Sask. exploring nuclear options

Photo courtesy Government of Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan is years away from deciding whether nuclear power has a place in the province’s power generation future, but that hasn’t stopped Scott Moe from signing a memorandum of understanding with two other provinces to pursue new nuclear technology.

Over the weekend, Moe signed an agreement with Ontario Premier Doug Ford and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs to work together to explore new technology in nuclear power generation. The three provinces will be working together to develop and deploy small modular reactors over the next ten years.

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are new, versatile, scalable reactors that generate only a few dozen megawatts of power each. They’re built in a factory and deployed on-site, scalable by adding more modular reactors to an array. They can also be easily transported to where power generation is needed the most.

“SMRs could generate clean and low-cost energy for both on-grid and off-grid communities, connect more remote and rural areas of our province, and benefit energy-intensive industries, including the mining and manufacturing sectors. It could also drive economic growth and export opportunities as these technologies are further adopted across the country and around the world,” the premiers said in a joint statement.

Saskatchewan previously explored the idea of generating power through nuclear reactors about a decade ago. Those reactors, though, were the old, larger, non-modular kind, and were larger than what Saskatchewan would have likely needed, Minister Responsible for SaskPower Dustin Duncan told reporters Monday.

“SMRs are pretty new. We don’t have an SMR deployed in North America. It’s different from conventional legacy nuclear technology people are familiar with, the good and the bad, so there would be an education process that would have to go along with this entire process,” he said.

“The people of Saskatchewan are pretty knowledgeable about the uranium industry overall and the importance it has to Saskatchewan. SMRs are completely different. They’re small, they’re factory-built, they’re modular  — similar to a Sea-Can — they arrive on-site, they are small production unit, 30-40 MW at a time, so we’re not looking at 1000 MW at a minimum. We’re really looking at scaling that up to a couple of hundred megawatts.

“You’re not going to build a legacy asset that’s going to it there for the life of the facility. These … address safety concerns differently than the larger units can and they’re modular so you can move them where you need them on the grid.”

Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Premier Scott Moe said introducing SMR technology to the province could provide “meaningful action” in reducing carbon emissions by as much as 70 per cent by 2030, 80 per cent by 2040 and 100 per cent by 2050.

Duncan acknowledged that if the province were to combine SMR technology with renewable sources of energy, it could generate power with zero emissions.

“This is positive for Saskatchewan, this is positive for Canada and taking real action to address climate change,” he said.

He also touted the potential economic benefits.

“This technology has the potential of creating high-quality jobs and local economic development opportunities in communities where existing transmission infrastructure exists, or further in rural and remote communities that currently rely on higher emissions power production.”

While the MOU signed by the three provinces is looking at advancing the technology, Saskatchewan has not yet fully committed to rolling it out.

“Our first step would really be to get a better sense of the technology,” Duncan said. “In order to economically deploy SMRs on a fleet-wide basis, the best way to pursue that would be to decide on one technology solution. Ther is still work being done to evaluate the different technology. It’s at a pretty high level.”

Other jurisdictions, including in the US are also working on developing SMR technology. Duncan estimated that the first North American SMRs wouldn’t appear until 2025 at the earliest, and Canada’s first such device wouldn’t appear until the late 2020s. Even then, as it stands, only New Brunswick and Ontario have the permits required to even operate a nuclear power plant in Canada. Saskatchewan would need to seek that approval first.

“It’s a lengthy process,” Duncan said.

“We’re going to have to get really serious about this in the early part of the next decade. There will be may off-ramps before any decision is made, but what SaskPower recognizes is SaskPower needs to increase the amount of horsepower they have working on nuclear, and that’s what we’re hoping to learn from the other jurisdictions.”