Alberta dips its toes into nuclear

New year, new power source: Alberta is now dabbling in nuclear power. 

What happened: In a deal that could produce Alberta’s first nuclear power reactor, power producer Capital Power is partnering with Ontario Power Generation to explore building small nuclear reactors (SMRs) in the western province, according to The Globe and Mail

  • Ontario Power Generation, a crown corporation that operates 10 nuclear plants in Ontario, is aiming to have an SMR built in Alberta by 2035.

Why it matters: After years of the province expressing interest, the partnership marks Alberta’s entry into nuclear power, an energy solution that more provinces, including Ontario, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick have also been increasingly willing to pursue. 

  • OPG will bring one of the world's first SMRs to Clarington, Ontario, by 2028, while Saskatchewan and New Brunswick are aggressively exploring projects of their own.

  • SMRs are appealing to provinces because, compared to larger reactors, they are, in theory, cheaper and quicker to build, safer, and can be built in more remote areas.

Yes, but: SMRs are still a largely unproven technology since none have been sold or built in the U.S., and Canada’s program is in very early stages. China and Russia are the only two countries that have managed to create operational SMRs, a feat that the U.S. government is pushing hard to match. 

  • Experts also say the reactors, while promising, are a long way away from having reliable budgets and operational timelines. 

Bottom line: SMRs and nuclear energy as a whole remain big question marks. But given nuclear’s potential to produce clean power en masse, smooth out supply chain ops, and cut costs in the process, provinces seem willing to give it a shot, whether it pans out or not.—LA