Uranium: A Sustainable Resource

By Erin Polka
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

One of my projects at the CNA has been to organize screenings of the movie Pandora’s Promise at universities across Canada.

At each university, there are a number of departments in which the movie could potentially resonate, including science, engineering, political science and environmental studies. Some universities have a department dedicated to the study of sustainable resources, where I would have expected to find nuclear energy advocates.

On the contrary.

The term “sustainable” has become synonymous with “renewable” among a significant number of students studying sustainable resources. For the most part, they are focused on water, wind and solar power, and have the tendency to neglect or even attack nuclear energy.

To set the record straight, it should be noted that sustainable energy has a much broader umbrella as it includes renewables such as water, wind, and solar, as well as non-renewables such as nuclear, which can be used as an energy source for many years to come.

By definition, sustainable energy provides the energy needs of today without compromising the energy needs of future generations.

Canada is a country so rich in uranium that it can continue to provide the fuel for nuclear energy for hundreds, if not thousands of years. With known resources of 572,000 tonnes of U3O8, Canada has approximately 10% of the world’s uranium, less only than Australia (31%) and Kazakhstan (12%).

In addition, Canada has the option to reprocess used fuel, as is being done already in many European countries, Russia and Japan. Moreover, Canada’s nuclear plants have the ability to breed Thorium, which is even more abundant in Canada than uranium.

Clearly, nuclear energy is sustainable. Why, then, does it continue to be omitted from consideration in the sustainable energy mix at Canadian universities?

A number of factors are likely at play, including general misinformation regarding the benefits (and risks) of nuclear energy, the trendy nature of renewables, and the fact that nuclear forces a division among those who consider themselves environmentalists and they choose to avoid this division rather than confront it.

Moving forward, we will continue to reach out to students studying sustainable resources, as I believe that while many of them will only ever endorse renewables, there is an opportunity to educate and engage those who simply haven’t considered nuclear.

Nuclear Energy

Meeting Governor Haley and Opportunities in the Carolinas’ Nuclear Cluster

By Dr. John Barrett
Canadian Nuclear Association

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and CNA President John Barrett.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and CNA President John Barrett.

On April 1, I was invited by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to attend a dinner to meet the Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley.  It proved to be a very interesting evening on a number of fronts.

First, Governor Haley: first elected in November 2010, she has since then, according to the promotional material, “worked tirelessly to create jobs and to improve the overall business environment in South Carolina. Under her tenure as Governor more than 44,500 jobs have been created and over $11 billion has been invested in South Carolina.”

I can believe every bit of that.  She gave a strong, spirited and convincing presentation about her efforts to bring South Carolina out of the doldrums, languishing with an 11 per cent unemployment rate, to a state bursting with drive, pride and accomplishment.  A state on the upswing economically, full of energy.

And I use the word “energy” with special meaning.  Many of our CNA members will already know of the “Carolinas’ Nuclear Cluster,” a hub of nuclear expertise, supplying more than 11 per cent of the United States’ nuclear power generation.  This nuclear cluster has been described as a consortium of industry, higher education and non-profit organizations working together to support energy and economic development.

More to the point, North Carolina has five nuclear reactors in operation, providing 32 per cent of the state’s electricity generation.  South Carolina has seven operating reactors, with 52 per cent of the state’s total electric generation — and two new units under construction.

If there’s a region that would be a natural partner to Southern Ontario’s own nuclear cluster, it would be the Carolinas, with South Carolina showing its optimism in the future of nuclear with two new builds.

Speaking with Governor Haley afterwards, she expressed considerable interest in the Canadian nuclear industry and its priorities and prospects.  She insisted that I come and visit her soon to continue the conversation and see what opportunities for collaboration there might be in the Carolinas’ Nuclear Cluster for our CNA members.

This southern hospitality was further extended by the former U.S. Ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, who sat next to me at dinner.  He said he’d be happy to introduce me to the folks in the South Carolina nuclear industry, since he knew them all personally.

I checked in the next day with OCI President Ron Oberth to see whether he’d been to the Carolinas to visit their nuclear industry.  Indeed he had, but he thought it’d be very useful for the CNA to visit, especially since the invitations were coming from the highest level in the state.

So this is now on my list of places to visit and relationships to build on behalf of CNA members.  If any of you reading this have advice or insights on what opportunities and business connections we can forge with the U.S. nuclear industry in the American southeast, please let me know.

CNA President John Barrett and U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman

CNA President John Barrett and U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman

I should add that the dinner provided an opportunity for me to meet the U.S. Ambassador-designate to Canada, Bruce Heyman, and his wife, Vicky.  He presents his letters of accreditation to the Governor General at Rideau Hall on April 8, after which he will officially take up his ambassadorial duties.  He is arriving brimming with enthusiasm and eagerness to get to know Canada and Canadians.  We wish him and his family all the very best in their new assignment, and I am looking forward to meeting with him once he is officially accredited.

Some quick points on South Carolina:

-South Carolina’s four existing nuclear power plants supplied 57 per cent of the state’s net electricity generation in 2013; two new reactors are under construction at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station site in Fairfield County. (Source: US EIA. http://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=SC)

-In the Carolinas (North and South), the nuclear energy industry directly provides 29,000 jobs, has more than $2.2 billion in direct payroll , and more than $950 million paid in state and local taxes, according to a 2013 analysis by Clemson University. (Source: NEI.http://neinuclearnotes.blogspot.ca/2014/03/why-should-you-consider-career-in.html)

-The NRC decision to approve new build, back in 2012, was the first construction licence issued since 1978. (Source: Media. http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/219277-regulators-approve-construction-of-second-new-nuclear-reactors-in-decades)

Here’s a quick profile of the Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgil_C._Summer_Nuclear_Generating_Station


It’s Business as Usual at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station

By Heather Kleb
Vice President
Canadian Nuclear Association

On March 25, 2014, I had the pleasure of meeting with staff of the Point Lepreau Generating Station in New Brunswick. You may recall that that was the day that a nor’easter hit much of Canada’s East Coast; a blizzard with winds reaching upwards of 150 km/h. The storm, described by meteorologists as a “winter hurricane,” or “a nasty spring weather bomb,” also hit Point Lepreau, where the station is located on the northern shore of the Bay of Fundy.

PL image

Despite being hit by the worst storm in over 10 years, it was business as usual at the Point Lepreau Generating Station. Staff went about their daily business in the calm, deliberate manner that they are accustomed to. Control room operators adjusted their plans in anticipation of the storm, planning to review them more frequently as the storm develops; their goal to continue to provide safe, reliable power to New Brunswickers. The station is the backbone of New Brunswick’s electrical grid, providing 25-35 per cent of the provinces’ power supply, but as much as 40 per cent when conditions demand it.

Heather at PL

The significance of their response to the storm was not lost on station staff. Having just come through a rigorous assessment of lessons learned from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the station had recently reaffirmed its ability to respond to seismic, fire, flood and extreme weather events. As you can tell from this photo of me in my Personal Protective Equipment, all was well in the turbine hall that day, as well as the rest of the station.


Reflections on the Nuclear Industry Summit and the Nuclear Security Summit

By John Barrett
Canadian Nuclear Association

From March 23 to 25, I and a number of Canadian nuclear-sector executives participated at the Nuclear Industry Summit (NIS) in Amsterdam. The NIS and the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague were designed by the Netherlands, as host and organizer, to overlap.

The 2014 NSS was the third in a series of Leaders’ Summits established in 2010 by U.S. President Barack Obama to address the security of nuclear materials and radiological sources and to prevent their illicit acquisition by criminal or terrorist entities.


Nuclear Security Background

The idea of an accompanying nuclear industry summit has gained ground. States participating in the NSS have recognized the important role of nuclear industry in implementing effective security arrangements in the handling of sensitive nuclear materials and radiological sources.

To those involved in Canada’s nuclear industry, this recognition of industry’s role in nuclear security likely comes as no surprise, given the regulations and procedures that they already stringently abide by.

This may be so here in Canada. But there is also an awareness that no comparable international regime exists for nuclear security as it does for nuclear safety.

Governments still struggle more with security because of the interplay between sensitive information – whether concerning physical protection or the whereabouts of nuclear and radiological material – and the transparency necessary to give assurance, both to domestic populations as well as to other states, that such materials remain secure. Getting the balance between the two is the challenge.

That is one of the reasons that forms of verification and confidence-building used increasingly in nuclear safety (note in particular the IAEA’s Action Plan on Nuclear Safety, following the Fukushima accident) such as “peer review” are sometimes more resisted by states when it comes to nuclear security. Perhaps they fear the potential embarrassment or additional costs associated with being held under the international spotlight of a peer review. Their deficiencies could become exposed. This is why achieving progress in transparency and assurances is often slower than one hopes.

Nevertheless, the three nuclear security summits give room for optimism. Building an international nuclear security framework cannot be achieved in one fell swoop. But we can learn from the experiences in other areas of verification and confidence-building in the civil nuclear sphere. In two other areas – nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear safety – the IAEA acts as a mechanism for verification. For states that are parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, they are legally bound to allow the IAEA to impose safeguards on their civil nuclear activities. For states parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety (which includes all countries that operate nuclear power plants, except Iran), they are obliged to undergo peer reviews based on IAEA safety standards.

For nuclear security, however, no such role exists for the IAEA. Some countries insist that security is not part of the agency’s mandate, only safeguards and safety. Yet there is overlap between these two areas and nuclear security. How, for example, can one can talk about the safety of radiological sources without also including their protection and secure handling? Or protecting nuclear material from being diverted or traded illegally, taking into account the role of safeguards in ensuring only legitimate uses of such material?

Bit by bit, the pieces of a coherent nuclear security regime are being assembled. The IAEA offers International Physical Protection Advisory Services, along with Nuclear Security Guidelines. The agency is also the compiler of the Incidents and Illicit Trafficking Database. The Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material is signed, though not yet in force.

In short, it’s still a patchwork of agreements and initiatives with no unifying international legal framework. Many actions and commitments are voluntary for states, not binding. This non-binding dimension is not ideal when it comes to giving strong and transparent assurances to others that one’s own nuclear security house is fully and circumspectly in order.

So, given this background, what were some of the achievements of the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit? (See: www.nss2014.com)

NSS Achievements

One thing heard often at both NSS and NIS discussions was that a harmful event involving nuclear materials anywhere can be considered to be a harmful event everywhere. The direct interrelationship between the security of nuclear materials in one country and its impact on other countries is clearly recognized by political and industry leaders alike.

The NSS allowed individual countries to show what they have done domestically and internationally to improve nuclear security. It also produced numerous pledges to do more by the time of the next summit in 2016. Canada showed itself very well in both instances.

The summit also made ground in “strengthening the international nuclear security architecture,” possibly by developing by 2016 the outlines of a unifying framework or instrument. In addition, a block of countries stepped forward to accept peer reviews as a means of demonstrating their intent to improve both transparency as well as the level and effectiveness of their national nuclear security measures. And the IAEA is now clearly the lead international institution to support and promote nuclear security.

The NSS encouraged: the minimization of stocks of Highly Enriched Uranium and separated plutonium; the minimization of HEU use through conversion of reactor fuel from HEU to LEU; efforts to use non-HEU technologies for the production of radio-isotopes; protection of high-activity radiological sources; the investigation of alternative technologies for such production; and security plans for spent fuel and radioactive waste.

Implications for Industry

The NSS made it clear that nuclear industry had “a crucial role to play in maintaining and strengthening nuclear security.”

Operators should put strong emphasis on effective safety and security culture, physical protection, and material accountancy. They should undergo regular and routine tests and evaluations, in line with the “principle of continuous improvement.” The summit leaders also emphasized the importance of information and cyber security, underlining that further exchanges between government, industry and academia were desirable.

However, it was in the Nuclear Industry Summit (NIS) that more specific measures for industry were identified. The NIS issued a Joint Declaration, as well as the reports of three working groups. (See: www.NIS2014.org) Working Group 1 (under the chairmanship of Bruce Power CEO Duncan Hawthorne) dealt with corporate governance. Working Group 2 (chaired by Luc Oustel of Areva) examined enhancing of Information and cyber security.  Working Group 3 (chaired by Adi Paterson of ANSTO) looked at further reducing HEU and strengthening controls over highly active radiological sources.

The NIS Joint Declaration committed industry participants to:

  • Promoting a strong security culture
  • Ensuring that all personnel with accountabilities for security must be demonstrably competent
  • Clearly designating accountability for security
  • Conducting routine evaluations of the sufficiency of security provisions
  • Extending the spirit of cooperation and sharing of good practices
  • Reinforcing industry collaboration on cyber security topics
  • Fostering development of high-density fuel (LEU production of radio-isotopes)

Canadian Role

From a Canadian perspective, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced at the Nuclear Security Summit several initiatives and commitments that may have a bearing on industry. Canada is committed to:

  • Eliminating the use of HEU in the production of medical isotopes by 2016
  • Continuing the process of repatriation of its U.S.-origin HEU fuel by 2018
  • Minimizing HEU by providing technical support for a reactor conversion and cleanout project in Jamaica

In addition, Canada will undertake further nuclear and radiological security programming through the Global Partnership Program to: enhance physical security of nuclear and radiological materials in Southeast Asia; prevent loss, theft, and malicious use of radioactive sources, particularly those of Canadian origin, in Latin America and Africa; and combat illicit trafficking by enhancing detection capabilities in the Americas.

The prime minister also announced government co-funding of a Bruce Power and the World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) project to develop senior-level training courses and instruction methodologies relating to nuclear security. The new WINS Academy was unveiled at the 2014 NSS and NIS Summits. The Academy is launching a Security Certification Programme, “The Route to Demonstrable Competence,” which is targeted at professionals who have management responsibilities for nuclear and radiological materials. (See: www.wins.org)

Furthermore, under the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), Canada will undertake a nuclear forensics initiative in partnership with a number of international partners, including Israel, the Netherlands and the US.

In the National Progress Report prepared by the Canadian government for the 2014 NSS, there is mention that Canada is undertaking a comprehensive national project designed to promote the development of a national nuclear forensics capability. To this end, Canada is participating as a programme committee member for the forthcoming International Conference on Advances in Nuclear Forensics. As regards cyber security, Canada is working towards the development and issuance of a national standard for cyber protection.

Furthermore, Canada is examining the potential to develop a Centre of Excellence to connect expertise from government, industry, regulators and academic institutions. The document also notes that both government and industry representatives are actively involved in the development of international recommendations, guidance and best practice guides for enhancing nuclear security, through the IAEA and WINS.

Quick Takeaways

What I drew in particular from the combination of the 2 summit meetings (NSS and NIS) was an emphasis on the following nuclear security areas:

  • Education, training and awareness-raising are key in developing a corporate and institutional “nuclear security culture”
  • Peer review and compliance, while still voluntary in many parts of the international nuclear security architecture, are essential and will be pursued and strengthened
  • Collaboration with industry is important, especially in promoting a nuclear security culture, raising the actual levels of physical protection, and dealing with increasingly salient cyber-security issues
  • There is growing recognition of the interface between safety and security and of how the latter can learn from the former
  • The IAEA is increasingly accepted as the focal point in future for improvements in the practice of nuclear security and in building an international nuclear security architecture
  • Focus is being put on improved detection methods and forensic technologies


Nuclear Science Whiz Kid Taylor Wilson Explores Fusion Potential at CNA2014

Physics wunderkind Taylor Wilson astounded the science world when, at age 14, he became the youngest person in history to produce fusion. The University of Nevada-Reno offered a home for his early experiments when Wilson’s worried parents realized he had every intention of building his reactor in the garage.

Wilson now intends to fight nuclear terror in the nation’s ports, with a homemade radiation detector priced an order of magnitude lower than most current devices. In 2012, Wilson’s dreams received a boost when he became a recipient of the $100,000 Thiel Prize.

At CNA2014, Wilson discusses ways to revolutionize the way we produce energy, fight cancer, and combat terrorism using nuclear energy.

Nuclear Energy Nuclear Policy

Harper Skeptical of Germany’s Goal to Phase Out Nuclear

You can add Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the list of skeptics of Germany’s decision to phase out its nuclear power plants.

During a question-and-answer session at a business event in Germany on March 26, Canadian Press reported Harper had this to say when asked about Germany’s energy policy.

He expressed skepticism that Germany would be able to meet its goal of phasing out fossil fuels and nuclear while having a scant supply of hydro power.

“I do not know an economy in the world that does not rely heavily on at least one of those, so this is a brave new world you’re attempting; we wish you well with that,” he said to seemingly nervous laughter from the crowd.

He said it would be very challenging for Germany not to rely on some combination of fossil fuels, nuclear and hydro, but said Canada was ready to help.

Germany plans to phase out all of its nuclear plants by 2020 and its so-called “Energiewende” calls for the country to have 80 per cent of its energy supplied by renewables by 2050.

Renewables, nuclear and hydro are the only energy sournces that release no emissions during generation. But only nuclear and hydro can provide a stable baseload of energy supply.

So far the transition to renewables has not reduced greenhouse gas emissions and German industry figures published in January 2014 show that bituminous coal and lignite together contributed 45.5 percent of Germany’s gross energy output in 2013, up from 44 percent the previous year.

The German government has defended its decision to phase out low-carbon nuclear as a baseload and increase its reliance on coal in the short term. Germany’s environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, even told a reporter in January, “We must not demonize coal. We still need to transition to a guarantee security of supply.”