This area, southwest of Hitchcock, is one of the areas currently identified as possibly the most suitable for building two nuclear reactors. It’s flat, empty, an SaskPower’s existing high voltage transmission lines run through it. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

REGINA – SaskPower put out a blog post on Feb. 2 that provided a lot more clarity about where the Crown utility might build its first two nuclear reactors. This is the first refinement released to the public since SaskPower announced last year its first initial areas of focus, in the Elbow and Estevan areas.

SaskPower is currently looking at siting locations for the first two of a possible four small modular reactors, each 300 megawatts in size. Two half-sections of land are being sought at this time. The “small” part of small modular reactors is indicative of their substantially smaller footprint and capacity compared to the CANDU (CANada Deuterium Uranium) reactors that have been built in the past in Canada.

The blog post includes two maps, one showing the Elbow region, the other showing the Estevan region. They are each a substantial refinement of what was put out before. The Elbow region included both the east and west sides of Lake Diefenbaker, from Elbow to the north end of the lake.

The Estevan region actually broke out three separate areas, all around a body of water. From east to west, they included Grant Devine Lake, formerly known as the Alameda Reservoir, north of Oxbow, Boundary Dam Reservoir, and Rafferty Reservoir.

Speaking for SaskPower, Sarah Klein Bently, SMR siting lead, said in the blog:

These maps show which regions within the study areas are preferred for hosting an SMR. The darker the green on the map, the more suitable the area is. But the maps are a snapshot in time based on our early technical analysis. There will be several versions of these maps released as we gather:

  • feedback from Indigenous Rightsholders and communities, and the Regional Evaluation Process committees

  • input from folks who take part in our engagement activities like open houses, surveys, webinars and more

 

A close look at each map reveals a few things. First of all, neither the map nor the blog indicate what the suitability numbers mean – are these a score, or a percentage, and are they out of 100? It doesn’t say.

The map legend shows four colour codes:

The suitability of prospective land for SMRs is indicated by this legend. There is no explanation for the numbers – if they are percentage, scores, or something else. But darker means more suitable. SaskPower

 

There is very little dark green on the map near the village of Elbow, itself. Most of the dark green areas are on the west side of the north end of Lake Diefenbaker, with some on the east side of the lake. The largest area considered with the highest suitability is west of Gardiner Dam, southeast of Macrorie. Much of the south end of the lake is white, with a score “below 70 or exclusion,” and corridors along the east side are also white.

Elbow Study Area, as for Feb. 2, 2023 SaskPower.

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The Estevan region has three areas under consideration. The area around Grant Devine Lake, north of Oxbow, is almost entirely marked white, and has no dark green (with a suitability score 80+) whatsoever.

Estevan Study Area, as for Feb. 2, 2023 SaskPower.

The area around Boundary Dam is curious in that it how a substantial amount of green, but much of that green is areas that have already been mined, with deeply disturbed soil. This includes land immediately east and south of Estevan, and both sides of the north end of Boundary Dam Reservoir.

Elbow Study Area, in detail, as for Feb. 2, 2023 SaskPower.

An open house last fall regarding a proposed 100 megawatt solar facility near Estevan discounted the use of mined land as too unstable for solar panels. If that’s the case for something as simple as solar panels, it is unclear why any of these previously mined lands would be considered suitable.

The west side of the south end of Boundary Dam Reservoir is marked the darkest shade of green, but this is not far from the cabins on the southeast shore of the reservoir.

On Rafferty Reservoir, the northwest half of the reservoir, basically everything west of Midale, is largely marked white. There is some green areas on the south side of the reservoir, from Outram towards the Rafferty Road, and along Highway 18. Notably, one of the white corridors along the south side of Highway 18 is where one finds the carbon dioxide pipeline, running from Boundary Dam Power Station to the Weyburn Unit.

But the largest area with the highest concentration of dark green, with the highest suitability score, runs along the north side of the Rafferty Reservoir, from the northwest corner of Estevan to just past Hitchcock. This includes both sides of Highway 39 and the CPR mainline. The land marked dark green is on the flat prairie, north of the valley edge. Notably, major transmission lines are marked on the map, running through this area, south of Highway 39.

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But does being marked white mean it’s totally out of the running? Not so, according to the blog post. It said:

Does this mean the areas in white aren’t in the running anymore?

No. The only regions we’ve excluded so far are ones we wouldn’t be able to build on — like sensitive or protected lands. The maps show which areas are more or less suitable based on what we’ve learned so far. The maps are living documents. They’ll change as we gather more technical data and hear more from people familiar with the study areas.

As for the suitability of the dark green areas, the blog said:

The dark green areas have the traits that we need to host an SMR. Some of these traits include:

  • Proximity to water
  • Proximity to a population base that could support a future workforce
  • Certain geological features
  • Existing amenities like roads

The closer a nuclear power plant is to water, the better. (The same goes for coal and some natural gas power plants too.) Water is used for cooling when generating power from heat. So, the less distance the water must travel to get the power station, the easier it is.

Notably, every nuclear power plant built in Canada to date has been built immediately on water’s edge. This includes :

  • Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, Ontario, on Lake Huron
  • Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, Ontario, on Lake Ontario.
  • Darlington Nuclear Generating Station, Ontario, on Lake Ontario
  • Gentilly-2 Nuclear Facility, Québec (recently shut down), on St. Lawrence River
  • Point Lepreau Generating Station, New Brunswick, on the Bay of Fundy

Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, with eight reactors totalling 6,232 megawatts capacity. This power station, alone, can supply double the power SaskPower uses on a typical day. It is one of the largest nuclear facilities in the world. Google Earth

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As for public feedback so far, SaskPower said:

Generally, people are supportive of pursuing nuclear power in Saskatchewan — but not without questions. We’ve answered hundreds of questions since we announced the 2 study areas. The most common topics asked about are:

  • our plan for managing nuclear waste

  • the costs of developing an SMR

  • the project timelines

  • community impacts

SaskPower is still seeking feedback, including through the following link: saskpower.com/engage.

As for the next steps, the blog said:

We’ll continue our consultation and engagement efforts. And we’ll continue to refine our technical data. Then we’ll narrow our search to 2 half-sections of land and start detailed studies for each site. We expect we’ll have a candidate host site for the first potential SMR in Saskatchewan in late 2024.

 

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