Esam Hussein, University of Regina dean and professor of engineering and applied science, is leading a project to explore opportunities for nuclear power in Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan doesn’t yet use nuclear power, but in light of the growing international demand for cleaner energy options and the province’s coal dependency, exploring the feasibility for such operations is an exercise in planning and preparedness. It’s also a way to train graduate students for potential future opportunities in the nuclear power field.
Esam Hussein, University of Regina dean and professor of engineering and applied science, is leading a project to delve into those options. The research project, which will be completed in 2020, includes a team of 14 researchers from five faculties and departments at the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan, as well as a host of graduate and postdoctoral students, for a total of 37 researchers.
The Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation, a not-for-profit corporation that invests in programs and projects related to nuclear research, development, and training, provided $1.1 million for the study. Hussein says the team intentionally stayed technology-neutral and did not seek industry funding.
“The research focuses on exploring the practical and regulatory viability of nuclear power, with the end goal of creating maps of potential sites best suited for small modular reactors (SMRs), which produce less power than traditional reactors,” explains Hussein.
The researchers explored geographical and geological factors, water resources, connectivity to and stability of the electric grid, transportation routes, and climate, social, and infrastructure factors. Based on this and other criteria, the team then mapped prime locations for the SMRs.
Hussein says the criteria they’ve created for SMR sites is valuable beyond this project.
“Any jurisdiction that undertakes a significant project has to go through a siting study, from a hospital to a university campus. The population, transportation, environmental surroundings, and so on, all must be examined,” says Hussein. “We are essentially developing a model that can be used to conceptually plan any mega project, with the idea of producing maps based on different criteria to enable educated decisions based on the guidelines that decision makers think are most important.”
Hussein says the project is also reflective of the multidisciplinary nature of nuclear itself, which requires engineering and mechanical expertise.
“The project brought together collaborative insights from academics from geography, geology, and engineering. We also incorporated a legal perspective to investigate the responsibilities and considerations required with regard to Indigenous-related dimensions, such as the duty to consult, as well as the federal-provincial division of power and the jurisdiction of municipalities.” Hussein explains this is because while energy production is a provincial matter, SMRs are licensed by the federal government and municipalities may have their own local restrictions.
John Root, executive director of the Fedoruk Centre, says that the Centre’s Board of Directors was unanimous in support of the project. “We agreed that the project would strengthen Saskatchewan’s awareness and participation in nuclear research, development, and training,” he says, adding that the training aspect of the project was especially important. “We hoped to encourage many young people to reinforce their learning by applying their know-how to think about the special challenges of nuclear technologies. So, if Saskatchewan ever wishes to consider nuclear power in a mix of energy options, there will be people in our community already capable to offer expertise and advice for prudent decision-making.”
"[I]f Saskatchewan ever wishes to consider nuclear power in a mix of energy options, there will be people in our community already capable to offer expertise and advice for prudent decision-making."