have been willing to say them.

“We have not seen a model where we can get to net-zero emissions by 2050 without nuclear,” Seamus O’Regan, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources said in a September 2020 radio interview on the country’s public broadcast station. Later he added, “This could get very exciting. A lot has happened in the nuclear space, and I think Canadians are more open to it, understanding that this is a zero-emission energy source.”

Exciting, indeed. Industry followers could be challenged trying to keep up with the SMR-related announcements from government and industry in recent months (see box). Buoyed by a pressing dual-need to meet challenging emission targets while creating a foundation for a new carbon-free economy, four provincial governments — New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan and later Alberta — signed a MOU to work together on development of advanced nuclear technologies, including SMRs.

An enabler to domestic policy goals

SMRs could help move a lot of rocks out of the way for politicians trying to check boxes on pressing agenda items. They can support clean electricity grids and public infrastructure electrification, necessary for moving economies into a zero-carbon future. They can deliver jobs in the advanced manufacturing supply chain; can create energy self-sufficiency in remote communities; and can provide a non-carbon, reliable power source for remote project sites.

SMRs also make it a lot easier to meet challenging climate change commitments, top of mind for Canada, like all countries today. They do so with a more manageable capital investment than traditional nuclear, adding to the appeal. With a long and positive nuclear history in two provinces — Ontario and New Brunswick — Canada has a unique track record that could help it more easily introduce SMRs into its energy systems.

Canada’s flurry of SMR activity comes in parallel with related public policy developments. By the end of 2020, it is anticipated the federal government will announce new standards for cleaner-burning fuels and begin the work to set emission reduction targets, introducing associated infrastructure changes. This could include a ramped-up strategy on electric vehicles, dependent on carbon-free electricity sources. A national hydrogen strategy is also anticipated and could benefit from the plentiful emission-free source SMRs could provide.

Canada’s academic and research community is also benefitting from the boon in SMR development. SMRs provide additional areas of nuclear design research, adding to existing research on advanced technologies and processes for current reactor operation and decommissioning and nuclear waste management. The SMR developments have opened new research and capacity opportunities and new potential sources of funding.

If those factors are motivating government decision makers toward SMRs, there are equally compelling reasons for industry to feel bullish about choosing Canada as a place to grow SMR development, says Katherine Moshonas Cole.

Moshonas Cole is a Canadian nuclear executive with more than three decades of industry experience. Today, as Canada’s country director for SMR vendor, X-energy, she cites the combination of “Canada’s progressive, risk-informed regulatory framework and its well-established supply chain,” as two of the factors that make Canada an ideal place to site X-energy’s first reactor and to create partnerships for building a world-class SMR export programme.

Canada working with global partners

Beyond interest in development of SMRs to support Canada’s domestic energy needs, small modular reactors present an opportunity to export Canada’s expertise and to work with the rest of the world toward a common clean energy goal.

Canada is a lead country partner (with the United States and Japan) in the Nuclear Innovation: Clean Energy Future (NICE Future) initiative, formed to “lead the global conversation on the roles nuclear energy can play in clean energy systems of the future.”

Started in May 2018, NICE-Future now includes 11 countries and several organisation and industry partners who bring a voice for nuclear energy to the Clean Energy Ministerial, where global decision-makers feed into global climate change strategies and encourage national policies on clean energy development.

The road ahead

The next step in Canada’s SMR Roadmap will be the launch of Canada’s Action Plan. Following on the Roadmap, the Action Plan will reinforce the common vision of Canada’s nuclear industry and government to use SMRs toward Canada’s prosperity and clean energy future.

For all its competitiveness, Canada’s SMR industry is working together to develop common technical and policy goals as part of a pan-Canadian approach.

The Canadian Nuclear Association is leading an SMR secretariat, supported by the CANDU Owners Group (COG), to track and coordinate actions across the multi-sector effort on the SMR Roadmap.

As well, the industry is collaborating through COG, which serves as a mechanism for CANDU technical collaboration, using its existing expertise, infrastructure and network to advance SMR technical development in areas of common interest.

Canada’s recent SMR announcements

OPG, Global First Power and Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation 

18 November – Global First Power Ltd. (GFP) announced it has signed a Project Host Agreement with Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) in support of GFP’s proposed Micro Modular ReactorTM Project at Chalk River Laboratories. The agreement establishes the framework for GFP and CNL to work cooperatively on licensing, design and siting to support advancement of the project. Global First Power, formed in June, is joint-venture between Ultra Safe Nuclear CorporationTM and Ontario Power Generation.

New Brunswick Power, Advanced Nuclear Concepts and Moltex Energy 

16 November — New Brunswick Power, Advanced Reactor Concepts (ARC) and Moltex Energy announced a MOU to work collaboratively on an SMR cluster in the Atlantic province. The two vendors have been working with the provincial government, the utility and local universities to advance SMR development since 2018. The new agreement will further the companies’ work to create a regional hub and will focus on areas of common interest including supply chain development, shared technology education and trades initiatives as well as common research and development.

Ontario Power Generation with GE-Hitachi, Terrestrial Energy and X-energy 

13 November – OPG announced it is resuming planning activities for future nuclear power generation at its Darlington site. The provincially-owned utility plans to host a Small Modular Reactor (SMR) on the site with deployment as early as 2028. Darlington is the only site in Canada currently licensed for new nuclear.

The announcement follows an earlier announcement, 6 October, when OPG announced it would work with three vendors – GE Hitachi, Terrestrial Energy and X-energy to advance SMR engineering and design work.

Government of Canada investment in Terrestrial Energy

15 October — The federal government announced a $20-million investment to enable Terrestrial Energy’s commercialisation efforts, including completing a key pre-licensing milestone to assess the company’s Generation IV molten salt reactor project. As part of the investment, the company committed to create and maintain 186 jobs and to create 52 co-op positions.

Bruce Power and Westinghouse

9 October — Bruce Power and Westinghouse Electric Company announced an agreement to pursue applications of Westinghouse’s leading eVinci micro reactor programme within Canada. The eVinci is a next-generation, small battery for decentralised generation markets and micro grids such as remote communities, remote industrial mines, and infrastructure.

Bruce Power and Cameco

20 August – Bruce Power in partnership with Cameco announces the Centre for Next Generation Nuclear, to advance existing expertise of suppliers, regulators and operators to support innovations in new technologies like small modular reactors (SMRs), cancer-fighting isotopes and hydrogen development.

The Provinces of Alberta, New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan

6 August – The Province of Alberta joins an MOU signed by New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan in December 2019 to collaboratively explore “new, cutting-edge technology in nuclear power generation” including SMR development and deployment. Provincial governments are responsible for electricity system management in Canada.

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories and Moltex

23 April — Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) entered into a collaboration agreement with Moltex Energy, funded through CNL’s Canadian Nuclear Research Initiative, to support aspects of Moltex Energy’s nuclear fuel development program for its Stable Salt Reactor, a 300MW SMR design. The research is intended to prove out the concepts and ready the design for licensing.

Existing Darlington nuclear power plant site (Photo courtesy OPG)
OPG has announced it is resuming planning activities for new build at Darlington (Photo courtesy OPG)
Moltex Energy’s Stable Salt Reactor technology is under consideration in New Brunswick (Photo courtesy Moltex)

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