Small modular reactors (SMRs)
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Nuclear reactors of varying sizes and power outputs are used in Canada for a range of applications, such as research, materials testing, medical uses and electrical power generation. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) regulates activities associated with all of these applications.
In recent years, novel reactor technologies have also emerged to potentially supply power to smaller electrical grids or to remote, off-grid areas. These novel technologies are commonly called small modular reactors (SMRs). SMRs are viewed by many as the potential way of the future in nuclear technology.
As Canada's nuclear regulator, the CNSC's role is to regulate the nuclear industry and to ensure the protection of health and safety of the public and the environment – regardless of the technology used.
What is an SMR?
The term SMR generally refers to a nuclear reactor facility that is usually smaller than a traditional nuclear power plant and that may employ multiple novel technological approaches, such as:
- passive/inherent safety features
- extensive use of factory-built modules
Common terminologies used internationally to describe such designs include advanced reactor technologies and advanced modular reactors.
SMRs can vary significantly in size, design features and cooling types. Examples of different SMR technologies include:
- integral pressurized water reactors
- molten salt reactors
- high-temperature gas reactors
- liquid metal cooled reactors
- solid state or heat pipe reactors
Where might SMRs be located?
SMRs may be located on sites that differ from where traditional nuclear power plants have been built. For example, SMRs may be established:
- on small grids where power generation needs are usually less than 300 megawatt electric (MWe) per facility
- at edge-of-grid or off-grid locations where power needs are small – in the range of 2 to 30 MWe
Electrical utilities, industry groups and government agencies throughout the world are investigating alternative uses for SMRs beyond electricity generation such as:
- producing steam supply for industrial applications and district heating systems
- making value-added products such as hydrogen fuel and desalinated drinking water
What is the CNSC's involvement with SMRs?
CNSC is currently engaged in many pre-licensing vendor design reviews for SMRs.
A vendor design review (VDR) is an optional process that does not result in any decision by the Commission under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act. However, a VDR provides an opportunity for a reactor vendor to verify prior to a licensing application that:
- it is addressing Canadian regulatory requirements in its design and safety analysis activities
- it is developing the necessary evidence to support the adequacy of the proposed design
How would the CNSC regulate SMRs?
All reactor facilities, including SMRs, are classified as Class IA nuclear facilities under the Class I Nuclear Facilities Regulations. Reactor facilities include:
- nuclear power plants or small reactors for the generation of power or heat for industrial processes
- small reactors for non-power generation uses (e.g., isotope production, and research and development activities)
In regulating SMRs, the CNSC can apply the same criteria used to regulate traditional reactor facilities, via a risk-informed approach.
The Canadian nuclear regulatory framework is comprehensive and in large part technology neutral, which means that that it allows for all types of technologies to be safely regulated.
For more information
To learn more about SMRs, read CNSC discussion paper DIS-16-04, Small Modular Reactors: Regulatory Strategy, Approaches and Challenges and it’s accompanying What We Heard Report.
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