Small Modular Reactors
Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are small reactors that are aimed at new markets to tackle global needs for safe, clean, economic energy. In Canada, this could mean new clean energy options for replacing coal, greening mining and improving energy security for remote communities.
“Governments, utilities, industry, and the national laboratory support demonstration of SMR technologies, preferably more than one, at appropriate sites in Canada.”
The Canadian Small Modular Reactor Roadmap
The opportunity related to small modular reactors is noteworthy given Canada’s expertise in nuclear technology, including its existing supply chain and potential market. However one of the challenges facing small modular reactors is the number of designs – there are currently over 100 different designs.
AECL believes that expertise at the Chalk River Laboratories could be leveraged to advise both the government and commercial companies on the technology.
As part of its long-term vision, CNL has set out an objective to become a hub for SMR research and technology, including to have a demonstration unit built at an AECL site by 2026. This is aligned with AECL’s role as a federal Crown corporation to enable nuclear science and technology and to drive nuclear innovation for Canada.
In 2018 CNL started a process to invite applications from organizations interested in siting an SMR demonstration project at one of AECL’s sites.
Currently, three respondents, have successfully completed the pre-qualification stage of CNL’s invitation, and have been invited to enter the Due Diligence stage. In this stage, CNL will evaluate with increased rigour, the technical and business merits of the proposed designs, assess the financial viability of the projects, and review the necessary national security and integrity requirements.
Another respondent, Global First Power, has been invited to participate in preliminary, non-exclusive discussions regarding land arrangements, project risk management, and contractual terms (Stage 3). These negotiations are not an indication of project approval, and the proposal and proponent must satisfy further stringent evaluation.
In parallel to the business discussions with CNL and AECL, Global First Power has submitted an application to prepare a site to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Canada’s independent nuclear regulator. The application contemplates a 5 MWe reactor at AECL’s Chalk River site in Ontario. In July 2019, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency issued a Notice of Commencement of an environmental assessment for this project. Further details on the proposed project are available on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency website and on Global First Power’s website.
While this announcement reflects an important milestone for the project proponent, Global First Power, this should not be interpreted as project approval; regulatory oversight including public consultation, rigorous environmental study and stringent evaluations will continue throughout the Environmental Assessment process.
It is important to note that all projects are subject to regulatory processes and requirements. The licensing process is entirely independent of any invitation and evaluation stages led by CNL and AECL. As part of a licence application process, proponents will be required to undertake meaningful project engagement with the public and Indigenous communities. In the meantime, AECL and CNL continue to engage local and Indigenous communities on plans for SMRs to seek views and inputs.
More information can be found on CNL’s website.
In Canada, small modular reactors have the potential for three major areas of application:
- On-grid power generation, especially in provinces phasing out coal in the near future. Utilities want to replace end-of-life coal plants with non-emitting base-load plants of similar size.
- On- and off-grid combined heat and power for heavy industry. Oilsands producers and remote mines would benefit from medium-term options for bulk heat and power that would be more reliable and cleaner than their current energy sources. Small or medium modular reactors are likely to fit this need.
- Off-grid power, district heating, and desalination in remote communities. These currently rely almost exclusively on diesel fuel, which has various limitations (e.g. cost, emissions). Renewables and batteries can mitigate these limitations to some extent for residential power, but may not supply building heat, nor are they likely to offer reliable bulk energy to open up economic development. Very small modular reactors may address these needs.
What People Are Saying About Small Modular Reactors
Canadian Small Modular Reactor Roadmap
Published in November 2018, the Canadian Small Modular Reactor Roadmap was developed by interested provinces, territories, power utilities, Indigenous communities and other stakeholders, which had been convened by Natural Resources Canada. Following a 10-month engagement process with the industry and potential end-users, the Roadmap presented over 50 recommendations in areas such as waste management, regulatory readiness and international engagement.
Specifically on demonstration technologies, the SMR Roadmap recommended that: “Governments, utilities, industry, and the national laboratory support demonstration of SMR technologies, preferably more than one, at appropriate sites in Canada.”
House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance
In December 2018, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance released a report from their pre-budget consultations, “Cultivating Competitiveness: Helping Canadians Succeed.”
Specifically in relation to small modular reactors, the Committee made a recommendation to “leverage private sector funding and assets already owned by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited to respond to the results of the Canadian Small Modular Reactor Roadmap, which would ensure Canada’s leadership role in the development of small modular reactors for export, support economic growth and provide a domestic response to the need of northern and remote communities and industries to eliminate the use of diesel.”
Read the full House of Commons Finance Committee Report.
House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources
In June 2017, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources released a report entitled “The Nuclear Sector at a Crossroads: Fostering Innovation and Energy Security for Canada and the World.”
On small modular reactors, the committee recommended that “the Government of Canada continue to support the development of small modular reactors (SMRs), recognizing the potential for SMRs to provide clean and reliable power to remote and northern communities and open new areas to economically valuable resource development.”
Read the full House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources Report and the Government’s Response.