Canada Energy Transition Blog

Canada announces funding program to enable deployment of small modular reactors

Mar 14, 2023 6 MIN READ
Authors
Deirdre A. Sheehan

Partner, Regulatory, Indigenous and Environmental, Calgary

Richard J. King

Partner, Regulatory, Indigenous and Environmental, Toronto

Evan Barz

Associate, Disputes, Toronto

Rocco Sebastiano

Partner, Commercial, Toronto

Jacob A. Sadikman

Partner, Commercial, Toronto

Sneha Ajai

Associate, Employment and Labour, Toronto

Building

On February 24, 2023, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) launched the Enabling Small Modular Reactors Program (the SMRs Program) to fund the commercial development of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), which are scalable nuclear reactors typically smaller than traditional nuclear power plants.

As part of the research component of the SMRs program, on February 6, 2023, NRCan also announced a partnership with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to co-fund research by eligible university researchers related to SMRs through NSERC’s Alliance grants program (NSERC-NRCan Funding).

We wrote previously about the federal government’s SMR-related commitments, including its 2020 SMR Action Plan and 2022 Budget allocation. In this blog post, we briefly summarize those prior announcements and highlight the activities that the SMRs program and NSERC-NRCan Funding program are intended to support, and the main long-term objectives sought to be achieved. These developments will be of interest to stakeholders seeking opportunities to participate in SMR projects or to supply those projects.

Background: The SMR Action Plan and the 2022 Budget Allocation

In 2020, the federal government launched its SMR Action Plan, which identifies and outlines the various actions being executed upon for advancing the SMR projects recommended under Canada’s SMR Roadmap. Subsequently, in 2022, the provinces of Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick announced a joint strategic plan for the deployment of SMRs to support the growing need for sustainable energy in a commercially, technologically and environmentally sustainable manner. In principle, the federal SMR Action Plan and the provincial joint strategic plan both recognize SMRs as a potential instrument for emission reductions and to position Canada as a leader in clean energy.

In the 2022 Budget, the Government of Canada reaffirmed its commitment to SMRs by allocating:

  • approximately $70 million for NRCan to undertake research to minimize waste generated from SMRs, support the creation of a fuel supply chain, strengthen international nuclear cooperation agreements, and enhance domestic safety and security policies and practices, and
  • approximately $51 million for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to build capacity to regulate SMRs and work with international partners on global regulatory harmonization.

Key components of the SMRs program

Through the SMRs program, NRCan intends to provide $29.6 million in funding over a four year period for research and development:

  • to support the creation of supply chains for manufacturing of SMRs and fuel supply, and
  • to fund research environmentally safe and viable SMR waste management solutions.

Program funding is available as non-refundable contributions for projects until March 31, 2027. The SMRs program is open for research and development projects that request up to $5 million where it can provide up to 75% of the total project’s costs. Based on our experiences with NRCan forms of contribution agreements, refunding obligations for such contributions are expected to be conditional on meeting project-specific requirements that will be established in the form of contribution agreements and will be of particular focus for interested stakeholders. 

Application considerations and eligibility for the SMRs program

The SMRs program is currently open for applications.

Project concepts should address either management, characterization and minimization of SMR waste or the development of supply chains for SMR manufacturing. Projects that will provide more substantial results will be prioritized over projects having narrower impacts.

Eligible applicants include private companies, industry associations, not-for-profit organizations, governments, and for-profit and non-for-profit Indigenous groups and organizations. Eligible activities for funding under the SMRs program include research, development, and related scientific activities, engineering, technical and reliability assessments, feasibility studies, and environmental and regulatory studies. Projects can also include activities such as capacity building, nuclear qualifications, and standards development activities if these activities support the objectives of the SMRs program. Applicants who are not end-users are recommended to seek support and clarification from utilities and provincial/territorial governments to ensure that their projects contribute towards SMR deployment plans and align with such objectives.

The deadline for applications to the program is April 7, 2023. Information regarding the application guidelines and where to apply can be found on the program website.

Scope of project activities under the SMRs program

The SMRs program primarily aims to support the formation of enabling frameworks necessary for SMRs to replace the use of fossil fuels and contribute to climate change mitigation.

The program will enable projects that can support the creation of SMR supply chains, including projects that :

  • identify the types of equipment and components required to facilitate supply chain development.
  • identify and develop innovative and cost-sensitive manufacturing techniques for SMR construction.
  • develop classification and research capabilities for SMR fuels and fuel materials.
  • study the economic impact related to fuel fabrication and enrichment and exploring fuel processing options for SMR technologies in Canada, and
  • support becoming a nuclear qualified supplier.

The program will also enable projects that can help with the management of SMR waste, such as:

  • identifying and classifying waste streams for SMRs (e.g. chemical characterization, physical characterization, engineering, volume).
  • researching SMR waste management solutions, including interim storage, SMR waste reduction, disposal solutions, the long-term safety requirements for SMR waste storage and disposal, and packaging/transportation requirements for radioactive SMR material, and
  • researching and developing techniques/technologies for managing non-fuel SMR radioactive waste and contaminated materials, such as graphite and metals.

Key components of the NSERC-NRCan funding program

Announced in tandem with the SMRs program, NSERC-NRCan funding is intended to support, among other things, the following activities:

  • preparing a knowledge base to support policy and decision-making related to SMRs, and
  • helping improve research infrastructure and capacity of Canadian universities to carry out research related to SMRs.

NSERC-NRCan funding is available to eligible university research projects directed to developing SMR technologies, such as:

  • research surrounding supply chain development and innovation that will help manufacturing techniques for SMRs.
  • research surrounding the development of techniques for SMR fuel supply, and
  • research to identify and classify SMR fuel supply waste streams and research surrounding techniques for reduction, storage, transportation, disposal and overall management of SMR fuel waste.
  • the NSERC-NRCan funding is currently open for applications from university researchers that meet eligibility requirements to apply for NSERC grant funds. The minimum amount that can be requested from NRCan is $20,000 per year, and the maximum is $100,000 per year.

The deadline to submit expressions of interest for NERC-NRCan funding applications is April 11, 2023 and the subsequent deadline to submit a formal application is August 1, 2023. Applications for the NSERC-NRCan funding and further information on eligibility and application guidelines can be found on the NSERC website.

Implications enabling small modular reactors program

The SMRs program and the NERC-NRCan funding provide companies and organizations involved in SMR innovation and technology in Canada an opportunity to participate in long-term SMR design and deployment programs that are progressively taking place across the country. Interested participants in the SMR industry will benefit from participating, as it may well set the stage for further participation in SMR-related programs and projects announced by the federal government and provincial governments in the future.