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CNA recognized for its commitments to Equal By 30

Last week the Equal by 30 campaign released Balance Means Business, a compilation of stories highlighting how the energy sector is working toward improving gender balance. The publication was launched at the 10th Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM10) in Vancouver, BC, May 27-29, 2019.

The compilation explores a number of ways that women are being encouraged to succeed within a traditionally male-dominated industry. Women currently represent only 22% of the energy sector compared to about 32% in renewable energy and 48% in the economy overall.

Equal By 30 is a public commitment by organizations to realize equal pay, equal leadership and equal opportunities for women in the clean energy sector by 2030. A signatory of Equal By 30, the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) has long been a supporter of gender balance.

Currently meeting and exceeding many of its Equal by 30 commitments, the CNA was pleased to be featured in the booklet which showcases several of the actions that the association is taking to promote gender equality.

Some of these actions include a recent contribution to the development of WONDER, a play about Canada’s first female nuclear physicist, Harriett Brooks, and sponsorship of the WiN-Canada Pioneer Scholarship awarded annually to women studying nuclear science and engineering.

Another action is facilitating an all-women panel of top nuclear regulators from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom at CNA’s 2019 conference.

Moreover, the CNA regularly produces videos and infographics, and participates in events that encourage women to pursue careers in the nuclear industry, believing that diversity and inclusivity are key components to solving the energy and environmental challenges of our time.

The CNA entry can be found on pages 14-15.

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IPCC report stresses the need for nuclear

Once again, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recognized the importance of nuclear energy in climate change mitigation.

In its October 1.5° Celsius Special Report, based on limiting the increase from pre-industrial times to 1.5°C, the IPCC outlined what kind of greenhouse gas reduction measures will be required to meet this goal.

Not surprisingly, the rapid decarbonization of the global electricity sector will require, at first, the deployment of proven large capacity power technologies, such as nuclear power.

To show how this can be done, the report looked at four emission model pathways.

To meet the 1.5°C target, the four emission model pathways project an increase in nuclear power generation between 98% and 501% by 2050, relative to 2010.

With population growth and improved living standards in the developing world, it will take all forms of clean energy to lower overall carbon emissions over the next three decades.

This is not the first time climate change mitigation models noted the important role of nuclear.

In 2016, the Canadian government released Canada’s Mid-Century Long-Term Low-Greenhouse Gas Development Strategy report.  It models eight different scenarios designed to achieve drastic GHG reductions by 2050, and in all cases, nuclear is a contributing energy source.

“In all of the low GHG economy modelling analyses, non-emitting sources such as hydro, nuclear, wind, and solar replace fossil fuel generation well before mid-century,” the report stated.

CNA Responds

Small Nuclear Reactors are Powering Ships World Wide

The following letter from John Stewart, Director of Policy and Research at the Canadian Nuclear Association, originally appeared in the Financial Times on June 3, 2019.

You use a full page to outline the massive environmental impacts of oil-powered shipping, and even mention weak options like sails and batteries. Why don’t you give a few paragraphs to a safe, non-emitting way to drive large vessels that has worked well for 65 years?

Small reactors have driven submarines, aircraft carriers and icebreakers quietly and reliably all over the world since 1954. Amazingly few writers recognize nuclear as the clean energy solution that it already is, and will be. FT should have joined them long ago.

John Stewart
Ottawa, ON, Canada

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CNA response to CBC story on SMR’s in Saskatchewan

Re Viable alternative’ or ‘greenwashing?’: Sask. experts divided on nuclear power

In your May 24 story, Jim Harding says Saskatchewan’s electricity grid is small enough to be powered by wind and solar.

While Saskatchewan has some of the best wind and solar resources in the country, there are limitations as to when these technologies produce electricity as well as how much can be accommodated on any one electricity system (regardless of the size of the grid). As a result, the way to create more “space” for renewables is to pair them appropriately with power that’s available 24 / 7.

As a result, the real question should be—what is the best mix of electricity for Saskatchewan?

The Government of Saskatchewan is considering new nuclear—specifically Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)—because the province has some of the world’s best uranium resources.

They are considering it because they know it works reliably and cleanly, and it generates great jobs.

Lastly, while giving credit for nuclear not emitting carbon when producing electricity, Mr. Harding claims that nuclear energy’s life-cycle emissions detract from this.

The fact is, all forms of electricity production emit some amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, even if they don’t burn fossil fuels.

Though nuclear energy does have an intensive life-cycle, from mining of uranium ore to storage of spent fuel, it releases no carbon in its operations. When all of these steps are taken into account, nuclear power still compares favourably with renewable energy sources – and is well ahead of fossil fuels.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, nuclear power sits alongside renewables such as wind and hydro as electricity sources with lifetime carbon emissions of under or about 20 grams per kilowatt-hour (g/kWh).

Saskatchewan is blessed with abundant solar, wind and uranium resources. The best mix of technologies to decarbonize its electricity system is abundantly clear.

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CNA Response to HBO Miniseries Chernobyl

The worst nuclear accident occurred in 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power station, sixty miles north of Kiev, Ukraine, in what was then the Soviet Union.

Thirty-three years later, Chernobyl is now a critically-acclaimed HBO miniseries, which will run for five weeks during May and June.

Here’s a spoiler: Almost all the problems associated with the Chernobyl incident were particular to the Soviet-era reactor and the secretive government response.

The Chernobyl accident was a unique event at a type of rudimentary reactor complex that was becoming rare in the Soviet Union, and no longer exists at all.

Chernobyl reactor versus CANDU

It is almost impossible that an accident like the one at Chernobyl could happen in a commercial nuclear plant found in Canada or the U.S.

The RBMK reactor at Chernobyl was never built by any country outside the USSR because it is a flawed design.

It is also significantly different from Canadian CANDU reactors in several ways as the chart from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd below shows.

Containment

Containment is an airtight building made of concrete and steel that prevents harmful radioactivity from escaping the reactor in the event of an accident.

The Chernobyl reactor had no containment. The key factor in the widespread dispersion of radioactivity was the energy released from the burning graphite moderator and the absence of a containment structure capable of withstanding that energy.

CANDU reactors, like most Western designs, have a containment structure designed for its maximum credible accident, while its moderator is low-temperature, low-pressure water instead of graphite.

Design flaws

Chernobyl also lacked other safety mechanisms that are considered standard design in the rest of the world.

The root cause of the Chernobyl accident was a design flaw in the shut-down system that no other reactor in the world has.

The CANDU and RBMK designs have some fundamental differences. CANDU reactors use a heavy water moderator, while RBMK use graphite. Graphite can be a very useful material in a safe reactor design. But in an unstable design like the reactor at Chernobyl, it was fuel for the fire that resulted from the explosion.

Safety culture

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded that a “lack of safety culture” existed within nuclear power plants in the former Soviet Union, including Chernobyl.

Chernobyl was a testament to the former Soviet Union’s poor construction materials and techniques, and absence of safety culture.

In the years prior to the accident, managers ignored safety rules laid down by engineers so production quotas could be met. Workers and lower-level managers were afraid to raise objections when they saw something wrong.

Health impact

In 2006 the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) undertook a study to follow up on health effects.

Of the plant staff and emergency workers exposed to the huge core doses and toxic smoke at Chernobyl, 28 died from acute radiation sickness.

The UNSCEAR report also said Chernobyl was responsible for a “substantial fraction” of about 6,000 thyroid cancers among people who were children or adolescents at the time of the accident. By 2015, 15 cases had proved fatal.

“To date, there has been no persuasive evidence of any other health effect in the general population that can be attributed to radiation exposure,” the study concluded.

According to a 2005 World Health Organization (WHO) report, a maximum of 4,000 people might yet exhibit some ill effects as a result of radiation exposure attributed to the Chernobyl release (as opposed to other sources of radiation, such as natural background radiation or medical procedures).

For context, about 1,000 people die per year mining coal in China; about 2,000 people die per year in road accidents in Canada; and more than 3,000 people die per year from fire in the United States.

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Russia to build nuclear rocket bound for Mars and beyond

Design concept of the Russian nuclear-powered rocket.

The race to Mars and back to the moon is on and in November a Russian researcher announced a bold plan in the next generation of space travel.

Popular Mechanics reported that Vladimir Koshlakov, the head of Russia’s Keldysh Research Center, said he wants to build a nuclear-powered rocket.

Koshlakov said the rocket could be used to travel to Mars and beyond.

“A mission to Mars is possible in the very near future, but that’s not an aim in itself. Our engines can be the foundation for a whole range of space missions that currently seem like science fiction,” he said, adding that there was no timeline on when the rockets would be ready.

Their engine, he claims, could get to the moon in just a few days and Mars in seven or eight months.

The proposed design, which has been in the works since 2009, uses a unique propulsion system that is comprised of a gas-cooled fission reactor that powers a generator, which in turn feeds a plasma thruster.

Nuclear power has been used for space travel since 1961. Radioisotope Thermal Generators (RTGs) have been used for numerous space probes and missions. But a nuclear-powered rocket used for a mission would be a new development.

Both the U.S. and Russia had nuclear-powered rocket programs in the 1950s and ‘60s, but research was stopped in the ‘70s and ‘80s when both projects ran out of funding.