Alta., Ont., Sask. and N.B. sign agreement to explore small nuclear reactors

Alberta's Jason Kenney became the fourth Canadian premier to sign an agreement supporting the development of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) in Canada on Wednesday.

Five things to know about Canada's proposed small modular nuclear reactors

An illustration shows a NuScale Power Module on a truck. NuScale is a small modular reactor company. Alberta joined Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick in signing a memorandum of understanding Wednesday related to exploring the feasibility of small-scale nuclear technology. (NuScale Power)

Alberta's Jason Kenney became the fourth premier to sign an agreement supporting the development of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) in Canada on Wednesday.

Kenney signed a memorandum of understanding with the premiers of Ontario, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan.

The provinces also released a feasibility report prepared by Ontario Power Generation, Bruce Power, NB Power and SaskPower which gives a potential timeline for development and deployment of SMRs and assesses their competitiveness with other non-emitting energy sources.

In 2019, Doug Ford, Blaine Higgs and Scott Moe and committed to collaborate on developing small modular reactor technology. The Alberta government announced in August that it would enter into the existing agreement. 

Alberta hopes to diversify energy sector

 Kenney said signing on to the memorandum of understanding would help diversify Alberta's energy sector and keep the province at the forefront of any future advancements in the technology. 

Kenney said the province hopes the nuclear technology will allow the government to provide power to remote communities, diversify the economy, create jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Alberta says small modular reactors could supply non-emitting, low-cost energy for remote areas in the province as well as industries that need steam such as the oilsands.

"Alberta has always been committed to clean, affordable energy," Kenney said in a statement Wednesday. "Small modular reactors are an exciting new technology that could be used in the future to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions, for example by generating power for Canadian oilsands producers.

"Nuclear is the cleanest form of electricity production, and with SMRs is now more affordable and scalable for industrial use," he said in the statement.

"We are excited to be part of this group that will help develop Canadian SMR technology."

WATCH | Kenney as announces new commitment to nuclear:

Alberta premier touts prospect of small nuclear reactors

2 years ago
Duration 0:51
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has signed a deal with three other premiers to explore the feasibility of small modular nuclear reactors as a source of clean energy, which he says could be used as a power source for the oilsands.

The units are smaller than traditional nuclear reactors with lower upfront capital costs. 

The technology is also small enough that modules can be transported on a truck, ship or train, and has been touted by the federal government as safer than traditional nuclear reactors.

Here's five things you should know about SMRs:

What are SMRs?

SMRs are nuclear reactors that produce less than 300 megawatts of electricity. Because they are smaller than traditional nuclear power plants, which generally produce 800 megawatts (MW) and up, they are expected to be cheaper to build, scalable to meet specific industrial and remote community needs and, according to the report, will have the "potential" to be competitive with other low-carbon forms of energy.

When are they expected to be in use and where?

According to the feasibility study, Canada's first grid-scale SMR project of about 300 MW is expected to be in place at the Darlington nuclear site in Ontario by 2028, followed by up to four similar units in Saskatchewan with the first in service in 2032. The technology and developer are to be selected by the end of this year.

An advanced SMR design is also to be developed in New Brunswick resulting in demonstration units at the Point Lepreau, N.B., nuclear site by 2030. Meanwhile, a new class of "micro SMR" is being designed to replace diesel use in remote communities and mines — a 5-MW gas-cooled reactor project is proposed at the Chalk River nuclear site in Ontario and is expected to be in service by 2026.

What is the federal role in developing SMRs?

The feasibility study says that "cost and risk-sharing with the federal government" is an important part of developing SMRs, noting they support Canada's goals of phasing out coal by 2030 and becoming a net-zero carbon emitter by 2050. Federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan has said nuclear power is essential to meeting Canada's climate-change goals.

Are SMRs considered to be safe?

Proponents argue that new applications, simplified designs and advanced technology give SMRs an enhanced level of safety, building on Canada's reputation as a safe and well-regulated leader in nuclear energy.

What do opponents of SMRs say?

More than 100 environmental, anti-nuclear, community and other Canadian groups signed a statement in November declaring SMRs a "dirty, dangerous distraction" from tackling climate change. They argued the fight against global warming can't wait for the technology to be proven and deployed and warn SMRs will cost more than other low-carbon energy alternatives, won't create as many jobs and will result in new streams of dangerous nuclear waste.

With files from CBC News