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Report on Business Ontario Power Generation partners with U.S. firm in push for small-modular nuclear reactors

Ontario Power Generation is teaming up with U.S.-based NuScale Power LLC to bring its innovative small-reactor design to Canada as the nuclear industry calls for government financial support to develop its next-generation technology.

Provincially owned OPG will work with Oregon-based NuScale to launch a process with the federal nuclear regulator to review the company’s small-modular reactor (SMR) design and determine whether the technology is compatible with Canadian standards, the two companies announced Wednesday. Once that step is completed, the partners will pursue the development, licensing and sale of the first NuScale SMR plant in Canada, they said.

OPG said the deal with NuScale is for technical support at this stage. “There is no funding commitment or specific project we are working on,” spokesman Neal Kelly said.

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Canada’s nuclear regulator is pressing Ottawa to allow smaller nuclear reactors a clear development path that avoids lengthy impact assessments. Proponents tout the new generation of reactors – which range in size from 1.5-megawatts to 300-megawatts – as a safe, low-carbon option to provide power to remote communities and industry, although environmental advocates say they are untested and still produce dangerous radioactive waste.

Owned by engineering giant Fluor Corp., NuScale has received nearly US$300-million in funding from the U.S. government, and plans to build a prototype 60-megawatt reactor in Idaho once it receives a licence from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It plans to submit a proposal for prelicensing evaluation with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which has 10 such submissions from reactor developers.

The NuScale reactor is an updated version of the existing pressurized-water technology, but smaller in scale, with a modular design that allows lower-cost manufacturing and safety features for easy shutdown in case of emergency.

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi on Wednesday released an industry-led, government-supported “road map” for the development and commercialization of the SMR technology. The report urges government to provide industry with funding for one or more prototype reactors, as well as financial support to reduce the risk for companies as they commercialize the technology at home and abroad.

In an interview, the minister said the government has made no commitment to provide financial support to develop the new technology, which is not expected to be ready for commercial sale for another 10 years.

“We see the potential of SMRs but as far as funding is concerned, we’re not there yet,” Mr. Sohi said.

The committee that produced the report included Ontario Power Generation and Bruce Power, SaskPower, New Brunswick Power, with the Canadian Nuclear Association acting as the secretariat.

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Appearing at an international nuclear conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, Mr. Sohi said the new technology could provide an important source of energy as the world works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that result from fossil-fuel use. Given its history of nuclear research and development and its existing domestic industry, “Canada is uniquely positioned to lead the world in SMR development,” Mr. Sohi told the meeting.

The minister said the government will review the recommendations and come up with a comprehensive policy that takes into account the potential role of SMRs to reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions in a variety of applications while also ensuring the safety of communities and addressing concerns about disposal of radioactive waste.

At 1.5-megawatts, the smallest of the reactors is being targeted at remote communities that currently rely on expensive and unreliable diesel generators. The first demonstration plants would cost an estimated $150-million, according to Mark Lesinski, president of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, the private-sector firm that runs Ottawa’s Chalk River nuclear site. CNL is aiming to host several SMR protoypes at its facility about 200 kilometres northwest of the capital.

Larger SMRs are aimed at industrial applications. Oil sands companies such as Suncor Energy Corp. and Imperial Oil Ltd. participated in the road map discussions to determine whether the SMRs would be a viable low-carbon energy source for their operations.

In a letter sent to Mr. Sohi and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna on Oct. 30, about 20 advocacy groups urged the government to reject any industry’s push for financial support and streamlined regulatory rules to develop the smaller reactors. “We oppose Canada’s development and deployment of SMRs when renewable, safer and less financially, socially, and environmentally costly alternatives exists,” said the letter, which is posted on the website of the Canadian Environmental Law Centre.

However, some leading scientists, including James Hansen, director of the climate program at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, argue countries need to develop nuclear energy in order to transition to a low-carbon economy and avert the worst effects of climate change. Dr. Hansen was one of 20 influential Canadians and Americans who signed a letter released Monday urging the Canadian government to support development of SMRs as part of the country’s response to climate change.

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