Canada invests in small modular nuclear technology, eyes net-zero future

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains speaks during a meeting of the special committee on the COVID-19 outbreak, as efforts continue to help slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada May 20, 2020. REUTERS/Blair Gable

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government took a tentative step forward on its national small modular reactor (SMR) plan on Thursday, with an investment to help an Ontario company edge closer to commercializing its reactor technology.

The C$20 million ($15.1 million) investment will help Terrestrial Energy complete a pre-licensing milestone for its technology, part of an effort to bring modern nuclear energy to industry, Canada’s innovation ministry said.

“By helping to bring these small reactors to market, we are supporting significant environmental and economic benefits,” said Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains. The company pledged to create dozens of jobs with the funding.

While SMR technology has not been widely deployed worldwide, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has been touting it as a way to help Canada achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The modular reactors, which are fueled by uranium and use fission like traditional nuclear plants but cost far less to build, could also help reduce emissions in Canada’s energy-intensive oil patch.

“SMR technologies can provide a clean energy alternative to convention coal and fossil energy generation, including in hard to decarbonize sectors like resource extraction and heavy industry,” Bains told reporters.

Energy producer Suncor SU.TO said it is in general talks with Ottawa on SMRs to help power oil sand operations and other facilities, though it does not yet have specific proposals.

The development of a SMR industry in Canada could also help bolster domestic uranium producers, like Saskatchewan's Cameco Inc CCO.TO, who have struggled for almost a decade in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Marguerita Choy