Alberta supports Canada’s SMR development plans

11 August 2020

Jason Kenney, Premier of Alberta, Canada, on 7 August signalled the intent for Alberta to sign a memorandum of understanding with Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick to support the development of small modular reactors (SMRs). “Alberta will enter into an agreement with three other provinces to explore emerging, small-scale nuclear technology that could lower emissions and help diversify the energy sector,” a government press release said. “This new and versatile technology could supply non-emitting, low-cost energy for on-grid and off-grid communities in Alberta, including remote and rural areas of the province, as well as industries with a significant need for steam, such as Alberta’s oil sands.”

Kenney said: “Our government is exploring all opportunities that could help diversify our economy and create jobs for Albertans. We are building on our track record of responsible and innovative energy production by exploring the potential for small modular reactors, which have the potential to generate reliable and affordable energy, while also strengthening our traditional resource sectors and reducing emissions. We are excited to collaborate with our provincial partners to stay ahead of the game in the development of this promising technology.”

Sonya Savage, Minister of Energy said: “Alberta’s rich uranium deposits, respected innovation and research sector, and technically skilled and educated workforce could make us an attractive destination to develop and deploy SMRs. By signing on to this agreement, our government is taking another step to attract investment and job creators to our province by ensuring we have the appropriate regulatory framework in place should private industry decide to pursue this emerging technology.” She noted that SMRs are still in the early stages of design and development."While timelines are different on a lot of things … we think they could be available globally within 10 years," she said.

A typical SMR would generate between two and 300 MWe, enough for a village or small city. In comparison, a conventional nuclear reactor can generate 600 to 1,000 megawatts, enough for a large city.

SMRs could operate independently or be linked to multiple units, depending on the required amount of power, the press release noted.

In November 2018, the federal government (Natural Resources Canada) released the Canadian SMR Roadmap that outlines recommendations for collaboration among federal, provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous communities and other stakeholders to support SMR development in Canada. In February, the federal government announced plans for an autumn 2020 launch of Canada’s SMR Action Plan, which will outline progress and ongoing efforts across Canada.

The committee that drew up the road map comprised interested provinces, territories, and power utilities. It reported that SMRs have low capital costs, making them easier to finance than large-scale traditional nuclear reactors. It also said many SMR designs “offer enhancements to further improve safety, performance, and prevention of accidents”. John Gorman, president and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association, said the move would contribute to Canada’s mix of energy resources and help it reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. ““This is a crucial step in Canada’s energy transition because SMRs produce the density of electricity and heat needed to maximize the potential of all other energy sources.” 

In December 2019, New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan signed a memorandum of understanding to work together to support SMR development and deployment. Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said it could be an opportunity for economic growth, estimating the Canadian market for this energy at CAD10 billion ($7.45bn) and the global market at CAD150 billion.

Canada is the second largest uranium producer in the world, with about 15% of total world production. The Athabasca Basin, which straddles the northern Alberta-Saskatchewan border, contains some of the biggest uranium resources in the world.

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