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Alberta's Minister of Energy Sonya Savage speaks in Calgary on March 4, 2022.The governments of Ontario, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Alberta have put forward a nuclear plan that transitions them toward cleaner energy.Todd Korol/The Canadian Press

The governments of Ontario, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Alberta have put forward a nuclear plan they say will move them toward cleaner energy.

On Monday, the provinces’ energy ministers agreed to a proposal for small modular reactors. The first 300-megawatt plant is to be built in Darlington, Ont., east of Toronto, by 2028.

Two advanced reactors are to be developed in New Brunswick by 2030, and Saskatchewan could break ground on its own site by the mid-2030s.

The provinces hope the reactors will eventually help phase out coal-produced electricity in Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick and provide a steady power supply to complement renewable energy sources like wind, solar and battery storage.

The transition is part of the provinces’ goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Mike Holland, New Brunswick’s minister of energy development, said there’s a need to reduce carbon emissions.

“Nuclear is going to play a key role, and we’ll need the generation of electricity through SMRs to achieve those goals.”

The plan aims to meet domestic energy needs, curb greenhouse gas emissions and make Canada a global leader in clean technologies. That includes positioning Canada as an exporter of SMR technology.

Ontario Energy Minister Todd Smith said Canadian technology is already attracting private investment from Poland. Synthos Green Energy is teaming up with nuclear parts supplier BWXT Canada to build up to 10 reactors in Poland by the early 2030s.

“The war in Ukraine right now has certainly heightened countries’ need for energy autonomy,” said Smith who added it will open up export opportunities for the provinces and create jobs.

“We are leading the world in Canada with the SMR program. They’re watching us, and they want to see how this turns out, and potentially make investments in their own countries.”

There is also private-sector interest within Alberta, where businesses make decisions on what energy to invest in, unlike other provinces that have Crown-owned generation.

“We know there’s a tremendous interest in the oil sands, because there’s no path to net-zero (by 2050) in Canada or Alberta or anywhere globally without nuclear. It is an important part of the energy mix,” said Sonya Savage, Alberta’s energy minister.

Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have worked together to advance small modular reactors in Canada since 2019. Alberta joined last April.

Saskatchewan and Alberta do not currently use nuclear energy, but Ontario and New Brunswick do.

Permanent storage for waste will be needed as provinces transition to nuclear energy.

John Gorman, president of the Canadian Nuclear Association, said nuclear waste – or spent fuel – will be stored in gigantic cement casks underground in Ontario.

“It’s important to note spent fuel has never hurt anyone, let alone killed anyone, in Canada or around the world,” Gorman said.

Waste from the Prairies is likely to be transported to Ontario through trucks.

“Uranium is about one million times more energy dense than coal for example. For any of us, the amount of uranium it would take to power our entire lives: transportation, homes, everything – it would fit in a coke bottle,” Gorman said.

“It’s a very, very small amount of waste which makes storing it and managing it responsibly much easier.”

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