Canada is forging ahead with plans to build the nation’s first small modular reactor, as growing national concern over climate change spurs renewed interest in new approaches to nuclear energy.

The Canada Infrastructure Bank will provide $717 million in financing to pay for a range of work needed to prepare for construction of the 300-MW SMR at the site of the existing 3,500-MW Darlington Nuclear Generating Station in Ontario.

Ontario Power Generation, which now is preparing to file an application to Canada's nuclear regulatory authority, hopes to open the new plant in 2028, with construction starting in late 2024 or early 2025.

Its final price tag could run into the billions. The utility also plans to build to three additional SMRs at the site following launch of the initial reactor.

The utility chose the GE Hitachi BWRX-300, described as a 300-MW water-cooled, natural circulation SMR.

While not the most cutting edge of models reviewed, said Gary Rose, Ontario Power vice president of SMR growth, a key factor in its selection was confidence in its commercial readiness.

The SMR will reduce carbon emissions by roughly 740,000 tons a year, an Ontario Power spokesperson said.


TVA Set to Deploy Same Reactor Design in Multiples

The reactor design is also gaining attention in the U.S.

Tennessee Valley Authority said in its third quarter earnings report that it has entered into an agreement with GE Hitachi to use BWRX-300 technology for its first SMR, to be built near Oak Ridge, Tenn.

It will be a model for others that the federal power producer aims to be develop, President Jeff Lyash told the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., late last month.

“I’m interested in 20 reactors, maybe more,” he said, noting that power demand in TVA’s seven-state region is set to rise at least 50%, possibly up to 100% by 2050.

The BWRX-300 reactor is the 10th evolution of the boiling water reactor design, said GE Hitachi, adding that it is the simplest and most innovative design since GE began developing nuclear reactors in 1955.

The company claims it is competitively priced and estimated to have the lifecycle costs of a typical natural gas plant.


Canada Positions for Lower Carbon

Ontario Power now is hammering out agreements with a project contractor and an engineering firm, both of which Rose declined to name, with contracts expected to be inked by the end of the year.

The project is expected to deploy 700 people during the initial development stages, ramping up to 1,600 as construction and manufacturing at peak, the utility said.

The Ontario company did geotechnical work on the site last year and now is now starting work to bring in water and electrical lines, according to Rose.

In addition to site prep, the low interest loan will help Ontario Power cover cost of project design and management, and procurement of equipment with a long-lead time in ordering.

Planning for the project began in 2018 when Ontario Power began reviewing 150 different SMR technologies, from ones in their “early days” to others “much further along,” said Rose.  “We did work independently with each of those different technologies to evaluate them,”

In addition to federal support for SMR projects and technology, provincial governments also are ramping up efforts to develop SMR facilities.

Ontario has teamed with New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Alberta on a strategic plan to support development. SaskPower recently announced it has chosen the same model – the GE Hitachi BWRX-300 – for a reactor it hopes to build in Saskatchewan in the mid-2030s.

“Energy experts say there is no path to bringing the world's carbon emissions to zero by 2050 without nuclear,” said Ehren Cory, Canada Infrastructure Bank CEO, in a statement. “As our largest clean power investment, we are supporting technology which can accelerate the reduction in greenhouse gases.”

The bank loan is part of a larger effort by Canada to position itself as a leader of cutting-edge nuclear technology as demand grows for non-carbon emitting forms of power.

“A growing embrace is a good way to put it,” said Rose, of the Canadian government’s interest in the new generation of smaller, more technologically sophisticated nuclear reactors.

He termed the infrastructure bank loan "a big deal.”