Apr 8, 2022
Leading organizations like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency, agree that technology and innovation can be a catalyst in the transition to a lower carbon economy. Small modular reactors (SMRs) are the next evolution in nuclear innovation and technology.
This Strategic Plan is a path forward for the advancement of SMRs and the opportunity they bring as a source of safe and reliable, zero-emissions energy to power our communities, while meeting the demands of a growing economy and population. SMRs can improve our quality of life, drive economic growth and prosperity, and help Canada and the world meet its climate goals.
Since December 2019, Ontario, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan have been working together to advance SMRs in Canada and welcomed Alberta aboard in April 2021. This Strategic Plan is the final deliverable under the inter-provincial Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), but it is only the beginning as the provinces work together to take the next steps to advance SMR innovation in Canada.
The plan builds on the SMR Feasibility Study released by the provincial power utilities in April 2021 by identifying key actions that provinces can take to enable a decision on whether to proceed with SMRs. Following a decision to proceed, it outlines further actions to support the deployment of SMRs.
The provinces have identified the following five priority areas for SMR development and deployment:
Technology readiness: Canada's early adoption of SMRs would position the nation as a world-leader in new nuclear innovation and a global SMR technology hub. Canada could realize a significant share of the SMR market, creating new economic and job growth through three streams of SMR development:
Stream 1 – a grid-scale SMR project of 300 megawatts (MW) constructed at the Darlington nuclear site in Ontario by 2028. Subsequent units in Saskatchewan would follow, with the first SMR projected to be in service in 2034.
Stream 2 – two fourth-generation, advanced SMRs that would be developed in New Brunswick. ARC Clean Energy is targeting to be fully operational at the Point Lepreau nuclear site by 2029, and Moltex Energy will have both its spent fuel recovery system and reactor in operation by the early 2030s, also at the Point Lepreau site.
Stream 3 – a new class of micro-SMRs designed primarily to replace the use of diesel in remote communities and mines. A five-MW gas-cooled demonstration project is under way at Chalk River, Ontario, with plans to be in service by 2026.
Regulatory framework: Canada is a leader in nuclear regulations that protect the health and safety of the public and the environment. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) will be responsible for licensing SMRs over their full life cycle, from site preparation and construction to operation and the eventual decommissioning of the plant at the end of its life.
This regulatory process also includes the management and disposal of all forms of nuclear waste. Canada's robust regulatory process and focus on safety is a key advantage in providing SMR leadership on the world stage. Some regulatory changes and clarity will be necessary to streamline the federal regulatory and licensing process for SMR projects recognizing SMR technologies are of lower risk and feature enhanced safety characteristics compared to traditional large-scale nuclear projects.
Further, regulatory changes and clarity will be required to ensure reasonable costs and timelines for approvals for investors and operators.
Economics and financing: The SMRs being proposed under the three streams identified by the provinces have the potential to create thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic benefits. To achieve these outcomes, SMR technologies are expected to require significant upfront financial investments given the high cost to develop and deploy a first-of-a-kind design.
Federal and provincial governments have a key role to play in sharing the financial risk in order to lay the foundation for SMR development in Canada and the world. Federal investment and financial risk-sharing is required to support the extensive planning work that will deliver on SMRs – from technology selection and impact assessments to site licences culminating in construction licences.
The MOU signatory provinces are looking to the federal government for assurance that it will allocate financial support for the SMR project proposals outlined in this Strategic Plan. A federal funding commitment is critical for the provinces to continue advancing SMR development and deployment, and for SMRs to play a key role in meeting Canada's emission reduction targets.
The economic benefits of SMRs span across Canada. For instance, the growth of SMRs in Canada and around the world will drive increased uranium demand, providing new opportunities for uranium produced in Saskatchewan and potentially Alberta, and increased utilization of refinery and conversion facilities in Ontario.
Nuclear waste management: The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), is a federally mandated, industry-led organization responsible for the long-term management of used fuel waste, including fuel waste from advanced reactors and SMRs.
The NWMO is in the process of identifying a willing host community suitable for a Deep Geologic Repository (DGR) for the permanent storage and management of Canada's used fuel waste. Twenty-two communities initially expressed interest in being considered for the DGR site and participated in the NWMO's site selection process. Through technical site evaluations and ongoing social engagement, two potential sites in Ontario are still being considered, with safety assessments and community engagement ongoing. The NWMO is planning to select a single preferred site in 2023, with DGR operations expected to begin between 2040 and 2045.
Through 2021, the federal government has been reviewing and modernizing Canada's Policy Framework for Radioactive Waste to ensure that Canada has strong radioactive waste policies in place that continue to meet international best practices, are based on the best available science, and reflect the values and principles of Canadians. The federal policy review also includes the development of a new Integrated Strategy for Waste Management ('i.e., low and intermediate-level waste and used fuel) from existing reactors and future waste streams from new technologies.
The MOU provinces look forward to working with the federal government on the final policy framework and integrated strategy, including ensuring radioactive waste repositories are available for smaller SMR operators, including in Saskatchewan and Alberta. The MOU provinces are closely monitoring the federal government's public and Indigenous engagement on this review.
Indigenous and public engagement: Under the terms of the interprovincial SMR MOU, the provincial governments have committed to working co-operatively to inform the public about the economic and environmental benefits of nuclear energy and SMRs. As part of Canada's SMR Roadmap and Action Plan, all four provinces have highlighted the vital role that Indigenous and public engagement has and will continue to play in SMR development.
Collaboration among the four provinces will enhance and strengthen commitments to create opportunities for Indigenous communities to participate in SMR projects. These opportunities could include employment, skills development, investments, supplier arrangements and other means to share the benefits of the projects.
The governments of Ontario, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Alberta will build trust and dialogue with the public related to SMRs. Public engagement topics could include developing a greater understanding of the traditional role that nuclear has played and continues to play as a cost-effective and clean source of energy with significant economic and societal benefits. Given nuclear power generation is new for Saskatchewan and Alberta, engagement will be particularly important to raise awareness and exchange information and viewpoints.
Several decisions are required before governments and power utilities can advance SMRs in Canada. Provincial power utilities will complete detailed planning work with SMR technology developers to enable provincial decision-making on proceeding with SMR projects. This work will include technical aspects along with:
Completing detailed design, planning, preparation and licensing with SMR technology developers to meet targeted deployment timelines;
Refining project costs and schedule estimates of the selected SMR technologies; and
Confirming the economic opportunities the selected technologies would provide for Canadian suppliers.
Provincial governments will carefully consider project risks versus benefits, including:
Impacts on electricity systems;
Impacts on electricity ratepayers;
Potential for Indigenous partnerships; and
Enhanced economic activity through the:Potential of the selected technology to provide benefits for Canadian suppliers;
Potential for innovation and enhancing research capabilities;
Potential for global export; and
Potential for export of clean electricity to markets in nearby provinces and the United States (U.S.).
The MOU provinces will continue to seek opportunities for collaboration on SMR advancement with the federal government to ensure the necessary financial, regulatory and policy supports are in place to support continued SMR development.
This Strategic Plan supports the conversations taking place about the role that SMRs could play in our country and across the globe. The governments of Ontario, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Alberta look forward to engaging with Indigenous communities, the public, research and academia, government partners and the nuclear industry to exchange information and share perspectives that will inform the future of SMRs in Canada.
→ Full Plan here: Interprovincial SMR Strategic Plan March 2022