Alberta investing in small modular reactors to cut emissions in oil production

Alberta is going nuclear, investing in a technology called small modular reactors to cut emissions in oil production. Cara Campbell looks at why Alberta, and Canada are so interested.

CALGARY (CityNews) — “It’s completely clean electricity and heat, it doesn’t create any emissions.”

That coming from John Gorman, the president and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association who says Alberta is going nuclear.

Small modular reactors or SMR’s are a nuclear technology Alberta, and the rest of the country, are investing in as a way to cut emissions in oil production.

Speaking at a news conference Thursday, premiere Jason Kenney said Alberta is in talks with the federal government to expand the use of SMR’s.

“Pursuing potentially small modular reactors, and other game-changing technologies, substantially to cut emissions without making Canada’s largest industry, our energy sector, uncompetitive,” said Kenney.

SMR’s are nuclear fission reactors that are relatively small, and mobile compared to traditional nuclear power plants.

One of the major applications the Government of Canada has identified is used in oilsands extraction.  According to the SMR roadmap, “oilsands producers and remote mines would benefit from medium-term options for bulk heat and power that would be more reliable and cleaner than their current energy sources.”

WATCH: The Canadian Nuclear Association shows off the new option for nuclear energy in Canada, Small Modular Reactors. 

The reactors use high heat to generate power.

“That heat can be used to produce steam, which you can use to produce electricity, but you can just as easily use that high-temperature heat to use steam that’s used in oil and gas extraction,” said Gorman.

Because the technology doesn’t create emissions, the discussions around its use and benefits in Alberta largely centre on decarbonizing the energy sector in the province.

“And that makes perfect sense, you can bring in these SMR’s into oil and gas extraction situations and be producing completely emissions-free, high-temperature steam, electricity, and even hydrogen.

As for safety and byproduct concerns, Gorman says the technology is safe and produces very little waste that’s already being managed.

“It’s a way for Alberta to continue to show the innovation that they’ve been showing in terms of decarbonizing their energy sector, and by creating a very competitive, low carbon product, in this increasingly carbon-constrained world.”

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