By Heather Chalmers and Lisa McBride
In the fight against climate change, all Canadians will benefit from the increasing global recognition that nuclear power generation is key to achieving net-zero carbon emission goals. As a proven, reliable source of electricity generation that is carbon-free, nuclear energy is a game-changer in the fight against climate change. And, nuclear energy could play an important role in Canada’s post-Covid economic recovery.
Meeting Canadian and international emissions targets will require a diverse portfolio of solutions. Critically, nuclear energy must be in the decarbonization mix. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) International Energy Agency estimates in its Net Zero by 2050 report that nuclear power output will need to increase 40 per cent by 2030 and double by mid-century.
There has been no new nuclear power plant construction in Canada since the 1990s, and, since then, innovation has transformed the technology. New nuclear reactor designs are smaller and modular, lowering capital costs and speeding up installation. The latest small modular reactors (SMRs) can provide grid-scale power generation, replace diesel as a distributed power source in remote communities or be used in industry.
As much as Canadians want their electricity to be carbon-free, they want it to be safe and reliable. Today, nuclear plants have automatic shut-off safety features, and they are protected by multiple backup safety systems. Generations of Canadians have come to safely rely on nuclear energy, the only source of carbon-free electricity generation that is available 24/7, 365 days a year.
(A rendering of the GE Hitachi BWRX-300, a grid-scale SMR facility. Courtesy GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy.)
SMR technology has the potential to deliver energy across Canada with that same level of certainty. Companies like GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) are already through the steep learning curve associated with designing, licensing and deploying nuclear reactor technologies. GEH has decades of experience and more than 90 per cent of its SMR design components have been tested and proven in operating nuclear reactors. Because SMRs are designed to produce reliable, carbon-free electricity 24/7, they can complement intermittent or variable sources of electricity, such as solar and wind technologies. Together, nuclear energy alongside wind, solar, and other sources of electricity generation form a balanced mix that can move Canada toward a carbon-free energy future.
Canada has the building blocks to develop a world-class supply chain for SMR technology: multi-level government support, world-class universities, an established nuclear power industry and a skilled workforce.
Canada is leading on SMR development. The federal government has released a roadmap and action plan for SMR technology development, and the provinces of Ontario, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Alberta recently committed to work together on SMR deployment. Canada's first grid-scale SMR—among the first in the world—is slated to be in operation at the Ontario Power Generation (OPG) Darlington site as early as 2028.
Ontario Power Generation (OPG), Bruce Power (BP), and New Brunswick Power (NB Power) have decades of experience operating nuclear reactors. Ontario-based engineering, procurement, and construction firms such as Aecon and Hatch have robust capabilities to design and build nuclear power plants. Ontario Tech, Durham College, McMaster University, the University of Saskatchewan and more are helping develop the nuclear workforce of the future.
In addition to helping achieve energy reliability and carbon-free emissions goals, the deployment of SMRs can act as an engine for job creation and economic growth in Canada. In an independent report (commissioned by GEH), PwC estimates that the deployment of a single SMR at OPG’s Darlington site could create more than 1,700 highly skilled jobs during seven years of manufacturing and construction, nearly 200 jobs sustained over a 60-year period of operation, and $2.3 billion in total GDP. Each subsequent SMR deployed in Canada – whether it be in Ontario or another province – is expected to create more than $1.1 billion in GDP.
While Ontario and Canada are poised to support the development and deployment of SMRs on a provincial and national level, the bigger opportunity is for Canada to support the energy transition to safe, reliable, carbon-free nuclear power generation around the world. With Canada’s world-class nuclear operating expertise and infrastructure project experience, Canada is well-positioned to become a global leader in the deployment of carbon-free energy technology. The federal government, in its SMR Action Plan, estimates the global SMR market will be worth $150 billion per year by 2040. PwC estimates each SMR deployed globally will generate approximately $98 million in GDP for Canada and more than $45 million in total tax revenue through the purchase of nuclear fuel, machinery, and equipment.
Canada can seize this global SMR opportunity by working together with companies like GE that know how to scale energy technology innovation for deployment globally: GE technology generates 30 per cent of the world’s power. As just one example, our LM Wind facility in Gaspe, Quebec exports wind turbine components around the world. If Canada seizes this opportunity, SMRs could play a key role in reinvigorating Canada’s post-Covid manufacturing economy as the world works toward meeting its goal of zero-carbon emission electricity.
Climate change is an urgent global priority, and nuclear energy will play a major role in helping Canada—and the rest of the world—reach its net-zero carbon emissions goals. Provincial and federal stakeholders are working to harness Canada’s capabilities to deploy SMRs at home and deliver jobs and economic benefits for generations of Canadians. Canada is on the brink of becoming a global leader in the energy transition.
The above was provided to QP Briefing by GE Canada as sponsored content.
Heather Chalmers is President and CEO of GE Canada, and Lisa McBride is Canada Country Leader for GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s Small Modular Reactor (SMR) technology.