Thought Leadership

Moving Forward: Anticipating a Wave of SMR Development in Canada

Category: Thought Leadership
James Carter • September 5, 2018

In my last post, I talked about the history of nuclear energy that has led us to the current moment: one where technology is offering new solutions to issues that have challenged the industry over the last decades.

The simpler, factory-built design of small modular reactors (SMRs) offers unique benefits to help meet today’s energy needs, including flexible siting and the potential for reduced cost to build and operate.

As I pointed out then, this technology needs an appropriate environment to be successful. Fortunately, it may just be finding one in Canada.

At this year’s International SMR and Advanced Reactor Summit, I observed that global interest in this next generation of reactors was strong. Representatives attended the conference from Australia, Great Britain, Czech Republic, Argentina, and China.

Interest from Canada was exceptionally strong. The country was represented by all facets of the industry, from utilities to government entities to engineers and consultants, there to share insights and catch up on the latest information.

It helps that Canada’s public is generally supportive of nuclear power as a source of clean energy, recognizing the need to mitigate against the impact of climate change. So, too, is its government. Canada is pushing for a low-carbon power generation strategy, committing to phasing out coal completely. The federal government clearly sees nuclear as a part of that mix.

Beyond the country’s receptivity to nuclear, development of new technology such as SMRs is also helped by the fact that regulation in Canada is overseen by a single federal entity, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Seating the authority for environmental oversight and licensing decisions with one entity adds stability and streamlines processes for those hoping to bring the technology to market.

Finally, Canada has specific energy needs where SMRs may be particularly useful. As Canadian Nuclear Laboratories points out, SMRs offer a potential alternative energy source in areas where the logistics of delivering fuel for electricity generation can be challenging – areas such as remote communities in the northern part of the country.

Amid this environment, things are on the move. This summer, CNL announced an initiative to site a demonstration SMR by 2026, hoping to spur the commercialization of the technology. In June, it said that it received strong interest in its invitation to submit project proposals.

One thing that SMRs need to truly take off is early success – projects that demonstrate that they can fulfill their promise of being built on time and within budget. Projects like those supported by CNL will be a crucial step forward.  Effective planning and execution of SMR development is a significant undertaking.  Considerable time and resources are necessary.  Will SMR vendors have the technical and economic resources to succeed?

So Canada is proactively positioning to host SMRs and facilitate commercialization of the technology. It appears to be gearing up for a wave of activity that could provide its citizens with clean, reliable energy for the next several decades.

Which leads to two important questions: Is Canada ready? Will SMR developers be ready?