Like many countries, Canada has pledged to reduce its net carbon emissions to zero by 2050. But what makes Canada unique is how it wants to achieve that goal. Like others, it has been boosting renewables. But it also plans to add to the mix a powerful new source: small modular reactors, or SMRs, which can be deployed faster than conventional ones and at a lower cost per unit of output. Last week, the province of Ontario selected GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to build a grid-scale SMR and bring it online by the end of the decade.
Ontario Power Generation (OPG), the largest power supplier in Ontario, selected GE Hitachi to build the first SMR at Darlington, the only site in Canada currently licensed for a new nuclear reactor. “We're excited to move forward with GE Hitachi and develop something here that all of us can be proud of and perhaps showcase to the rest of the world on how a new nuclear project can be done really well,” Hartwick said during a press conference.
“By moving forward, with our industry-leading technology partner GE Hitachi, on deployment of innovative technology for an SMR at Darlington, OPG is paving the way on the development and deployment of the next generation of nuclear power in Canada and beyond,” said Ken Hartwick, president and CEO of OPG. Hartwick said that nuclear power will help OPG achieve its net-zero carbon emissions goal as a company by 2040 “and act as a catalyst for efficient economy-wide decarbonization by 2050.”
Todd Smith, Ontario minister of energy, said that OPG “has taken the time and a lot of work to ensure that it selected the technology that best fits the unique characteristics of the Darlington site” and deliver Canada’s first commercial grid-scale SMR before the end of this decade. “This really is exciting news,” he added. The minister said the world was “watching what we do next” and pointed out that GE Hitachi's design was “perfectly sized to help jurisdictions around the world move off emitting resources like coal.”
Jay Wileman, president and CEO of GE Hitachi, called the decision “a significant and concrete action in the fight against climate change that will also create jobs across Ontario and Canada as we leverage the robust and growing nuclear supply chain.”
GE Hitachi has already started building partnerships with many local companies and suppliers to make this a success and with First Nations Power Authority (FNPA), an organization developing energy projects serving Canada’s Indigenous people, to tap into talent inside Canada’s Indigenous communities. GE Hitachi is currently seeking to hire and train field service technicians, who could be among the first global operation and maintenance experts trained on the BWRX-300 reactors.
An SMR is defined as a reactor that produces up to 300 megawatts of electricity. GE Hitachi is now developing the BWRX-300, which, in addition to its selection in Ontario, is under consideration for projects in the U.S., Poland and Estonia. But GE Hitachi also wants to help Canada become the first global center of excellence for this technology. “Canada has significant nuclear energy sector experience and is a global leader in the commercial nuclear power industry,” says Lisa McBride, GE Hitachi’s country leader for SMRs in Canada. “We are looking to leverage the expertise in Canada and build on that for the future of SMRs.”
Heather Chalmers, president and CEO of GE Canada, said that GE was “committed to tackling the world’s toughest challenge. Climate change is one of those urgent global priorities, and a diverse portfolio of technology solutions will be required for the energy transition.” She said that the next steps “will take all of us — governments, energy producers, OEMs, utilities, research institutions and other stakeholders — working together to make this vision a reality.”
Image credit: GE Hitachi.