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Saskatchewan SMR concept met with varying opinions from researchers, community.

A 300-megatonne SMR reactor is expected to prevent between 0.3 and two megatonnes of emissions per year, according to OPG, depending on its location and the power source that it replaces.
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A 300-megatonne SMR reactor is expected to prevent between 0.3 and two megatonnes of emissions per year, according to OPG, depending on its location and the power source that it replaces.

Courtesy: Ontario Power Generation

The introduction of nuclear energy in Saskatchewan is a complex issue that has been met with varying opinions.

The provincial government has announced their plans to bring a small modular reactor (SMR) to the province and has named Estevan has one potential location.

The announcement has come with a mix of emotions for Estevan mayor Roy Ludwig.

On one hand, he said, he is very excited to have an SMR come to a small community as the federal government plans to phase out coal-fired electricity by 2030.

“We’ve been talking about the possibility of SMRs, and we knew that the government was interested in going down this path, and we’ve been encouraged by that because what we’re looking at, of course, is jobs,” Ludwig explained.

SaskPower said SMRs could create thousands of jobs through construction and operation while providing reliable, zero-emission baseload power.

Ludwig said the coal industry employs around 2,000 people in Estevan, and the ability to find well-paying jobs in the community will be very difficult with the coal plant shutting down in eight years. He believes the best-case scenario would be to continue trying to advance clean coal technology.

“We’ve got a lot of coal in us to burn,” Ludwig said. “We would much rather see us continue with coal if we could.”

Ludwig believes the timeline of phasing out coal and bringing in SMRs is too fast.

“Give us another 10-15 years until realistically we can get everything green. But you know, that’s an argument we’ll have to have with the federal government.”

One technology adoption researcher is also skeptical about the introduction of nuclear power in Canada.

Susan O’Donnell said compared to renewable energy sources like solar and wind, nuclear is incredibly expensive. In Saskatchewan, it will cost at least $5 billion for an SMR to be introduced.

“There is all kinds of infrastructure that it would have to be hooked up to actually produce electricity in a way that’s usable,” O’Donnell said. “Why would you go with the most expensive technology that’s not even ready yet when you have the options to build, say, wind and solar with battery backup right now?”

And with modular nuclear technology still in development, there is little real world evidence showing the reactors will work as advertised.

“The nuclear industry is desperate,” O’Donnell said. “They are absolutely desperate because so far, the only reactors we have in Canada are Candu’s and they have not been successful economically. They’re hoping that these SMRs can eventually replace the electricity generated by nuclear in Canada.”

O’Donnell said the plants also require specialized training to operate, as there are extremely hazardous, radioactive material involved with SMRs. The skills needed, she says, may not be easy to find in Saskatchewan.

“If you put a reactor in a small town, for example, do they have the nuclear engineering capacity to look after it or would those jobs be coming in from Toronto or wherever?”

Both O’Donnell and Ludwig believe the technology is still years away from actually making an impact on the environment, economy and energy supply.

SaskPower said it will select a specific potential location for the SMR next year, but won’t make a final decision on investing in SMRs until 2029 – just one year before burning coal for energy must stop across Canada.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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