Canadian Premiers of New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta on 14 April joined virtually to release a study by power utilities in three partner provinces and to formally welcome Alberta as a signatory to the small modular reactor (SMR) memorandum of understanding (MOU) previously signed in December 2019 by New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan. With the addition of Alberta to the MOU, all provinces involved have agreed to collaborate on the advancement of SMRs as a clean energy option to address climate change and regional energy demands, while supporting economic growth and innovation.

The 64-page SMR Feasibility Study, formally requested, as part of the 2019 MOU, concludes that the development of SMRs would support domestic energy needs, curb greenhouse gas emissions, and position Canada as a global leader in this emerging technology. The study, conducted by Ontario Power Generation, Bruce Power, NB Power and SaskPower, identifies three streams of SMR project proposals for consideration by the provincial governments.

Stream 1 proposes a first grid-scale SMR project of approximately 300 MWe constructed at the Darlington nuclear site in Ontario by 2028. Subsequent units in Saskatchewan would follow, with the first SMR projected to be in service in 2032.

Stream 2 involves two 4th generation, advanced SMRs that would be developed in New Brunswick through the construction of demonstration units at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station. By fostering collaboration among the various research, manufacturing, federal and provincial agencies, an initial ARC Clean Energy demonstration unit plans to be ready by 2030. Moltex Energy's waste recycling facility and reactor is preparing to be ready by the early 2030s. Through ongoing support and collaborations, these advanced technologies could start being deployed as early as 2030 in support of the industrial needs in areas like Saskatchewan and Alberta, and indeed around the globe.

Stream 3 proposes a new class of micro-SMRs designed primarily to replace the use of diesel in remote communities and mines. A 5 MWe gas-cooled demonstration project is under way at Chalk River, Ontario, with plans to be in service by 2026.

The report identifies the potential for all three streams to create employment and economic growth benefits for Canada, as well as opportunities to export technology and expertise to address global issues such as climate change and energy reliability. “These project proposals are advancing rapidly and demonstrate the potential to be both commercially and technically feasible,” the report notes. “An important part of these projects’ feasibility is cost and risk sharing with the Federal government as these projects support its goals of phasing out coal by 2030, becoming carbon net zero by 2050 and providing affordable clean energy to indigenous communities.”

It says the proposed projects “would create a new subcategory of nuclear industrial activity that would see Canada well placed to be a major player in the global deployment of these technologies. Securing Federal government support in a timely manner is essential to continued good progress along all pathways.”

The next action identified in the MOU is development of a joint strategic plan, to be drafted in collaboration by the governments of Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick and Alberta. The plan is expected to be completed in the spring of 2021. The partner provinces will continue to work together and across the nuclear industry, to help ensure Canada remains at the forefront of nuclear innovation, while creating new opportunities for jobs, economic growth, innovation and a lower-carbon future.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said it is “important that our provinces take these next steps together to continue leading the development of cutting-edge small modular reactors for the benefit of future generations”.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the study “confirms the feasibility of small modular reactors in Canada and outlines a path forward to deploy this new clean, safe, reliable and competitively priced power. This new technology will help attract investment, create high-skilled jobs and contribute to our growing economy."

Blaine Higgs, Premier of New Brunswick, said the government “believes the best way to ensure that Canada becomes a leader in advanced small modular reactor development and deployment is through continued engagement and partnerships”, noting that New Brunswick had already attracted ARC Clean Energy Canada and Moltex Energy to develop their capacity and generating local economic development in the province. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said SMRs “are an exciting new technology that could be used in the future to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions, for example by generating power for Canadian oilsands producers”. He added that nuclear is the cleanest form of electricity production and with SMRs, is now more affordable and scaleable for industrial use.