Alberta is investing $7 million from the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction Fund to help Cenovus Energy study how small modular nuclear reactors could be used in northern Alberta.
Portions of the allotted money will go towards finding out what additional information may be needed to pursue regulatory approval in the future.
According to Alberta’s Emissions Reduction and Energy Development Plan and A Strategic Plan for the Deployment of Small Modular Reactors, the Province is committed to responsible and innovative energy development, and small modular reactors have the potential to provide zero-emissions energy and further reduce emissions from Alberta’s oil sands in the future.
“A few years ago, the idea of expanding nuclear energy use was on the back burner – that is no longer the case,” said Rebecca Schulz, Minister of Environment and Protected Areas.
“In Alberta, small modular nuclear reactors have the potential to supply heat and power to the oil sands, simultaneously reducing emissions and supporting Alberta’s energy future,” added Schulz.
Rhona DelFrari, chief sustainability officer and executive vice-president, stakeholder engagement at Cenovus Energy said enabling the study is signals the collaborative approach the company will need to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. “We’re exploring multiple technologies that would help significantly reduce our emissions, and small modular reactors show potential,” said DelFrari. “This study will help us understand if this possible solution is economical and technically viable.”
Cenovus Energy’s $26.7-million enabling study will look at whether small modular reactor technology could be applied to steam-assisted gravity drainage projects in the oil sands, which drill into the reservoir and inject steam to soften the oil.
Alberta Innovates recently released a study on the feasibility of using small modular nuclear reactors in steam-assisted gravity drainage operations, which is an early step to see if this technology could be part of Alberta’s long-term solutions to reducing emissions from industry operations.
While there is currently no project being planned, this study frames the discussion around what is possible in the years ahead.
Laura Kilcrease, chief executive officer, Alberta Innovates said “Building off the work previously supported by Alberta Innovates, the success of Cenovus’s small modular reactor ERA-funded enabling study could provide substantial economic and environmental advantages throughout Alberta’s industrial sector, helping to advance a clean energy future for Canada.”
Any future adoption of small modular reactor technology in Alberta would require an extensive regulatory and engagement process. The Province says it is currently working to ensure the regulatory framework is in place and ready should private industry pursue this technology.
An Alberta-Ottawa working group focussed on emissions reduction and energy development met for the first time on September 12. The working group agreed to commence the development of a regulatory framework for small modular reactor technology and continue work on federal and provincial incentives for CCUS, hydrogen and other emissions-reducing technologies.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission regulates all stages of life of nuclear power plants in Canada, starting from the initial environmental assessment to decommissioning. The approval process takes several years and offers opportunities for public participation.