Milestone reached for modular reactors

Someone call Homer Simpson because Canada could soon need a lot more nuclear engineers.

What happened: Ontario Power Generation (OPG) struck a deal to build a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) at the Darlington New Nuclear project site, the first commercial contract to build an SMR in North America.

  • OPG, a province-owned Crown corporation, will use technology provided by GE-Hitachi to build the reactor, and SNC Lavalin and Aecon will work on the project’s construction.

  • Once operational, the reactor will be able to power around 240,000 homes. 

Why it matters: It’s a big step forward for a new type of nuclear (pronounced “NUKE-yuh-lar”) power generation that could reshape the energy sector if proven successful in Ontario. 

  • SMRs promise to produce plenty of clean energy without the high costs and lengthy, complex construction timelines of traditional nuclear projects.

  • The last traditional nuclear plant to come online in Canada pre-dates The Backstreet Boys—it was finished in 1993 after eight years of construction. GE-Hitachi claims its reactor, which OPG is using, can be built in as little as two years.

Yes, but: SMRs have their critics, who argue that solar and wind power—which have become significantly cheaper in recent years—are more economical sources of clean energy.

  • SMR technology also doesn’t yet have much of a real-world track record. The only operational models are in Russia and China, making it difficult to assess how long they’ll actually take to build (and how much they’ll ultimately cost).

What’s next: OPG now needs the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to sign off on its plan—that will have to happen by 2025 (which would be unusually fast) for the reactor to come online by OPG’s 2028 target.