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The Path to Net-Zero 2050: Study finds SMRs could offer cost-effective emission reduction in Canada’s industrial sector

March 31, 2021

New research shows that small modular reactors (SMRs) could offer low-cost emission reductions in Canada’s heavy industry, driving down the cost of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. Between 2035 to 2050, SMRs could reduce GHG emissions in the industrial sector by 216 megatonnes – the equivalent of taking more than three million cars off the road each year in Canada.

Canada’s industrial sector faces a huge challenge in reducing emissions, with more than 30 per cent of the country’s emissions coming from oil sands, chemical manufacturing and mining. For Canada to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, our path forward must include decarbonizing heat and power in the industrial sector.

SMRs generate reliable, carbon-free electricity and heat with a much smaller land footprint than current reactors, making them particularly well-suited to the industrial sector. These innovative reactors are often designed to be scalable and built economically in factory settings, rather than onsite, allowing for easy transportation to remote or challenging locations.

The research, conducted by EnviroEconomics and Navius Research, looked at the economic and climate implications of using SMRs in Canada’s high-emitting heavy industry. Using a model leveraged by organizations such as the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices and the International Council on Clean Transportation, the study explored different cost and technical assumptions for deploying SMRs.

Highlights of the data show that SMRs in Canada could:

  • Reduce GHG emissions in the heavy industrial sector by 18 per cent by 2050.
  • Lower the country’s cost of reaching net-zero by more than five per cent.
  • Contribute up to $5 billion to gross domestic product (GDP) annually by 2050.
  • Allow scarce, widely needed technologies – such as hydrogen, carbon capture utilization and storage, and renewable natural gas – to be deployed elsewhere than the industrial sector, potentially reducing GHG emissions and expenditures even further.

With deployments set to begin as early as 2026, SMRs could be widespread by 2035 to meet the rapidly growing demand for emission reductions in the industrial sector. But to seize the opportunity that SMRs offer, Canada must make a significant investment in their ongoing development — an investment that could be the key to a cost-effective net-zero 2050.

To learn more, please view the full study here and the Executive Summary here.

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