Atomic Energy of Canada Limited

Science &

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


Small modular reactors are a real option in the fight against climate change. In order to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets, there is a need to bring to bear all technology options – renewables, nuclear, hydrogen and many more. We need all of them to be successful. 

The opportunity related to small modular reactors is noteworthy given Canada’s expertise in nuclear technology, including its existing supply chain and potential market. The economic and job advantages that small modular reactors can bring are only achieved to the extent that Canada is first to demonstration. It is through demonstration that a supply chain gets established, that intellectual property is developed, and that Canadians develop early know how in small modular reactor design, construction and operation, which can be marketed around the world.

CNL’s expertise, capabilities and facilities at the Chalk River Laboratories can be leveraged to drive nuclear innovation for Canada and bring new technologies to market.

As part of its long-term vision, CNL has set out an objective to become a hub for small modular reactor research and technology. This aligns with AECL’s role as a federal Crown corporation to enable nuclear science and technology and to drive nuclear innovation for Canada.

It is important to note that the nuclear industry today is driven by the private sector. AECL and CNL’s roles are to support and enable the private sector as it looks to bring new technologies to market.

In 2018 CNL started a process to invite applications from organizations interested in siting a small modular reactor demonstration project at one of AECL’s sites.

Moving Forward

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.

Global First Power, a joint venture partnership between Ontario Power Generation and USNC Power Ltd., a wholly owned Canadian subsidiary of Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, have been invited to participate in preliminary, non-exclusive discussions regarding land arrangements, project risk management, and contractual terms (Stage 3). In Fall 2020, Global First Power signed a Project Host Agreement with CNL, which established the framework under which Global First Power and CNL will work together with respect to advancement of the project. The negotiations underway in Stage 3 are not an indication of project approval, and the proposal and proponent must satisfy further stringent evaluation including a regulatory process which involves public and Indigenous engagement and rigorous environmental study.

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 15 MW thermal (5 MW electrical) reactor at AECL’s Chalk River site in Ontario. In July 2019, the Canadian Federal government 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 small modular reactors to seek views and inputs.

More information on CNL’s invitation progress can be found on CNL’s website.

For more information on AECL’s contribution to the small modular reactor Action Plan, visit the SMR Action Plan 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.
  • Off-grid heat and power for heavy industry. Oil sand producers and remote mines would benefit from options for bulk heat and power that would be more reliable and cleaner than their current energy sources.
  • Off-grid power, district heating, and desalination in remote communities. These communities currently rely almost exclusively on diesel fuel, which has various limitations (e.g. cost, emissions). Very small modular reactors offer a non-emitting option to communities where renewables alone cannot meet the need.

What People Are Saying About Small Modular Reactors

Canadian Small Modular Reactor Action Plan

Building on the Canadian Small Modular Reactor Roadmap that was launched in November 2018, Natural Resources Canada launched the Canadian Small Modular Reactor Action Plan in December 2020. With recommendations provided by over 100 organizations across the country, including several provincial and territorial governments, industry partners, civil society, and Indigenous voices, the Small Modular Reactor Action Plan provides a set of actions for partners to further the development, demonstration and deployment of small modular reactors in Canada.

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.