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Canada Speeds Up Approval for New Nuclear Plants, Minister Says

According to the energy minister, Canada is taking steps to fast-track the approval process for new nuclear projects

by Victor Adetimilehin

Canada is taking steps to fast-track the approval process for new nuclear projects, but will not bypass the federal environmental review as requested by the province of Ontario, according to Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.

Wilkinson told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday that the government will revise the Impact Assessment Act (IAA) this spring after the Supreme Court ruled last year that it overstepped into provincial jurisdiction. The IAA requires all new major projects in Canada, including nuclear reactors, to undergo a federal environmental review.

However, Wilkinson said the revisions will be limited to addressing the court’s concerns, and will not involve large-scale consultations that would delay the process. He added that the government has some ideas on how to make the process more efficient and responsive to the provinces’ needs, without compromising on environmental standards.

Nuclear Power: A Key to Canada’s Climate Goals?

Canada is the world’s second-largest uranium producer and has a long history of nuclear power generation. Canada’s 19 nuclear reactors produce 14% of the country’s electricity, and it has also exported technology for more than 30 Canada Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) reactors worldwide.

Yet, Canada’s newest reactor came online more than two decades ago, and no nuclear project has been approved since the IAA was introduced in 2019. This has resulted in regulatory delays for miners like NexGen Energy, which is still waiting to build the world’s largest uranium mine in Saskatchewan after seven years.

“It’s a very long process,” said NexGen CEO Leigh Curyer. “Government and industry working together to bring these projects online more expeditiously, that is key.”

If the approval timeline is shortened, it could help Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government achieve its goals of reducing the country’s electricity grid to net-zero carbon emissions by 2035, and the overall economy to net-zero by 2050. These goals are part of Canada’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

“Canada, again and again, has failed to create valid environmental assessment processes and arms-length regulation of the nuclear power industry – leaving communities at risk,” said Sierra’s Canada programs director Gretchen Fitzgerald.

Different Approaches for Different Provinces

Wilkinson said he held a meeting late last year with provincial energy ministers from Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and New Brunswick to discuss how to accelerate assessments for new nuclear projects. These provinces are interested in developing small modular reactors (SMRs), which are smaller, cheaper, and more flexible than traditional reactors, and could replace coal-fired plants or power remote communities.

One of the ways to expedite the process is to treat expansions of existing nuclear sites – brownfields – differently from new facilities – greenfields, Wilkinson said. Only Ontario and New Brunswick have existing reactors, so provinces that have none would “probably require a bit more of an assessment,” he said.

Ontario, which derives 50% of its power needs from nuclear, wants to roll out more reactors in Canada’s most populous province. It has also asked the federal government to exempt nuclear projects from the IAA, saying it would otherwise take too long to build them.

“If it’s going to take another seven to 10 years to build a new nuclear station in Ontario, then there’s no way the federal government will hit its climate targets,” Ontario Energy Minister Todd Smith told Reuters earlier this month.

Wilkinson said he will not grant Ontario’s request, but he will work with the province to find ways to streamline the process. He also announced on Thursday that the federal government will contribute up to C$50 million ($36.8 million) to Bruce Power, a private nuclear operator in Ontario, to conduct consultations and studies to add new reactors in Tiverton, Ontario. Bruce Power’s plant is already the second-biggest in the world.

“We have a very deep history in nuclear in this country, and we have an opportunity to be a leader in the next generation of nuclear,” he said.

Source: Reuters 


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