SMR announcement a big success for Estevan


Much work remains before Estevan can host Saskatchewan's first small modular reactor.

There is still much work to be done, but Estevan has taken a big step forward in its goal of building the province's first small modular reactor (SMR).

Premier Scott Moe announced Thursday that the government is officially considering only the Estevan area as a site for Saskatchewan's first reactor. The premier had already let the cat out of the bag a few weeks earlier when he said the reactor would “quite likely” be in Estevan, but now it's official: If the reactor is built, it will be near Energy City and not in the Elbow area where we were competing.

Needless to say, he received a pretty good reaction from the audience who heard the announcement at the Estevan Chamber of Commerce's 120th anniversary celebration.

We've heard a lot about SMR technology in recent years. Some people are nervous about it. They get nervous as soon as they hear about nuclear reactors. Other people down here will be against anything that doesn't involve coal power.

Now further consultations are taking place. SaskPower must decide whether the plant will be built on the banks of the Boundary Dam or the Rafferty Reservoir. And we will have to wait and see.

The review phase is expected to take five years, so we'll likely know if this project gets the green light sometime in 2029. There's a lot of review to be done on a project with such high costs and environmental impacts, but five years will seem like a long time to those waiting.

If this project is approved, construction will take several more years. The construction phase will be long, but at least we can look forward to more than a thousand people being in the area during that time. That will be the most people in our community since 2014, when we were able to benefit from the oil boom and the construction of the CCS plant at the Boundary Dam power plant at the same time.

Once the first unit is finished, attention will apparently shift to the second, so all the workers will be heard for a long time to come.

Once an SMR is operational, it will create many jobs. Not as many as currently between the Boundary Dam and the Shand power plants and Westmoreland Mining Holdings LLC, but fortunately other industries are being considered as options.

We must also remember that this is just the beginning. The provincial government must not only find ways to replace coal-fired power generation should the day come when coal is no longer an option, but also to meet the electricity needs of a growing province.

The Elbow region may suffer from missing out on the construction of the first SMR, but those reactors could eventually be located there.

We know that this project will come with certain reservations. As soon as you mention the word “nuclear,” people think of Chernobyl. There is a big difference between conventional nuclear power and small modular reactors, and this is not the nuclear power that the province studied in 2008/09.

If you do your research using actual qualified sources, you will see the differences between the large nuclear reactors and what we see here.

There will also be people who want coal power to continue to be a catalyst for our region and will not support other energy options. But what happens when coal, at least conventional coal, is no longer available to us?

We've said it before: we're proud to be a mining community and all that coal mining has done for us. But we may not always have that choice. And so we have three options: bury our heads in the sand and hope that somehow this uncertainty will pass, rule out other options and put the future of the community at risk, or pursue other options.

The government made a smart decision by choosing Estevan as the site for the first SMRs. We have the transmission infrastructure. We have the skilled workforce. And it would have had serious consequences for our economy within the next decade if the government had chosen Elbow.

There is still a lot of work to be done and the case is far from over, but it is an encouraging sign for our community at a time when we needed good news.