Cli­mate Ac­tion, Clean En­ergy and the Case for Nu­clear

Policy - - In This Issue - John Bar­rett

With more and more coun­tries strug­gling to meet the emis­sions goals set out in the 2015 Paris Agree­ment, it makes sense to con­sider all the low-car­bon op­tions at our dis­posal. Cana­dian Nu­clear As­so­ci­a­tion CEO John Bar­rett makes the case, ahead of the G7 in Charlevoix, for an ap­proach that in­cludes a re­newed fo­cus on nu­clear en­ergy.

As world lead­ers gather in Charlevoix, Quebec, this June for the 2018 G7 Sum­mit, the agenda will fo­cus on con­crete so­lu­tions to global chal­lenges that ex­tend far be­yond the bor­ders of these seven coun­tries. Cli­mate change and clean en­ergy will be front and cen­tre. What does Canada have to of­fer in lead­er­ship and real so­lu­tions?

Canada and France are lead­ing the way in clean en­ergy gen­er­a­tion in the G7 and this is due in part to ma­jor in­vest­ments in low-car­bon, af­ford­able nu­clear power. In fact, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port by Nat­u­ral Re­sources Canada, Canada’s elec­tri­cal sys­tem is 80 per cent free of green­house gas emis­sions, sec­ond only to France out of all G7 na­tions. Fur­ther­more, thanks to in­vest­ments in clean en­ergy, Canada’s over­all GHG emis­sions pro­file went down by a few per­cent­age points in re­cent years even as the econ­omy grew.

This is im­por­tant be­cause time to meet in­ter­na­tional cli­mate change tar­gets is run­ning out.

The In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency’s first Global En­ergy and CO2 Sta­tus Re­port found global car­bon emis­sions hit a record high in 2017, after three years of be­ing flat. In Canada, a joint au­dit, con­ducted by fed­eral En­vi­ron­ment Com­mis­sioner Julie Gelfand and au­di­tors gen­eral in nine prov­inces, found Canada was not on track to meet its 2020 or 2030 green­house gas emis­sion tar­gets.

In­vest­ments in clean and af­ford­able en­ergy aren’t just about re­duc­ing emis­sions, they are the foun­da­tion to en­sur­ing ac­cess to jobs, health-care and ed­u­ca­tion. Clean and cheap en­ergy is nec­es­sary to lift com­mu­ni­ties out of poverty while en­sur­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. With­out proper elec­tric­ity, coun­tries suf­fer. As the World Bank re­ported, “one-quar­ter of the world pop­u­la­tion have no ac­cess to elec­tric­ity. In the ab­sence of vig­or­ous new poli­cies, 1.4 bil­lion peo­ple will still lack elec­tric­ity in 2030.”

And, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO), seven mil­lion peo­ple die ev­ery year from air pol­lu­tion. The chal­lenge is to pro­duce poli­cies and in­vest­ments to tran­si­tion to a lower-car­bon econ­omy. And

to help other coun­tries, where ap­pro­pri­ate, to ac­quire the tech­nol­ogy and ma­te­ri­als for gen­er­at­ing elec­tric­ity from low-car­bon sources.

Some pro­pose sin­gle so­lu­tions based on a pre­ferred tech­nol­ogy. Sin­gle an­swers to com­plex prob­lems in­vite false hope for tech­nolo­gies that are to­day nei­ther avail­able nor proven ef­fec­tive when quan­tity, re­li­a­bil­ity and af­ford­abil­ity are con­sid­ered. This adds a con­sid­er­able risk for huge costs as well as detri­men­tal en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts.

For ex­am­ple, Ger­many’s En­ergiewende is a cau­tion­ary tale on why go­ing green isn’t as easy as it sounds. Ger­many has shut down nu­clear plants while mak­ing huge in­vest­ments in wind and so­lar en­ergy. How­ever, its emis­sions have not de­clined. The new re­new­able en­ergy has only off­set the loss of nu­clear—mean­ing that Ger­many has given up on meet­ing its 2020 emis­sions tar­gets. Coal still rep­re­sents 40 per cent of Ger­many’s elec­tric­ity mix. At the same time, the cost of power over the last decade has es­ca­lated, ris­ing by close to 50 per cent.

This begs the ques­tion that, if we are re­ally con­cerned about the im­pacts of cli­mate change and if we re­ally do need to ramp up en­ergy pro­duc­tion as a method of lift­ing peo­ple out of poverty and driv­ing eco­nomic growth, why would we not in­clude a low-car­bon op­tion such as nu­clear power?

In­stead of look­ing to Ger­many, look to Canada, es­pe­cially the prov­ince of On­tario. On­tario is the real clean en­ergy leader.

Nu­clear power is the main driver of On­tario’s al­most zero-emis­sion en­ergy grid. The prov­ince is home to one of the largest in­vest­ments in cleanen­ergy nu­clear on the planet. Nu­clear pro­vides the bulk of the elec­tri­cal gen­er­a­tion to the prov­ince; close to two-thirds of the en­ergy sup­plied ev­ery day comes from the nu­clear gen­er­at­ing sta­tions.

Out­side On­tario, New Brunswick has also demon­strated the ben­e­fits of nu­clear to a clean and af­ford­able elec­tri­cal grid; dis­plac­ing tens of mil­lions of tons of car­bon diox­ide from the at­mos­phere. And thanks to the power of ura­nium from Saskatchewan, a pop-can sized amount of this rock is all the amount a per­son would need to power their life­time; us­ing a small amount of the Earth to cre­ate mas­sive amounts of power.

The next gen­er­a­tion in nu­clear en­ergy tech­nol­ogy is al­ready here. Nat­u­ral Re­sources Canada is lead­ing a map­ping process un­der the En­ergy In­no­va­tion Pro­gram to ex­plore the po­ten­tial for on- and off-grid ap­pli­ca­tions for small mod­u­lar re­ac­tor (SMR) tech­nol­ogy in Canada. Driven by in­ter­ested pro­vin­cial and ter­ri­to­rial gov­ern­ments and en­ergy util­i­ties, the ex­er­cise will as­sess the char­ac­ter­is­tics of dif­fer­ent SMR tech­nolo­gies and how they align with user re­quire­ments and Cana­dian pri­or­i­ties. The roadmap will be an im­por­tant step for Canada to advance in­no­va­tive, next-gen­er­a­tion nu­clear tech­nolo­gies and be­come a global leader in the emerg­ing SMR mar­ket.

Mean­while, the CANDU-re­ac­tor re­fur­bish­ment pro­gram, sup­ported by On­tario’s Long-Term En­ergy Plan, is un­der­way and mov­ing through the first phase at the Dar­ling­ton Nu­clear Gen­er­at­ing Sta­tion on time and on bud­get. This pro­gram will re­place ma­jor com­po­nents and re­fur­bish 10 re­ac­tors in to­tal over the next 12 years at Dar­ling­ton NGS and at Bruce Power’s site in Kin­car­dine.

This $26 bil­lion pro­gram is the sin­gle largest clean-en­ergy in­vest­ment by any ju­ris­dic­tion in the western hemi­sphere and pos­si­bly be­yond. More­over, it has un­leashed cre­ative juices, as both On­tario Power Gen­er­a­tion and Bruce Power are en­cour­ag­ing in­no­va­tion and ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy use at ev­ery step. Al­ready there are im­por­tant ad­vances in ro­bot­ics and

Out­side On­tario, New Brunswick has also demon­strated the ben­e­fits of nu­clear to a clean and af­ford­able elec­tri­cal grid; dis­plac­ing tens of mil­lions of tons of car­bon diox­ide from the at­mos­phere.

con­trol systems that will have ap­pli­ca­tion in other, non-power sec­tors of the Cana­dian econ­omy.

Canada’s nu­clear con­tri­bu­tions to the G7 aren’t lim­ited to en­ergy. Nu­clear science and tech­nol­ogy has many proven ben­e­fits, meet­ing nine of the United Na­tions 17 Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals. Nu­clear re­ac­tors pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for wa­ter de­sali­na­tion to com­mu­ni­ties that ex­pe­ri­ence wa­ter short­ages. De­sali­nat­ing wa­ter re­quires a tremen­dous amount of en­ergy and nu­clear can do it while re­leas­ing hardly any green­house gas emis­sions into the at­mos­phere.

Re­search and in­no­va­tion in health care has helped to make Canada a world leader in the pro­duc­tion of Cobalt-60, which is used in many ar­eas of our health in­dus­try. Cobalt-60 is used in ster­il­iza­tion, di­ag­nos­tics and treat­ments. This in­cludes iso­topes to help de­tect and treat dis­eases, new re­search into gamma ther­apy, and blast­ing tu­mor cells from the in­side out and pro­tect­ing healthy, sur­round­ing tis­sues.

Canada’s nu­clear re­ac­tor tech­nol­ogy and ura­nium ex­ports have, over the last 30 years, con­trib­uted glob­ally to the avoid­ance of at least a bil­lion tonnes of CO2 (in dis­plac­ing fos­sil fuel sources)—a unique and on­go­ing con­tri­bu­tion to global cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion which no other Cana­dian en­ergy source can claim.

The next gen­er­a­tion of nu­clear tech­nol­ogy will build on Canada’s track record of ex­cel­lence, look­ing to re­cy­cle cur­rent spent fuel, de­vel­op­ing re­ac­tors that can pro­vide power and heat to com­mu­ni­ties and even hold the prom­ise of car­bon-free gaso­line.

Cli­mate change and clean en­ergy are two of the most press­ing is­sues of our time. Canada has a real op­por­tu­nity to con­tinue to take cen­tre stage on these is­sues. The facts still mat­ter. If we are to achieve our cli­mate tar­gets, sus­tain­ably man­age re­sources for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions and pro­vide the world with ac­cess to clean and cheap en­ergy, then we need nu­clear to be part of the mix. Rec­og­niz­ing this is an im­por­tant step to bring­ing real so­lu­tions to­day, with­out wait­ing for tech­nolo­gies that are not here now.

With time run­ning out to meet green­house gas emis­sion tar­gets and to pre­vent cli­mate change from in­creas­ing tem­per­a­tures by two de­grees Cel­sius—now is not the time to ex­pect a sil­ver bul­let to ap­pear or to rely on one tech­nol­ogy over an­other.

A more ef­fec­tive and re­al­is­tic ap­proach is to foster col­lab­o­ra­tion that makes the best use of all avail­able so­lu­tions to cre­ate a low-car­bon fu­ture, al­low­ing the world to meet emis­sion tar­gets while avoid­ing the po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic im­pacts of cli­mate change.

Thanks to nu­clear’s role in our elec­tric­ity mix, Canada and On­tario can show how it can be done.

John Bar­rett is Pres­i­dent and CEO of the Cana­dian Nu­clear As­so­ci­a­tion and a former se­nior of­fi­cer at Global Af­fairs Canada and the Privy Coun­cil Of­fice. bar­

CNA photo

Bruce Power nu­clear gen­er­at­ing sta­tion is the largest op­er­at­ing nu­clear power fa­cil­ity in the world. It is lo­cated on the shore of Lake Huron, 190 km from down­town Toronto and can gen­er­ate al­most 55 bil­lion kWh per year—enough elec­tric­ity to power 4.9 mil­lion Cana­dian house­holds.

Fig­ure1: Elec­tri­cal Sup­ply Mix in 2015—On­tario vs. Ger­many

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