The potential deployment of a BWRX-300 small modular reactor (SMR) in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan gained a boost with a cooperation agreement between GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s (GEH’s) Canadian subsidiary GEH SMR Technologies Canada and the Saskatchewan Industrial and Mining Supplier’s Association (SIMSA).

GEH SMR Canada on May 26 said a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with SIMSA— a nonprofit representing 300 members from the Canadian province’s manufacturing, construction, engineering, mining, and energy sectors—marks pivotal support from local suppliers that could “maximize the role of the Saskatchewan supply chain in the nuclear energy industry.”

GEH SMR and SIMSA announced the agreement as the provincial government prepares to reveal the technology and vendor for its first potential SMR project, which it envisions could be operational by 2034. 

SaskPower has chosen GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s (GEH’s) BWRX-300 small modular reactor (SMR) technology for Saskatchewan’s first two nuclear units, which the provincial utility plans to deploy by the mid-2030s. See the June 28, 2022, story here: “SaskPower Picks SMR Technology for First Two Potential Nuclear Units

An Inter-Provincial SMR Strategy

Saskatchewan, along with Ontario, New Brunswick, and Alberta, is part of an inter-province MOU established in December 2019 (Alberta joined the MOU in April 2021) to advance SMR development in Canada. In April 2021, provincial utilities Ontario Power Generation (OPG), Bruce Power, NB Power, and SaskPower prepared an SMR feasibility study for their provincial governments. The study concluded that SMR development would support domestic energy needs, curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and “position Canada as a global leader in clean technologies and the fight against climate change.”

This March, the four provinces issued a joint strategic plan outlining a path forward on SMRs. The plan identified three “streams” to kick-start SMR development.

“Stream 1” includes an initial grid-scale 300-MW BWRX-300 at OPG’s Darlington site in Ontario by 2028 and up to four “subsequent” units in Saskatchewan, with a first project potentially coming online in 2034.

“Stream 2” includes two advanced designs—ARC-100 and Moltex Energy’s Stable Salt Reactor-Wasteburner (SSR-W)—which were selected following a due diligence process conducted by New Brunswick utility NB Power before 2018. Both reactors are proposed for deployment at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station site. Stream 2 also includes the subsequent potential deployment of multiple units at that site, as well as in other regions of Canada and abroad.

ARC Clean Energy is targeting an operational date by 2029, and Moltex Energy is looking to have both its spent fuel recovery system and reactor in operation by the early 2030s. Both vendors still need to clear licensing hurdles, however. ARC Clean Energy has begun Phase 2 of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s (CNSC’s) pre-licensing Vendor Design Review (VDR) process, while Moltex has completed Phase 1 and is preparing for Phase 2. Moltex Energy, whose design notably uses recycled nuclear waste as fuel and thermal energy storage tanks, in April gained SNC-Lavalin Group’s backing to push ahead with engineering, licensing, cost estimating, supply chain management, and construction and operation.

“Stream 3” proposes a new class of micro-SMRs designed primarily to replace diesel use in industrial, remote communities, and other commercial applications. A much-watched project under that stream is the 5-MW gas-cooled reactor demonstration project by Global First Power (GFP)—the Micro Modular Reactor (MMR)—underway at the Chalk River site in Ontario. It is expected to be in service by 2026. While the project is not intended to be commercially economical for the first-of-a-kind demonstration unit, “analysis shows that future two-unit 10-MW plants will be economically competitive with diesel power in remote locations and will provide the opportunity for returns to cover demonstration project costs,” the report says.

An artist’s rendition of a GE-Hitachi BWRX-300 nuclear unit. The BWRX-300 is a 300-MW boiling water reactor (BWR) derived from the Gen III+ 1,520-MW ESBWR, which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission certified in 2014. Courtesy: GEH

SaskPower Looking to Build Up to Four SMRs

As envisioned under “Stream 1,” OPG in December said it would build a BWRX-300 SMR at its Darlington Nuclear Station in Clarington, Ontario. The utility confirmed that early site preparation is slated to begin later this year, “when OPG receives necessary permits and regulatory approvals” through the CNSC.

OPG and GEH are reportedly working on applying for a License to Construct the BWRX-300 by the end of 2022. An indicative schedule assumes that the CNSC will issue the license to build by 2024 and a license to operate by 2027. In March, OPG awarded a CA$32 million contract to E.S. Fox Limited for the first phase of site preparation and support infrastructure for the “Darlington New Nuclear Project.”

SaskPower, which the government of Saskatchewan owns, has meanwhile noted it was “closely involved” with OPG’s detailed assessment of three short-listed SMR technologies for the Darlington site, including GEH’s BWRX-300 and designs from X-Energy and Terrestrial Energy. SaskPower is expected to announce a decision early this year “on whether to align with OPG’s SMR vendor selection and advance with licensing and impact assessment work based on the deployment of the same SMR technology in Saskatchewan.”

SaskPower has, however, acknowledged it had evaluated the technical feasibility of adding 300 MW of nuclear power by 2034 and an additional 900 MW between 2035 and 2042. The recent inter-provincial joint strategic plan suggests that SaskPower will this year advance site selection and the development of licensing and impact assessment plans as part of a seven-year planning phase, which could lead to a construction decision for the first grid-scale SMR in 2030. A decision to proceed with additional SMRs may come soon after, in the early 2030s.

At least two of the first SMRs will be located at one site to reduce long-term licensing costs, though SaskPower also plans to take regulatory criteria and community input into account during the site selection process. In addition, SaskPower plans to follow progress gleaned from Ontario’s SMR—a first-of-a-kind unit currently expected to be in service in 2028—to help mitigate risks for SaskPower projects, the utility has said.

The Canadian province of Saskatchewan is exploring building up to four small modular reactors between 2034 and 2042. Source: A Strategic Plan for the Deployment of Small Modular Reactors (March 2022)

The schedule fits planned progress for GEH’s BWRX-300, a 300-MW boiling water reactor (BWR) that is still undergoing Phase 2 of the CNSC’s VDR process. GEH declined to comment on whether a vendor selection decision by the Saskatchewan government is imminent. POWER has asked SaskPower for more details about its forthcoming announcement.

Along with reactor technologies Saskatchewan vetted with OPG, the government on May 18 revealed the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) is exploring Westinghouse micro-reactors, which it notably called “very small modular reactors (vSMRs).” Westinghouse and SRC—the licensed owner and operator of the now decommissioned SLOWPOKE-2 nuclear non-power reactor—are slated to “jointly develop a project” to locate a 5-MWe/13-MWth eVinci microreactor in Saskatchewan for the development and testing of industrial, research, and energy use applications.

The feasibility of the eVinci microreactor, notably, is also being explored by Bruce Power to power industrial and remote communities and commercial applications. Westinghouse is reportedly targeting the mid-2020s for its first deployment in Canada.

“The eVinci micro-reactor and surrounding infrastructure is approximately half the size of a hockey rink,” the Saskatchewan government said earlier this month. Microreactors function as “nuclear batteries,” providing high-temperature heat or operating in combined heat and power mode. “It can support various applications including remote mining operations, remote communities, individual industrial heat and power scenarios, distributed hydrogen generation, and integrated energy solutions,” it said.

Reliability a Key Driver for Saskatchewan

If built, the four proposed SMRs will be SaskPower’s first nuclear projects. Saskatchewan, for its part, has emphasized multiple benefits stemming from the new industry. A notable driver is a possible increase in demand for uranium, providing new opportunities for uranium produced in Saskatchewan (and potentially Alberta), as well as increased utilization of refinery and conversion facilities in Ontario, the inter-provincial joint strategy highlights. “In the short-term, Saskatchewan has sufficient uranium to supply planned Canadian SMRs, while increased mining activities are feasible depending on uranium pricing in the long term,” the inter-provincial report notes.

For SaskPower, however, future reliability is a key driver. A June 2021–released annual report suggests new SMRs could provide more lift to the utility’s efforts to achieve a 40% reduction in GHG emissions from 2005 levels by 2030 and a potential goal of net zero by 2050. The transition, it notes, will require shuttering three coal-fired power plants. Coal generation made up an estimated 31% of its total generating capacity of 5 GW in 2021. The province lacks the resources and the geography for widespread hydropower, and though it has good conditions for wind and solar generation, it requires cost-effective baseload power options

“As we phase out conventional coal-fired facilities in Saskatchewan by 2030, SaskPower will rely on natural gas generation to back up intermittent renewable generation until other emissions-free baseload power options are proven reliable, cost-effective, and available for our geographic region,” the annual report suggests.

But SaskPower is also exploring a wide range of other options—including carbon capture and storage, utility-scale battery storage, hydrogen, geothermal energy, and expanding interconnections with neighboring jurisdictions. SaskPower, notably, owns and operates the Boundary Dam Power Station Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage Facility, which captured its four millionth tonne of carbon dioxide in 2020.

Saskatchewan’s focus on reliability comes as the province prepares to grapple with capacity adequacy issues this summer. The North American Reliability Corp. (NERC) earlier this month warned that Saskatchewan this summer may strain to meet peak demand projections, which have risen by more than 7.5% since 2021. SaskPower’s capacity adequacy study suggests forced outages of 300 MW or greater that coincide with peak demand may result in demand response and potential load shed to maintain system balance.

The Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba fall within the Midwest Reliability Organization (MRO). The reliability region also spans all or parts of the states of Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin (including the Midwest Independent System Operator [MISO] and the Southwest Power Pool). MRO earlier this month highlighted several risks threatening regional reliability. Foremost are a changing resource mix, cybersecurity vulnerabilities, and resource adequacy and performance.

MRO, however, outlined several “emerging trends” that could alleviate the resource transformation. These include hybrid facilities; “storage as a transmission-only asset”—which entails using storage to mitigate transmission performance; the participation of aggregated distributed energy resources in regional transmission organization markets; and SMRs.

“Since SMRs are modular, they can be manufactured off-site and then shipped to a location for installation. This modular aspect is expected to reduce manufacturing time as well as the cost of the units,” MRO said. “Typically, each modular reactor is expected to range from about 50–80 MW and would be installed in-line and adjacent to each other, with ultimately about 10–12 modules in total. These units would have fast-ramping and load following capabilities, which would work well with variable generation and help ensure energy adequacy throughout the entire year,” it said. “This clean, synchronous, fast-ramping resource has the potential to significantly improve the reliability of the bulk power system,” it added.

Sonal Patel is a POWER senior associate editor (@sonalcpatel@POWERmagazine).