General Electric-Hitachi BWRX-300 small modular nuclear reactor cutaway. GE

 

 

REGINA – If you’re going to be using the most complex form of power generation, it’s probably a good idea to learn from those who have been doing the same for decades. To that end, on April 29, SaskPower and the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) announced they have joined the CANDU Owners Group (COG) as members.

CANDU stands for CANada Deuterium Uranium reactors, which is a specifically Canadian-designed form of nuclear fission reactor. All current power generating nuclear reactors in Canada are the CANDU design. The design has also been exported to India, South Korea, Romania, Argentina, China and Pakistan.

Both SaskPower and SRC will gain access to research, technical workshops and peer groups focused on environmental and regulatory affairs, nuclear safety, used fuel management and emergency planning, according to a Government of Saskatchewan release. The cost will be $600,000 for a three-year commitment.

In 2018, COG expanded its mandate to include advanced technologies, including small modular reactors (SMRs) and micro reactors, in recognition that its collaboration model is beneficial to non-CANDU technologies.

That’s important, because the technology SaskPower has chosen for its first small modular reactors is the GE-Hitachi BWRX-300, or Boiling Water Reactor, tenth (X) generation, 300 megawatts. It is specifically not a CANDU design. Ontario Power Generation, which currently operates exclusively CANDU reactors, is currently building its first of four BWRX-300 reactors at Darlington.

SaskPower has been a participant in COG’s SMR Technology Forum since 2019, and through that participation, has collaborated with Canadian nuclear utilities on various topics including regulatory considerations, licensing, fuel supply, used fuel management and nuclear power plant safety.

 

Small modular reactors generally aren’t that small – the BWRX-300 is the generating capacity of the Shand Power Station, for instance. “Small” reactors are 20-300 megawatts. There’s another category of reactors that has been split off of the “small” category, called micro modular reactors. These are in the 5 to 20 megawatt range.

SRC is pursuing the licensing and demonstration of a micro reactor in Saskatchewan. Micro reactors can be deployed in remote areas to generate industrial heat and electricity for various applications. SRC will work with communities, industry and Indigenous groups to advance micro reactors in the province.

SaskPower and SRC are the first new utility members of the CANDU Owner’s Group in over two decades and join other Canadian organizations including Ontario Power Generation, Bruce Power, New Brunswick Power and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories.

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COG’s 40-years of expertise and experience will enable SaskPower and SRC to collaborate on potentially developing new technologies, evaluate new approaches and participate in providing unique perspectives into the Canadian regulatory framework, the release said.

Minister Responsible for SaskPower Dustin Duncan said, “Today’s announcement is another example of how the province is leveraging international expertise to help advance the nuclear industry both for South powers small modular reactor project and the Saskatchewan Research Council’s micro reactor projects. With that I’m happy to announce that our province through SaskPower and the Saskatchewan Research Council is tapping into decades of nuclear expertise and experience by joining the CANDU Owners Group. This membership will be valuable in terms of potentially developing nuclear power solutions, managing waste, and navigating the complex regulatory landscape to become a nuclear jurisdiction.

“Becoming a member of the CANDU Owners Group builds upon the knowledge shared by other key relationships that we have with Ontario Power Generation, GE Hitachi, and other members of the Canadian nuclear industry. SaskPower has an obligation to make the most informed decisions possible whether to proceed with SMRs in 2029, and these relationships will help inform that decision.

“Through the important work being done by SaskPower and the Saskatchewan Research Council, we are taking steps to build a truly made-in-Saskatchewan solution to protect our provinces energy future. And while SaskPower and the Saskatchewan Research Council projects are different and separate from one another, there is a common thread. The Saskatchewan Research Council is no stranger to the nuclear industry, having successfully operated the Slowpoke 2 research reactor for decades in Saskatoon. Saskatchewan Research Council also operates the world’s largest uranium laboratory and offers support to the uranium industry across many stages of production. And now they are leading the way with micro reactor development intended for remote deployment and industrial heat production,” Duncan said.

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SaskPower CEO

SaskPower president and CEO Rupen Pandya said SaskPower is “So very pleased to be joining the CANDU Owners Group. Through our membership, we will benefit from the experience of other Canadian Nuclear utilities and international nuclear organizations and can leverage their technical regulatory and research expertise to support our SMR project.

“As the developed world turns to electricity to decarbonize the economy, we have a tremendous opportunity to shape how electricity is provided in the decades ahead. The transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions is the most profound change to happen. This has got to Saskatchewan Power as a corporation, and we’re working as fast as we can to decarbonize our grid while continuing to provide reliable, sustainable and cost-effective power.

“To get us there, we are exploring a range of low, non-carbon emitting solutions, including nuclear power from SMRs. And there are several years of project development, licensing and regulatory work that will be required to support our decision in 2029.

Pandya continued, “To complete this work, we’re partnering with organizations who have significant expertise and experience in the nuclear industry and to leverage their knowledge and insights. COG has over 40 years of experience fostering nuclear industry collaboration, and I commend COG for expanding their mandate to include advanced technologies such as SMRs, so that we, too, can participate.

“This membership will give us access to research, technical workshops, peer groups focused on environmental and regulatory affairs, nuclear safety and waste management and emergency funding expertise. This type of collaboration will be critical as Canada delegates the energy transition.”

Asked about progress in assessing the site of the first SMRs, either the Estevan or Elbow regions, Pandya said, “We continue to do on site evaluation in both regions. And I think we’ll be ready by the end of the summer, if not earlier, with respect to a narrowing of the two regions with respect to a potential further work to select a specific site.”

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SRC

“Today’s announcement is another milestone for Saskatchewan in advancing the safe and sustainable introduction of nuclear technologies into the province, including SRC’s micro reactor project,” Minister Responsible for SRC Jeremy Harrison said. “SRC’s decades of experience in the nuclear sector, coupled with access to the experience and resources of Canada’s leading technical nuclear experts, will be of significant benefit to our province.”

Mike Crabtree, president and CEO of the SRC, said, “Last year, the Government of Saskatchewan announced an $80 million investment for SOC to license and operate an eVinci micro reactor in Saskatchewan. This very exciting first-of-a-kind project will provide tremendous benefit to industries and communities in remote parts of this province.

“Saskatchewan is a major player in the global nuclear industry due to our abundance of uranium in northern Saskatchewan, and this project is a natural extension of the nuclear industry within the province. SRC, itself, is no stranger to the nuclear sector. We’ve held licenses with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for a wide range of projects for over 60 years. With the largest uranium laboratory in the world, SRC has provided a reliable testing and research and development for mining exploration companies across the province.

“For nearly four decades SRC offer it safely operated the Slowpoke 2 research reactor, which was safely decommissioned in 2021. SRC has also been leading the remediation efforts of 37 legacy uranium mines and mill sites in northern Saskatchewan through Project Cleans,” Crabtree said.

“While we’ve had the opportunity to develop knowledge and expertise in the nuclear sector through these innovative projects, there has always been room to learn and grow as we explore new technologies. It is therefore a privilege to be joining the CANDU operators group to help expand our knowledge with access to experts across the globe.

“Nuclear energy, especially advanced nuclear technologies, are a crucial components of the energy transition and will provide Saskatchewan with smart solutions for our unique energy needs. To ensure Saskatchewan’s place as a global leader in the nuclear micro reactor supply chain, SRC will also serve as the primary organization for micro reactor development in our province.

“With this important role, SRC will support Saskatchewan industry and communities and the early stages of commercial development. Joining the CANDU Owners Group will give SRC the opportunity to grow on knowledge base and expertise while safely accelerating the adoption of micro reactors within the province over the next decade. Deploying micro reactors to Saskatchewan communities and industrial sites has the potential to generate economic development and provide numerous opportunities for the people of this province, ensuring that Saskatchewan is on track to be a leader in Canada and in the world. SRC is looking forward to helping the province achieve this goal and are proud to be working towards a bright future for Saskatchewan industries and communities.”

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COG CEO

COG President and CEO Rachna Clavero said Today’s announcement is a testament to what can be achieved when we work together to advance our collective clean energy goals. Canada is a tier one nuclear nation with approximately 15% of our electricity coming from nuclear power. And that figure is expected to grow significantly in the coming years.

As we look ahead at the possibilities for nuclear in Canada, it’s important to understand where we’ve come from. Canada’s nuclear industry has a decade long track record of world class performance and safety. A Canadian legacy that Saskatchewan was part of from the beginning with the commissioning of the Slowpoke 2 reactor, a research reactor that SRC operated safely for 38 years without any incidents. We were and continue to be innovators in the development, deployment and performance of nuclear technology. Our current fleet of operating plants is undergoing and completing refurbishment on time and on budget, adding exponential value through extended operating life. Concurrently we’re continuing to drive advancements in nuclear such as small modular reactors, and micro modular reactors, and other new nuclear across the country. This success is a result of a long and ongoing commitment to continuous improvements and to collaboration across the industry. And that’s where call comes in.

“For 40 years, COC has been the go-to organization, enabling collaboration across the Canadian nuclear industry. And with our international partners, COG members work together through COG to pool resources, share best practices and stay abreast of the latest advancements in the field. Our members are deeply committed to and invested in ensuring the safe dependable operation of their facilities, and this can be seen through their individual and collective track records.

“These results are achieved through cogs unique collaboration model, we bring together all players across the industry, including operators, suppliers, experts in other domestic and global nuclear organizations. The work done through COG is member directed and done on a cost recovery basis as we are a not for profit organization. This helps us maximize the value delivered. And this work is largely done through the Canadian supply chain, helping to maintain our expertise and good paying jobs. We leverage academia and support university research. And I’m happy to tell you that COG recently awarded a project to on low dose radiation to the University of Regina. This work will support studies by a number of PhD and master students.

The COG community understands the value of doing things collectively versus going out of the room. They understand that pooling resources learning from one another, and sharing their progress allows the industry as a whole to move faster and better accomplish organizational, provincial, and national goals.

“As Saskatchewan looks at developing nuclear energy options SaskPower and SRC new year’s membership and COG will provide them with access to decades of operating experience research and development and to a network of experts across the industry.”

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NDP response

NDP Energy Critic Aleana Young made the following statement in response to a ministerial statement on this announcement, noting “An announcement focused on collaboration and innovation is a pleasant change in this House.

“When it comes to approaching the question of nuclear power generation here in Saskatchewan and approaching energy security and in approaching the economic future of our province, this is a conversation and a decision-making process that must be above reproach. We must think regionally, nationally, and globally, and we must be serious in our approach to both the economy and to climate change.

“Now in this Assembly, we stood united in opposition to things like the clean electricity regulations, the carbon tax, and overreach into provincial jurisdictions so ably carved out and defended by former premiers Blakeney and Romanow. And having done a few of these statements and a few 75-minute debates, there are opportunities for SMRs here in Saskatchewan. The decision-making process and the business case must be above reproach.

“The minister’s comments that this, and I’ll quote, that “This is another significant milestone for Saskatchewan in advancing the safe and sustainable introduction of nuclear power generation technologies into the province,” may highlight the fears of many that this is a government that’s short on details, plays fast and loose with transparency, and has set us on a path to inevitability rather than ensuring whatever the decision is that is made is one that is in the best interests of the province.

“This is about power generation and energy security, and it’s about potentially doubling the provincial debt, nearly quadrupling SaskPower’s. And at the very least, the public deserves transparency. Today’s announcement is a good-news story of collaboration and industry development. The lack of transparency and the accompanying concerns bolstered by the nearly $250 million that this government has spent on SMR pre-work will continue to linger. When it comes to SMRs, when it comes to our economic and energy-generating future, the communities of Estevan, of Elbow, Crown employees, and the taxpayer deserve transparency and accountability for this monumental decision.”

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Coal?

Duncan was asked about prospects for coal exports to foreign markets. He said he couldn’t comment about exports. “I don’t know what market there is for the coal that we have in Saskatchewan that we can call it we have in terms of exporting?

“I’ll just say that, first and foremost, we want to ensure that we are doing right, by the employees that have worked a long time in the coal industry in this province, both on the mining side and the power generation side. And so, we’re very open and collaborative with our employees and their representatives. What we’ve said, as a government is we want to ensure that to the greatest extent as possible, we’re not stranding any assets in the province. And so, we’re doing what we can to maintain the generation assets that we do have, and continue to operate them as we can, according to the federal legislation.”

 

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