An industrial plant incorporating USNC-Power’s micro modular reactors (MMRs) to provide energy for process heat and electrical generation is shown in this artistic rendering. HO - USNC-POWER *MANDATORY CREDIT* / THE CANADIAN PRESS

An industrial plant incorporating USNC-Power’s micro modular reactors (MMRs) to provide energy for process heat and electrical generation is shown in this artistic rendering. HO - USNC-POWER *MANDATORY CREDIT* / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Greenhouse gas emission targets boost enthusiasm for small modular nuclear reactors

Association CEO John Gorman pointed out Canada has had safe nuclear power for more than 50 years

The worldwide battle to control greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change is the best thing that’s happened for growth in the nuclear energy industry in decades, its proponents say.

They add that the development of smaller, scalable nuclear reactors to churn out reliable, emissions-free energy at a much lower than traditional cost makes nuclear an option that’s become impossible to ignore.

“Thirty years ago, the vision was that nuclear energy is going to be so cheap that we’ll be giving electricity away for free,” said Robby Sohi, president and CEO of Global First Power Ltd., a company trying to build Canada’s first small modular reactor or SMR.

That early potential was short lived, though, as project costs escalated and Canada ran out of regions with enough power demand to justify a big expensive nuclear reactor.

“The biggest change is it is going to be just about impossible — I don’t see how — you can ever meet a 2050 (net-zero) target without nuclear in the mix,” said Sohi.

A recent study from the Canadian Nuclear Association found that the use of SMRs would allow heavy industries in Canada to reduce their GHG emissions by 216 megatonnes over 15 years from 2035 to 2050.

Using a model based on deploying 60 to 190 SMRs generating between 100 and 300 megawatts each for a total output of about 19,000 MW by 2050, it found GHG emissions would decline by 14 megatonnes per year on average, equal to taking over three million cars off the road per year.

Association CEO John Gorman pointed out Canada has had safe nuclear power for more than 50 years and nuclear currently supplies about 15 per cent of the nation’s electricity.

“The domestic market for these small modular reactors is about $5.3 billion between now and 2040 and the world market is going to be between $150 billion and $300 billion a year in that same time frame,” he said, touting rich export possibilities.

“So, does Canada want to take advantage of the deep experience that we have and our first mover advantage to find solutions here at home and export them abroad?”

Sohi joined provincially owned Ontario Hydro in 1991 and is the senior vice-president of corporate business development and strategy for its successor, Ontario Power Generation. Global First Power is a joint venture between OPG and Seattle-based technology provider Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp.

It is developing a “micro” SMR, or MMR, capable of generating 15 megawatts of heat energy (or about five MW of electricity) to meet the needs of a small remote community or a mine that would otherwise have to burn diesel, creating noise and pollution.

The reactor is designed to run for 20 years without refuelling, replacing about 265 million litres of diesel. Sohi said the goal is to be able to build it for about $200 million, plus or minus $30 million, to ensure it can compete on cost with diesel.

Nuclear power’s ability to produce energy without emissions makes it popular among politicians like federal Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan and the premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick, but it has yet to win many converts among environmental groups.

Studies like the one published by the Canadian Nuclear Association are “hollow, promotional statements” designed to seek public funds for unproven and unneeded technologies, said Kerrie Blaise, staff lawyer at the Canadian Environmental Law Association.

“SMRs aren’t scalable quick enough,” she said, pointing out proven renewable power sources such as solar and wind should be promoted because action on climate change is needed as soon as possible.

“We have existing renewable generation technologies which are socially acceptable, they’re cost effective and they’re scalable now … why is it that this one is being favoured over other technologies that are relevant, scalable, cheaper, and don’t impose liability and risk on the Canadian public?”

The industry insists that the risk of an accidental meltdown of an SMR’s reactor core is greatly diminished compared with older generation reactors because of “passive” control designs that automatically shut it down if problems develop.

But Blaise pointed out any new reactors will create new streams of dangerous nuclear waste for which permanent storage solutions have proven difficult to nail down.

Sohi agrees the nuclear solution is not an immediate one.

Global First Power’s project, which is to be built at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ Chalk River site in Ontario, is now undergoing an environmental assessment while detailed design and engineering is completed and it awaits a licence from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Construction is expected to begin in two years and will take two or more years to complete, with the reactor expected to be in service by 2026.

Proponents say SMRs could be particularly effective in the oilsands to replace natural gas burned to create the steam needed to coax heavy bitumen to flow into a wellbore.

READ MORE: Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

But a spokeswoman for oilsands producer Suncor Energy Inc. said SMRs are just one of the solutions it is considering as it aims for a 2030 emissions intensity reduction target.

“We’re in the early days of evaluation and no commitments or decisions have been made, but Suncor is exploring the possibility of small modular nuclear reactor technology as a zero carbon energy source for our oilsands operations,” said Melanie Ducharme in an email.

Pierre Gratton, CEO of the Mining Association of Canada, said his members are also watching and waiting.

“It’s hard to imagine the world achieving the Paris targets without nuclear power being part of the mix,” he said in an interview.

“It doesn’t mean we have to put all of our eggs in the nuclear basket.”

Dan Healing, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Climate changeGreenhouse Gas Emissions

Just Posted

Doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine are seen being prepared on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Decatur, Ga. Hundreds of children, ages 12 to 15, received the Pfizer vaccine at the DeKalb Pediatric Center, just days after it was approved for use within their age group. (AP Photo/Ron Harris)
One death, 60 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The death is connected to the outbreak at Spring Valley long-term care in Kelowna

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada is prepared at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
One death, 39 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

There are 484 active cases of the virus in the region currently

The Princeton Food Bank will eventually be located on First Street in the former United Church 
building. (Spotlight photo)
Princeton’s food bank to get new downtown home

Baptist church acquires former United church building

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
65 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Overall, B.C. is seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases

FILE - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
5 more deaths, 131 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

Those 18-years and older in high-transmission neighbourhoods can register for the vaccine

Prince Rupert was one of the first B.C. communities targeted for mass vaccination after a steep rise in infections. Grey area marks community-wide vaccine distribution. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. tracks big drop in COVID-19 infections after vaccination

Prince Rupert, Indigenous communities show improvement

Municipal governments around B.C. have emergency authority to conduct meetings online, use mail voting and spend reserve funds on operation expenses. (Penticton Western News)
Online council meetings, mail-in voting option to be extended in B.C.

Proposed law makes municipal COVID-19 exceptions permanent

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
British Columbians aged 20+ can book for vaccine Saturday, those 18+ on Sunday

‘We are also actively working to to incorporate the ages 12 to 17 into our immunization program’

The Maritime Kitchen Party is featured in the B-Side, the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre’s online series, May 13-16. (VDPAC photo)
B-Side keeps Okanagan musicians in Focus

Performing Arts Centre online concerts continue

The AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine. (AP/Eranga Jayawardena)
2nd person in B.C. diagnosed with rare blood clotting after AstraZeneca vaccine

The man, in his 40s, is currently receiving care at a hospital in the Fraser Health region

The. B.C. Court of Appeal granted a retrial to former Vernon man William Schneider, convicted of second-degree murder in the 2016 death of Japanese exchange student Natsumi Kogawa. The trial is set to begin May 24, 2022. (Vancouver Police Department photo)
Retrial date set for former Okanagan man’s murder conviction

William Schneider’s trial, connected to the death of Natsumi Kogawa, is set for May 2022

Brian Peach rescues ducklings from a storm drain in Smithers May 12. (Lauren L’Orsa video screen shot)
VIDEO: Smithers neighbours rescue ducklings from storm drain

Momma and babies made it safely back to the creek that runs behind Turner Way

Signage for ICBC, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, is shown in Victoria, B.C., on February 6, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
$150 refunds issued to eligible customers following ICBC’s switch to ‘enhanced care’

Savings amassed from the insurance policy change will lead to one-time rebates for close to 4 million customers

Police investigate a fatal 2011 shooting in a strip mall across from Central City Shopping Centre, which was deemed a gang hit. The Mayor’s Gang Task Force zeroed in on ways to reduce gang involvement and activity. (File photo)
COVID-19 could be a cause in public nature of B.C. gang violence: expert

Martin Bouchard says the pandemic has changed people’s routines and they aren’t getting out of their homes often, which could play a role in the brazen nature of shootings

Most Read