The case for CANDU nuclear technology



Ontario has a homegrown solution to the problem of decarbonizing its energy supply in CANDU nuclear technology. To meet increased demand and zero-carbon energy by 2050, new nuclear reactors will be needed in the province.IMAGE COURTESY OF SNC-LAVALIN

Ontario has been at the forefront of decarbonizing its energy supply – first with the 2007 decision to phase out coal-fired energy and now with a directive to evaluate placing a moratorium on new natural gas generation as the province aims to achieve a zero-emissions electricity system by 2050.

Key to achieving this critical objective is the supply of reliable, efficient and carbon-free nuclear energy. Already the single-largest source of energy for Ontario, representing almost 54 per cent of current output, nuclear energy was pivotal in weaning the province off coal and will play a fundamental role in achieving energy net zero.

According to a recent study by the Independent Electricity Supply Operator (IESO), Ontario will need to more than double system capacity from 42,000 megawatts to 88,000 MW by 2050 to keep up with growing demand and necessary carbon reductions. This will require an additional 17,800 MW of new nuclear supply, representing a 135 per cent increase in current installed capacity.

This is clearly a major green infrastructure imperative and also a huge opportunity for the province to not only cement its energy security but also generate significant economic benefits through high-paying unionized and non-unionized jobs, a local supply chain and the deployment of homegrown intellectual property and technology.

In October 2022, Ontario became one of the first jurisdictions in the world to announce the build out of a 300 MW small nuclear reactor, a promising new technology that takes less time to construct than large nuclear reactors. And SNC-Lavalin, as a long-time nuclear specialist and provider of a full lifecycle of nuclear services, is proud to be partnering on this milestone project.

To meet the dual needs of increased demand and zero-carbon energy by 2050, however, new large nuclear reactors that can generate significantly more megawatts will be required. The good news is we have a world-class, homegrown solution in CANDU® nuclear technology that allows Ontario to not only better manage the inherent challenges that come with large, complex infrastructure projects, but also accrue the advantages that come with being masters of our own destiny.

As the realization grows around the world that clean, zero-emissions, baseload nuclear energy is key to a successful energy transition, CANDU nuclear technology is of strategic global importance. Developed in Ontario, CANDU technology powers 18 reactors across the province – including the Bruce Power station, which is the largest operating nuclear-generating facility in the world – establishing the province as a nuclear powerhouse.

That foundation and expertise, built over decades, is the basis of the latest CANDU models that offer enhanced passive features and modern efficiency of maintenance and operations. In the face of a daunting challenge to combat climate change, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to flex our muscle and harness the designs created by some of Canada’s best scientists and engineers. With a unique ability to use un-enriched uranium as fuel, CANDU reactors would allow Canada to remain completely energy independent. As the vast majority of CANDU components, fuel and services are sourced domestically and more than 85 per cent of a CANDU reactor’s equipment and parts can be supplied by Canadian manufacturers, this offers a virtuous circle of benefits to stakeholders across the country.

In addition to having a well-established innovation and science ecosystem, SNC-Lavalin, as the proud steward of CANDU technology, partners with an Ontario-centric, but also Canada-wide nuclear supply chain of more than 250 companies that employ 76,000 people and provide CANDU fuel, components, services and tooling.

And those benefits extend beyond clean energy generation and independence. Ontario’s CANDU infrastructure has established the province as a leading global supplier of medical isotopes that are used in cancer-fighting treatments and the sterilization of single-use medical devices. The current CANDU fleet produces 50 per cent of the world’s supply of cobalt-60, which is used for medical device sterilization.


The addition of new large CANDU reactors will allow us to maintain that leadership and provide a secured supply for a critical part of our health care system.

Taken together, our established strengths in terms of both medical isotope production and reliable, locally supplied, zero-emissions nuclear energy generation are a winning combination – driving economic growth, deepening local business, scientific and technical expertise, enhancing energy and health care security, and protecting against the kinds of disruption we saw with the COVID-19 pandemic. And that is important, given the costs associated and the short time frame for meeting the 2050 carbon-reduction goals. As the IESO notes, a moratorium on new gas generation is feasible “provided that other forms of non-emitting supply can be added to the system in time to keep pace with demand.”

While a new, larger design of gigawatt-scale CANDU reactors will be required, CANDU’s decades-long operational track record in Canada provides invaluable competitive advantages from a timing and cost perspective. Not only is the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which licenses nuclear technology, already highly familiarized with the CANDU technology, a new design can be optimized based on current sites.

At the same time, SNC-Lavalin has a proven track record of delivering on its nuclear projects. Since Ontario green-lighted the life extensions of 10 reactors beginning in 2015, SNC-Lavalin, with the support of its Ontario-centric nuclear supply chain, has completed every refurbishment on time and on budget.

In short, while building large nuclear facilities is complex and challenging, Canada has a unique opportunity to embrace the green energy transition from a position of strength by leveraging the latest home-grown CANDU technology to maintain Canada’s energy independence, reduce the risk associated with large infrastructure projects and maximize economic returns for Canadians. With a mission to engineer a better future for the planet and its people, SNC-Lavalin is committed to helping customers deliver on their net-zero objectives while supporting Canada’s 2050 decarbonization goals.

Advertising feature produced by SNC-Lavalin.

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