Saskatchewan

Sask. government continues push for small modular nuclear power

The Saskatchewan government is continuing its push for nuclear power, announcing Wednesday the establishment of an office to aid in the planning and development of small modular reactors in the province.

Office established to help develop nuclear policy in Sask.

An illustration shows a NuScale Power Module on a truck. NuScale is a small modular reactor company. Many of these reactors are designed to be small enough to transport by truck or by shipping container. (NuScale Power)

The Saskatchewan government is continuing its push for nuclear power, announcing Wednesday the establishment of an office to aid in the planning and development of small modular reactors in the province.

The government said its new nuclear secretariat will "co-ordinate nuclear policy and program work within the Climate Change & Adaptation Division in the Ministry of Environment."

Environment Minister Dustin Duncan said in a statement that establishing small modular reactors will "require collaboration with several partners."

Duncan said it will benefit the province in the way of jobs, enhanced value-chains for the province's uranium and "our made-in-Saskatchewan climate policy."

Small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) can produce electricity in the range of 50 to 300 megawatts, can be small enough to fit in a school gymnasium and are transportable.

"Clean nuclear energy will provide Saskatchewan the tools to fight climate change," Duncan said. "The advancement of small modular reactors in Canada brings economic and environmental benefits with new clean technology that is also safe, reliable and competitively priced power."

Duncan said Wednesday the use of SMRs in the province is not imminent, and they will likely would not be operational in Saskatchewan until the 2030s at the earliest, if at all.

"We just want to make sure we're well-positioned and not trying to catch up to answer some of these questions if in the event by the late 2020s we make the decision to integrate SMRs into Saskatchewan's power grid."

He said the office would likely have five staff but could not yet confirm its budget.

Duncan said the province is still committed to renewable energy and will have an announcement on a winning bidder for an upcoming solar project soon.

"The plan for the 2020s is to pair natural gas plants with wind and solar energy and augment additional hydro capacity from Manitoba."

Duncan said the plan for 2030 is "fuzzier," and that is why the government is exploring SMRs.

He ruled out large-scale reactors being established in Saskatchewan.

Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili said the SMR announcement Wednesday was a "distraction."

"This is a government that has failed to make the moves on transitioning to new forms of energy that are available to us now — solar, wind, geothermal — there are so many opportunities," Meili said.

"Instead, they are talking about something that is far off."

Opinion mixed on small nuclear reactors

In December 2019, Saskatchewan signed a memorandum of understanding with Ontario and New Brunswick to co-ordinate efforts to get reactors operational across Canada.

Premier Scott Moe said the reactors could help Saskatchewan reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2018, Natural Resources Canada released an SMR roadmap. It said estimates place the potential value of SMRs in Canada at $5.3B between 2025 and 2040.

"Some SMR designs could be deployed in the near term with most available within the next 7 to 15 years. For some of the more tested technologies, the timeline challenges are not so much with the reactor design as with economic, social, regulatory and waste management issues," the SMR roadmap said.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, centre, looks on as Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, right, and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs shake hands during a meeting of Canada's premiers. The three premiers signed an MOU in December 2019 to develop SMRs. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

John Root, executive director of the University of Saskatchewan's Fedoruk Centre for Nuclear Innovation, told CBC in December there would be economic benefits, as Saskatchewan produces much of the world's uranium.

"Why don't we get some value out of the resources we produce right here in the province?" he said.

But nuclear chemist and Saskatchewan Environmental Society board member Ann Coxworth said it would take several decades for these nuclear reactors to be operational in Saskatchewan.

"We have much cheaper, safer, faster-to-put-in-place options that would be much wiser to invest in," Coxworth said.

Some environmentalists have voiced concerns about radioactive waste and the immediacy of the technology being operational when it is touted as a tool to fight climate change.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for more than 14 years. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

With files from CBC's Jason Warick

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