Is nuclear power an option for Estevan?

The potential of having nuclear power in the Estevan area was broached during the final day of the spring sitting of the Saskatchewan legislature.

The idea was discussed during question period Thursday, and in a scrum with the media later in the day. Premier Scott Moe said the government needs to invest in cleaner sources of power generation, while utilizing the assets in the province.

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“The conversations as we move forward will continue around how we can continue to provide affordable power for the industries and the people who live in this province, and also how can we continue to support those areas that are ultimately transitioning away from coal,” said Moe.

The province is having discussions with Ontario and New Brunswick on small modular reactor (SMR) nuclear technology.

“This is a time where we need to have all of these conversations, and is there potential for that type of power supply to operate here, not just in Canada, as we’re doing this with other provinces, but in the community of Estevan,” said Moe.

The transmission line infrastructure is already in place in Estevan and Coronach. So SaskPower is embarking on a conversation, not just on nuclear and carbon capture and storage, but for other technologies.

“The technology and innovation is moving forward across this nation and around the world,” said Moe.

Retrofitting the power supply to have lower emissions is a major investment, Moe said.

“We need to look at continued investment in our plants as (some of) our coal-fired plants … reach their 50-year life span. We have the decisions around do we move forward with carbon capture and storage, or do we replace those with a small modular reactor, do we replace those with a natural gas facility?”

While nuclear power was not popular the last time it was discussed in Saskatchewan, Moe said this is a new form of technology that is very different from conventional nuclear power.

“They’re small, they’re stackable, and they’re safe, so we’re engaging in that discussion with a couple of other provinces … on is there an opportunity for this type of innovation to be used here in the province,” said Moe.

It’s incumbent on Saskatchewan to have this conversation since the province has the uranium stocks.

Dustin Duncan, who is the minister responsible for SaskPower, pointed out that the federal government previously asked interested parties, including power utilities, to work together to develop a road map for the development and deployment of small modular reactors in Canada.

A report was written and issued back to the federal government. From there, they have kept in touch with New Brunswick and Ontario, and they have met with the Canadian Nuclear Association.

“We’re looking at what role Saskatchewan might play in the development of SMRs over the next decade in Canada, and how that might apply to Saskatchewan in terms of is this a way to generate some of our power.”

His understanding is the SMRs can be scaled up or down, but would generate a minimum of 60 megawatts of power. They are expandable and they can be moved.

“It’s really a question of how much generation are you looking for, so basically from 60 megawatts up,” said Duncan.

It’s too early to say how many jobs would be creating by the units.

The Tennessee Valley Authority in the U.S. is the furthest along in North America when it comes to SMRs, and they’re in the midst of the regulatory process. It means the first SMR could be constructed in North America in the early 2020s.

“It’s a lot sooner than I think people realize,” Duncan said.

Duncan believes Estevan could be a location for this technology. The transmission assets are still in the Estevan area.

“One of the benefits of SMRs versus other types of technology, including coal, is it made sense to build the coal-fired plants next to the coal mines. SMRs are different. They can be really built anywhere.”

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