Small reactors can play big role in clean energy
Nuclear power a crucial part of the mix, John Gorman writes.
To many environmentalists and activists, the decision is easy: Canada should leave all its oil in the ground. But that’s not only simplistic and economically disastrous, it’s actually counterproductive in the fight against climate change.
There’s a broad consensus in Canada that climate change is a significant problem that must be addressed globally. It isn’t enough to reduce emissions in one part of the world if they increase in another. The government has outlined Canada’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. To do this, Canada will require the right mix of energy sources with a shift to low-carbon solutions to work in tandem with fossil fuels.
The solution is not to halt extraction. That argument presumes that by locking our oil in the ground, Canada will reduce the global supply of fossil fuels and therefore lessen emissions. But that’s not what would happen. There’s more than enough oil to go around, so if Canada stops extracting, we won’t reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. The demand will simply be met by other countries. And much of that oil will be extracted in ways that are dirtier and more irresponsible than Canadian resource production. Stopping resource extraction in Canada will actually harm the environment, not help it.
The long-term solution is to transition to a low-carbon economy. While oil and gas will continue to be part of the energy mix, Canada must continue to innovate to lower carbon sources to compete with demand. Renewable power and low-emitting sources of energy such as nuclear will become a larger part of the mix.
Increased electrification in everything from cars to public transport to home heating will be at the core of reaching Canada’s climate-change goals. Canada is already a world leader in creating clean electricity. And now, we are developing a new tool that can help us electrify even further.
Two years ago, the government of Canada published the Small Modular Reactor Roadmap, stating, “Innovation in the nuclear sector plays a critical role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and delivering good, middle-class jobs as Canada moves toward a low-carbon future.” Just days ago, Alberta become the latest region to sign a memorandum of understanding, joining Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick who signed last December, to work together on the development and deployment of small modular nuclear reactors in Canada.
What is so revolutionary about SMRS? They are to large reactors what desktops were to mainframe computers in the 1980s. They are small, flexible and more affordable. They can be mass-produced and shipped to remote locations. SMRS have the potential to create two significant benefits for Canada. First, they will help create the clean power required for further electrification. And second, they can help to make the process of extracting natural resources much cleaner. Extraction requires a lot of energy, and much of it is in remote locations that are off the grid. SMRS can provide a more local, more responsible, much cleaner and more affordable source of energy.
Nuclear power and SMRS can play a critical role in driving economic, social and environmental progress in Canada and globally. Beyond their contribution in fighting climate change, SMRS create job opportunities and significant economic benefits. Conservative estimates place the potential value for SMRS in Canada between $5.3 billion between 2025 and 2040.
As the shift to electrification progresses, there will continue to be demand for oil. Canada can play a critical role in ensuring that the demand is met with a cleaner and more responsible product. Canada is a world leader in the adoption of clean technologies in the oil and gas sector. SMRS can become the latest tool we can share with the world.
Our goal should be for Canada to have both local and global impact with our clean technology. While globally Canada may only be responsible for a small percentage of global emissions, we have a responsibility to bring both our clean technology and our more responsibly extracted natural resources to the world.
To fight climate change and reduce emissions, we need comprehensive solutions, not simplistic, ideological arguments. It’s not realistic to lock all of our oil in the ground, nor will it actually help the environment. Using innovative, clean technology like small modular reactors, Canada can accelerate electrification to help in the fight against climate change — while at the same time ensuring oil is extracted in the cleanest and most responsible way possible.