Canadian Energy Regulator Projects Nuclear Power in BC but the BCUC and Provincial Government Refute

July 17, 2024

In late March, Brussels hosted an international nuclear energy summit, attracting political leadership and nuclear energy advocates from around the world. The purpose was to display what role nuclear power would have in the global energy transition, and how a renewed sense of enthusiasm surrounding the technology, notably from SMR’s (small modular reactors), would bring positive changes towards targeting net-zero emissions by 2050. SMR’s are a modern advancement in nuclear electricity generation, meant to address the biggest issues with traditional nuclear power plants such as having lower capital investment costs, enhanced safety mechanisms, shorter construction times, and being partially mobile. Canada’s keynote speaker was the Ambassador for Climate Change, Catherine Stewart, who spoke about Canada’s safety record with nuclear power, and the room for growth in the budding SMR market. While nuclear power remains a controversial topic, it is worth pointing out that 18 of Canada’s 19 functioning nuclear reactors are in Ontario, while the other is in New Brunswick, and that Canada has been a member of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty since 1970, and has no nuclear weapons or military uses for nuclear technology. 

BC has very little need for nuclear facilities, as the majority of electricity generation comes from hydropower and other renewable resources, but the province does have some important connections to the nuclear industry. The TRIUMF research center, located at UBC, is a premier Canadian physics laboratory that specializes in nuclear research, and has been an important feature for attracting nuclear energy companies to Vancouver, as the city is now home to two nuclear energy businesses, Type One Energy and Dual Fluid Energy. 

In the absence of any nuclear electricity being generated in BC, a puzzling 2023 projection from the Canadian Energy Regulator outlined that if Canada is meant to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, BC should begin utilizing nuclear electricity by 2031 in order to meet between 10-15% of its provincial energy usage for the years leading up to 2050. The report did not specify if this would come from traditional nuclear power generation, but with so much buzz around SMR’s, the assumption is that the report refers to using SMR’s for specific electricity generation needs. Neither Type One Energy or Dual Fluid Energy specialize in SMR technology, but an early SMR model is currently being constructed in Ontario, meant to be generating electricity by 2030. 

It is still highly unlikely that nuclear electricity will be generated in BC anytime soon, as both the British Columbia Utilities Commission and Premier David Eby both dispute this notion. One of the core objectives in the BC Clean Energy Act is “to achieve British Columbia’s energy objectives without the use of nuclear power”. This sentiment was backed up by Premier Eby in the summer of 2023, when he firmly denied BC’s involvement in SMR’s, stating “I know the federal government is looking at small modular reactors, it might be appropriate for other provinces to look at that kind of initiative because they don’t have what we have here in B.C., but we have a massive clean energy resource here.” 

As governments around the world look to expand traditional nuclear and SMR efforts, including Canada’s own federal government, BC will not be joining that effort. Currently there is no implication by the CER that BC will utilize any nuclear electricity generation, and their 2023 projections are only hypothetical at the moment. It is worth noting that although the Canadian federal government regulates the nuclear industry, it does not have constitutional authority to site a nuclear power plant in a province that has objected. The BC government has the authority, both constitutionally and practically, to reject nuclear power within the province. Regardless of personal feelings towards nuclear technology, we the public must remain educated on this issue, and ensure that we vote in both provincial and federal elections, keeping in mind the position of each political party’s perspective on this matter.

Trevor Basso-Stephenson