The southeast will be host to a Small Modular Reactor in the future, paving the way for a new type of energy in Saskatchewan.

The announcement was made during the Estevan Chamber of Commerce's 120th anniversary celebration, with Premier Scott Moe announcing the decision.

That comes after a long period where two regions, the Estevan and Elbow areas, were both being considered for an SMR.

There are still more decisions to be made, with Minister of SaskPower Dustin Duncan talking about the different locations they're looking at.

"Within that region, there are two locations. One would be on Boundary Dam and the other would be on the Rafferty Reservoir. So the next step now is to do some further detailed analysis to ultimately lead to a decision to submit a single site into the federal regulatory process." 

The decision to choose the Estevan area was a combination of the location itself and the people in the community.

"First and foremost, we have a skilled workforce in Estevan that have been doing a great job working for SaskPower, and we obviously know the importance that Estevan has to the power generation industry for SaskPower and for Saskatchewan. So we have a skilled workforce that is there and engaged."

"There's lots of infrastructure already in place such as roads and transmission infrastructure that would enable any power to be generated to be moved out of the area. Obviously, the proximity to a centre the size of Estevan is very helpful in the process, so having the ability to accommodate and house people, workers, particularly during the construction period, as well as having important services like healthcare services, that's an important consideration."

"From a technical standpoint, certainly the initial assessments show that the area is technically suitable to be the host of a small modular reactor. There is more detailed work that has to be done to narrow down what specific site that we would submit, and that's the next step in the process that SaskPower is going to be engaged in here in 2024 to do more thorough geotechnical work, land, and water analysis and ultimately by, I would say, early 2025 be in a position to submit one of the two sites into the next step of the federal process." 

As that work continues there'll be some more crews around the southeast area doing that important work.

"They have secured the ability to access both areas through agreements with private land owners or in the case of one of the sites," said Duncan, "Some of it had already been either SaskPower land or provincial government land, crown land, and so all of those steps have already been covered in terms of enabling SaskPower and other parties that they may have to do work with in terms of some specialized folks that they would be contracting that work to."

"I think people in Estevan and area will notice probably a more increased presence of some specialized technical people around the area that'll be engaged on that geotechnical and land and water analysis here over the next number of months." 

Even as the project is making progress Duncan reminds people that the full project is still a good ways off.

"I think we just continue to show a great deal of momentum as we make our way towards ultimately choosing a site next year and ultimately making the decision whether or not to build an SMR by 2029, that's what SaskPower is targeting right now in terms of making that decision, but there's a lot of work that has to go into this."

"We're into really year four of an eight-year process to even make that decision. But it is a very rigorous, very complex regulatory process. You don't just wake up and decide you're going to build a nuclear power plant, there's lots of steps that have to go into it and a lot of detailed information that has to be provided as a part of that regulatory process.

That work has been capped off by signing memorandums of understanding with other nuclear organizations to help get a better understanding of and learn more about the process.

"We've had a really good spring of signing memorandums of understanding with a number of different organizations and provincial governments, making some steps now to be in a position where we can, you know, it's down to the Estevan region. I think people will just continue to see momentum being gained as we make our way through the next steps in the process. 

Duncan says that he appreciates all the work that the employees at SaskPower have put into the project to help get an SMR built in Saskatchewan.