Artist rendition of a GE-Hitachi BWRX-300 reactor. GE-Hitachi

REGINA – SaskPower is looking at two areas for possible future nuclear development – Estevan and Elbow.

And really, that’s more like four areas, because the Estevan area being considered includes Boundary Dam Reservoir, Rafferty Reservoir, and Alameda Reservoir, recently renamed Grant Devine Lake. As for the Elbow area – it’s the north end to the southeast end of Lake Diefenbaker under consideration.

The reason is simple: the small modular reactors, or SMRs, will require a substantial amount of cooling water for their operation. The water will not be used for its internal processes, but for heat rejection. Similarly, Boundary Dam Reservoir never freezes over because of the heat put into it from the Boundary Dam Power Station.

SaskPower made the shortlist announcement in Regina on Sept. 20, with Crown Investments Minister Don Morgan, SaskPower president and CEO Rupen Pandya.

We need nukes because flat Saskatchewan doesn’t have much hydro

Morgan said, “SaskPower, like the rest of the world, finds itself in the midst of the largest energy transition in our history. The federal government continues to make the old way of powering Saskatchewan harder and harder, and as such SaskPower must undergo a swift and comprehensive change in how it does business.”

He noted Saskatchewan’s geography doesn’t lend itself to widespread hydro electric potential.

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“Saskatchewan has been evaluating and developing a wide range of alternative options, from expanded solar and wind generation, to increased interconnections with our neighbors and emerging technologies such as hydrogen and utility scale energy storage. As part of this important work Saskatchewan has been working hard to potentially bring nuclear power from small modular reactors to Saskatchewan by the mid-2030s.”

Four reactors planned

Back on March 28, Morgan announced that Saskatchewan was looking at building four SMRs, first one pair, then a second pair. If SaskPower chooses to build the second pair, they would start its siting process over again, looking once again at the entire province. The intent is to choose the initial site by the end of 2024.

Each reactor would require a quarter-section of land.

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

“Following a comprehensive analysis of the entire province, the Estevan and Elbow areas have been identified for further study to potentially site Saskatchewan its first small modular reactor,” Morgan said. “Nuclear power in Saskatchewan comes with significant economic potential from supply chain opportunities to hundreds of construction contracts to education programs, to employment at one of the facilities.”

“Establishing this new industry in our province has the potential to bring unprecedented economic opportunity, thousands of good-paying jobs and would ensure Saskatchewan has energy security into the next century.”

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The potential siting area is a broad area with 10 kilometres of these four bodies of water, with a 40 kilometre radius being studied. Each region also has existing transmission infrastructure, is close to major highways and has urban centres that can support a future workforce.

However, historically most nuclear reactors built in North America have been built on sites actually touching a body of water. That includes all Canadian nuclear power generating sites.

Currently, SaskPower receives nearly a quarter of its total generating capacity from conventional coal, which, by federal mandate, must shut down by the end of 2029. And in the meantime, fossil fueled power generation is subject to the ever-increasing federal carbon tax, currently $50 per tonne of CO2 equivalent, but with a federal plan for it to hit $170 per tonne CO2e.

SaskPower has been looking at nuclear power for many years, but the big Canadian-designed CANDU reactors used in Ontario were too big for our grid. The advent of small modular reactors, which are up to 300 megawatts in size, is much more suited to our grid.

Each unit would be 300 megawatts, which is close in size to both the largest coal generating units in Saskatchewan and just a bit smaller than the two new combined-cycle natural gas generating units.

SaskPower is looking at a range of options, including hydrogen generation and utility-scale energy storage. It’s also greatly increasing wind and solar power, with 3,000 megawatts planned. But right now, Nuclear is where it’s at. And where that nuclear is going end up is based on several criteria.

Key to this is nuclear’s purpoase as consistent baseload power, as opposed to intermittent power like wind and solar, or peaking power needed when demand is high.

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Seven years to decide if we build nuclear

SaskPower intends on making its go/no go decision on nuclear power in 2029, according to Pandya. But before it can do so, it needs to do multiple license applications, and those are dependent on the site chosen.

The reactor design was announced this past June, with a General Electric-Hitachi BWRX-300 reactor being chosen. General Electric has designed and built most of the nuclear reactors used in the United States Navy, going back to the 1950s.

Long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel would end up going to the national Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO). It has not yet decided on a location for the planned permanent geological storage facilty that has been in the works for several decades. While SaskPower officials did not mention this, Bruce Power is looking at building such a facility at its site on Lake Huron, adjacent to the Bruce Power Generating Station. The NWMO is considering that site, as well as Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation-Ignace area in northwestern Ontario.

The Estevan study area is actually three different bodies of water – Rafferty Reservoir, Boundary Dam Reservoir, and Alameda Reservoir, now known as Grant Devine Lake. SaskPower

Pandya noted “The Estevan area has been a very important part of SaskPower’s history, through the Boundary Dam and Shand Power Stations producing stable, reliable baseload power for decades, to the hundreds of employees that call Estevan home. And by identifying the Estevan region, the opportunity to continue this history is exciting.”

As for Elbow, he said SaskPower has been evaluating nuclear power for a long time. “And throughout all of these studies, like Diefenbaker has always been at the top of the list as one of the most technically suitable locations, potentially to host a nuclear facility.

There were a number of other areas that we looked at across the province, but in terms of meeting the necessary criteria, both the Elbow and Estevan study regions were the clear frontrunners. Our planning and regulatory work is very long and detailed, and selecting the potential site and a willing host community is one of the most important steps in this process,” Pandya said.

The east side of Lake Diefenbaker is the other area of consideration for nuclear development. SaskPower

 

SaskPower wants to hear from you

The evaluation will not just be at a technical level, but at a social one. “SaskPower is committed to ongoing and meaningful dialogue, engagement and consultation. We will be in these communities, talking to residents meeting with elected officials, and consulting with indigenous rights holders, not just during the siting phase, but throughout the entire life of this project,” Pandya said.

“We will be having conversations with representatives from municipalities, Indigenous leadership, businesses, government ministries and agencies and other stakeholders within these study areas to gain regional perspectives, and to discuss social and economic and environmental considerations related to nuclear power.

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“There will be no shortage of opportunities to engage with SaskPower on this file, not just in the near term, but for the entire life of the project. From in-person meetings to virtual information sessions to online engagement sessions, there will be a great number of opportunities to engage with us on this file.

“And I encourage everyone who wishes to join the conversation to reach out to us. To put it plainly, we want to hear from Saskatchewan people. We want to answer your questions. We want to hear your thoughts. We want to gain your perspectives at a local level, around nuclear power.”

He added, “The opportunities that come from potentially establishing a nuclear industry in Saskatchewan are significant. And Today’s an important step in our clean energy future.”

Estevan losing coal

Asked by reporters about Estevan’s impending phase-out of coal-fired power production, Morgan replied, “The Estevan area has got a number of significant benefits, and its home to a large part of the infrastructure for SaskPower by way of transmission lines, transformers, etc. So it’s a good place, from practical point of view. It also has got an abundant source of water, superb labor pool from which to draw on, and a supportive community.

“We didn’t approach it with the idea that we were trying to use this as a replacement for coal. We still don’t know what the long-term plans might be for coal, and for carbon capture and want to continue to work and have discussions with the federal government and work forward. But we know that we need to have more energy options in our province.”

However, when asked by Pipeline Online if it would be cheaper and a lot faster to implement carbon capture on Boundary Dam and Shand Power Stations, or build new, Morgan replied, “The federal government’s clean electricity standards would not allow for any further expansion or usage of fossil fuel. The contrary, there’s time limits as to how long things are there. So we intend to continue to work with the federal government and look at extending the life of some of the existing assets that are there. But an expansion, in those things at this point in time, does not fit with the federal government requirements.”

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Several times reporters asked what other option Saskatchewan has, without coal and if nuclear power doesn’t work out. Morgan said, “It’s a huge challenge for Western candidate. If we’re not able to comply with the federal regulations. We will continue to have discussions with the federal government, to make sure that we’re able to continue to supply reliable baseload for our province. It’s two areas: one, it’s the area being competitive and open for businesses that are coming in, and to make sure that power remains affordable for our citizens. So those are our main focuses, going forward.”

What about all those electric cars coming?

Asked by Pipeline Online about the federal government’s move to eliminate new gasoline and diesel-fueled light vehicles by 2035, and the need for dramatically more electricity to power electric vehicles, Morgan said, “I think that’s a that’s a really good question. And it’s a fair question. And I think that’s why we’re looking at nuclear. We’re looking at wind. We’re looking at solar. And we’re looking at every other reasonable option that we have, including interconnects. We’ve now got an interconnect plan into the U.S. We’re looking at interconnects with other provinces. And we’d continue to look at every option that we have.

“With regard to the electrification of transportation, whether we use some off hours, time points for  recharging vehicles, and a variety of other options. But you’re right, that is a challenge that we face in our province. And we have to be ready to meet it with that with every tool that we have.”

“As I stated earlier, all low and non emitting generation options available to Saskatchewan will need to be evaluated to ensure a stable and reliable power to the future. Nuclear power could play a key part in this clean energy future.”

 

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Further carbon capture on coal “not an option,” according to CIC Minister Don Morgan