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Greenhouse gas emission targets boost enthusiasm for small modular nuclear reactors

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CALGARY — The worldwide battle to control greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change is the best thing that’s happened for growth in the nuclear energy industry in decades, its proponents say.

They add that the development of smaller, scalable nuclear reactors to churn out reliable, emissions-free energy at a much lower than traditional cost makes nuclear an option that’s become impossible to ignore.

“Thirty years ago, the vision was that nuclear energy is going to be so cheap that we’ll be giving electricity away for free,” said Robby Sohi, president and CEO of Global First Power Ltd., a company trying to build Canada’s first small modular reactor or SMR.

That early potential was short lived, though, as project costs escalated and Canada ran out of regions with enough power demand to justify a big expensive nuclear reactor.

“The biggest change is it is going to be just about impossible — I don’t see how — you can ever meet a 2050 (net-zero) target without nuclear in the mix,” said Sohi.

A recent study from the Canadian Nuclear Association found that the use of SMRs would allow heavy industries in Canada to reduce their GHG emissions by 216 megatonnes over 15 years from 2035 to 2050.

Using a model based on deploying 60 to 190 SMRs generating between 100 and 300 megawatts each for a total output of about 19,000 MW by 2050, it found GHG emissions would decline by 14 megatonnes per year on average, equal to taking over three million cars off the road per year.

Association CEO John Gorman pointed out Canada has had safe nuclear power for more than 50 years and nuclear currently supplies about 15 per cent of the nation’s electricity.

“The domestic market for these small modular reactors is about $5.3 billion between now and 2040 and the world market is going to be between $150 billion and $300 billion a year in that same time frame,” he said, touting rich export possibilities.

“So, does Canada want to take advantage of the deep experience that we have and our first mover advantage to find solutions here at home and export them abroad?”

Sohi joined provincially owned Ontario Hydro in 1991 and is the senior vice-president of corporate business development and strategy for its successor, Ontario Power Generation. Global First Power is a joint venture between OPG and Seattle-based technology provider Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp.

It is developing a “micro” SMR, or MMR, capable of generating 15 megawatts of heat energy (or about five MW of electricity) to meet the needs of a small remote community or a mine that would otherwise have to burn diesel, creating noise and pollution.

The reactor is designed to run for 20 years without refuelling, replacing about 265 million litres of diesel. Sohi said the goal is to be able to build it for about $200 million, plus or minus $30 million, to ensure it can compete on cost with diesel.

Nuclear power’s ability to produce energy without emissions makes it popular among politicians like federal Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan and the premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick, but it has yet to win many converts among environmental groups.

Studies like the one published by the Canadian Nuclear Association are “hollow, promotional statements” designed to seek public funds for unproven and unneeded technologies, said Kerrie Blaise, staff lawyer at the Canadian Environmental Law Association.

“SMRs aren’t scalable quick enough,” she said, pointing out proven renewable power sources such as solar and wind should be promoted because action on climate change is needed as soon as possible.

“We have existing renewable generation technologies which are socially acceptable, they’re cost effective and they’re scalable now … why is it that this one is being favoured over other technologies that are relevant, scalable, cheaper, and don’t impose liability and risk on the Canadian public?”

The industry insists that the risk of an accidental meltdown of an SMR’s reactor core is greatly diminished compared with older generation reactors because of “passive” control designs that automatically shut it down if problems develop.

But Blaise pointed out any new reactors will create new streams of dangerous nuclear waste for which permanent storage solutions have proven difficult to nail down.

Sohi agrees the nuclear solution is not an immediate one.

Global First Power’s project, which is to be built at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ Chalk River site in Ontario, is now undergoing an environmental assessment while detailed design and engineering is completed and it awaits a licence from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Construction is expected to begin in two years and will take two or more years to complete, with the reactor expected to be in service by 2026.

Proponents say SMRs could be particularly effective in the oilsands to replace natural gas burned to create the steam needed to coax heavy bitumen to flow into a wellbore.

But a spokeswoman for oilsands producer Suncor Energy Inc. said SMRs are just one of the solutions it is considering as it aims for a 2030 emissions intensity reduction target.

“We’re in the early days of evaluation and no commitments or decisions have been made, but Suncor is exploring the possibility of small modular nuclear reactor technology as a zero carbon energy source for our oilsands operations,” said Melanie Ducharme in an email.

Pierre Gratton, CEO of the Mining Association of Canada, said his members are also watching and waiting.

“It’s hard to imagine the world achieving the Paris targets without nuclear power being part of the mix,” he said in an interview.

“It doesn’t mean we have to put all of our eggs in the nuclear basket.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 25, 2021.

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Dan Healing, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Three Canadian teams to play in women's hockey Dream Gap Tour in Calgary

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CALGARY — Canada’s top players in women’s hockey will finally get to play real games later this month in Calgary.

The Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association (PWHPA) is holding Canada’s first Dream Gap Tour event in over a year May 24-30 at a Calgary venue yet to be announced.

Sixty players from the PWHPA’s three Canadian hubs in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary will play to determine the Canadian Secret Cup champion.

Secret, which announced a $1-million sponsorship of the PWHPA earlier this year, and the NHL’s Calgary Flames are the financial partners in the event.

Similar COVID-19 quarantine and testing protocols established by Hockey Canada for the world junior men’s hockey championship and national women’s and para hockey camps in Alberta will be incorporated.

Alberta tightened restrictions this week in the face of rising COVID cases, but Alberta Health has approved plans for the women’s tournament, PWHPA operations consultant Jayna Hefford said. 

“They believe the protocols, the quote-unquote bubble that’s been put in place, will secure the safety of our group and Albertans,” the Hockey Hall of Famer told The Canadian Press. “There will be no interaction with the public.”

While the PWHPA’s Calgary plans were in the works before Nova Scotia’s premier pulled the plug on this month’s women’s world championship, the Dream Gap Tour now offers an oasis in what’s been a pandemic hockey desert for the majority of players in the national women’s team pool.

The last real games many of them played came in a PWHPA tournament March 6-8, 2020 in Arizona. The last PWHPA event in Canada was Jan. 11-12, 2020 in Toronto.

The PWHPA’s American chapter has played a handful of games in the United States in recent weeks, although a two-day tournament in St. Louis was postponed from early April to May 16-17.

Canada’s mandatory 14-day quarantine upon return from outside the country kept Canadian players from participating in the U.S. games.

Stricter health regulations across Canada also made skating together in groups impossible at times and planning actual games in the country a non-starter.

“It’s been so challenging,” Hefford said. “We had to try to encourage our players to be patient early on in the season, and even in early 2021 we continued to reiterate we would only host events if we could feel really comfortable about the safety of everyone involved.”

The PWHPA, which includes Canadian and U.S. national team players, rose from the ashes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League that folded in 2019. 

The goal of the roughly 150 players is a sustainable league that offers the competitive supports and training environments the male pros get, and wages that allow them to be professional athletes.

They’ve so far refused to join the six-team National Women’s Hockey League, which recently announced a doubling of each team’s salary cap to US$300,000 for next season. The Toronto Six is the lone Canadian club in that league.

The PWHPA held a series of Dream Gap Tour tournaments and events across North America in 2019-20 before the global pandemic brought the sporting world to its knees.

The pandemic continued to impede women’s hockey internationally and domestically.

The women’s world championship in Nova Scotia was cancelled a second straight year, although Hockey Canada is committed to hosting the tournament in August in a location yet to be named.

January’s world under-18 women’s championship in Sweden was called off, while a men’s under-20 champion was crowned in Edmonton that month.

The men’s world under-18 championship in Texas concludes Thursday. The men’s world championship is scheduled to open in just over two weeks on May 21 in Riga, Latvia.

The NHL, men’s minor pro leagues and major junior’s Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League all operated in some form this winter.

Calgary’s Scotiabank, Toronto’s Sonnet and Montreal’s Bauer squaring off for a trophy and prize money can help revive the visibility of women’s hockey in Canada, Hefford said.

“We represent the players and we want to see them out there,” she stated.

“We have partners that have been so loyal and committed, so helpful in this process to move this forward, get the women back on the ice. 

“It seems like men’s hockey has gone on and we continue to hit these hurdles. 

“I hope this is a great opportunity for the women to play, but also for people to see the best of women’s hockey on the ice again.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Canadian Natural reports $1.38B Q1 profit, record quarterly production

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CALGARY — Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. reported a first-quarter profit of nearly $1.38 billion compared with a loss a year ago.

The oilsands producer says the profit amounted to $1.16 per diluted share for the quarter ended March 31.

The result compared with a loss of $1.28 billion or $1.08 per diluted share a year ago.

Revenue totalled $6.6 billion, up from $4.5 billion in the first three months of 2020, helped by higher oil and natural gas prices.

Production in the quarter was a record 1,245,703 barrels of oil equivalent per day, up from 1,178,752 barrels of oil equivalent per day in the first quarter of 2020.

On an adjusted basis, Canadian Natural says it earned $1.03 per diluted share compared with an adjusted loss of 25 cents per share last year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021.

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