Written by Chad Grasza
On August 10, 2020, Alberta joined New Brunswick, Ontario, and Saskatchewan in signing a Memoranda of Understanding supporting the development of small modular reactors (SMRs). This commits Alberta to work to promote the expanded use of nuclear power, a commitment that the other three provinces had made when they first signed the MOU in December of 2019. No SMRs have been built in Canada yet, but this development suggests that this may change in the future (Calgary Herald).
In a statement, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney stated that the province was “building on our track record of responsible and innovative energy production … while also strengthening our traditional resource sectors and reducing emissions” (Global News). In this statement, Kenney is referencing small nuclear reactors’ ability to provide electricity for remote areas as well as the potential that they can produce steam supply for industrial applications, like, for example, Alberta’s oil sands industry. Alberta Minister of Energy Sonya Savage reinforced this point in more explicit terms, by pointing out that oil sands facilities “require a lot of heat and power to operate, and SMRs are versatile [and] scalable to meet those facilities’ needs while also providing clean, non-emitting sources of affordable energy” (World Nuclear News). Kenney also framed this commitment as a way to diversify Alberta’s economy and create jobs in an effort to rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some are more skeptical of the significance of this signature, since it does not include any concrete requirements; Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada stated that “from my point of view, this is a press release and nothing more” (Calgary Herald).
A benefit of building small modular reactors is that SMRs do not emit greenhouse gases, aligning with the federal government’s commitment that Canada will achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Small modular reactors, which are smaller than traditional nuclear power plants, produce less energy and are therefore more cost-effective and can service smaller areas or countries with less experience with nuclear power (World Nuclear Association). SMR’s are considered a promising technologyin the future of nuclear power, and industry groups and government agencies are investigating uses for SMRs aside from electricity generation, such as desalinating drinking water and creating hydrogen fuel (Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission). This development is evidence of their growing status and suggests that more regions may follow in signing this pledge. In fact, the federal government is expected to launch a national SMR plan this fall (Calgary Herald).