Clean energy technology: The potential for small modular reactors
New Brunswick is positioning itself to stand at the forefront in the development of a new, reliable, clean energy source: small modular reactors.
The goal of small modular reactor, or SMR, clean energy technology is to generate non-emitting, low-cost energy to communities, fuel energy intensive industries and replace high-emitting electricity generation. The technology is also well positioned to provide a baseload of energy complementing intermittent renewables like solar and wind.
At the Atlantica Centre for Energy, our mandate is to help foster discussion and understanding of energy issues. As public interest emerges over small modular reactors, we seek to help inform the discussion.
The modular reactors generate in the order of 300 megawatts of electricity and yet are small – about the size of a gymnasium. Due to their modular configuration, they can operate as stand-alone units or be combined to generate even more power. They can be used in remote communities, provide energy for mining, or contribute to grids powering large cities.
SMRs provide clean, steady energy. The advent of smaller reactors opens up the potential for a cost-effective supply of energy, and its portability and modular design allow for use around the world.
Amid global interest in developing and deploying the technology, two companies – ARC Nuclear Canada and Moltex Energy – have set up offices in New Brunswick to commercialize the technology.
The federal and provincial governments, seeing the environmental and climate benefits, plus the economic growth and export opportunities, are supportive. The Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station (660 megawatts) in New Brunswick has been identified as an attractive location for a commercial demonstration.
There is global interest because of their potential as a clean energy source. For example, in the United Kingdom, a consortium has released plans to have its first small reactor in place by 2030 and then follow that with 16 more mini-reactors at other sites around the country.
The International Atomic Energy Agency reports that there are about 50 small modular reactor designs at different stages of development around the world, with Argentina, China and Russia leading the effort. In November, the European Parliament adopted a resolution recognizing the role nuclear energy plays in meeting climate objectives.
Indeed, small nuclear reactors provide the best promise for Canada in reaching our carbon emissions reductions targets for 2050.
Clean energy sources like solar, wind and hydro are important parts of the solution to reducing emissions. There are limits, however: The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. SMR helps to address the intermittency realities of wind and solar, and the demands for land use that would be needed to energize our future.
The timeframe to our emissions target of 2050 demands that we research new technology in preparation for our net-zero targets. This calls for a multi-faceted approach. We need clean energy technology developed over the next 10 years to meet global emissions reductions targets. There are zero greenhouse gas emissions from small modular reactors, no particulate, no nitrogen oxides, no sulfur oxides, no volatile organic compounds. No emissions at all.
Nuclear power is a proven and effective technology that offers sustainable, clean energy for the long term. At the Atlantica Centre for Energy, we believe the answer for the future lies in an array of clean energy options, an “all of the above” strategy.
The transition to clean energy will be evolutionary and will involve the development of a variety of new power sources over time. We will benefit from multiple innovative approaches.
Colleen d’Entremont is President of the Atlantica Centre for Energy, a think tank examining energy issues in the region. More information on energy issues confronting Atlantic Canada and the American Northeast is available on the Atlantica website, www.atlanticaenergy.org.