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Feds throw support behind development of mini nuclear reactors; action plan released

·2 min read

TORONTO — Nuclear power is essential to meeting Canada's climate-change goals, and developing portable mini nuclear reactors is a key part of that strategy, the federal energy minister said on Friday.

In announcing an "action plan" for developing small modular reactors, Seamus O'Regan said the new technology has the potential to help Canada cut emissions and stimulate economic growth.

"I believe in the development of this technology," O'Regan said from St. John's, N.L. "You've got to lay the groundwork for that now."

Among steps in the plan is developing prototypes and demonstration models.

O'Regan did not offer any new funding as part of the announcement of the reactor plan to which dozens of private, public, educational and Indigenous partners contributed.

Small modular reactors — SMRs — would be smaller in size and energy output than traditional nuclear power units, and more flexible in their deployment. While conventional reactors produce around 800 megawatts of power, SMRs as planned would deliver up to 300 megawatts.

Dozens of groups, including opposition parties, some Indigenous organizations and environmentalists, want the government to fight climate change by investing more in renewable energy and energy efficiency rather than in the new reactors.

They argue nuclear energy costs far too much money and is far from clean given the growing mound of radioactive waste it generates. O'Regan said the government is actively trying to figure out what do with the dangerous material.

Proponents see SMRs as potentially part of the regular electricity grid as well as for use in remote locations, including industrial sites and isolated northern communities. The mini plants could also play a role in the production of hydrogen and local heating.

The federal government estimates the global market for SMRs will be worth between $150 billion and $300 billion a year by 2040 but critics question the validity of the estimate. They also wonder who exactly might want one.

O'Regan insisted Canada, as a leader in nuclear technology, can't afford to ignore the potential benefits of the new reactors.

"SMRs offer the next great opportunity for Canada," O'Regan said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2020.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press