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Three Canadian Provinces sign Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate on Small Modular Reactors

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CRC—On December 1, 2019, as the COP25 Climate Change hysterics began arriving in Madrid, the Premiers of Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick, three of the four Canadian provinces where most of Canada’s nuclear industry is located, met on the outskirts of Toronto to sign a Memorandum of Understanding committing the three parties to work together on the development and deployment of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, opened the event by indicating that all of the three provinces are committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions - but he added:

“We believe that we can do this without unnecessary taxes that really do little in actually reducing emissions directly. … Today we are joining as Premiers in our provinces to look towards the coming decade and beyond, to advance the development of zero-emissions small modular nuclear reactor technology. Implementing small modular reactors will provide meaningful action in reducing our carbon emissions in electricity production, while providing affordable base-load power to our communities and to our industries. In addition to providing a reliable, affordable, and stable base-load power supply, this technology has the capability of providing high quality, high paying jobs in local economic development opportunities in communities where existing transmission infrastructure already exists; or further in rural and remote communities that currently rely on high emissions power production methods.”

Although northern Saskatchewan has some of the world’s highest-grade uranium deposits, to which Canada owes its present position as the world’s second biggest uranium producer (after Kazakhstan), and which have also helped lay the foundation for Canada’s full-spectrum nuclear industry - the province’s electricity generation remains highly dependant on coal (48.9%) and natural gas (34.8%), with hydroelectricity making up only 13.3% of total generation (2016 figures).

Faced with federal legislation brought in by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government in 2016, mandating the shutdown of all of their coal-fired power plants by 2030 unless they meet stringent CO2 emissions standards, Premier Moe said that that Saskatchewan is looking at all their options: adding carbon capture and storage to their coal-fired generators, replacing those generators with combined cycle natural gas generators, increasing their renewable generation capacities for hydro, wind and solar, importing hydroelectricity from Manitoba - and building SMRs.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, representing a province which had already closed all their coal-fired power plants by the end of 2014 (a decision of dubious wisdom and only possible due to the dominant role of nuclear and hydro, which by 2016 were generating 57.5% and 22.3% of the province’s electricity respectively), emphasized that SMRs “also have an enormous potential when it comes to export opportunities, especially as these technologies are adopted across Canada and all around the world. We know Russia; we know China - they’re playing in this area, as well. I think there is a real opportunity for Canada to be one of the true leaders. … Simply put, it’s a win-win. Ontario has a lot of expertise in this area and a very innovative group of companies that we look forward to working with, along with New Brunswick and Saskatchewan.”

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, reported that his province has already been working with two companies to develop innovative SMR technologies for three years. New Brunswick Power, the owner/operator of the province’s Candu 6 nuclear plant generating 660 megawatts of electricity (MWe) for the grid, has an agreement with a British company, Moltex Energy Ltd., which is developing an SMR capable of generating 300 MWe from spent nuclear fuel. Another company, ARC Nuclear Canada Inc., has signed a similar contract to work on a small modular reactor with the same end in view, but based upon a different technology. The two companies are in various stages of pre-licensing vendor design reviews of their technologies by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, a process which could take three years. After that, a more rigorous safety review is required to obtain a licence to construct the nuclear plant. Depending upon the complexity of the challenges involved in developing a particular SMR technology, the construction of the first SMR could be 5 to 10 years away.

Premier Higgs, noted that SMRs are “a technology that’s outlined in the Federal plan,” referring to the Canadian Roadmap for Small Modular Reactors launched in February 2018 by Natural Resources Canada with the participation of provincial and territorial governments, power utilities, the nuclear regulator, and the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in Chalk River. He went on to say, “So, it’s certainly looking at options. I think, the more that we look under the hood of this, we’ll see this is not only the solution in our respective provinces, and in Canada, but globally.” [RAH]

See the full Press Conference: