Experts weigh in on possibility of nuclear energy in Saskatchewan

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WATCH: Experts said it would take time for nuclear energy to make its way into Saskatchewan, but it could be worthwhile. – Feb 18, 2021

As different levels of government try to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it has people wondering what alternate forms of energy should be explored.

The Johnson Shoyoma School of Public Policy hosted a virtual lecture Wednesday evening, where nuclear experts explained what small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) are and how they could work to create an alternate form of energy in Saskatchewan. More than 200 people across the country attended.

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There are currently four nuclear generating stations in Canada, three of which are in Ontario.

“The nuclear reactors in the province of Ontario provide over 60 per cent of the electricity in the province, which is an enormous amount of electricity,” federal nuclear energy division director Diane Cameron said.

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Canada hasn’t built any SMRs yet, but could within the next ten years. They have a few differences from nuclear plants currently in the country, including being physically smaller and producing less energy.

“These plants would be built purposely so they can have dispatchable power, like a natural gas plant has right now,” Bob Walker with the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science Society and Policy said.

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Advantages of having SMRs in Saskatchewan include being close to uranium mines and producing affordable energy once they’re built.

They would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as opposed to coal or natural gas.

“All the provinces and federal government have committed to get off coal by 2030. Well, it’s 2020 that’s ten years from now,” Walker said.

Walker said ideally, nuclear energy would work alongside wind and solar energy, which would also need further investments.

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However, there could still be an environmental impact.

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“Although we’ve been looking for solutions for many decades, we still have no demonstrated safe way of looking after nuclear waste,” Saskatchewan Environmental Society board member Ann Coxworth said.

Click to play video 'Debate brews over small modular reactors in Canada' Debate brews over small modular reactors in Canada
Debate brews over small modular reactors in Canada – Dec 18, 2020

It would still be a long process for SMRs to be built in Saskatchewan. Billions would need to be invested, and further consultations with experts and Indigenous communities are needed.

The province has been clear it doesn’t want to be the first in the country to build them. SaskPower has been in consultation with Ontario Power Generation (OPG) as it hopes to build the first SMR in Darlington by 2028.

“That will allow Saskatchewan to sort of learn through the experience of OPG so that it becomes an option. Those decisions still need to be taken but it becomes an option for Saskatchewan probably in the early 2030s,” Cameron said.

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While nuclear energy would be new to Saskatchewan, it is something that has been used in Ontario for decades, and for many years to come.

According to Cameron, Ontario is restoring ten reactors which will cost $25 billion over 15 years, extending the life of the reactors for 30 years. It’s being invested privately and the sectors expect profits in the long-run.