The head of Canadian pipeline giant TC Energy says the company sees a future opportunity in providing what’s described as “small-scale” nuclear power for Alberta’s tar sands/oil sands.
CEO François Poirier told analysts on a conference call Friday that TC Energy believes the oilsands are “an excellent use case” for small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), The Canadian Press reports.
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The company already has a 48.4% ownership stake in Ontario-based nuclear generating company Bruce Power, Poirier added, which would make TC Energy’s entry into the SMR space a logical step.
“We’ve got the technical expertise to develop and evaluate those technologies, but I think equally importantly we’ve got the commercial relationships with the oilsands producers,” he said. “We have all the surrounding and supporting infrastructure onsite to provide their steam and power needs.”
TC Energy has repeatedly said it believes “all forms of energy” will be needed in the coming decades to address growing global energy demand and concerns about energy security. That apparently now includes a technology that so far mostly only exists as “PowerPoint reactors” and faces serious criticism based on cost, waste disposal issues, and the time it will take to deliver emission reductions that are needed by 2030.
Poirier said TC Energy is also working to address its greenhouse gas emissions. Last week, it announced plans to evaluate a hydrogen production hub in Crossfield, Alberta, and earlier last month it announced a collaboration with GreenGasUSA to develop a network of renewable natural gas (RNG) hubs in the United States.
TC Energy is also actively seeking potential contracts and investment opportunities in wind, solar, and energy storage projects to meet the electricity needs of the U.S. portion of the Keystone pipeline system, and to supply renewable energy to the North American industrial and oil and gas sectors, CP writes.
Poirier suggested Friday that nuclear could be the next step in this process for the company, though it won’t happen this decade.
“The technology needs to be proven up. And in our view, the oilsands producers would need to buy into one common technology so that they have the requisite expertise to operate and maintain a fleet for these purposes. All of this is going to take time,” he said. “So we view this more as an opportunity for the 2030s than for the second half of the 2020s.”
The federal government, which has been investing in small modular nuclear research in the belief that it has potential to help Canada reach its climate goals, sees potential for the technology to replace conventional coal and fossil fuel power generation, as well as fossil fuels used in heavy industrial applications.
The Oil Sands Pathways to Net-Zero initiative, an alliance of Canada’s largest tar sands/oil sands companies, has also proposed accelerating the application of small-scale nuclear reactors as part of its plan to bring the industry to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Poirier’s comments on nuclear power came the same day TC Energy reported C$358 million in profits in its first quarter, compared with a loss of $1.06 billion in the same quarter last year when it took a charge related to the cancellation of its controversial Keystone XL project.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2022.