CNA2016

Small Reactors: Big Questions, Big Opportunities

By John Stewart
Director of Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

An Ontario politician asked me this week what I thought the prospects were for deploying nuclear energy in Alberta.  He seemed surprised when I said I thought Ontario was an equally big opportunity.

He shouldn’t have been. Yes, there’s a great future for low-carbon power in Western Canada (and I argued that Saskatchewan and Alberta should be viewed more or less together for this purpose). But I drew the politician’s attention back to his own province. While Ontario’s economy has had some challenges in the past decade-at times looking like a “have-not” compared with Alberta-its growth story is probably far from over. Managed well, it could generate enormous income and wealth for all Canadians in the century ahead.

Nuclear energy has been powering Ontario since 1962 and provides 60 percent of the province’s electricity, and a core part of its science, engineering and manufacturing capacity. But still, nuclear technology is young and its potential applications have barely been tested.

Efficient, ultra-safe small reactors look set to deliver a lot of those applications. The obvious one is making low-carbon power to displace fossil fuels wherever we use them-particularly by expanding the use of electric vehicles. There’s also processing minerals and other natural resources, driving ships, making medical isotopes, researching new materials and desalinating seawater.

There’s a huge amount we don’t know about how these opportunities will unfold and how big the market will be. We can’t see the future. But Ontario can do things to raise its already healthy changes of being part of it. Some of these are electrifying transportation, driving with this low-carbon generation (including new nuclear), and nurturing small reactors that can get our northern, native and remote communities off dirty diesel.

I explored prospects for SMR deployment in a presentation to the Ontario Power conference in Toronto in April. You can see that presentation here.

CNA2016

Lightweighting Vehicles With Nuclear Technology

A big change is coming to a car dealership near you. It’s called light-weighting — producing vehicles that weigh less and leave money in their owners’ pockets.

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By 2025, a typical passenger car in both Canada and the United States will require 5.1 litres of gasoline for every 100 kilometers, down from 7.4 litres for 2016 models. That means less pain at the pump – and a cut of nearly 50 percent in climate-changing carbon emissions.

It’s a big deal for industry. Most of Canada’s GHG emission increases between 1990 and 2013 were driven by the fossil fuel industry and transportation.

The approach to reduce CO2 by making vehicles lighter is no easy feat.  It means swapping out steel parts for lighter aluminum ones. But aluminum parts are weaker than steel, and get failing grades from the crash-test dummies.

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This is where the power of a nuclear research reactor comes in.

A reactor produces subatomic particles called neutrons. The scientists at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) can channel these invisible particles into a beam of energy that can penetrate objects without breaking or destroying them. It’s like turning on a light that can shine through things, like engine blocks in cars.

“When we look at an engine of a car or a frame for a vehicle, we can tell the automotive company where the part will fail, and provide them with solutions on how they can fix it,” according to Elliott Gillespie, director, international business for CNL.

While nuclear technology helps automakers build the next generation of wheels, it’s also helping today’s drivers right where the rubber meets the road. “Almost 92 per cent of the radial tires produced in the world use radiation technology at some stage in the processing,” according to Sunil Sabharwal, a radiation processing specialist with the IAEA in Vienna. Turns out that radiation toughens rubber, helping your tires last longer!

CNA2016

For The Health Of Your Lungs

According to the National Blood Clot Alliance, once every six minutes, someone dies from a blood clot and blood clots lead as the number one killer of new mothers during and after childbirth.

According to Massachusetts General Hospital, a pulmonary embolism or PE is a blood clot that develops in the blood vessels elsewhere in the body and travels to an artery of the lung. A PE is a blood clot once it has lodged itself in the lung and formed a blockage of the artery.

While there are numerous risk factors for developing a PE, the most common include:

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“Pregnancy puts a woman at increased risk of pulmonary embolism, so careful evaluation of pregnant patient is vital when they present with symptoms of chest pain and shortness of breath,” says Dr. Ravi Mohan, a radiologist and nuclear medicine specialist with the Joint Department of Medical Imaging for the University Health Network.

Left untreated mortality rates from pulmonary embolisms can be as high as 25 per cent. However, with the proper therapy, the rate of mortality decreases by nearly two-thirds to between two and eight per cent

One way to detect a potential clot in the body is known as a VQ or ventilation/perfusion scan. As Dr. Mohan points out, “nuclear medicine works from the inside out.”

In the case of a VQ scan two agents are given to the patient, one that looks at the airways (technegas) and the other to look at the blood vessels (Technetium 99m particles).  As the agents, decay they give off gamma rays.  These rays are in turn picked up by cameras, allowing physicians to detect abnormalities in the lungs.

These abnormalities are often seen as a decrease in the amount of perfusion or blood flow to a particular area in the patient while the ventilation or air flow will appear normal. It is this difference between the two parts of the tests that allows doctors to discover a blockage in the lung and thereby treat it.

Some of the symptoms may include.

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It is important to point out that not all clots will present with symptoms in the patients regardless of size or location of the blood clot.  “Patients may present with hypotension and shock in larger areas where as in patients with smaller blockages they have relatively few symptoms or no symptoms at all,” says Dr. Mohan

Treating pulmonary embolisms will vary from patient to patient but may include surgery, medications and oxygen therapy.

CNA2016

India And Canada: Opportunities For Nuclear Growth

It’s a storied history and one that dates back to the 1960s. Today, India and Canada are entering a new chapter in nuclear development. They are the two largest countries that rely on CANDU technology, a reactor that uses heavy water. Heavy water is water that contains an extra amount of deuterium.

This provides huge opportunities for collaboration and innovation between the two countries to advance and improve upon current technologies according to Justin Hannah, director, external relations for CANDU/SNC Lavalin.

“India has 18 power reactors based on CANDU designs, meaning Canada is well positioned to service the fleet, help with life extension and work with India to develop the next generation of reactors together.”

It’s an important step. According to a recent report from the World Bank, “about 300 million people still do not have access to electricity, and even those who have access to electricity do not get reliable supply, particularly in rural areas.”

Electrification is key to bring people out of poverty and the two countries working together to develop parallel technology, means the production of more efficient reactors and the elimination of blackouts while providing more CO2 free power.

“Every megawatt of nuclear displaces coal,” says Hannah.

A developing middle class and a booming population have put further strains on the current power grid. A grid that is heavily reliant on coal.

According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), energy consumption in India more than doubled between 1990 and 2011. In order to further reduce GHG emissions and meet power demands, India is forecast to grow nuclear power in the next 35 years. This will allow India to meet a quarter of its power demands through nuclear, which means global opportunities to take safety, design and economics to the next level.uraniumrocks

December 2015 marked the first shipment of Canadian uranium to India. Under the deal, Canada will supply over 7 million pounds of uranium to India valued at over a quarter of a billion dollars.

CNA2016

The Challenge of Renewable Energy

What would happen if Ontario flipped the switch and powered the grid only with renewable energy?

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For starters, says Paul Acchione, a consultant and engineer who has worked with nuclear energy and fossil fuels for more than 40 years, it couldn’t be done.

“Because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, (they) can only have 40-55 per cent capacity factor and the grid operates at closer to 70 per cent,” according to Acchione.

Ontario needs power around the clock, with a minimum demand around 4 am (“base-load power”) and a peak demand around 4 pm or 5 pm.  Solar power can help meet demand as it rises during the day, but shuts down toward sunset. And wind power varies with the weather. Neither wind nor solar power can meet base-load demand on their own, and need back-up from a reliable, ready-when-needed energy source like natural gas.

Some renewable energy advocates look forward to the day that electricity can be stored on a scale large enough to power Ontario’s grid. Storage innovators like Tesla are making progress, and storage prices are coming down. But Acchione points out that they’re still not economically viable. He says that storage for renewable energy is about 2,000 times more costly than using gas as a backup, which means nuclear energy still has a role to play. “Current storage rates are expensive and simply not available which means renewable energy must be backed up with nuclear, gas or coal. Of the three, nuclear is the cleanest.”

Acchione predicts storage will become more affordable in 40 or 50 years. Until then, he says, Ontario’s power puzzle is easily solved:

“Take all the hydroelectric we can get economically and then fill in the base with as much nuclear as we can. The incremental, we can do with renewables, but you will need to invest a little bit in storage 6-8 hours so that they can fill in the peak load (times when power demands are greatest).”

In other words, the goal of all-renewable energy for Ontario won’t be met for decades, and nuclear energy will remain the foundation of the province’s electrical system.

Environment Nuclear Energy

What leaders say

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

HurricaneDespite twenty-one COP meetings, one of which wrapped up last month in Paris, the world’s response to climate change is still patchy and unclear.

In particular, there’s a disconnect between Canada and Europe, on the one hand, and many leading countries on the other.

Experts and officials know that to hit a 1.5 degree or 2 degree climate scenario, renewable energy won’t be enough. Nuclear has to be part of the answer. The world’s use of nuclear power must grow by about 150% over the next 35 years, according to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook.

But few Canadian politicians recognize this, at least not openly. They talk about “clean energy” but not about whether the concept includes nuclear. Perhaps they take their cue from the leaders of climate-focused non-governmental organizations that also steer clear of nuclear. Perhaps it’s just easier to raise money and win votes without using the N-word. Perhaps they just don’t know any better.

Political leaders in other leading countries don’t have this inhibition. The United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, China, India and other key countries readily acknowledge that nuclear must play a central part in keeping the planet cool.

“As Prime Minister, I pledged that the government I lead would be the greenest government ever. And I believe we’ve kept that promise. We’ve more than doubled our capacity in renewable electricity in the last four years alone. We now have enough solar to power almost a million UK homes. We have the world’s leading financial centre in carbon trading. And we have established the world’s first green investment bank. We’ve invested £1 billion in Carbon Capture and Storage. And we’ve said no to any new coal without Carbon Capture and Storage. We are investing in all forms of lower carbon energy including shale gas and nuclear, with the first new nuclear plant coming on stream for a generation. Now, as a result of all that we are doing, we are on track to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.” — UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Speech to the UN Climate Summit, September 23, 2014

Politicians who avoid this nuclear fact have a problem. They promote an incomplete public understanding of the decarbonization path ahead of us. In effect, they are leading their people to over-invest in certain other solutions. We’re talking about wind and solar in particular, but also biofuels, geothermal, and many currently unproven technologies that might not work, not be ready soon enough, or not be able to scale up enough to help.

It’s not that these don’t belong on the world’s list of climate answers. It’s that nuclear is on that list too, and it’s near the top. That’s because it’s already proven, it’s already available, and it’s on a large enough scale to help.

“As detailed in the Climate Action Plan, President Obama is committed to using every appropriate tool to combat climate change.  Nuclear power, which in 2014 generated about 60 percent of carbon-free electricity in the United States, continues to play a major role in efforts to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector.” — The White House, November 6, 2015

By pretending nuclear’s not on the list, Canadian leaders are hurting, not helping, the climate cause. They’re committing to plans for greenhouse-gas reduction that are only partially effective. They’re sidetracking this country from the practical road forward to a world free of fossil fuels and their emissions. We need to act if we want to prevent a very ugly future for the only planet we have to live on. We need to overcome political inhibitions. It’s time to speak the truth about nuclear.

“The whole world is worried about global warming and climate change. People in air-conditioned rooms discuss this issue. But if India succeeds in generating clean energy, one-sixth of the humanity will take responsibility for addressing the climate change. For that nuclear energy is important. But the reactors will need uranium which will be given by Canada.” — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, April 16, 2015