Canada seeks to lead the world in SMR and hydrogen development

21 December 2020

Small modular reactors (SMRs) represent a promising new non-emitting technology that has the potential to produce reliable electricity in Canada, supporting our country’s transition to net-zero emissions by 2050, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) said in a press release on 18 December.

“Building on 78 years of nuclear expertise, Canada is poised to be a global leader in the safe and responsible development of SMRs,” Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Seamus O'Regan said, announcing the release of a national SMR Action Plan. The plan is based on the 53 recommendations identified in Canada’s SMR Roadmap that was launched in November 2018.

Canada’s SMR Action Plan seeks to advance the safe and responsible development and deployment of SMRs through a pan-Canadian approach in partnership with provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous peoples, organised labour, utilities, industry, innovators, academia and civil society, NRCan notes.

The SMR Action Plan provides concrete actions for the Government of Canada to:

  • ensure robust policy, regulatory and legislative frameworks are in place to protect people and the environment;
  • accelerate innovation;
  • continue meaningful engagement with Indigenous communities and all Canadians; and
  • develop international partnerships and open up new markets.

Canada’s strengthened climate plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, underlines that SMRs have the potential to reduce emissions, decarbonise heavy industry and spur economic development.

Minister O'Regan noted that Canada was the second country ever to produce nuclear power. “Today, we are a Tier-1 nuclear nation with capabilities from mining and research and development to building reactors, managing waste and more. We have a proud history of expertise in this field, with a quarter of our Nobel prizes related to nuclear science. We’re also the second-largest producer of uranium and account for 40% of the world’s supply of Cobalt-60," he said.

“Quite simply: Canada is really good at this. And SMRs represent the next great opportunity for Canada – helping us to phase out coal and electrify carbon-intensive industries such as mining and petroleum extraction.”

The Action Plan responds to all 53 recommendations in Canada's SMR Roadmap and also includes voluntary actions that go beyond those recommendations. The four thematic pillars which emerged through the Roadmap are:

  • Pillar 1: Demonstration and Deployment, including risk sharing;
  • Pillar 2: Policy, Legislation, and Regulation, including nuclear liability, security and waste management;
  • Pillar 3:Capacity, Engagement, and Public Confidence, with an emphasis on Indigenous engagement;
  • Pillar 4:International Partnerships and Markets, including international enabling frameworks.

Since the Roadmap’s release, the Canadian nuclear community has mobilised with common purpose, and all eyes are turning to Canada, NRCan says on its website. “Committed to action and seizing this Canadian leadership opportunity”, NRC intends to:

  • Act together and within our jurisdictions and areas of authority to support the development and deployment of various SMR technologies in Canada, with first units in operation by the late 2020s;
  • Unite as “Team Canada” to engage international partners to seize export opportunities, influence international standards and secure investments in Canada’s future;
  • Seek out opportunities to integrate SMRs with other clean energy sources, storage technologies and applications to accelerate Canada’s low-carbon future;
  • Pursue opportunities to minimise nuclear waste and potentially reuse nuclear fuel, complementing Canada’s existing practices for safe, long-term management of radioactive waste;
  • Strengthen diversity and representation in the nuclear;
  • Leverage Canada’s extensive capabilities in academia, research, engineering and manufacturing in the deployment and export of SMRs; and
  • Support complementary activities outlined in each partner’s chapter.

The Action Plan involves 109 participating organisations, each of which presents their plans on the website. An interactive table lists 450 entries showing the “Activity Pillar”, Participating Organisation, its Action ID, the Action Name, how it responds to SMR Roadmap recommendations, and its status.

Canada's hydrogen strategy

Two days earlier, on 16 December, NRCan launched a Hydrogen Strategy for Canada, “that seeks to position Canada as a global hydrogen leader, cementing this low-carbon and zero-emission fuel technology as a key part of our path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050”.

The Strategy is underpinned by a federal investment of CAD1.5 billion ($1.17bn) in a Low-carbon and Zero-emissions Fuels Fund to increase the production and use of low-carbon fuels, including hydrogen.

“Low-carbon and zero-emission hydrogen has the potential to reduce our annual greenhouse gas emissions by up to 45 million metric tonnes a year in 2030 and could create up to 350,000 new jobs in Canada by 2050,” NRCan said.

The Strategy is designed to spur investment and partnerships to establish Canada as a global supplier of hydrogen, and to increase domestic production. It will be complemented by the Clean Fuel Standard, which will further drive investment and growth in Canada’s fuels sector.

The Strategy is the result of three years of research and analysis, with input from 1500 leading experts and stakeholders including workers, industry, other levels of government, Indigenous organisations and academia.

“As one of the top 10 hydrogen producers in the world today, we are rich in the feedstocks that produce hydrogen, said O’Regan. “We are blessed with a strong energy sector, and the geographic assets that will propel Canada to be a major exporter of hydrogen and hydrogen technologies.”

The 115-page Strategy seeks to modernise Canada’s energy systems by leveraging Canadian expertise – including increased participation from marginalised and underrepresented groups – through building new hydrogen supply and distribution infrastructure and fostering uptake in various end-uses, that will underpin a low-carbon energy ecosystem in the near- and long-term. It sets the foundation to do this over the next five years by:

  • Encouraging early deployment HUBs in mature applications, and Canadian demonstrations in emerging applications;
  • employing regulations, including the forth-coming Clean Fuel Standard to drive near-term investments; and
  • framing new policy and regulatory measures needed to reach net-zero by 2050.

These activities in the short-term will be followed by the growth and diversification of the sector from 2025 to 2030. Thereafter, through rapid expansion until 2050, Canada will start to realise the full benefits of the hydrogen strategy, including:

  • positioning Canada to become a world-leading supplier of hydrogen technologies;
  • sparking economic recovery while growing domestic low-carbon fuel production to reduce emissions for the longer term, including unique opportunities for Indigenous communities and businesses;
  • generating more than 350,000 high-paying jobs nationally; and
  • employing hydrogen as a key enabler to reach net-zero by 2050.

The Roadmap to 2050 outlines actions in the next five years and eight recommendation pillars “with specific actions as guidance for the various committees, working groups, and government and industry players who will together move this forward through the implementation plan”. Recommendations include:

  • Pillar 1: Strategic Partnerships - Strategically use existing and new partnerships to collaborate and map out the future of hydrogen in Canada.
  • Pillar 2: De-Risking of Investments - Establish funding programs, long-term policies, and business models to encourage industry and governments to invest in growing the hydrogen economy.
  • Pillar 3: Innovation - Take action to support further R&D, develop research priorities, and foster collaboration between stakeholders to ensure Canada maintains its competitive edge and global leadership in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.
  • Pillar 4: Codes and Standards - Modernise existing and develop new codes and standards to keep pace with rapidly changing industry and remove barriers to deployment, domestically and internationally.
  • Pillar 5: Enabling Policies and Regulation - Ensure hydrogen is integrated into clean energy roadmaps and strategies at all levels of government and incentivise its application.
  • Pillar 6: Awareness - Lead at the national level to ensure individuals, communities, and the private sector are aware of hydrogen’s safety, uses, and benefits during a time of rapidly developing technologies.
  • Pillar 7: Regional Blueprints - Implement a collaborative, multi-level, collaborative government effort to facilitate development of regional hydrogen blueprints to identify specific opportunities and plans for hydrogen production and end use.
  • Pillar 8: International Markets - Work with international partners to ensure the global push for clean fuels includes hydrogen so Canadian industries thrive at home and abroad.

Four concrete actions and rationale are provided for each pillar.


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