Developments in Canada’s Small Modular Reactor Ecosystem
Canada’s commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by the year 2050 continues to call for additional sustainable energy sources. Achieving this substantial milestone will require the adoption and utilization of zero-emission energy technology such as nuclear energy and, in particular, small modular reactors (SMRs).
Canada’s investment and commitment to safe and efficient nuclear energy options, like SMRs, has only increased since the release of the Small Modular Reactor Action Plan (SMR Action Plan) and updates in Budget 2023 (which we previously discussed here). To remain up to date with the rapid developments within the Canadian SMR space, a summary of the recent developments in each province follows.
The province of Ontario demonstrated its commitment to bolstering the province’s ability to fuel the economy through clean nuclear energy with two recent nuclear project development announcements.
On July 5, 2023, the Ontario Government announced the pre-development of a large-scale nuclear power plant to be developed by Bruce Power on the site of their existing Bruce Nuclear Generating Station (Bruce Power Station). The Bruce Power Station is currently the world’s largest nuclear generating station, capable of producing roughly 6,550 MW of electricity. The proposed project would result in upgrades to the Bruce Power Station, increasing its electricity generation capabilities by approximately 4,800 MW.
In addition, on July 7, 2023, the Ontario government announced its plan, in conjunction with Ontario Power Generation, to obtain licensing for 3 new SMR projects on the Darlington nuclear site. These new additions would bring the total to 4 SMRs on this site and provide 1,200 MW capable of powering roughly 1.2 million homes.
Ontario’s current electricity supply is composed of approximately 50% nuclear energy and the approval and implementation of the Bruce Power Station and the Darlington projects will only further increase this percentage. These projects would aid the province in addressing its growing energy demand, while simultaneously stimulating the energy sector by providing new job opportunities, increased investment, and an affordable and reliable source of clean energy.
Alberta is in the early stages of developing a robust nuclear energy program. Premier Danielle Smith recently provided the Energy and Minerals Minister with a mandate to incentivize the uptake of SMR technology by oilsands producers. The premier also called for the development of a regulatory framework for SMR technology in Alberta.
SMRs can be used to produce steam that can then be used for oilsands extraction projects, without generating greenhouse gases in the process. The use of SMRs in the natural resource sector in Alberta would help to reduce the industry’s emissions and provide a logical method for remote energy production and extraction. This recent mandate indicates that preparation for the development and use of nuclear energy in the province is well underway.
Invest Alberta, a crown corporation of the Government of Alberta, continues to promote investment in Alberta’s emerging nuclear industry among technology companies. This includes Terrestrial Energy, who recently announced the establishment of an office in Calgary, Alberta. The office will engage in research, engineering, and development of nuclear energy technologies, specifically the company’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR). Additionally, Invest Alberta and X-Energy announced a memorandum of understanding in February of this year to explore opportunities relating to its SMR technologies in Alberta’s energy and petrochemical sectors.
Saskatchewan has indicated that the final decision to build an SMR in the Province will not be taken until 2029; however, planning has begun for the potential construction of an SMR within the province. The province has selected the SMR design they desire, in addition to identifying two areas of interest in relation to development sites. The province has already begun data collection and hopes to have completed an evaluation of potential site locations by 2024.
New Brunswick has utilized nuclear energy since the commissioning of its 660 MW Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station in 1983. More recently, the province has doubled down on nuclear energy infrastructure by planning for the construction and operation of an advanced SMR in collaboration with ARC Clean Technology Inc. (ARC). The ARC SMR will be capable of generating 100 MW and is expected to be integrated into the province’s energy grid by 2030. An important milestone in this development was achieved recently when at the end of June , 2023, NB Power submitted an environmental impact assessment registration document for approval, in addition to a License to Prepare Site Application (LPSA). An LPSA is the first step in the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s ‘life cycle’ of a nuclear power plant.
New Brunswick is also collaborating with Moltex Energy in its project to design and commercialize a molten salt reactor and spent fuel recycling facility in the province.
The province has indicated through planning and action its desire to be at the forefront of an SMR revolution that it predicts will result in approximately 730 jobs per year, over 15 years, $1 billion in GDP growth, and $120 million in provincial government revenue over that period.
Federal Investment Tax Credits
As we noted as a part of our Budget 2023 updates, the federal government announced new tax credits for clean technology (Clean Technology ITC). The Clean Technology ITC would provide a refundable tax credit of up to 30% of the capital cost of investments in certain eligible equipment, including SMRs. The Clean Technology ITC applies to technology that is acquired and available for use on or after January 1, 2024, until the end of 2034, with a phase-out beginning in 2032.
Nuclear Waste Management
In 2020, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources tasked the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) (a not for profit established under the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act (2002) with the responsibility for the long-term management of Canada’s used nuclear fuel) with submitting recommendations for an Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste. The NWMO submitted its recommendations on July 9, 2023. The recommendations suggest: (1) Intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level waste be deposited in a deep geological repository, and (2) Low-level waste be disposed of in near-surface disposal facilities. Both recommendations address gaps in long-term waste disposal plans previously identified.
Attaining net-zero emissions by 2050 requires the rapid deployment and utilization of multiple technologies nationwide, including SMRs. The achievements of nuclear energy initiatives in Ontario and New Brunswick should serve as encouragement for other provinces to pursue significant investments and further development of similar technologies. The current trends as evidenced by the interprovincial Collaboration Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) entered into by the provinces of Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick, the planning of new SMR projects, increased investment, and the federal incentive tax credits demonstrate a willingness and even a desire to build out these technologies further. This is a welcomed shift in the Canadian energy landscape, for this generation and next.
Our team at McCarthy Tétrault will continue to follow developments in the SMR space. If you would like more information about SMRs in Canada, we are here to help. Please contact Gaëtan Thomas, Stephen Furlan, Seán O’Neill, Audrey Bouffard-Nesbitt or any other member of the National Energy Group at McCarthy Tétrault should you have any questions or for assistance.