Updated: Jan 10, 2022
Just before lunchtime on December 2, I found myself listening to a panel discussion about small modular reactors (SMRs) at the World Nuclear Exhibition in Paris, France.
Sitting next to Korean delegates, with Dutch delegates in front of me, I remember digging in my bag for something to eat or drink—when one of the panelists shared the news: Ontario Power Generation (OPG) had selected GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy's BWXR-300 to be Canada’s first ever grid-scale SMR.
I immediately forgot what I was looking for as the room erupted in applause, quickly followed by the sound of fingers tapping on phones as the global delegates sent news of this decision to colleagues back home.
I'll admit I was a little surprised to see all of the excitement and cheering in the room. Then it occurred to me: this announcement's significance stretched far beyond Canadian borders. The entire room, which represented the international nuclear industry, was celebrating the next step on the path to new nuclear.
This will be the first time ever in Canada where advanced nuclear technology is used to add capacity to the grid.
This is a big deal for climate change, the nuclear industry and for Canada—read more about this in an earlier blog of mine.
But now that the decision has been made, the time has come to ask: what happens next? And what does this decision mean for nuclear in Canada?
The impact of this decision
The fact that the news of this historic decision was instantly met with applause and excitement from the entire audience confirms that the SMR project is a big deal—not just for us here in Canada, but for the entire global nuclear industry.
For us Canadians, the real significance and impact of this decision includes the following:
Creating a highly skilled SMR workforce: Massive talent acquisition efforts will be needed to build a workforce of highly skilled people to support the project here in Ontario, and hopefully to prepare the industry for future global exports. The economic benefits estimated from this project alone are an estimated $1.9 billion in labour income.
Boosting Canadian nuclear supply chain: Establishing a supply chain here in Canada will result in an estimated $2.3 billion dollars injected into the economy through construction and supply chain contracts. Canada’s strong nuclear supply chain is well positioned to support the deployment of the BWRX-300 for a made-in-Canada product.
Paving the way for the rest of Canada’s SMR industry: There are 12 SMR vendors’ designs currently undergoing the Pre-Licensing Vendor Design Review (VDR) process with the Canadian nuclear regulator (CNSC). Once deployed, this project will prove to the world the commercial viability of SMRs and open up the market for more players. In fact, GE Hitachi will identify pain points and reveal lessons learned that may help other SMR companies to shorten their path to commercialization.
The future of SMRs in Canada
Although Darlington is the only site in Canada currently licensed for new nuclear, there is massive growth potential for the SMR industry here in Canada as other provinces make way for their own SMR deployment projects.
An MOU has already been signed by Ontario, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Alberta, which galvanized an agreement of collaboration to ensure the advancement of SMRs as a clean energy option to address climate change and growing energy demands.
Saskatchewan has already announced that they intend to build four SMRs in the 2030s and potentially use OPG's decision to inform their own with regards to which technology they will choose. And though the other provinces have yet to make firm commitments to build their own SMRs, we can expect them to be following Ontario closely and waiting for success at OPG before following suit.
Challenging road ahead
Outside of Canada, there is a significant and growing interest for SMRs globally.
This makes this decision extremely important for GE Hitachi as they will be able to use this opportunity to show the world the viability of their design.
However, they still have a significant challenge ahead of them.
In the words of Dominique Minière, Executive Vice President, New Nuclear Domestic & International Strategy, OPG) during the panel discussion: “They must first prove to us that they can build this technology on time and on budget!”
This is an unprecedented endeavour as GE Hitachi navigates uncharted territory. And though there are competitive advantages gained from being a first mover, there can be pitfalls as well. GE Hitachi will need to move cautiously and carefully as they plan for the deployment of this project, which could create extra challenges for their economics and timelines.
We can guarantee we will be cheering them on, and proud of the leadership Canada has shown by choosing to embrace SMRs to achieve a decarbonized economy and clean energy future.
Written by Susie Ho, former Senior Advisor at the Nuclear Innovation Institute.