Sask.-based uranium firm seeks to be “supplier of choice” to fuel a nascent industry.
Cameco has entered into non-binding agreements to supply fuel for X-energy, which wants to design a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) for use in Canada and the U.S. — and most recently, GE Hitachi and Synthos Green Energy, which is eyeing a potential purchase of GE Hitachi SMRs for use in Poland.
Cameco spokesman Jeff Hryhoriw spoke to the Saskatoon StarPhoenix in an email exchange about where the company sees the still-emerging SMR industry fitting into its future.
Q: What will Cameco’s role be if these deals pan out?
A: At present, there are no small modular reactors (SMRs) in commercial application; some are in advanced stages of development while some are still in the R&D phase. A number of developers are making positive progress in advancing their designs toward commercial readiness, so we believe it’s a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if.’
Whenever that time arrives, Cameco intends to be a fuel supplier of choice for the emerging SMR and advanced reactor market, just as we have been and continue to be for the conventional large-scale reactors in operation around the world. We see this as the biggest potential opportunity for our company within the SMR domain.
Just how large the commercial opportunity around SMRs might become will depend on a variety of factors — for example, which SMR/advanced reactor designs successfully move from development into commercial application, the pace with which they are deployed and constructed by countries and utilities, the volume of electricity each unit will produce, their fuel stock, their refuelling requirements, etc.
Q: Is there any sense SMRs could represent enough demand that more mining capacity would be necessary?
A: The amount of uranium consumed by a single SMR would be much less than a conventional large-scale reactor. However, as SMRs become deployed in multiples, the total volume of uranium required would grow proportionately. That’s where their potential becomes exciting for suppliers in the uranium and nuclear energy sector like Cameco.
We believe the prospective growth in demand for uranium fuel facilitated by SMRs and advanced reactors could be very positive. However, to reiterate our previous point, we’ll have to see just how this market develops from here before we can predict how large the commercial demand opportunity might become or how quickly it will unfold, and what that might subsequently mean in terms of uranium fuel supply from existing or new mines in northern Saskatchewan and elsewhere.
Q: How do you manage expectations around an industry that is still in development — what does the future look like for Cameco if SMRs don’t end up being widely adopted?
As things currently stand, the long-term fundamentals for uranium and nuclear energy are already quite strong. On top of the 443 conventional large-scale reactors operating in Canada and around the world today, there are 51 additional new reactors under construction right now, representing significant growth in demand for uranium fuel. Furthermore, we believe nuclear power will need to play an even greater role in global efforts to simultaneously energize and decarbonize.
So while we are certainly enthusiastic about the potential future market expansion that SMRs and advanced reactors represent, we believe the current growth trajectory the uranium and nuclear energy market is already on is quite significant in its own right.
Source: Saskatoon Star-Phoenix