Politics

Premiers Ford, Moe and Higgs to make announcement on nuclear reactors

The premiers of Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick will make a joint announcement on Sunday about a collaboration between the provinces on small, modular nuclear reactors.

8.6 per cent of Canada's electricity comes from coal fired power plants

Premiers Blaine Higgs of New Brunswick (left), Scott Moe of Saskatchewan and Doug Ford of Ontario (right) are planning an announcement about an interprovincial plan to cooperate on small modular nuclear reactors. (Jeff McIntosh)

The premiers of Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick will make a joint announcement on Sunday about a collaboration between the provinces on small, modular nuclear reactors.

A spokesperson for Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the announcement will take place at a hotel near Pearson International Airport in Toronto. No further details have been released.

About 8.6 per cent of Canada's electricity comes from coal-fired generation. In New Brunswick that figure is much higher — 15.8 per cent — and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has said he worries about how his province's energy producers will be hit by the federal carbon tax.

Ontario has no coal-fired power plants. In Saskatchewan, burning coal generates 46.6 per cent of the province's electricity.

In the past, Moe has mused about using modular nuclear reactors to improve the province's energy mix.

In October, Moe suggested that the use of liquefied natural gas, renewable energy and nuclear power could help his province meet its carbon emissions reduction targets.

The federal government describes small modular reactors (SMRs) as the "next wave of innovation" in nuclear energy technology and an "important technology opportunity for Canada."

What are SMRs?

Traditional nuclear reactors used in Canada typically generate about 800 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power about 600,000 homes at once (assuming that 1 megawatt can power about 750 homes).

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN organization for nuclear co-operation, considers a nuclear reactor to be "small" if it generates under 300 megawatts.

Designs for small reactors ranging from just 3 megawatts to 300 megawatts have been submitted to Canada's nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, for review as part of a pre-licensing process.

Such reactors are considered "modular" because they're designed to work either independently or as modules in a bigger complex (as is already the case with traditional, larger reactors at most Canadian nuclear power plants). A power plant could be expanded incrementally by adding additional modules.

Modules are generally designed to be small enough to make in a factory and be transported easily — for example, via a standard shipping container.

How close are they to implementation?

In Canada, there are three main areas where SMRs could be used:

  • Traditional, on-grid power generation, especially in provinces looking for zero-emissions replacements for CO2-emitting coal plants.
  • Remote communities that currently rely on polluting diesel generation.
  • Resource extraction sites, such as mining and oil and gas.

SMRs are actually not very close to entering operation in Canada. Natural Resources Canada released an "SMR roadmap" last year, with a series of recommendations about regulation readiness and waste management for SMRs.

In Canada, about a dozen companies are currently in pre-licensing with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which is reviewing their designs.

With files from Emily Chung

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