Clean Nu­clear Power and Lower GHG Emis­sions

Policy - - Contents - Guest Col­umn / James Scon­gack

Elec­tric­ity is so in­tri­cately wo­ven into the ev­ery­day life of ad­vanced economies that it takes a full power out­age for peo­ple to even think about it.

The con­stant avail­abil­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity of power has al­lowed it to be­come a con­ve­nience—when it is dark, elec­tric­ity is there at the flick of a switch; with the click of a but­ton on your smart­phone you’re con­nected to fam­ily on the other side of the world; and if you or a loved one is sick, you can seek med­i­cal at­ten­tion in a fully-equipped hos­pi­tal, all thanks to elec­tric­ity.

As the world’s pop­u­la­tion con­tin­ues to grow—and de­vel­op­ing economies seek to im­prove their qual­ity of life—so will the de­mand for en­ergy. In most cases, as en­ergy de­mand in­creases, so does the level of green­house gas (GHGs) emis­sions into the at­mos­phere. This in­crease in GHGs is mainly from the burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els dur­ing the pro­duc­tion of en­ergy.

These emis­sions are the ma­jor rea­son for the ex­treme changes we are see­ing in the cli­mate, as well as im­pacts on hu­man health be­cause of poor air qual­ity. It is our duty, as global cit­i­zens, to meet the world’s grow­ing en­ergy needs with­out sac­ri­fic­ing the cli­mate or hu­man health. Grow­ing en­ergy de­mand must be met with clean and af­ford­able elec­tric­ity op­tions that drive down emis­sions and im­prove air qual­ity.

The world is truly at a piv­otal de­ci­sion-mak­ing point. If we do not start de­creas­ing our global GHG emis­sions, the earth will con­tinue to warm and the qual­ity of air will con­tinue to de­te­ri­o­rate.

Meet­ing en­ergy de­mands in a clean and af­ford­able way is pos­si­ble, and On­tario is a per­fect ex­am­ple of how. In the early 2000s, the provin­cial gov­ern­ment com­mit­ted to phas­ing out coal from its en­ergy mix port­fo­lio—a goal met in April 2014. The phase-out of coal saw a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in the level of harm­ful GHG emis­sions, and the num­ber of smog days plum­meted from 53 in 2005 to zero in 2014. The peo­ple of On­tario now have cleaner air from cleaner en­ergy. A ma­jor part of this com­mit­ment was made pos­si­ble through the re­fur­bish­ment of pre­vi­ously laid-up nu­clear re­ac­tor units, in­clud­ing four of the units at the Bruce Power site. Bring­ing Bruce Power’s four units back on­line re­placed 70 per cent of the elec­tric­ity that was lost by the clo­sure of coal plants, while the other 30 per cent was mainly found through con­ser­va­tion and the ex­pan­sion of re­new­ables. Global en­ergy de­mands can be met with a com­bi­na­tion of nu­clear and re­new­ables, which would sharply de­crease GHG emis­sions, im­prove air qual­ity, boost qual­ity of life, and ben­e­fit economies—just as On­tario has shown.

An­other area where nu­clear power is mak­ing an enor­mous dif­fer­ence in peo­ple’s lives is in the grow­ing pro­duc­tion of med­i­cal iso­topes. On­tario’s nu­clear fleet plays a crit­i­cal role in sup­ply­ing iso­topes glob­ally, and, by lev­er­ag­ing our ex­pe­ri­ence, nu­clear as­sets and in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies, we be­lieve there is more we can do to en­sure Canada re­mains one of the world’s key sup­pli­ers. On­tario’s nu­clear fleet pro­vides 60 per cent of the prov­ince’s elec­tric­ity while con­tin­u­ing to be a low-cost and re­li­able power source. This fleet also pro­duces iso­topes glob­ally to keep hos­pi­tals clean and safe, to fight the Zika Virus and as­sist the fight against cancer.

In April, a coali­tion of Cana­dian sci­ence, health care and nu­clear sec­tor or­ga­ni­za­tions launched the Cana­dian Nu­clear Iso­tope Coun­cil to en­sure Canada re­mains a world leader in the pro­duc­tion of life-sav­ing iso­topes by rais­ing aware­ness and sup­port­ing long-term poli­cies at the do­mes­tic and international lev­els.

Since 1940, Canada has been pro­duc­ing iso­topes used to save lives through med­i­cal imag­ing, cancer ther­apy, ster­il­iza­tion and di­ag­nos­tic de­vel­op­ment. The de­mand for a re­li­able sup­ply of these crit­i­cal iso­topes con­tin­ues to grow as ad­vance­ments in health care con­tinue and ju­ris­dic­tions seek to se­cure fair ac­cess to di­ag­nos­tics and treat­ments for pa­tients as ster­il­iza­tion is rec­og­nized as crit­i­cal to clean hos­pi­tals and in­fec­tion con­trol.

Our Coun­cil of Lead­ers in health care, en­ergy and academia have come to­gether be­cause we be­lieve this is a crit­i­cal role peo­ple in Canada and around the world are count­ing on us to play in the years to come. Med­i­cal iso­topes are an im­por­tant part of Canada’s in­no­va­tion agenda, and be­yond medicine, the nu­clear sec­tor con­trib­utes to a wide range of other sci­en­tific and eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing en­ergy, hu­man health and safety, ma­te­rial test­ing, food safety, and even space ex­plo­ration.

James Scon­gack is Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent, Cor­po­rate Af­fairs & Op­er­a­tional Ser­vices at Bruce Power.

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