Skip to content

Estevan, Lake Diefenbaker identified for small modular reactors

Two study areas being looked at as potential sites for SMRs, but no final decisions until 2029.

REGINA — SaskPower announced Tuesday they have picked two areas in Saskatchewan for further study to host small modular reactors.

The two areas are Estevan, including a 40-kilometre radius around the Boundary/Rafferty Dam and a 40-kilometre radius around Grant Devine Dam to the east; and Elbow encompassing the area around Lake Diefenbaker from Gardiner Dam to Diefenbaker Dam.

These have been identified as areas for further study to determine the feasibility of hosting an SMR. SaskPower's announcement took place at a news conference Tuesday morning at Hotel Saskatchewan.

“At a high level, these two areas have several locations technically suitable to host a nuclear power plant,” said Minister Responsible for SaskPower Don Morgan. 

It was explained the Estevan region is already important to SaskPower’s operations with a large amount of SaskPower infrastructure there already, while officials noted Lake Diefenbaker has always been seen at the top of the list as a technically suitable location. 

In making the selection, SaskPower used technical criteria based on the requirements of the various SMR technologies, including proximity to a suitable water supply, existing infrastructure and a population centre to support workers.

Other areas were looked at across the province, but the Estevan and Lake Diefenbaker areas emerged as clear front runners. Doug Opseth, director of Generation and Asset Management Planning for SaskPower, said some other areas of the province were excluded because of proximity to environmentally sensitive lands, archaeologically important areas and other protected and unique regions.

The technologically suitable areas were then ranked based on which showed the greatest opportunity in regards to licensing, construction and operation of a nuclear power plant. 

Based on that, the Estevan and Elbow areas were identified. The next step is detailed analysis and consultations by technical experts, and the expectation is they will select two candidate sites in the Estevan and Elbow areas in 2023 and make a final recommendation in 2024.

“At the end of the day our goal is to find a suitable site with a willing and informed host community by the end of 2024,” said Opseth.

A final decision on whether to build an SMR won’t be made until 2029, and a number of steps must still be taken including obtaining federal licenses and a comprehensive impact assessment process. 

But Morgan made clear the utility needs to consider the nuclear option, given the requirements to transition to cleaner energy in the future.

“SaskPower, like the rest of the world, finds itself in the midst of the largest energy transition in our history,” said Morgan. “The federal government continues to make the old way of power in Saskatchewan harder and harder, and … SaskPower must undergo a swift and comprehensive change in how it does business.”

He noted the province’s geography does not lend itself to hydroelectric technology. As a result, Morgan said, Saskatchewan has been evaluating and developing a wide range of other options including wind and solar, increased interconnection with their neighbours and expanded hydrogen and utility scale energy storage.

He said nuclear power comes with significant economic potential, from supply chain opportunities, to hundreds of construction contracts and employment and education opportunities.

“Establishing this new industry in our province has a potential to bring unprecedented economic opportunity, thousands of good paying jobs and would ensure Saskatchewan’s energy security into the next century.”

Rupen Pandya, president and CEO at SaskPower, said the focus will now be on a thorough evaluation of these two regions, “not just at a technical suitable level but a social level.” 

He said there must be “open and meaningful dialogue with the province of Saskatchewan. SaskPower is committed to ongoing and meaningful dialogue, engagement and consultation.”

Pandya said they plan to be in these communities to meet with residents, elected officials, and consult with indigenous rights holders not just prior to the selection but through the life of the project. They will also meet with non-government organizations, government ministries and agencies.

He said there will be “no shortage of opportunities” to engage with SaskPower, with plans for in-person meetings and virtual and online information sessions.

A particular challenge will be to have a meaningful dialogue, and avoid what transpired over a decade ago with the public consultations and information sessions held during discussion of the proposed Bruce Power large-scale nuclear power project for the Northwest.

Those sessions around the province ended up packed by individuals whose minds were already made up about nuclear power, for or against. 

“I think we’ve learned from that process,” said Opseth, who said part of what they were looking for was an "informed and willing" host.

“The ‘informed’ part was not served by holding that kind of process,” he said. 

As they engage with communities, Opseth said they were looking for a “different approach to ensure that all the voices do get heard as opposed to just the loudest ones.”

Morgan said the goal of the public engagement is to “provide information to the residents of Saskatchewan, invite them to ask questions, to express opinions.” He said they wanted to make sure people understood there was already significant amounts of nuclear power in Canada, to understand what the decision points are and how they are made, and give them full and complete and accurate information.

He noted Bruce Power had three sites in Ontario that provided “safe, reliable, clean nuclear power to their province and that should be the expectation for people in Saskatchewan.”

Those were large-scale reactors, but Morgan said Saskatchewan would use significantly smaller reactors. The SMR technology is “a good fit for electrical generation in our province.” He noted their natural gas facilities in the province produce 350 to 360 megawatts of electricity, “almost exactly what the SMR produces.”

Morgan said they would be looking at a variety of different entities who would participate I n funding the projects, but further details would be down the road. The indication from SaskPower is they would be interested in federal participation.

Opposition reaction

In speaking to reporters at the legislature, Opposition critic for SaskPower Aleana Young said the announcement was an “important first step for SaskPower, and what I will be watching for is making sure that there aren’t any missteps.”

Young said she wanted to see a consultation process that was “open and transparent," and wanted to see the best sites chosen and "not just picking winners and losers." But she voiced skepticism that the SaskParty could be trusted with public money.

“This is (a) significant undertaking for Saskatchewan. Our energy future is critical to the economy, and $25 billion is an awful lot of money.”