Saskatchewan develops plan for small nuclear reactors

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The province plans to consult the public this year in preparation for selecting the first potential site for a small modular reactor in Saskatchewan.

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Saskatchewan has laid out a roadmap for the potential adoption of small nuclear reactors, the first structure that can power the provincial grid over the next decade.

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Outlined by four provincial governments on Monday, the Small Modular Reactor (SMR) plan would see Saskatchewan potentially having its first operational reactor by 2034, with options to add additional structures beyond that year.

“We are taking a cautious approach,” Don Morgan, the minister responsible for SaskPower, told reporters after the announcement at the Saskatchewan Hotel. “I think it’s one of the best options we have for power generation in our province. »

The strategic plan comes after the provinces of Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick signed a memorandum of understanding in 2019 that looked at the feasibility of linking nuclear power to electric grids. Alberta joined the MOU in April 2021.

Provinces have started looking at nuclear power because they say it has zero air emissions and could boost the economy.

According to the province’s growth plan, SMRs could increase the value of uranium sales to $2 billion, create 100,000 more jobs and boost private capital investment to $16 billion.

Small modular reactors are smaller than typical power plants and can be deployed and scaled up more easily. Morgan said a reactor could cost around $5 billion, but added that was a high estimate.

The plan says federal and provincial governments have “a key role to play” in sharing financial risk to lay the foundation for SMRs.

“We have indicated to Ottawa that we will need significant support from them, as well as looking at potential participations from Indigenous groups,” Morgan said. “(Reactors) are definitely not cheap.”

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Saskatchewan will begin engaging later this year on site selection for a potential reactor.

The province has not yet determined where a new reactor would be located, but it aims to have a site selected by 2023, documents show.

The province would then submit initial plans to regulators in 2024 and determine how the supply chain would operate by 2026.

Uranium is expected to be mined in Saskatchewan, but where it will be enriched has not yet been determined. The regulator is considering storing the waste at one of two locations in Ontario, and expects to select a site in 2023.

Under the plan, Ontario would see the first 300-megawatt SMR project built at the Darlington nuclear site by 2028. In addition, two advanced fourth-generation SMRs would be developed in New Brunswick.

Saskatchewan could see a total of four SMRs by 2042.

The industry is regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, a body that officials say ensures optimum safety

“I think it’s absolutely essential that people feel comfortable with the process, and I think that’s part of public engagement,” Morgan said, adding that Ontario uses energy nuclear for 70 years.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford (left), New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe announce provincial collaboration on small modular nuclear reactors in 2019.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford (left), New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe announce provincial collaboration on small modular nuclear reactors in 2019. Photo by Veronique Henri /Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun

In 2027, the province would send regulators an impact assessment for the first facility, with the goal of it being approved by 2030.

In 2030, the province would then decide whether to proceed. Construction would begin in 2031, with the first operational SMR by 2034.

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The province hopes to have a preliminary business case developed later this year. Part of this business case will look at how these changes would affect people’s electricity bills.

Although the province has yet to select a vendor to build the structure, Ontario has chosen GE-Hitachi as the preferred technology developer.

SaskPower, which was closely involved in Ontario’s evaluation, will likely make a decision earlier this year on whether to align with that province’s vendor selection process.

SMRs take about 12 years to develop, so officials are laying the groundwork now.

“We know that the public acceptance of nuclear is very high in our province. We want to do nuclear production here, so we’ll see how that plays out,” Morgan said.

Beyond the initial structures linked to the network, the province plans to develop “micro” SMRs.

These smaller reactors would not be grid-connected and could instead be used in northern and remote communities, as well as industrial sites.

Officials assured that engagement with indigenous peoples and the public will continue on the SMRs, emphasizing that they must work cooperatively.

“I want to make sure we have strong support across the province and we want to look at what our Indigenous partners have said,” Morgan said.

The federal government has set out a plan that requires provinces to phase out coal by 2030. Ottawa also wants the country to produce net zero emissions by 2035.

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These changes have prompted electricity providers to assess where they source energy from and adopt greener methods.

SaskPower has already launched a plan that aims to reduce emissions over the next 30 years.

SaskPower plans to be net zero by 2050, which is below Ottawa’s 2035 target.

Morgan said SaskPower could likely meet the goal by 2040, adding the province would like to work with Ottawa on the goals.

He said he would welcome a discussion about using coal in a “clean and acceptable way,” despite the federal government wanting to phase it out by 2030. Saskatchewanians depend on coal for about a third of their electricity production.

“We are certainly open to looking at other options that meet federal requirements,” he said.

By 2035, SaskPower plans to provide electricity through wind, solar and battery storage, while reducing emissions from natural gas facilities.

Minister responsible for SaskPower Don Morgan, Ontario Energy Minister Todd Smith and Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage speak at a press conference to launch the small business' strategic plan Modular Reactor (SMR) on March 28, 2022 in Regina.
Minister responsible for SaskPower Don Morgan, Ontario Energy Minister Todd Smith and Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage speak at a press conference to launch the small business’ strategic plan Modular Reactor (SMR) on March 28, 2022 in Regina. Photo by KAYLE NEIS /Regina Chief’s Post

jsimes@postmedia.com

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