Nuclear power in Canada (08/09/2023)

• Canada is currently operating 19 nuclear power plant units at four locations: Bruce (8), Pickering (6), Darlington (4), Point Lepreau (1)

• These are all heavy-water-moderated pressure tube reactors of the CANDU type, which can use natural uranium

• A comprehensive modernisation programme is currently underway for the reactor fleet, the life of which is to be extended

• Canada plans to use Small Modular Reactors (SMR), including Hitachi's BWRX-300, which is in the process of pre-licensing


Status quo of power generation

Canada generated about 643 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity in 2021. Well over half came from hydropower, followed by nuclear power and natural gas.

Anzahl der Anlagen und Durchschnittsalter mit Strommix in Kanada
Anzahl Anlagen Durchschnittsalter Strommix Kanada

[Wir nutzen die Zahlen der International Energy Agency (IAE), die für Kanada den Stand 2022 wiedergibt. Tagesaktuelle Erzeugungsdaten nach Energiequelle finden sich auf der Seite Electricity Maps.]

Political and legal framework

By 2030, 90 percent and in the long term 100 percent of Canada's electricity is to be generated from renewable and emission-free resources. In order to come closer to this goal, the government regulated the phase-out of conventional coal-fired power generation by 2030 in 2018. In this context, adjustments are also planned for the nuclear sector. Two developments play a decisive role here: the modernisation and lifetime extension of existing NPPs over a period of 15 years. The work includes i.a. the replacement of the pressure tubes and the steam generators as well as the adaptation of the auxiliary systems to current standards. The measures are intended to extend the operating lives of the reactors by 30 to 35 years - for some of the units at the Bruce site, there is talk of the year 2064. Unit 6 reached criticality again in August 2023 after extensive modernisation measures and is about to be restarted. The province of Québec also intends to examine the recommissioning of the Gentilly-2 NPP, which was already shut down in 2012.

The second development relates to making Canada an international leader in Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). The basis for this is the SMR Roadmap the first plants in Canada will be connected to the grid by the end of the 2020s. Accompanying this are financial and regulatory incentives. For example, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has introduced a process for reviewing NPP concepts even before licences are granted, based on the reactor technology of the respective supplier. In February 2023, the government launched the Enabling Small Modular Reactors Program, which provides about $22 million to support the development and use of SMRs. In a competition of sorts, the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) invited interested companies to apply with their SMR concept to build an SMR demonstration unit at the Chalk River site managed by CNL. Four concepts are currently in the selection process.

Map of Canada
Karte Kanada

Current plans and projects

Canada developed its own reactor design with the CANDU reactors in the 1950s, and these were also exported to South Korea, India, China, Romania and Argentina. Since then, the concept has gone through several stages of development in which, among other things, safety systems were adapted.

Further developments with regard to the fuel were also considered, for example with the EC6 (Enhanced Candu 6) or the Advanced Candu Reactor (ACR).

Large NPPs. In the past, possible new construction projects have been discussed time and again - among others in Ontario, New Brunswick and Alberta - but no concrete planning steps have ever been initiated. At the beginning of July 2023, the provincial government of Ontario announced that the operator Bruce Power would conduct an environmental impact assessment for new nuclear generation capacity of 4,800 MW at the Bruce site. The provincial government supports the new build plans.

SMR. The Darlington New Nuclear Project (DNNP) envisages the construction of four SMRs at the Darlington site. This site was chosen because an environmental impact assessment already existed here. One of the SMRs is planned by GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) together with the operating company Ontario Power Generation (OPG). This is a BWRX-300, a 300-megawatts (MW) water-cooled small modular boiling water reactor with natural circulation. The SMR concept has already passed the first two combined pre-licensing phases. The construction licence, applied for in October 2022, is currently undergoing technical review by the regulator. It is expected that hearings on the project will start in 2024. Preparatory construction work has already begun. In July 2023, the Ontario government also announced that it would also begin the planning and licensing with OPG of three more SMRs at the same site, making it a total of four SMRs. The total capacity of the DNPP would be around 1,200 megawatts if the project were to be realised.

In June 2023, NB Power applied for a site preparation permit to build an ARC-100 reactor at the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant site. Registration for an environmental impact assessment was also made. The ARC-100 is a sodium-cooled fast reactor with a capacity of 100 MW.

Research reactors

Canada operates four research reactors, three in the province of Ontario and one in Montreal. Licensees operating these facilities include universities, private companies and government agencies.

Uranium mining and processing facilities

Canada has large uranium deposits and is one of the countries with the world's largest uranium production after Kazakhstan and Namibia. The production comes from the McArthur River and Cigar Lake mines in the northern province of Saskatchewan. In addition, the exploration of possible deposits is being pursued.