Small re­ac­tors can play big role in clean en­ergy

Nuclear power a cru­cial part of the mix, John Gor­man writes.

Edmonton Journal - - OPINION - John Gor­man is pres­i­dent and CEO of the Cana­dian Nuclear As­so­ci­a­tion.

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.

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