SaskPower and the Saskatchewan government are proceeding with the planning for the building of a small modular nuclear reactor with the intent that, if approved, it will be built and ready to produce electricity by the mid-2030s. There are many things to consider when it comes to nuclear power and SaskPower wants to work to understand how nuclear power could contribute to the current power grid. On October 5th from 7-8 pm, they held the first of what is said to be a series of engagement initiatives, with a live and interactive call-in event.

There were two ways to hear the presentation by calling in and using a pre-set code through which participants could ask questions of the SaskPower representatives, or by joining online. The online option did not allow for the live asking of questions. SaskPower estimates there are about 30 thousand residents, in the two areas being studied for a Small Modular Reactors (SMR) development project around Elbow and Estevan, but the majority of the questions which appeared to be in full support of SMR, came from Saskatoon and Prince Albert with only one call-in question from each of the identified sites.

The SaskPower representatives involved in the call-in program identified that all options are on the table to help the province reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions from the generation of power, as soon as possible, and nuclear power from SMRs is one of those options, as is natural gas, wind, hydro, solar, and geothermal.

While a decision on whether to build a small modular reactor in Saskatchewan won’t be made until 2029, planning takes time and is a lengthy process. The process involves the selection of a specific nuclear technology and potential site. SaskPower has selected GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 SMR design which will fit with the current infrastructure. The current transmission lines can carry the current generating capacity of 5437 MW and the small reactor selected will only produce 300 MW of electricity similar to the production capacity of the other generation plants currently in use in the province. 

In an attempt to learn more about each area, SaskPower is engaging with the public to learn about the values and environmental, social, and economic priorities of people in the province. The feedback they receive will help identify reasons that a location is a good fit or a poor fit. It could also identify things that planners need to consider and plan around if a facility is to be built in one of the study areas. Responses such as those regarding each area’s recreational uses, its social or cultural significance, environmental significance, commercial or industrial use, and general observations are welcomed and encouraged by all people in the province not just in the identified areas. In responses to the question of what is most important to consider in the final site selection, environmental impacts, social and/or cultural values, or economic factors, the majority of respondents on the call-in program said that all were equally important.

The economic criteria SaskPower looked at when considered in the site selection process included factors such as the cost of connecting the SMR to the power grid, the cost to move cooling water to the SMR, and the distance to an existing highway that could handle the loads required during construction. The further an SMR is located from existing power transmission lines and a water source would drive up the cost of the project as would upgrading or refurbishing transmission lines and upgrading or building new roads. SaskPower estimates that the cost to build an SMR facility will be like that of any other power generation plant.

According to their website, when considering a site, SaskPower plans to look at causing the least amount of environmental impact to sensitive lands and habitats, prioritize areas without species at risk, maintain a minimum 50-metre buffer from shorelines, and avoid managed lands like parks, bird sanctuaries, etc. Studies into the impact of locating a small nuclear reactor on the shore of a body of water like Lake Diefenbaker will be considered, but SaskPower states that research shows there will be little impact on the temperature of the lake overall and no impact on the quality of the water by the return of cooling water to the lake.

Integration into the community is also important and by making sure to avoid or minimize impacts on places with cultural or historic significance like cemeteries, burial grounds, etc., SaskPower looks to ensure that employees needing to move to the area to work will be welcomed and have reasonable commute times to a local community and convenient access to services like restaurants, schools, daycares etc., while still leaving enough room for the community to grow.

Nuclear energy is still tainted by catastrophic events such as Chernobyl and Fukushima and two of the calls on Oct 5th reflected that. People wanted assurances that the SMR would be a safe neighbour near their community. Safety and technical criteria used in choosing a site focused on the proximity to emergency services, like a fire hall and/or hospital, and avoiding areas that are prone to extreme natural events such as fires, flooding, and geological hazards like fault lines and man-made hazards like high-pressure gas pipelines.

More events like this will be held as the selection process continues and the success of public engagement will be determined by the public themselves. 

By Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Oct 13, 2023 at 11:09

This item reprinted with permission from   Wakaw Recorder   Wakaw, Saskatchewan
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