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An architectural rendering of an Integral Molten Salt Reactor power plant, which Terrestrial Energy proposes to build in the next decade on a site that is yet to be determined. The government of Canada has announced it will invest $20-million in the project.Handout

An Ontario company will receive $20-million from the federal government to develop its small nuclear reactor technology, as Ottawa prepares to release a detailed nuclear energy plan for Canada next month.

Small modular reactors (SMRs), like those Oakville, Ont.-based Terrestrial Energy Inc. hopes to commercialize, will play a crucial role in Canada reaching its goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan said Thursday.

Canada has a full range of nuclear capabilities, and Mr. O’Regan said the country “would be foolhardy to squander a clear competitive edge” that we have in bringing SMR technology to market. “If we can get it right, and continue to be the leaders in nuclear technology that we are, it will allow us to help the world get to net-zero by 2050.”

Small modular reactors are generally defined as nuclear reactors that produce 300 megawatts of power or less. Their size, combined with their design simplicity, mobility, zero emissions and the fact they can be scaled up or down, already have a handful of provinces pondering the technology as a potential power solution, particularly for remote Northern communities.

In Alberta, there is hope they could be used in the oil patch to lower emissions when extracting crude from the earth. The province recently signed on to an agreement with Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick to collaborate on the development and deployment of SMRs.

“There is a great deal of flexibility with SMRs that we don’t have with much larger reactors ... and it’s that mobility that could prove to be very competitive for resource-extracting industries in helping them further lower their [greenhouse gas emissions],” Mr. O’Regan said.

The $20-million cheque for Terrestrial Energy will help the company meet a key licensing requirement of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. As part of the agreement with the federal government, the company committed to creating and maintaining 186 jobs, and spending at least another $91.5-million in research and development over the two-and-a-half year project.

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains, who joined Mr. O’Regan at Thursday’s announcement, said the federal government’s push for SMRs also plays into its economic goals. He estimated that by 2040 there will be 6,000 jobs in the SMR sector in Canada, and it will make a $2-billion contribution to the economy.

Still, Mr. O’Regan acknowledged some Canadians may be uneasy about the safety of nuclear, particularly in regions that - unlike parts of Ontario - have no history with the power source. That’s why his government is working closely with First Nations and other groups to review Canada’s radioactive waste policy, he said.

Some critics also argue that SMRs are a distraction from the need to move more aggressively toward renewable power sources. Mr. O’Regan countered that the two will actually work hand-in-hand, with nuclear providing reliable baseload power, particularly during peak consumption.

He said a plan outlining how Canada’s coming nuclear plan will work alongside its hydrogen energy strategy will be released this fall.

“SMRs are part of the host of things that we’re going to need in order to be able to meet our targets in 2030 and in 2050,” he said.

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