The Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) has committed almost a billion dollars towards Canada’s, and the world’s, first commercial-grade small modular reactor (SMR) project in Clarington, Ont.
CIB CEO Ehren Cory gathered with federal and provincial ministers and Ontario Power Generation (OPG) CEO Ken Hartwick onsite Oct. 25 to mark what was termed a significant step forward for Canada’s nuclear energy sector.
OPG is developing and constructing the 300-megawatt SMR near OPG’s existing 3,500-megawatt Darlington Nuclear Generating Station, with 2028 as the targeted year of commissioning.
“Today’s announcement represents another giant step forward in our government’s plan to build the world’s first commercial-grid scale small modular reactor right here onsite in Darlington,” said Ontario Minister of Energy Todd Smith. “It’s also a major step forward in furthering our reputation as a global technology hub here.”
Durham Regional Chair John Henry and Clarington Mayor Adrian Foster also spoke in superlatives.
“Not very many politicians can go to an event that is going to change the world and it’s going to happen right here in Durham Region,” said Henry.
Foster called the project launch “the birth of a multibillion-dollar industry right here in our backyard.”
The CIB is contributing a $970-million low-cost loan. The CIB-financed phase one work covers all preparation required prior to nuclear construction, including project design, site preparation, procurement of long lead-time equipment, utility connections, implementation of a digital strategy and related project management costs.
These are investments where we get financial payback, but ultimately we measure our payback in outcomes,
— Ehren Cory
Canada Infrastructure Bank
Hartwick said OPG’s SMR program will complement its Candu technology. SMRs are generally 300 megawatts or less and have a smaller footprint and a shorter construction schedule compared to traditional nuclear generating stations.
The shorter schedule is attributable in part to the plant’s off-site modular fabrication, with some work being undertaken in Cambridge, Ont., Hartwick said. The Darlington SMR will use GE Hitachi technology.
“They’re employing hundreds right here in Ontario,” said Hartwick. “This is a great news story from a jobs front, it’s a great news story from a clean-air front, and it’s a great economic opportunity for Canada in general.”
Cory said the project was appropriate for CIB investment because it will accelerate important clean energy infrastructure.
“Infrastructure is steel and concrete, but it’s ultimately about outcomes,” said Cory.
“These are investments where we get financial payback, but ultimately we measure our payback in outcomes. A project like the build of new nuclear here at Darlington delivers significant outcomes.”
The CIB gets involved to share risks, he said, partnering with OPG as the technology develops, and secondly to provide long-term, low-cost, stable financing.
“The goal here is to get the technology built while making sure that it’s affordable to your ratepayers over the long-term,” Cory said. “Our loan helps reduce the total delivered cost of the project in a meaningful way that makes the project that much more competitive.”
Smith said he was not exaggerating in saying the world is watching Ontario and Canada as they develop SMR. He recently met with representatives of Poland, Estonia and Czechia who are observing the project with interest.
“The consistent message in every country was that they’re looking at our project here at Darlington as the model on how to do it right,” said Smith.
Federal Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson outlined various allocations his government has made in the nuclear field with Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Alberta the next likely sites for SMR programs. Among the spending, the government has given $50 million for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to develop regulations for SMRs and to work with international partners on global regulatory harmonization.
It is estimated the global SMR market will reach $150 billion per year by 2040.
A research SMR facility is currently being built in Chalk River, Ont. with completion expected by 2026.
OPG said the Darlington New Nuclear Project is being managed in a “gated” approach, with OPG board approval required at each phase of the project.
OPG is wholly owned by the Province of Ontario but Hartwick acknowledged the private-sector nuclear firm, Bruce Power, for essential co-operation as both firms refurbish traditional nuclear plants and built for the future.
He said once the first SMR is tested and commissioned, another three could be added to the Darlington footprint. SMR plants are expected to have a life of 60 years.
The Conference Board of Canada estimated there would be 700 jobs created during project development and 1,600 jobs during manufacturing and construction.
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