Energy in Ontario – by the Numbers

Curious how much nuclear power is being generated in Ontario on any given day? What about any given hour?

If so, you may want to check out the CNA’s new ‘Energy in Ontario’ web app, which shows daily and hourly energy generation by selected fuels – and related lifecycle pollution emissions.
 Energy in Ontario - Table 1
 Energy in Ontario - Table 2


You can see how much power was generated from nuclear, gas and wind, as well as how many tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), and kilograms of particulate matter (PM), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and oxides of sulfur (SOx) each source emitted.

A nifty feature also shows you what the environmental impact would have been had a combination of wind and gas replaced the power that nuclear generated. On average, carbon emissions would have been five to eight times higher than what they actually were.

What’s important to note about the CNA’s emission data, and is different from some of the other data out there, is that we’ve considered lifecycle factors, such as construction, transportation, operation and decommissioning. This is why nuclear, for example, appears to be generating emissions on a regular basis.

What’s next?

We’re working on adding all of Ontario’s current fuel types, including hydro, solar, and biofuel, as well as distinguishing between simple and rankine cycle gas.

We’re also developing a historical overview, showing yearly energy output and emissions, by fuel type, dating back to 2008.

All of this information is important in trying to show the effect that nuclear power has in curbing air pollution in Ontario. If not for the significant ramp-up in nuclear output, the province would be facing much more serious health and environmental problems.

Check out the live data on the CNA website, under ‘Resources,’ or click here.


Essential Energy: Part 2

By Peter Poruks
Manager of Regulatory Affairs
Canadian Nuclear Association

In an earlier post I described my thoughts on how critically important energy is to us and our society. I outlined how it can become a matter of life or death if you do not have a reliable supply of, or access to, energy. I hope that I have gone at least a little way in convincing you that energy is important. But I didn’t answer the obvious next question; how do we produce, harness and store our power?

There are a host of options when we start to think about how we power our lives. Let’s limit the conversation a bit by looking at the large scale: how we supply our cities, factories, offices, hospitals, and homes. Oil, coal, natural gas, hydroelectricity, and nuclear all come to mind. Increasingly we hear about renewables such as wind, solar, tidal or biomass. Each has their own strengths and challenges. The simple truth is that there is no easy answer when it comes to producing energy. If there were, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

There is mounting evidence about the effects of greenhouse gases on climate. By burning fossil fuels, we are increasing the carbon in our atmosphere, increasing average global temperatures, raising sea levels, and altering weather patterns across the planet. The United Nations, among many others, is advocating for strict measures to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees. At this point, there is concern that we do not have the regulations or the global will to meet these targets. If you agree that it is important to reduce carbon emissions, then limiting our consumption of fossil fuels becomes almost automatic.

To reduce our carbon emissions, we need to look at low emitting sources of electricity: nuclear, hydro and renewables. Hydroelectric power, generating electricity by moving water, is an attractive option. It is used widely in Canada; most provinces have significant generating capacity in hydroelectricity, and as a country we are world leaders in hydro generation. 60% of Canadian electricity comes from hydro!

Renewables, such as wind or solar, are another alternative, producing very low greenhouse gas emissions. However, an inescapable trait is intermittency, meaning that they do not work all the time – the wind isn’t always blowing and the sun isn’t always shining. Options for storage exist, but as of today they are unable to meet large scale demand. A renewables-based electricity system needs a back-up source of power, often natural gas. A recent study showed that because of this need to back-up wind with natural gas, the total carbon footprint (calculated though Life Cycle Analysis) of wind is only marginally better than gas on its own.

To my mind, nuclear power presents the strongest case. It isn’t intermittent, so it can provide “base load” power. It doesn’t emit greenhouse gases when operating, and over its life cycle, it compares very closely to wind power.

Questions are correctly raised concerning the management of spent nuclear fuel. Currently all of Canada’s spent fuel is safely housed in intermediate-term storage facilities at the power stations. An independent group, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), is tasked with finding a permanent long term management solution. The current thinking is to situate the spent fuel in safe underground storage facilities, much akin to a custom built mine (known as a Geologic Repository). The NWMO is working with communities across Canada to explore options to develop and build such a facility.

Some people criticize nuclear on its cost, saying it is too expensive. But when you consider the cost over the life of a plant (30 to 60 years) nuclear comes out as one of the most cost-effective energy sources there is.

We all use and need energy. We have always lived with the trade-offs between different technologies, but today the stakes are such that we can’t continue to dump carbon into the atmosphere without thinking of the consequences. Since each choice comes with some pros and cons, the solution probably will look like some combination of hydroelectricity, nuclear, and renewables with natural gas providing back up at times of peak demand. When you start to look into it, it is awfully hard not to consider nuclear power as an important and environmentally sound way to meet the globe’s increasing energy needs.


Essential Energy: Part 1

By Peter Poruks
Manager of Regulatory Affairs
Canadian Nuclear Association


In 1981, the movie Quest For Fire was released. Set in prehistoric times, it showed a trio of early humans on an epic search for fire. Their tribe had been able to capture fire after a lightning strike, but they lacked the knowledge of how to create fire themselves. After fending off an attack from a rival group and being chased into a swamp by wolves, the tribe’s carefully guarded fire becomes extinguished. So three adventurous scouts are sent out to find a new source of fire and encounter sabre tooth tigers, mastodons, and murderous rivals along the way.

While it may seem odd to us today that anyone would assume such risks, it starts to make sense when you consider that harnessing fire is quite literally a matter of life and death. Fire kept them warm, it illuminated the darkness, cooked their food, making it more nutritious, and kept threatening creatures at bay. Long before there were societies with written or even spoken words, humans would risk everything for energy. The knowledge of energy, and especially our ability to harness it, is a hallmark of the human condition.

Indeed, humanity’s quest for fire has only increased in intensity. We have dammed rivers and flooded thousands of square kilometres of arable land. We have deforested vast expanses of Europe and the Middle East, cutting lumber to feed our insatiable appetite for more and more energy. And today we burn billions of tons of coal, oil, and natural gas, all the while emitting climate-altering greenhouse gases.

So much for escaping the sabre tooth tigers; we’ve got out of the pot and climbed into the frying pan! We have radically altered our natural landscape, and now we appear on an irreversible course to altering our climate and the temperature of our globe.

Yet simply cutting back on energy consumption is not the answer. Yes, conservation and efficiency have an important role to play. But energy has an incredibly positive benefit to our lives and we should not shrink away from it. History has shown an ever increasing quality of life tied directly to an ever increasing energy usage density. The most advanced societies – countries with top tier health care, literacy rates, environmental stewardship, industrial output, and consumer luxuries – are precisely those countries that use energy the most intensively.

I am a firm proponent of the ability of science and technology to harness energy constructively, and apply it to the betterment of our world. We can readily find information and debate on financial inequality, such as the Occupy rallies of 2012, but the disparity of energy among populations is just as stark and, I don’t believe, nearly as well articulated. And just as it was for the heroes in Quest for Fire, access to energy remains a matter of life and death for billions of people. Energy brings potable water, light, heat, hygiene, growing crops and cooking food. It underpins every aspect of every activity we engage in. It would be no small injustice to condemn billions to poverty when we have myriad technologies available to produce the energy required to meet their needs. The question is not one of “if” but rather one of “how” to do so, in a fair and sustainable manner.


CNA Visits the Canada Science and Technology Museum

On January 28, 2015, CNA staff had the opportunity to view the nuclear material currently in storage at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Like any museum, only a small percentage of their collection is on display at any given time. So we were very pleased when they invited us to take in the entire collection.

Below are some of the museum’s nuclear-related artifacts, which few people have ever seen.

Original electronic tower from the ZEEP nuclear reactor at Chalk River, c. 1945.
Original electronic tower from the ZEEP nuclear reactor at Chalk River, c. 1945.
The triple axis spectrometer (c. 1956) designed and used by Nobel Prize Winner, Betrum Brockhouse.
Triple axis spectrometer (c. 1956) designed and used by Nobel Prize winner, Bertram Brockhouse.
1920s Dental X-ray machine.
1920s dental x-ray machine.
1950s X-ray shoe fitter.
1950s x-ray shoe fitter.
(Front)  ZEEP fuel rod prototype designed by George Klein c. 1945 (Back) The 100,00th CANDU Fuel Bundle presented to Prime Minister Trudeau in 1975.
(Front) ZEEP fuel rod prototype designed by George Klein c. 1945. (Back) The 100,000th CANDU fuel bundle presented to Prime Minister Trudeau in 1975.
The "Advanced CANDU Reactor (ACR) Model" on loan to CSTMC from A‎ECL at Chalk River.
The “Advanced CANDU Reactor (ACR) model” on loan from CNL at Chalk River.

Nuclear Cheaper than Solar Now and in the Future

Solar panelNuclear power is clean. The UN sees it as one of the energy sources needed to fight climate change. This is something critics in green groups cannot deny.

But a new green trend is to focus criticism on the costs of nuclear power plants.

The Guardian recently reported on how Friends of the Earth in the UK have shifted in this direction.

“The biggest risk of nuclear power is that it takes far too long to build, it’s far too costly, and distorts the national grid by creating an old model of centralized power generation,” says Friends of the Earth’s campaigns director Craig Bennett.

But is this correct? Is nuclear more expensive than the renewables preferred by most green groups?

In a recent column for The Energy Collective website, Tracey Durning, co-founder of Energy Options Network, wrote about the current divide between the nuclear and renewable camps.

Durning said she found that the economics of nuclear was “one of the biggest wedges” between the two sides.

She decided to ask two of her peers at the Energy Options Network – Eric Ingersoll, Senior Advisor at Lucid Strategy and CEO of Energy Options Network, and Ashley Finan, Energy Innovation Project Manager at the Clean Air Task Force, Energy Options Network Practice Leader – to shed light on the debate.

They found that while solar appears cheaper than nuclear, intermittency (the sun doesn’t shine 24 hours a day) means solar plants operate at 20 to 30 per cent of capacity. This is lower than the 90 per cent average for a nuclear plant.

They estimated a 1 GW nuclear plant could produce 7,889 gigawatt-hours of electricity annually. But you would need a 3.6 GW solar plant to produce the same amount of power.

“By that measure, nuclear is more than competitive,” Durning wrote.

“In 2014, one of the cheapest utility scale solar plants in the US had an expected installed price of $2,000 per kilowatt. But since US solar plants operate at only about 25 per cent capacity factor, the cost per capacity-adjusted kilowatt is $8,000.”

This doesn’t include the cost of providing backup energy for solar. Most jurisdictions use fossil fuel generation to provide this backup, thereby driving up greenhouse gas emissions.

She looked at the cost of the four US nuclear reactors under construction today in Georgia and South Carolina.

Their initial capital costs are $6,700 per kilowatt and $4,900 per kilowatt respectively for an average of $6,500 per capacity-adjusted kilowatt factoring 90 per cent operation capacity.  That’s 20 per cent less than solar.

Durning’s conclusion: “When you take into consideration the amount of electricity produced, it’s just not true that nuclear is more expensive than solar or that it is likely to be more expensive than solar in the future.”


Myth Busted! Nuclear is Actually Second-Cheapest Source of Electricity.

The next time you look at your electricity bill, keep in mind that electricity from nuclear plants is the second least expensive form of power in Ontario. Water power is slightly cheaper but almost all of Ontario’s commercially viable water generation capability is already developed.

There is a perception that nuclear power is expensive. This is largely due to the high upfront costs in building or refurbishing nuclear reactors.

But because these costs can be amortized over several decades, the end result is a low-cost reliable baseload source of electricity. Nuclear doesn’t increase your power bill. In fact, it helps keep it down.

2013 electricity price per KWh

The average price for electricity in Ontario in 2013 was 8.5 cents per KWh.

Nuclear was six cents per KWh in 2013. The only thing that was not more expensive was hydro, which was 4.5 cents per KWh.

“With rates paid for nuclear today at 30 per cent below the average price of electricity in Ontario, nuclear refurbishment will ensure price stability for decades to come from sites with existing transmission infrastructure,” Robert Hattin, chair of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, recently wrote in an op/ed for the Toronto Sun.

Ontario Electricity Mix

Both baseload nuclear and hydro are far less expensive than the peaking sources of electricity, with solar at 50 cents, gas at 15 cents and wind at 11 cents per KWh.

Nuclear supplied 59 per cent of the power to the electricity grid in 2013 in Ontario. One can wonder how much electricity bills would be if, say, solar represented 59 per cent of the electricity grid at nearly 10 times the price per KWh.