NB Power prepares for small-modular nuclear reactors

NB Power will soon be applying to the federal nuclear power regulator in preparation for small-modular nuclear reactors at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station in Charlotte County.

Heather McKnight, an engineer with NB Power, said the provincial utility is currently in the “pre-project” phase, but will soon be submitting a license to prepare to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the first in a three-step process to bring generation-four small-modular nuclear reactors to the province.

“It will prepare the site for construction that will begin years down the road,” she told Saint Andrews town council, adding it will run in conjunction with environmental assessments, among other consultation steps.

The provincial energy utility has begun presenting to communities across the province, and will also be seeking feedback from Indigenous communities on sustainability and community well-being.

NB Power expects to submit the license to prepare by the end of June, she said.

It’ll be the official “starting gun” for the project which could see New Brunswick become the first province to generate power via a generation-four reactor, more advanced than the current CANDU reactor technology.

As previously reported by the Telegraph-Journal, ARC Clean Energy Canada committed to a 2029 launch date for its small-modular nuclear reactor at the Point Lepreau facility, with Moltex Energy also planning to deploy its small-modular reactor at Point Lepreau within a similar time frame.

As a scale of reference, each of these reactors will be approximately half the size of the Costco warehouse on Saint John’s east side, McKnight said.

She added there's potential to add more nuclear reactors in northern New Brunswick.

"These reactors aren't just targeted for power production," she said, they can also be used to provide steam heat for industrial purposes.

"It's really exciting."

NB Power is currently mandated to provide 4,000 megawatts of power at any given time, she told council, and currently, about half of it comes from “clean” sources, including hydro, nuclear, wind, solar, and biomass, along with energy imported from Quebec and New England.

The other half is currently supplied by Belledune’s coal plant, the Coleson Cove generator in Lorneville, Millbank in Miramichi, and the Bayside generator, all which run off oil or gas.

New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta have signed a memorandum of understanding, committed to small modular developments. Last summer, Don Morgan, Saskatchewan’s minister of crown investment corporations and minister responsible for SaskPower, toured Point Lepreau and said his prairie province was looking east for inspiration on how to develop nuclear energy.

In 2021, the federal government passed the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, which outlines the country's commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Net-zero can be achieved by both reducing energy emissions, and offsetting any carbon emissions by purchasing renewable energy credits, or RECs, which are used to procure renewable energy sources.

SNC Lavalin's Net Zero 2050 report includes oil and gas use decreasing by 30 per cent, in part due to small modular nuclear reactors replacing fossil fuels.

With files from Telegraph-Journal archives

Marlo Glass, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal