Blog: Small nuclear power plants for Indigenous communities?

After a 30-year pause, Canada is getting back into nuclear power generation.

And there’s a developing type of nuclear power generators — Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) — that could be of interest to some of the 200 or so Indigenous communities in Canada that still have to depend on diesel generators for their electricity.

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute says: “An opportunity exists for SMRs to provide added economic opportunity, environmental alignment and energy security for Indigenous communities, if done correctly.”

The major Canadian nuclear move is coming in Ontario, which plans to add a third nuclear generating station to Bruce Power near Kincardine.

That would double Bruce Power’s output, generating up to 4,800 megawatts — enough to power 4.8-million homes.

It would be the first large-scale nuclear operation built in Canada in more than three decades.

It will all take time, perhaps 10 years or more, and Ontario would have to clear complex regulatory hurdles. Consultations with First Nations are essential in the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s licensing process.

But things could move faster for Ontario’s plan to build three small modular reactors in addition to one already planned at the Darlington nuclear site.

The four would produce a total 1,200 megawatts of electricity, equivalent to powering 1.2 million homes.

The governments of New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta have co-operated on a strategic plan on SMRs, and it includes “creating opportunities for participation from Indigenous communities.”

The federal government also has an SMR action plan.

In Saskatchewan, SaskPower proposes to build an SMR by the mid-2030s and is evaluating two potential sites (in the Estevan and Elbow areas).

Nuclear energy also has its supporters in northern Saskatchewan where uranium is mined and is the largest regional employer of Indigenous people.

Alberta sees SMRs (or smaller micro modular reactors, MMRs) being used in oil sands operations and petrochemical production. And Alberta plans to work with the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute to explore the viability of using SMRs.

New Brunswick Power is proposing an SMR at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station. It would be developed by Moltex Energy, which says of First Nations: “We understand the importance of real partnership, and that includes equity ownership.”

(Moltex also says it will be able to “recycle waste from existing nuclear power stations, and use it to produce more clean energy.”)

A key plus of SMRs is that they can be pre-fabricated and shipped to their locations, significantly reducing construction costs.

They are scalable, and can be custom-made to suit isolated areas, areas of limited electrical need, and sites with limited water supplies.

And thus across Canada, local and regional SMRs are seen as having potential for giving remote Indigenous communities a cleaner source of power than their current diesel generators.

They could also be used to power LNG projects.

Two energy observers (Heather Exner-Pirot of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and Jesse McCormick of the First Nations Major Projects Coalition) wrote in National Post:

“With the new wave of SMRs on the horizon, governments, Indigenous communities and proponents of clean power generation have the opportunity to harness not only the extraordinary potential of nuclear energy, but also the power of Indigenous consent to get projects built on budget and on time.”

The two heavily emphasize that word “consent.”

“It starts with ensuring that First Nations have the capacity to engage effectively and confirm for themselves whether a proposed project warrants their support. Governments, regulators and project developers need to ensure that First Nations have the ability to make free, prior and informed decisions about SMR deployments within their territories. . . .

“Canada has the potential to be a world leader in the safe and effective deployment of SMRs. Embracing that opportunity begins with recognizing the right of Indigenous nations to be part of the process.”

SMRs, they note, “promise to be smaller, easier to site, cheaper to finance and faster to build than conventional reactors, and their modular design permits on-site assembly at a lower cost than conventional reactors.

“Moreover, the passive safety mechanisms built into various SMR models significantly reduce the risk of accidents, and some models will have the potential to reduce nuclear waste by reusing spent fuel to generate electricity.”

Jesse McCormick also suggested (in a story in Northern Ontario Business) that First Nations could be “active participants in the development of these projects through commercial and equity arrangements.”

The headline on that story: “Small reactors could empower First Nations with energy security”

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute also held a webinar on First Nations and SMRs, noting: “In Canada, Indigenous communities are already engaged across the nuclear supply chain, from uranium mining to conventional reactor siting to nuclear waste management.

“An opportunity exists for SMRs to provide added economic opportunity, environmental alignment and energy security for Indigenous communities if done correctly.”

• You can watch the webinar at

• Read also: As Canada displaces coal reliance at home and abroad through natural gas and LNG, it should simultaneously build the nuclear reactors and small modular reactors (SMRs) to hit net-zero goals while keeping the lights on and the economy growing:

• What’s standing in the way of small modular reactors? Government permitting. Listen to this clip from the Eco Innovators podcast:

(Posted here 09 August 2023)

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