Canada, like many industrialized countries, 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. The province of Ontario is already in the process of selecting a company to build an SMR there and bring it online by 2028. It would be the first such facility in the world.
An SMR is defined as a reactor that produces up to 300 megawatts of carbon-free electricity. GE Hitachi is now developing one of the first such reactors, the BWRX-300, which is under consideration for the Ontario project as well as others in the U.S.
In fact, Canada is keen to become the first global center of excellence for this technology, which is expected to develop into a $150 billion market by 2040, according to an independent report from PwC. The Conference Board of Canada, the country’s leading independent research organization, reported that in Ontario alone, the technology can generate 2.6 billion Canadian dollars (US$2.07 billion) of gross domestic product, C$1.7 billion in wages, and C$873 million in taxes for the province’s economy. “Canada has significant nuclear experience and is a global leader in the nuclear 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.” Adds Heather Chalmers, CEO of GE Canada: “This is the beginning of something big.”
The foundation of this SMR hub is already being built. Last week, GE Hitachi, Cameco Corporation — one of the world’s largest suppliers of uranium fuel — and the Polish energy company Synthos Green Energy signed a memorandum of understanding to evaluate the potential establishment of a uranium fuel supply chain in Canada capable of servicing a potential fleet of BWRX-300 reactors in Poland.
This builds on earlier agreements. In 2019, Synthos and GE Hitachi agreed to collaborate on potential deployment applications for the BWRX-300 in Poland. In July 2021, GE Hitachi and another GE joint venture, Global Nuclear Fuel (GNF), announced a memorandum of understanding with Canada’s Cameco Corp. “Cameco intends to be a go-to fuel supplier for these innovative reactors,” said Tim Gitzel, Cameco president and CEO. “We’re looking forward to working with GE Hitachi and GNF to see what opportunities might exist around their novel SMR design.”
GE Hitachi also is working 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 30 new field service technicians, who could be among the first global operation and maintenance experts trained on the BWRX-300 reactors. The company also plans to open 80 new jobs in Ontario to support the rollout of its SMRs, and it brought on nine interns from Canadian universities this summer. “GE Hitachi values diversity in our workforce, including equal employment opportunities for indigenous people," McBride says. “We are working to develop a highly-skilled workforce to serve the current nuclear fleet, with the potential opportunity to service the BWRX-300 SMR fleet when deployed in Canada.”
Top image: A rendering of GE Hitachi's BWRX-300 small modular reactor. Image credit: GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy.