Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)
Small modular reactors (SMRs) generate between 10 and 300 MWe and are much smaller than Canada’s flagship CANDU reactors, which average around 700 MWe.
SMRs are also modular, so many can be built together. These innovative reactors are designed to be built economically in factory conditions, rather than onsite. This new manufacturing process for nuclear reactors will speed up their deployment to meet the urgent need for low-carbon electricity sources.
Canada researchers are collaborating on international efforts to find new materials and designs that make SMRs practical in a large range of new uses in the coming decades.
Next generation SMRs can provide electricity to smaller electricity grids, like those in remote communities. These smaller reactors can also provide heat for natural resource industries. SMRs can also be added to larger grids as electricity demand grows. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimates that nearly 100 SMRs could be operating around the world by 2030.
Some SMR designs are in advanced stages of development. Several are designed to be fully underground, reducing land use and staffing needs, while simultaneously improving security. Some of these designs will allow a nuclear reactor to operate for years before they need to be refueled. Further innovations include designs that can better partner with wind and solar power to provide reliable, affordable, clean electricity in the energy system of the near future.
SMR potential in Canada
SMRs are ideal for many of Canada’s remote and smaller communities not easily connected to power grids. The country’s resource industries, such as mining and oil extraction, need the heat and electricity that SMRs will be able to provide without having to build the reactors onsite.
The deployment of SMRs in Canada would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions drastically because they would replace fossil-fuel generation. Ontario’s electricity grid has already shown that nuclear power can work well with hydropower to replace coal. Developing SMR technologies will be stronger partners for solar and wind power.
Some SMR designs are being advanced in Canada, which has the materials and the skills to become a world leader. Being at the forefront of the SMR revolution could bring great economic benefits to Canada.
Natural Resources Canada has recognized the potential for SMR development and led an SMR Roadmap in 2018 to engage stakeholders on the future of small modular reactors in Canada. An SMR Action Plan, based on the roadmap recommendations, was launched in the fall of 2020.
A conservative estimate of the global export potential of SMRs is $150 billion per year for 2030 to 2040. This includes applications for electricity generation, remote mine sites, island nations and off-grid communities.
The global market could be much larger if countries adopt SMRs as a key tool in the fight to reduce and eliminate fossil-fuel use for electricity generation.