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Moltex Energy pursuing SMR build in New Brunswick

The next generation of nuclear reactors is on its way in Canada.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are a type of reactor that are smaller than conventional nuclear reactors. They can be built in factories and delivered to power sites and remote locations for installation at a low cost.

In Ontario, both Ontario Power Generation and Bruce Power are working with companies to develop SMRs.

And in New Brunswick, two companies signed agreements with NB Power and the Government of New Brunswick as part of an effort to build a manufacturing hub and potentially a second or even third reactor at Point Lepreau.

One of these companies is Moltex Energy.

At the recent Canadian Nuclear Society conference in Ottawa, Moltex Energy Canada Chief Executive Rory O’Sullivan spoke about the company’s efforts to have a stable salt reactor available before 2030.

“We signed the agreements with NB Power and the New Brunswick government last year,” he said.

There are now 10 full-time engineers at the Moltex office in New Brunswick, with five more expected to start in the fall.

“The main objective from the New Brunswick side is understanding our technology so they can eventually build a demonstration plant,” he said. “The long-term vision is to have New Brunswick as a cluster, to build a plant there and get the local supply chain engaged in the best position to sell components as we sell reactors around the world.”

Moltex’s reactor is an SSR, short for Stable Salt Reactor. It uses molten salt fuel in conventional fuel pins. The technology can reuse spent fuel from CANDU reactors at Point Lepreau. It can store heat as thermal energy in large tanks of molten salt that can be converted to steam to create electricity and be able to operate on demand.

In severe accidents the fuel can tolerate temperatures up to 1,600 degrees before it starts to boil.
“The concept of a meltdown doesn’t really apply,” O’Sullivan said.

Companies like Moltex are among those working in Canada to build the next generation of nuclear reactors that offer more flexibility to work with renewables in clean-energy systems of the future.

“All grids around the world need more flexibility as renewables grow and as grids change and you get more electric vehicle charging spikes,” he said. “We are not just developing a reactor that runs baseload all the time. We are developing a hybrid nuclear storage solution.”

“Nuclear is going to be part of a decarbonized future grid. Our way of getting there is trying to build a nuclear solution that operates as cheaply as possible.”

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Carbon dating: A window to the world

As global warming causes the Earth’s permafrost to melt, scientists are uncovering some astonishing finds from deep beneath the ice.

Producing an accurate age of these treasures is a key step for archaeologists, made possible through carbon dating, a process of dating organic material as far back as 60,000 years using nuclear technology.

One well-known discovery was “Ötzi the Iceman,” who became a bona fide scientific celebrity after being found in 1991 by two German hikers 3,210 metres above sea level in the Ötztal Alps on the Austrian-Italian border. The mummified corpse was partly entombed in the ice and thought at first to be a fallen mountaineer or Italian soldier from one of the world wars.

It wasn’t until scientists used carbon dating to determine Ötzi’s age that they discovered he had perished 5,300 years earlier during the late Neolithic period. In 2018, researchers published a detailed analysis of the tools discovered alongside Otzi’s body. These tools would have only given clues as to Ötzi’s age without the help of carbon dating.

The ability to carbon date organic objects was first discovered in 1946 by Willard Libby, a professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago. He determined that carbon-14, a radioactive isotope of carbon naturally found in the atmosphere, was absorbed by green plants and the animals that ate them.

Libby correctly theorized that if the amount of carbon-14 in an object could be detected, its age could be known by calculating the half-life (about 5,730 years) or rate of decay of the isotope, a process that begins when a living organism dies. Once this occurs, carbon-14 is no longer absorbed and the existing isotope count begins to steadily diminish. In other words, the older the specimen, the less carbon-14 will be present.

Until Libby’s discovery, the age of objects could only be determined in relation to the surrounding site by examining the geographic layers where an artifact was found.

New applications have developed for the technique as well. Carbon dating has been used to successfully confirm alleged art forgeries such as the painting by French cubist Fernand Léger and Robert Trotter’s forgery of Sarah Honn’s artwork.

Both were identified as fake after analyzing the radioactive forms of carbon-14 in the canvas and paint to establish whether there was a realistic correlation between their ages. Forgers are well known for using old canvas to appear authentic but have no choice but to use much newer paint.

Scientists also use carbon dating to study monarch butterfly migration routes from Canada to Mexico and back. The method solved a longstanding mystery about why some monarchs are found on the East Coast as well as the traditional interior.

Researchers studied 90 butterfly samples from 17 sites from Maine to Virginia along with 180 samples of milkweed, which monarch larvae feed on. This revealed where the monarchs were born and their age when they consumed the milkweed.

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How to advocate for nuclear energy this Thanksgiving

By John Gorman, President and CEO, Canadian Nuclear Association

Many of us have learned the hard way that it’s best to stay away from controversial topics at the holiday dinner table.

Avoiding a heated discussion at a family get-together this Canadian Thanksgiving may be difficult, though, with a federal election underway. And thanks to the recent nationwide climate marches inspired by the young climate activist Greta Thunberg, discussions of political partisanship and the environment are likely on the menu.

Fortunately, nuclear energy is increasingly being seen by both sides of the political spectrum as a needed clean energy source.

If the topic of climate change does come up, here’s how you can talk about nuclear’s role in saving the planet without causing a food fight to break out.

The starting point is important. The general public shows a great deal of confusion about nuclear energy compared to other energy sources. Polling by Abacus Data for the CNA released earlier this year revealed that only 38 per cent of respondents are aware that nuclear produces less carbon than oil.

However, the polling also found that climate change concerns can open minds to nuclear.

“When informed that nuclear power emissions are similar to solar, wind and hydro, and asked how they felt about the idea of using nuclear in situations where it could replace higher emitting fuels, a large majority (84%) say they are open (35%) to or supportive (49%) of this,” the poll found.

Assuming your family and friends are representative of the Canadian population you will have opened at least a few minds to the potential of nuclear energy. The trick is to stay out of the weeds while delivering the message that nuclear power generation is carbon-free and helps fight climate change.

Simple facts about nuclear can be effective as well. For example, the fact that nuclear energy produces 60 per cent of Ontario’s electricity is something a general audience that does not work in energy sector probably doesn’t know.

If you bring up nuclear in a social setting in 2019, you can also expect the HBO series Chernobyl will come up.

The CNA has written a fact sheet to clear up misconceptions about the miniseries. The key point is that because of different reactor types, it is almost impossible that an accident like the one at Chernobyl could happen at a nuclear plant found in Canada or the U.S. today.

Most importantly, if you’re going to talk nuclear at the table, remember to listen to what others at the table have to say. Communication is a two-way street and others may have different opinions, especially when it comes to nuclear. Listen to their thoughts and concerns before sharing your point of view.

Bon appétit!

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IEA report stresses need for maintaining nuclear

The world will have an almost impossible task of meeting climate targets if nuclear energy is not increased.

IEA Director Fatih Birol.

That’s the conclusion of a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that was released at the 10th Clean Energy Ministerial in Vancouver in May.

In its report, “Nuclear Power in a Clean Energy System,” the IEA said if governments don’t change their current policies, advanced economies will be on track to lose two-thirds of their current nuclear fleet, risking a huge increase in CO2 emissions.

“Without action to provide more support for nuclear power, global efforts to transition to a cleaner energy system will become drastically harder and more costly,” IEA Director Fatih Birol said.

“Wind and solar energy need to play a much greater role in order for countries to meet sustainability goals, but it is extremely difficult to envisage them doing so without help from nuclear power.”

The report made eight policy recommendations to governments, including authorizing lifetime extensions if safe for current plants, supporting new build and supporting innovative designs, such as small modular reactors.

The IEA estimates that it would cost approximately $1.6 trillion between 2018 and 2040 in additional investment to replace existing nuclear with renewable energy, supporting technologies and infrastructure. That works out to $80 billion higher per year on average for advanced economies.

The study also notes the past contribution of nuclear energy to the climate.

“Globally, nuclear power output avoided 63 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) from 1971 to 2018,” the IEA noted. “Without nuclear power, emissions from electricity generation would have been almost 20% higher, and total energy-related emissions 6% higher, over that period. Without nuclear power, emissions from electricity generation would have been 25% higher in Japan, 45% higher in Korea and over 50% higher in Canada over the period 1971-2018.”

The IEA understands the best path to decarbonization, but currently, many people in the clean energy space believe in a single solution.

We need all available tools and technologies to reduce emissions. And they must complement each other and work together in an integrated clean energy system. That system should include nuclear.

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How to get millennials aboard the nuclear bandwagon

A recent poll by Abacus Data found Millennials are especially open to using nuclear to combat climate change once informed that it is a low-carbon energy source.

The poll found there is growing evidence that the millennial generation evaluates and supports innovative technologies more strongly when they are seen to bring real solutions to society’s challenges. First and foremost, among the solutions is whether it can significantly reduce GHG emissions and help decarbonize our energy supply.

To measure how familiar people are with the carbon impact of nuclear energy, Abacus asked whether certain energy sources had greater, equal or lesser impact than oil. The results revealed that only 38 per cent of Canadians were aware that nuclear is a lower carbon form of energy compared to oil.

When informed that nuclear power emissions are similar to solar, wind and hydro, and asked how they felt about the idea of using nuclear in situations where it could replace higher emitting fuels, a large majority (84 per cent) said they are supportive or open to this.

The findings were more pronounced for young people. Eighty-nine per cent of those 18-to-29 supported or were open to using nuclear in this scenario, compared to 83 per cent of the overall population. The poll also found that 86 per cent of those 18-to-29 supported or were open to small modular reactors (SMRs) as an alternative to fossil fuels.

Climate change seems to be driving young people looking for solutions to replace fossil fuels.

Young people were the most concerned about climate change. Sixty-two per cent of those 18-to-29 said they were extremely or very concerned about the issue, compared with 54 per cent overall.

Those 18-to-29 were also more likely to say a shift from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy sources was extremely or very important – 69 per cent, compared with 58 per cent for the general population.

“These results make clear that for many people, the issue of climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions, means being open to potential new roles for nuclear technology,” explained Abacus Chair Bruce Anderson. “To date, many people are unaware of the carbon-reducing contribution that nuclear can offer, and the data indicate that when informed about the facts, there is broad interest in exploring potential trials in a regulated context.”

The survey was conducted online for the Canadian Nuclear Association with 2,500 Canadians aged 18 and over from February 8 to 12, 2019. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 1.9%, 19 times out of 20.

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ONA response to Guelph Mercury opinion piece

Re Energy in Ontario: Where do we go from here? (September 13)

While the author applauds the Ontario government for taking a step in the right direction by eliminating coal, the article is light on the recognition of nuclear’s critical role in this initiative and its role in Canada and Ontario’s clean energy future.

On April 15, 2014, Ontario burned its last piece of coal, marking a transformational day for the province as it becomes the first coal-free jurisdiction in North America.

Closing coal-fired power plants represents one of the largest greenhouse gas reduction initiatives in North America. The closure has eliminated more than 30 megatonnes of annual GHG emissions, equivalent to taking seven million vehicles off our roads.

This transformational change in Ontario was accomplished through the strength of Ontario’s nuclear sector which provided 90 percent of the incremental electricity needed to phase out coal.

Thankfully, today, the people of Ontario have cleaner air from cleaner energy.

Ontario’s nuclear advantage was critical in helping Ontario achieve this policy objective. Today, Nuclear power continues to play a critical role in meeting the energy and air quality needs of the province, accounting for roughly 60 per cent of Ontario’s electricity supply annually.

Due to Ontario’s nuclear strength over the past decade, greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario’s electricity sector have been reduced by more than 80 per cent. Over 95 per cent of electricity generated in Ontario comes from non-greenhouse gas emitting resources.

The coal phase-out was realized on the back of Ontario’s nuclear sector and the benefits extend far beyond those mentioned in the article. According to a 2005 Ministry of Energy report, phasing out coal avoids 25,000 emergency room visits, 20,000 hospital admissions, 8.1 million minor illness cases and provides a financial benefit of $2.6 billion annually or $70 billion through 2040.

With such a reliable supply of carbon-free energy being provided by Ontario’s nuclear fleet, the future is bright for the health of Ontario residents. Serving as an example, Ontario undertook a multi-year effort that decreased the average Ontarian’s environmental footprint that resulted in a financial benefit to the province and represents a model for the rest of Canada.

Decisions made on the energy fuel source must balance both the needs of today and future generations, without ignoring the correlation between air emissions, climate and human health.

The role of nuclear power in Canada goes far beyond being a clean and reliable source of energy. It has an important role to play in medicine, food safety, research and innovation and supports thousands of long- term, high-tech and well-paid jobs.

Leveraging Ontario’s nuclear advantage supports both our economy and the global transition to a low-carbon future. Thanks to the success of Ontario’s coal phase-out, we are not starting from zero but are already leaders. We must continue to build on this success by ensuring our investments in these key areas of our energy infrastructure reach their full potential for Ontario and for Canada.

Taylor McKenna
Ontario’s Nuclear Advantage
Toronto, ON