REGINA – SaskPower and GE Hitachi Canada signed an agreement on Jan. 30 allowing for further development of small modular reactors in Saskatchewan. But exactly how many reactors, or how much they will cost, SaskPower isn’t saying just yet.

Minister of Crown Investments Corporation and SaskPower Dustin Duncan, SaskPower president and CEO Rupen Pandya and GE Hitachi Canada vice president Lisa McBride made the announcement as SaskPower’s recently renovated headquarters in Regina. The agreement will enable SaskPower and GEH to collaborate on project planning and facilitate the sharing of expertise related to the design, fuel sourcing and fabrication for the BWRX-300 small modular reactor. It will also support workforce and supply chain planning needed for a Saskatchewan-based SMR deployment.

Just under two years ago, SaskPower announced its intention to build up to four small modular reactors (SMRs), choosing the GE Hitachi BWRX-300 design. That stands for boiling water reactor, tenth (x) generation, 300 megawatts. But last summer, previous SaskPower Minister Don Morgan  told John Gormley Live that the province was considering possibly as many as nine small modular reactors, and that the first one could cost as much as $5 billion. And the following day, Aug. 23, Pipeline Online asked Premier Scott Moe in Estevan how many reactors Saskatchewan would build. At that time, he replied, “I don’t think that that number certainly hasn’t been decided on, as of yet. But as we look ahead, through the decades, and not the next number of years, but through the decades, you know, we’re embarking down that path with going through the regulatory process on where you may locate and a small modular reactor, and how many you can ultimately locate at that.

“So I won’t surmise as to what the end number would be of small modular reactors, because other are other options, and larger 1,000 megawatt reactors and such. There’s other, options that we have that can play into this as well, with some of the other generation infrastructure that we have.”

So on Jan. 30, Pipeline Online asked for an update on the number of reactors planned.

Pandya replied, “Right now we are focused on our first reactor. So it is absolutely true that our colleagues in Ontario Power Generation have announced that they will build four BWRX-300s at the Darlington new site. Certainly, we as a company, are focused on our first reactor.

“I would note for everybody in the room, though, our current grid capacity is around 5,400 megawatts of capacity. And we’re forecasting a grid in that 13,000 to 15,000 megawatt range by 2050. So in terms of non emitting baseload technology, we’ll need to look at what available technologies are, and we’ll need to make those decisions down the road.”

SaskPower president and CEO Rupen Pandya at the podium. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

More than doubling the grid

Those numbers are significant in two aspects: that range coincides closely with the federal government’s expectations that the Canadian electrical grid will need to increase by a factor of 2.5x by 2050, and 2.5x 5,400 megawatts is 13,500. And all of that would be in 25 years and 11 months.

Secondly, as part of its equivalency agreement for coal emissions which allowed the Crown corporation to extend the life of its existing coal fleet by a few years, SaskPower also committed to increasing its solar and wind power generation capacity by a further 3,000 megawatts by 2035. That leaves a gap of 4,600 megawatts to reach 13,000, and 6,600 megawatts to reach 15,000. And that doesn’t count replacing roughly 1,400 megawatts of existing coal-fired generation or any natural gas-fired generation.

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Land assembly begun

SaskPower has also begun the process of land assembly at both of the study areas, near Estevan on Rafferty Reservoir, and near Elbow, on Lake Diefenbaker. That doesn’t mean land has been purchased yet, but it’s being worked on.

Pandya said, “As part of our SMR project, we’re currently we’ve identified two study regions in Saskatchewan one in the elbow region, one in the Estevan region. As part of our project planning, we’re in the narrowing phase of finding specific sites within both regions that we can then you know, along with GE Hitachi and our partners subjected to technical characterization over the course of the next year as we line up to make an impact assessment application. So, we are in the process right now of securing land for further study.”

That application would be made some time in 2025.

SaskPower president and CEO Rupen Pandya. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Indigenous participation

Asked if Indigenous land was being considered for the projects, Pandya said, “Indigenous partnership will be important. As part of the SMR project, we have been working along with this First Nations Center of Excellence in the First Nations Power Authority and the question of how we can use the opportunity of nuclear to further Indigenous economic reconciliation. So whether that is land, labor, equity, participation, that is all on the table.”

Minister of Crown Investments Corp. and SaskPower Dustin Duncan. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

Minister speaks

Regarding the agreement, Duncan said, “As you know, the changing global energy landscape impacts every household and every aspect of our economy. Saskatchewan people are changing their behaviors and their expectations. While businesses and industry need clean energy to remain competitive in a global marketplace. New entrants in Saskatchewan economy are considering the cost, reliability and carbon footprint of power before investing here. As a result, Saskatchewan along with the rest of the world is in a period of transformation. Saskatchewan’s power system, as it is today, took nearly a century to build. And we’re working to decarbonize it in a fraction of that time. This will include expanding options that are already available to us, like natural gas, wind and solar, while also pursuing emerging non emitting baseload power generation options, such as nuclear power from small modular reactors. To achieve this transformation, ongoing collaboration with industry, utilities, other provinces and levels of government will be essential.

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“In November, I was pleased to announce a new agreement between SaskPower and Ontario Power generations commercial subsidiary Laurentius Energy Partners. This partnership is providing expertise around what will be required to become a qualified nuclear licensee in Canada. And today, I’m proud to announce a new agreement between SaskPower and GE Hitachi to collaborate on project planning and share expertise to advance small modular reactor development in Saskatchewan.

“In 2022, SaskPower selected the GE Hitachi BWRX-300 reactor technology to advance its small modular reactor project. This decision came following a comprehensive evaluation and analysis of several leading SMR designs, and was based on factors such as generation size, technological readiness, fuel type, safety and cost. By working with GE Hitachi, SaskPower will have access to considerable expertise and information to enable critical next steps, particularly around design specifications, citing and licensing activities. The work to build a clean energy future will require insight and expertise from those in the industry. By collaborating on the potential deployment of SMRs, we will protect our ability to provide safe, reliable and cost-effective power for Saskatchewan people and offer competitive rates to attract new investment and support Saskatchewan and its growing economy. I want to extend my congratulations to SaskPower and GE Hitachi, for reaching this agreement, and I look forward to an exciting future for both organizations.”

Lisa McBride, vice-president with GE Hitachi Canada. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Tremendous opportunity

Pandya said, “SaskPower is presented with a tremendous opportunity to shape how electricity is provided in the decades ahead. Of course, our priority is to ensure reliable, sustainable and cost-effective power for our customers and the communities we serve. The energy transition underway will mean profound changes to how Saskatchewan is powered. We’re working as fast as we can to meet our 2050 target by exploring a range of reliable and carbon-free solutions, including nuclear power from SMRs. There are several years of project development, licensing and regulatory work that will be required to support our final investment decision in 2029. As the minister noted, to complete this work, we must continue to establish partnerships and collaborate with organizations who have had have significant expertise and experience with the within the nuclear industry to support this journey.

“The agreement signing today between SaskPower and GE Hitachi formalizes our partnership to collaborate on project planning, and to share expertise to advance the small modular reactor project in Saskatchewan. GE Hitachi has had several decades of experience in the nuclear industry and is a world leading provider of reactors and nuclear services. And through this agreement, SaskPower will receive access to a wealth of technical and engineering expertise related to the design, fuel sourcing and fabrication information for the BWRX-300, all of which will be required during our site selection and licensing processes.

“In addition, GE Hitachi will support SaskPower with project planning, supply chain and workforce information for the BWRX-300. Leveraging GE Hitachi’s expertise and experience will be very important in our balancing of our SMR project. Wherever our path takes us, whatever it looks like the reality is right now that we face profound change, we’re at a turning point in the energy transition and there is no question about that. And like I said earlier, with change comes great opportunity. Today’s partnership is a testament to this. It’s an opportunity for collaboration, which I believe is critical as Saskatchewan navigates the energy transition. I look forward to working with our partners at GE Hitachi on this important transition.”

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How SaskPower fits in the world SMR race

Ontario Power Generation, which is also collaborating with SaskPower, is building the first BWRX-300 at its Darlington new nuclear site, part of the existing Darlington Nuclear Generating Station, east of Toronto on Lake Ontario. Last year, OPG announced it was expanding its plans from one SMR to four of the same model at that site. That OPG first SMR unit is expected to be the first of many to be built not only in Ontario and Saskatchewan, but also Tennessee, Poland, Estonia, UK and possibly more locations. Poland is planning 24 units of the type.

McBride said, “GE has had a long history and been a leader and innovator in Canada’s nuclear energy sector, dating all the way back actually to the 1960s. And at that time, GE was part of the nuclear power demonstration unit deployments along with Ontario Hydro and atomic energy Canada Limited. The NPD, as it came to be known actually formed the prototype for the CANDU fleet, which is operated today in Canada.”

She continued, “I am proud to say that more than six decades later, we are once again at the forefront of nuclear innovation in Canada with the design of our BWRX-300 reactor, the BWRX-300 reimagines what is possible when it comes to generating reliable carbon free energy. It’s designed requires less concrete, steel and space needed for construction.

“But the benefits of SMRs aren’t just environmental, but they’re economic, too. So even before SaskPower selected our technology as mentioned back in 2022. For potential deployment, we had actually already begun entering into agreements with Saskatchewan-based organizations such as SIMSA and Cameco, to maximize the role and opportunities for the Saskatchewan supply chain for the domestic and global nuclear energy industry.

“Most important, I think, for the people of Saskatchewan are the good paying jobs that can be created with the deployment of SMRs. According to a 2021 Conference Board of Canada study, the deployment of for SMRs could generate as much as $5.6 billion in wages, and more than 7000 jobs during manufacturing and construction per year.

“Today’s agreement with SaskPower is another important step in our efforts to support Saskatchewan workers, businesses and clean energy goals. And we look forward to seeing the conversations continue around the site evaluation process. This agreement also builds off of our work with Ontario Power Generation where a contract is in place to build the first BWRX-300 at OPG Darlington site, and planning work for three additional BWRX 300s is already underway.”

 

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