Powering a community of the future at Canada’s nuclear university
Dave Tucker
Assistant Vice-President, Research (Nuclear)

McMaster University

As Canada looks toward a low-carbon future, there is an urgent need for clean energy solutions that will help us achieve Net Zero. Experts at McMaster University are paving a path for a new class of nuclear reactor that has the potential to transform clean energy production in Canada and around the world.

McMaster is known for its excellence in nuclear research and innovation. Home to a unique suite of nuclear facilities anchored by the McMaster Nuclear Reactor, the University has been pioneering advances in nuclear energy, medicine, materials and environmental science for over 60 years. And now, McMaster is ready to lead an exciting new chapter of nuclear research and innovation centred around the Small Modular Reactor.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are a fraction of the size of power reactors providing clean, safe and reliable energy powered by nuclear fission. They're ideal for installation in remote communities and on industrial sites; their components are pre-manufactured and then installed on-site and they are more cost- and time-effective than custom-building a nuclear reactor for a particular location.

In 2020, the Canadian government released its SMR Action Plan, which recognized the potential economic, geopolitical, social and environmental benefits of SMRs. Importantly, Canada's first SMR will be deployed at Chalk River Laboratories later this decade. However, if Canada is to realize the full benefits of this technology, we need to make a critical step from SMR demonstrations at large nuclear sites like Chalk River, to deployments that demonstrate how SMRs can power communities in transformative ways. That's where McMaster comes in.

McMaster's contribution to Canada's SMR Action Plan outlined our vision to explore the feasibility of hosting an SMR. Now, in partnership with Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation and Global First Power, we'll investigate the potential of a first-in-the-world project as a key resource and demonstration centre to showcase the transformative power of clean, reliable, abundant energy for small communities - and McMaster has everything required to make this vision a reality.

We have training and education programs for the next generation of nuclear professionals that will design, build, operate and regulate SMR technology in Canada. Engineering physics professor and nuclear safety expert, David Novog, is leading McMaster's Small Modular Advanced Reactor Training Program, designed to train future leaders in SMR design, safety and deployment.

We have specialized research programs and facilities and internationally recognized experts in nuclear safety, nuclear materials, health physics and nuclear waste management. Jim Cotton, mechanical engineering professor and energy systems expert is developing an Integrated Community Energy and Harvesting (ICE-Harvest) system that could be integrated with SMRs to create a truly carbon neutral energy production and utilization system.

Most importantly, McMaster has six decades of expertise in safely operating a 5 MW research reactor at the heart of our campus community. We've harnessed its energy to drive knowledge creation, nuclear outreach and education, medical isotope production and tremendous economic benefits for our region, province and country.

Canadian communities are at the core of our SMR feasibility study. We will work with our partners in Indigenous and remote northern communities to guide our research as we collectively consider how SMRs might power remote communities and improve access to energy-intensive technologies like water purification and desalination.

As Canada's Nuclear University, McMaster has a responsibility to contribute our expertise to support the country's clean energy needs. Our vision will facilitate unique educational programs and the creation of high-quality jobs in nuclear science and engineering. We have the potential to be the go-to site for communities across Canada - and around the world - to explore, first-hand, the potential of SMRs for Canada's sustainable future.