Real possibility of reactor online by end of decade, says Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ vice-president
Canada can become a global hub for small modular reactor (SMR) research and technology with the completion of its first demonstration unit on a Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) site in Ontario before 2030.
A CNL spokesperson told NucNet Canada is “an active participant” in the race to deploy a functioning SMR and may have the inside track, based work being done at CNL, the research laboratory operator owned by state-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.
Dr Jeff Griffin, vice-president of science and technology at CNL, told NucNet deployment will not be simple, but favourable circumstances that could accelerate development are aligning to create the real possibility of deployment by the end of this decade.
“There has been a tremendous increase in the pace of SMR development in Canada and elsewhere, especially over the last two years,” Griffin said. “Government support and public sentiment has never been more positive, all helping to build momentum.
“Beyond the public announcements and investments being made is an incredible amount of work behind the scenes – collaboration, partnership, research advancement, technology development, public engagement and learning.
“Deployment by the end of the decade is achievable, though certainly not simple. A number of the projects currently being pursued here in Canada are targeting the end of the 2020s or early 2030s.”
Since 2017, CNL has been preparing at its Chalk River site in Ontario to host the first SMR demonstration in Canada. In 2018 CNL launched an invitation process which called for demonstrators to site their SMR project at the Chalk River facility. Griffin said that five projects have entered the process and are at various stages of development.
‘Continued Active Interest From Vendors’
“Since 2018, five project proponents have engaged with the process and there is continued active interest from additional vendors who we expect to enter the process in the coming year,” he said.
Griffin said a project proposed by Global First Power (GFP) is the furthest advanced, having begun the licensing process in 2019. GFP, an Ontario-based reactor developer, is planning a 5 MW micro modular reactor plant at the Chalk River campus that would serve as a model for future SMRs. The company has said the unit could be operational in 2028, but Griffin said that target is more likely to be 2030.
An environmental assessment for the plant has begun and in July GFP submitted the first part of a “licence to prepare site2 application to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
Griffin warned against trying to impose unrealistic timelines on milestones in SMR development.
“It is important to understand that the process to bring a reactor technology to deployment is time-intensive and timeframes can only be proposed due to licensing and regulatory approvals, as well as engagement with the public,” he said.
‘This Process Cannot Be Rushed’
“This process cannot be rushed, nor should it. Timeframe aside, what is most important is that the government, industry, stakeholders and our regulator recognise the critical role nuclear needs to play if we are to mitigate climate change and meet Canada’s future electricity needs.
“I believe they do recognise this, and the technology will continue to move forward.”
Canada is bullish about the prospects for nuclear energy, including SMRs. It has a fleet of 19 commercial nuclear power plants that provide about 14% of its electricity generation. Major projects have begun to extend the lifetime of reactors at the Bruce, Darlington and Pickering stations.
Last year four provinces – Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick and Alberta – put forward proposals in a strategic plan to expand the nuclear industry through the development of SMRs, saying they provide a source of safe, clean power.
In August, Canada approved up to CAD74m (€49m, $54m) in federal funding for SMR development in Saskatchewan with potential deployment of a first plant in the mid-2030s and more units to follow.
The funding will support pre-engineering work and technical studies, environmental assessments, regulatory studies and community engagement to help advance the project, led by state utility SaskPower
SaskPower has already chosen the GE-Hitachi BWRX-300 SMR for potential deployment in Saskatchewan, subject to a decision to build that is expected in 2029.