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Canada’s first Small Modular Reactor project reaches significant milestone

Canada’s first Small Modular Reactor (SMR) project is now one step closer to reality after recently reaching a licensing milestone.

A cross-section of a Micro Modular Reactor unit.
A cross-section of a Micro Modular Reactor unit.

Global First Power (GFP), a Canadian energy company jointly owned by OPG and USNC-Power, announced its Micro Modular Reactor™ (MMR™) Project is moving onto the next phase of licensing with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

As the first SMR project in Canada to submit a Licence to Prepare Site with the CNSC, the project has fulfilled requirements to move the review process for this licence to the formal phase, which will involve a detailed technical review.

This is also the first SMR project in Canada to be undergoing a simultaneous environmental assessment.

SMRs will be an important part of the energy sector’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions, and are highlighted as a key solution to achieving OPG’s net-zero carbon goals in its Climate Change Plan. This next generation in nuclear technology offers many of the benefits of traditional nuclear reactors, with zero-emission electricity and 24/7 operation, but they are much smaller and easier to build and operate.

In addition to the GFP project, OPG is also advancing the development of a grid-scale SMR at its Darlington site. Pending approvals and licensing, this larger SMR could be built by as early as 2028.

With a significantly smaller land-use footprint than other clean technologies like solar and wind, GFP’s proposed Project, which GFP will build, own and operate, will include a nuclear plant containing an MMR™ reactor as well as an adjacent plant. It will be capable of producing 15 megawatts (MW) of thermal output, which can be converted to five MW of electrical power.

An illustration of Global First Power's proposed Micro Modular Reactor project.
An illustration of Global First Power's proposed Micro Modular Reactor project.

Once approved with Federal government support, the unit would be constructed and tested off-site before being assembled on the Chalk River Laboratories site, northwest of Ottawa, which is owned by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited and managed and operated by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL). First power is slated for 2026, and once in service, the reactor is anticipated to have a lifespan of about 20 years of operation on just a single load of fuel.  

"As a commercial demonstration project, the small reactor will aim to demonstrate a feasible, clean energy solution to help meet Canada’s energy needs, specifically for heavy industry, such as mining, and remote communities," said Robby Sohi, GFP President and CEO.

A new feasibility study found very small modular reactors like this project could provide 90 per cent of baseload power required for mining operations, reducing carbon emissions by 85 per cent.

“MMR technology is an economically competitive alternative to greenhouse gas-emitting diesel power with a much smaller environmental footprint,” Sohi said, adding that one MMR could replace 265 million litres of equivalent diesel use.

With licensing progressing, current priorities for the project include nailing down the preferred site for construction at Chalk River Laboratories. A recent study identified a preferred site, which is currently a parking lot.

The GFP project began in 2018 with a proposal submitted to CNL. In 2019, GFP became the first SMR project to file for regulatory approval with the CNSC and the first to commence an environmental assessment, now underway.

The Global First Power Limited Partnership was officially formed in June 2020, representing the first commercial partnership on an SMR in Canada. Through this partnership, OPG also became the first utility in North America to take an ownership stake in an SMR project.

For more information, visit globalfirstpower.com.