SaskPower has narrowed down where a small nuclear reactor (SMR) would go if Saskatchewan moves forward with the technology.
The sites under consideration are in the areas of Estevan and Elbow, which are close to water sources, have existing power transmission infrastructure and have the capacity to support labor.
SaskPower says the province will be selected by 2023, although a decision on whether to use SMR technology as part of the province’s total power generation won’t be made until 2029.
If approved, the SMR could operate by 2035.
Researchers Esam Hussein and Susan O’Donnell have studied small reactors. They talk on CBC Radio’s Blue Sky Thursday, answer questions from guest Stefani Langenegger and the public.
The following questions and interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity:
What exactly is a small modular reactor?
Hussein: There is a small part, which means that the power level is not less than 300 megawatts. What’s new [technology] here is “modular.”
There are two meanings for modular. One of them is building a power plant from small modules, so that instead of sib up to a large amount of power produced in front, adding capital and taking risks, a power plant can be built from small units. The other definition of modularity is to build reactors and modules off site.
The idea here is to reduce construction time and cost and that has been a challenge to almost any megaproject. As you know they often end up over schedule and over budget.
How does technology work?
Hot-water reactors (the type of technology chosen by SaskPower for maximum SMR) are a well-established, tested technology. What’s new here is that it’s smaller in power and volume, and it’s modular.
In a sense, it is less risky than going in with the latest technology, or technology that has already been proven ineffective. Candu System has been a very reliable technology. He served the country well. It uses natural gas so we don’t have to import enriched uranium, which is used in boiling water reactors.
However, the cost of the technology has been a challenge.
How can you fit in with renewable energy sources?
The way I see it is that having SMR will encourage more use of renewables, solar and wind, because you have a reliable base load that you can depend on.
How might SMR status affect travel to the area or nearby people?
I spent 25 years of my career in New Brunswick. Point Lepreau Nuclear Power Plant located in the Bay of Fundy.
It is a beautiful area. People still live in the neighborhood. In fact, studies show that those who live near nuclear weapons support nuclear technology.
Nothing significant is released that affects water quality. Water is monitored. The only thing is that it releases some water, not radioactive water, just water, that is a little hot and can increase the temperature.
What do you think of Saskatchewan and its province looking at building a small nuclear reactor?
O’Donnell: There’s a big leap between having a design for an SMR and then getting close to the point of having a production design where you can apply for a license to build one.
The most advanced design for SMR in the US is called NuScale, and they have spent almost a billion dollars on the design of the production and they just got the license to build it.
It’s another big leap between building a design that can actually work in a lab to getting one that actually works commercially in the real world.
Why are the four regions looking at them?
I would have to say that decisions around SMRs at the federal level, and certainly at the local level, are political decisions rather than based on science.
From reading peer-reviewed science in three different countries – Canada, the US and the UK – it doesn’t really make economic sense. However, what we have going on here is a very powerful, destructive industry, that has a long history in Canada, and they’ve been lobbying like crazy to get these things off the ground. because unfortunately, nuclear power is not yet available. financial success.
In New Brunswick, the Point Lepreau reactor has been a financial disaster for the province. It has left us $3.6 billion in debt. You lose money every year because of unscheduled downtime.
How is this technology different from what has come before?
I often hear people say, we already have these small reactors in cruise ships, etc. There is a big difference between military and civilian reactors, and this is a really important point. Those use what’s called highly enriched fuel, and it’s the kind of fuel that can make nuclear bombs, and you can only use them in military areas.
What we have in Canada are called Candu reactors, which run on a completely different type of fuel. It is natural uranium from Saskatchewan.
None of the proposed new producers are proposing to use Saskatchewan uranium. They are all planning to use refined oil that will come from outside of Canada, because we don’t have a refining plant here.
The designs are different and they will take a long time to know if they can build them, if they can get them to work.
How does this fit in with renewable energy sources?
We are not saying that we are going to solve world hunger by giving everyone caviar. Why would you take the most expensive way to produce electricity, which is nuclear energy, and say this is how we’re going to solve the climate crisis when the technology isn’t there now and we’re already convinced technologies like wind and solar?
Listen to the full episode here:
Blue sky47:01Are small modular reactors needed to help Sask. reach net zero by 2050?
SaskPower holds public information and contract sessions every fall. More information can be found on the Corwn corporate website.