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Ontario positioned to build first grid-scale SMR under new nuclear plan

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small modular reactor rendering
Officials are working closely with technology partner GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to engineer, design and plan for the construction of the BWRX-300 reactor design, pending regulatory approvals. Photo Credit: OPG/GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy

Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick and Alberta are planning to expand the nuclear industry in Canada through the development of small modular reactors (SMRs).

The strategic plan aims to position Canada as an exporter of global SMR technology, which generates between 200 and 300 megawatts —  about one-third of the power generated by a conventional reactor, yet enough to power about 300,000 homes.

The modularity of the reactors means that major components can be made in a factory setting and sent by truck, rail or ship to their point of use, with the ability to add reactor modules as energy demand increases, the plan states.

“We know the world is watching us when it comes to SMRs and I’m confident that our reputation as a global hub for SMR expertise will only grow stronger from here,” announced Todd Smith, Ontario Minister of Energy, in a joint statement. “With job creators looking for affordable, reliable and clean energy, SMRs will enhance our clean energy advantage and help us secure new investments that will create jobs across our province.”

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The plan aims to have the first SMR built in Ontario, with four to follow in Saskatchewan between 2034 and 2042.

The initial build focuses on a grid-scale SMR project of 300 megawatts constructed at the Darlington nuclear site in Ontario by 2028. Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has already begun preparation to set up non-nuclear infrastructure such as utilities and roads for what will be called the Darlington New Nuclear Project. Officials are working closely with technology partner GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to engineer, design and plan for the construction of the BWRX-300 reactor design, pending regulatory approvals. 

The deployment of one 300 megawatt SMR in Ontario could displace between 0.3 and 2 megatonnes of carbon emissions per year, OPG noted.

In a statement, OPG officials said that, “like the CANDU reactors at OPG’s Darlington and Pickering stations, this SMR relies on nuclear fission to heat water, which turns into steam and then drives a turbine to produce power. But, unlike those larger reactors, this SMR is much smaller in size and output, and easier to build and operate.”

Additionally, OPG has partnered with Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation and Bruce Power has partnered with Westinghouse Electric Company to advance micro-SMR designs and pursue deployment of demonstration units in Canada in the mid-2020s.

SMRs could help meet increasing demand for clean power driven by transportation electrification, including electric vehicles.

In New Brunswick, ARC Clean Energy hopes to be fully operational at the Point Lepreau nuclear site by 2029, and Moltex Energy will have both its spent fuel recovery system and reactor in operation by the early 2030s, also at the Point Lepreau site.

“Nuclear energy has been a key component of the New Brunswick energy landscape for almost four decades and it is well understood the role it plays in reaching net-zero emissions,” announced Mike Holland, New Brunswick Minister of Natural Resources and Energy Development, in a joint statement. “It is encouraging to see the private sector get behind these initiatives to help position New Brunswick as a leader in advanced nuclear and clean energy development.”

SaskPower is advancing with a project plan that includes a seven-year planning phase, leading to a construction decision in 2030, following the successful completion of the first-of-a-kind project. The construction phase is approximately four years, which would result in commissioning the first plant in 2034.

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

The memorandum of understanding for the nuclear plan looks to position Canada’s SMR development to support domestic energy needs, curb greenhouse gas emissions, and position the country as a global leader in clean technologies in the fight against climate change.

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