Category Archives: Nuclear Energy

Nuclear Energy Nuclear Policy

Harper Skeptical of Germany’s Goal to Phase Out Nuclear

By Romeo St-Martin
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

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.”

Nuclear Energy Nuclear Policy Nuclear Safety

CNA and Members Among World Leaders at 2014 Nuclear Industry Summit

By Erin Polka
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

Canadian Nuclear Association members will be among the world nuclear industry leaders participating at the third Nuclear Industry Summit in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, from March 23 to 25.

The summit is organized in conjunction with the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague. Leaders from 58 countries will attend the security summit, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama.

The industry summit is a high-level event for global nuclear CEOs focused on the security aspects needed to ensure that the nuclear industry is seen by society as valuable, now and in the future.

Canada will be well represented at the industry summit with Bruce Power CEO Duncan Hawthorne chairing one of the summit’s working groups on security governance and Cameco president Tim Gitzel is a featured speaker.

Ken Ellis, a long-time Bruce Power executive and current World Association of Nuclear Operators managing director, will also address the summit.

CNA president Dr. John Barrett will be in attendance as an observer, along with AECL CEO Dr. Robert Walker, Candu Energy senior VP of engineering Dezi Yang and and Canadian Nuclear Partners president Pierre Tremblay.

The industry summit will focus on promoting a strong security culture throughout the global industry, cooperation in dealing with cyber security threats and continuing to reduce the use of highly-enriched uranium in research reactors and radiological isotope production.

The conference will have three working groups – Strengthening Security Governance, Dealing with Cyber Threats, and Managing Materials of Concern. The chairs of these groups, including Hawthorne, will report later to the Nuclear Security Summit with recommendations on how the industry can help further enhance nuclear security.

Industry participation in global nuclear security is important. Industry operates facilities such as nuclear power plants and is responsible for safety and security of nuclear or radiological sources at such facilities.

Canada is not only a major player in all aspects of the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, but it is also a world leader in nuclear safety.

This year, the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative ranked Canada second behind only Australia in securing its nuclear materials for peaceful purposes.

Nuclear Energy Nuclear Safety

A Little Fear is Healthy, Right? Wrong.

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

A couple of my neighbours work in public health policy. She researches disease epidemics; he studies addictions.

All three of us have good relationships with serious, informed, responsible media reporters. And we all share a common problem with the media when they aren’t so professional.

When some reporters call our offices, it’s clear what they’re after: The scary sound-bite. They want a few words, however out of context, that they can use to alarm readers about a fast-growing threat from that new virus, that new designer drug, or that remotely-possible accident or emission.

 

There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them. – Andre Gide

To him who is in fear, everything rustles. – Sophocles

 

We share the experience of  spending a quarter or half hour giving thoughtful, calibrated answers that don’t get taken up because they don’t ring alarm bells. Instead, our least guarded phrase or our least discreet word is what’s most likely to make it into the media.

The next day we read, hear or see “news” that’s little more than pure fear-mongering. We experience media “coverage” of epidemics that barely (or never) materialize, drug plagues that are exaggerated, and radiation dangers that don’t exist.

This doesn’t just affect us personally, through the frustration of seeing our knowledge dumbed down and distorted. It affects us as members of a society in which the information that reaches all of us is tilted toward fear.

 

To him who is in fear, everything rustles. – Sophocles

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. – Franklin Roosevelt

There is no passion so contagious as that of fear. – Michel de Montaigne

 

As a result, citizens demand solutions to fake threats. Those demands are put before governments and companies — often by the same reporters who trumped up the fake threats in the first place.

Governments and companies, even when they know better, have to placate people, so they devote resources to these “solutions” to fake threats. And every year, society throws attention and resources – flu shots, tests, treatments, dietary changes, and pills that do negligible good – at things that only matter because we were briefly made to fear them.

The trouble with this is that fewer precious resources are left for real threats. I, my neighbours, our colleagues and our organizations are left with lower capacity to reduce risks that might actually matter in a measurable and demonstrable way. Society ends up with fewer real solutions to real problems, and we are much worse off as a result.

 

Fear is static that prevents me from hearing myself. – Samuel Butler

The first duty of man is to conquer fear. – Thomas Carlyle

 

Fear is a lousy basis for making decisions. Fear-based decisions nearly always involve more sacrifice than benefit. Fear-based decisions are decisions against something, rather than decisions toward something, so we don’t pursue our real values. And they lead to inconsistency, because we’re likely to jump in a completely different direction next time we’re afraid.

This is why great leaders tell us over and over that we must not be governed by fear (or anger). Yet large parts of our society’s information-gathering media seek out, and thrive on, fear (and anger).

Because fear is based in ignorance, its defeat begins with the responsibility to inform ourselves. And that continues well after we’ve heard from the reporters.

Want to start? Next time a news item containing the word “nuclear” tries to push your panic buttons:

  • Resist fear.
  • Inquire. Look for the factual (as opposed to emotional or opinion-only) content in the news coverage. Some of it should be from independent and informed sources.
  • Read further. Take three to ten minutes to research the topic more deeply from credible experts. We can help you get started at www.cna.ca.
  • If you don’t think an item is delivering fair and informative content, demand better. Use the news organization’s website to ask for balanced, informative coverage.
Nuclear Energy Nuclear R&D

An Integral Part of Today’s Technologies

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

A business-school professor made an interesting remark to me recently. “Nuclear technology let itself get branded from the start, in the 1940s, as being unique and special,” he said. “But that may have hurt the technology. It helped your critics to argue that nuclear is uniquely and specially dangerous. From there, it was easy to say that nuclear needed uniquely, specially restrictive rules around it – or even to say that there’s no safe amount of nuclear, period.”

He’s right. And we could spend a while discussing his point.

But there’s another way in which nuclear’s perceived uniqueness-and-specialness hurts our industry: It makes it easy to  imagine that nuclear companies, facilities and professionals are hidden away somewhere in isolated shiny silos that don’t interact with, or affect, the rest of our economy.

The figure below shatters that image. It was made by the consultancy SECOR to illustrate some (in fact, just a few) of the working linkages between this country’s nuclear-related public research facilities and other industry sectors.

Some Linkages Between Public Nuclear S&T Facilities and Other Industry Sectors
Some linkages between public nuclear science and technology facilities and other industry sectors (CNBC= Canadian Neutron Beam Centre, CLS=Canadian Light Source, SRC= Saskatchewan Research Council, UNB= University of New Brunswick).

Keep in mind that this web of linkages was never fully drawn (data from several important universities did not get included).  And that it does not include research facilities in industry organizations like Ontario Power Generation, Kinectrics-Candesco, and many other CNA member companies that have intimate working relationships with non-nuclear industries.

Nuclear is an integral part of today’s technologies, from crops and livestock to jet engines. CNA made this and other points this month in a submission to the federal government’s Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy Consultation. Our submission also looks at the economic case for public research infrastructure, whether in telecommunications, defence, agriculture, or nuclear. Check it out here.

Nuclear Energy

How can Nuclear Power be Cheap?

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

I once had a beloved old car – a 1984 Volvo – that didn’t look great, and needed regular work, but ran beautifully. I only scrapped it because my girlfriend hated it. That decision, I figure, cost me several thousand dollars over the next two years as I paid for a pricey lease on a new car.

The two most basic ways to get value out of equipment are to make sure you use it, and to keep it a long time. Cars are getting more expensive and complex, but this doesn’t stop us from buying them. It does lead us to keep them 50% longer than we did a decade ago. These days, my wife and I share our old car with my brother and his wife. We spread the fixed costs of ownership across two families’ driving needs, cutting the fixed costs per family in half.

Equipment that’s expensive can still be highly economic. Up-front cost isn’t an obstacle if the equipment runs efficiently, gets used a lot, and lasts a long time.

A nuclear reactor is a big piece of equipment, and the business of owning one is like owning a vehicle, only more so. For nuclear plants, looks don’t count. These plants are designed to run extremely well for a long time, and they do it. They typically produce electricity at 80% or more of their designed capacity, and they last – with refits – for fifty or sixty years.

That’s a lot of use over a very long time. How many products do you – or even your employer – own that you know will have five to six decades of life? The result is cheap, reliable power, as this chart from the Ontario Power Authority shows:

relative-cost-of-electricity

A jurisdiction where I do a lot of weekend driving, the province of Quebec, recently decided to decommission its only nuclear plant, rather than give it a mid-life refit. The decision came one week after the election of a new provincial government – before it had even been sworn into office. The government then asked for an economic analysis. In other words, they made their decision – it was written into their election platform – and then asked for backup.

The province’s electrical utility, which had planned to refit the plant, came back with re-worked numbers that raised the refit cost by 126%, and the cost of shutting it down by only 12%. Surprise, surprise:  the new numbers justified the announced decision.

The utility’s new estimate for refit cost was $4.3 billion. But a refit of a similar reactor came in at $2.4 billion in neighbouring New Brunswick. There, Energy Minister Craig Leonard was quoted saying, “If you look at the market today and try to obtain 700 megawatts of baseload emission-free power for $2.4 billion, you’re probably going to be searching for quite a while.” (iPolitics.ca, July 16, 2013, item by K. Bissett).

This story isn’t unusual. We often get rid of good things for poor reasons (as with my Volvo). And we more often than not have poor reasons for shutting down reactors early. Many, like Quebec’s, are political (kind of like scrapping a car at a girlfriend’s request). These days, some good nuclear plants are driven out of business by ultra-cheap fossil fuels. In these cases we are not giving enough weight to clean air or to having alternatives.

The latter is like scrapping our cars because the local taxi service is giving us a month’s worth of free rides. The problem, of course, is what happens at the end of the month. We’re caught without cars, we’re hostages to the taxi business, and we’re paying taxi fares two to four times a day. Our cost of getting around has quintupled!

This is why so many countries continue to choose nuclear. According to the WNA, nearly twice as many reactors will start up as shut down by 2030. India has six future units under construction, Russia has ten, China has twenty-eight. A long list of other countries are following, from Turkey to Saudi Arabia to Argentina.

Yes, nuclear power generating capacity has a capital cost and it takes time to build. But as we have seen, high capital cost is compatible with good economics. Good efficient equipment, used well, maintained well, and kept long, pays off.

CNA Responds Nuclear Energy

Our Strength: We’re our own Toughest Critics

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

Canada’s nuclear energy sector “plays a key role in driving innovation, generating jobs, and providing low electricity rates.”  That’s the first conclusion of the Public Policy Forum’s recent report on the sector’s future.

CNA read it with great interest, not just because we’d sponsored it, but because we did not get to co-write it and, until we received an advance copy a little while ago, we did not know what it would say.

Canada’s nuclear industry values the broad, multi-stakeholder conversations on which the report was based.  And we respect PPF’s independence in summarizing them.

It’s not perfect or unassailable – no study is – but it’s an unbiased assessment of where we stand in the world, and we wanted that.

(We should note that the report covered only nuclear energy, and not the many other applications of nuclear technologies in which Canada is a world leader, such as medical imaging and diagnosis, radiotherapy, materials testing, and food safety).

Of course, we wouldn’t necessarily agree with everything in the report.

  • It’s self-contradictory at times.  (Is our reactor technology “lagging” or is it “leading-edge”?)
  • It understates our public approval, or “social license.”  (Nuclear produced 59.2% of Ontario’s electricity last year.  Ontarians appreciate affordable, reliable power, and the host communities in which we operate love their thousands of durable, highly trained jobs).
  • It tends to view Canada’s investment in a unique, and in many ways better, reactor technology as a challenge rather than a strength.  (You could underestimate any emerging brand or technology in this way at some point in its development).

Many industries’ advocates might have tried to meddle in such a report at the drafting stage, and tried to align it with their own messaging.  CNA didn’t.  Some lobbyists, eh?

Well, the nuclear energy industry isn’t just any industry.  It’s a hard-headed scientific and engineering culture in which we know we need to be the best.

We start by being our own toughest critics.

Then we invite our peers in to assess us with fresh eyes (like the World Association of Nuclear Operators does with its peer review process).

And then we comply with (or, usually, exceed) international standards (like those set by the International Atomic Energy Agency and other bodies).

That’s how we get the kind of performance that we do:

So we’re proud to congratulate PPF on its assessment of the future of Canada’s nuclear energy sector.  Warts and all, we welcome the scrutiny, and we look forward to working with them again.