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Nuclear Science and Your Apple

The Okanagan Valley in southern British Columbia is known for its beautiful beaches, pristine lakes and fruit production. In fact, this sweet snack is one of the main drivers of the local economy. But did you know that nuclear science plays a key role in protecting apple crops?

The value of tree fruit is almost a billion dollar per year business, making it one of the most important industries in the region. Apples reign king in the Okanagan, comprising over half of all planted land.

However, fruit growers in the Okanagan region have not always made headlines for bumper crops. Pests and disease have seriously threatened the viability of orchard growers in the past and one culprit- the codling moth, has taken a huge bite out of the B.C. apple industry.

This moth, or worm in your apple, directly attacks the fruit and can damage between 50-90% of crops. Using pesticides to control the moth and subsequent crop damage, brought with it negative environmental and health effects. The prolonged use of pesticides contributed to another challenge; immunity as the moths became resistant to chemicals.

To find a solution that was safe for the environment while controlling the devastation caused by the codling moth, researchers looked to nuclear technology. The team at the Okanagan-Kootenay Sterile Insect Release Program has found success with the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). This technique has been able to reduce fruit damage and control the codling moth population in the B.C. Interior, all while reducing the use of chemicals. And they’ve been doing it successfully for over 20 years.

“Climate change is resulting in an increase of pests per season and there are growing concerns about resistance to chemical controls (pesticides). In B.C., we have reduced pesticides used to control codling moth by over 90%,” stated Cara Nelson, General Manager/Director of Business Development with the Okanagan-Kootenay Sterile Insect Release Program.

This locally funded and operated program has proven itself as a successful way to control a pest problem. Like birth control for pests, SIT uses small amounts of radiation to make the moths sterile thereby preventing reproduction.

“It’s like having an X-ray taken at the dentist. The patient does not become radioactive. While the radiation is different it’s a similar concept in that the radiation goes through the insect,” states Nelson.

While not widely known, research into codling moth SIT goes back to the 1970s when it was discovered that SIT could have profound benefits for the apple industry. The B.C. facility can produce approximately 780 million sterile moths per year at their facility. Currently, they deliver approximately 2,000 sterile moths to local growers per week. Traps are placed one hectare apart and they are checked weekly for both sterile and wild captures. The data is then uploaded via a smartphone app and sent off to local growers. Staff also carry out visual fruit inspections and monitor for “moth” hot spots.

“Many growers in the area don’t even know what codling moth damage looks like because they’ve never experienced it,” says Nelson. “However, if we stop the program the pest will infest again,” she warns.

For Nelson, she would like to see the success of this program go beyond B.C.’s borders. She hopes that both the provincial and federal government will make investments in further research and applications of SIT due to its ability to save agriculture economies while reducing the use of harmful chemicals. She believes that the benefits for SIT go beyond Canada’s borders and is currently working with other regions in Europe and the U.S. to provide both sterile moths and by way of knowledge transfer to help grow the acceptance and use of SIT as part of agriculture techniques. All thanks to nuclear science.

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Nuclear Science: Mapping Out Red Tide

Seafood lovers could one day find their plates dry thanks to climate change. Findings reported on by the Marine Stewardship Council indicate that increasing greenhouse gas emissions absorbed by our world’s ocean are causing them to heat up and become more acidic. These changes threaten the very habitats that fish and other marine organisms like shellfish need to survive.

Coral habitat destruction, rising sea levels and red tides are just a few examples of ocean degradation due to climate change. Red tide or colonies of harmful algae blooms (HABs) is nothing new to coastal communities. This phenomenon has been documented for centuries, however it is only recently that researchers are investigating how changes to our ocean environment could be impacting this coastal occurrence.

This is where nuclear science comes in.​ Scientists with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Environmental Laboratories in Monaco are using a nuclear technique known as receptor binding assay (RBA) to help better detect and map these harmful algae bloom outbreaks (HABs) to help protect human populations.

RBA works like this. In each sample, toxins and radiotracers or radioactive isotopes compete to bind to receptors or cells within the sample. How the isotopes behave tells scientists how much toxicity is present in the sample.

Red tides are transported by wind and ocean currents and are usually found close to the shoreline.  Ocean warming due to the absorption of greenhouse gases brought about by climate change has resulted in these toxic blooms become more frequent and more severe.

As the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pointed out, “recent research suggests that the impacts of climate change may promote the growth and dominance of harmful algal blooms through a variety of mechanisms including warmer water temperatures, changes in salinity, increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, changes in rainfall patterns, intensifying of coastal upwelling and sea level rise.”

Red Tide outbreaks can be devastating to the aquaculture economies of developed and developing countries alike. A red tide outbreak that affected Luzon Island, Philippines in 2006 which had adverse impacts on the nearly 12,000 families that rely on shellfish to make their living.  When these toxic plants enter the food web they can kill off large numbers of fish and marine life. The US National Library Institutes of Medicine and Health discovered high levels of toxins in dead manatees and dolphins following a red tide outbreak.

However, the impacts of red tide are not limited to marine life. HABs can also cause illnesses in humans, mainly affecting the nervous system. Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) is a potentially fatal condition that occurs when people consume shellfish that contain red tide toxins. Ingesting infected shellfish can impact the nervous system and cause dizziness or difficulty swallowing. In extreme cases, it can lead to death.

While science may not be able to stop red tide outbreaks, a method known as receptor binding assay (RBA) can help to better detect and map out these harmful algae bloom outbreaks, taking a step towards health protection of both marine environments and human populations.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in partnership with International Oceanographic Commission of ​UNESCO is working with approximately 40 countries is transferring the knowledge of nuclear technology to stop the effects of red tides on human population, making seafood safer thanks to nuclear science.

CNA Responds

CNA response to “Ford and Wynne wrong on electricity costs”

Re: “Ford and Wynne wrong on electricity costs” (Hamilton Spectator, May 26)

Once again, the anti-nuclear Ontario Clean Air Alliance ignores the facts about the feasibility of replacing nuclear power with hydroelectricity imports from Quebec.

Currently, the people of Ontario benefit from the safe, reliable, low-cost energy generated at the Pickering nuclear power plant. Importing hydro from Quebec would require millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades, and result in higher consumer prices, less energy reliability, and result in thousands of job losses.

Last year’s report by Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) said Quebec would not be able to supply Ontario with electricity during the winter season because it would not have enough to supply its own needs.

According to the IESO: “To be able to supply Ontario with firm year-round capacity, it is expected that Hydro-Quebec would need to build additional resources above what they have for internal capacity needs.”

The all-in cost of long-term large-scale purchases from Quebec, including the cost of required interconnections and transmission investment in Ontario and Quebec and the cost of new hydro generation investment in Quebec, would be significantly more than quoted by the OCAA

Like all things that appear to be a cure for all ills, the real solution is somewhat more complex. Portraying hydro imports as a cost-effective baseload replacement is a non-viable solution to a problem that does not exist.

John Barrett
President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association

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Climate Action, Clean Energy and the Case for Nuclear

By John Barrett
President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association

Originally published by Policy Magazine.

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 clean-energy 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 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.

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CNA Has a New Key Messages App!

The CNA has a new key messages app and it’s a significant improvement over the previous version.

The free, user-friendly app features key messages around popular nuclear-related topics, along with well-documented proof-points.

This new version was developed internally so that the CNA has complete control over the look and functionality. Changes and additions can also be easily managed this way.

Originally designed with CNA members in mind, this app can be used by anyone to explain and justify the use of nuclear technology in Canada and worldwide.

The app can be accessed by searching in the App Store (iPhone) or Google Play (Android) using appropriate keywords or by following these links:

We are very excited about this new digital addition to our collateral, and encourage you to share the news with friends and colleagues.

CNA Responds

CNA response to “The security of Ontario’s nuclear plants should be an election priority, not the salaries of top Hydro One execs”

The op-ed “The security of Ontario’s nuclear plants should be an election priority, not the salaries of top Hydro One execs” (The London Free Press, May 4) exaggerates the risks posed by nuclear energy.

The probability of a Fukushima-like event in Ontario is extremely low. Despite this, following Fukushima, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission inspected Canada’s nuclear power plants and revised standards to improve reactor defense and emergency response. Changes to regulation and licensing were also made to ensure better disaster preparedness and mitigation.

The CNSC’s Fukushima Task Force Report stated that the tsunami risk at the Darlington, Pickering, and Bruce Power generating stations is very low, given their location on the Great Lakes. The geological stability of the underlying Canadian Shield also minimizes the risk of earthquakes and tsunamis.

As for cyberattacks on nuclear power facilities, there is no risk to the operations of nuclear power plants because the reactors and control rooms are not connected to the Internet. Nuclear power plants are some of the best protected infrastructure systems. They are designed to be disconnected from the Internet and other networks, preventing hackers from accessing plant operations or safety systems

Globally, the nuclear industry has a strong safety culture of continuous improvement. Safety is always the No. 1 priority.  And nuclear ranked as the safest source of power in a 2012 Forbes report based on fatalities per kWh.

John Barrett
President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association
Ottawa, ON