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ONA Response to NewmarketToday Opinion Piece

Re: Ontario needs to move away from nuclear power to reduce electricity costs (November 13)

The Ontario Clean Air Alliance has once again misrepresented the cost of nuclear energy and put forward proposals that simply don’t work.

According to the OEB, the folks who create our bills, in 2019 the cost of nuclear energy was 8 cents per kWh. That’s 4.39 cents per kWh lower than the average cost to produce electricity in Ontario. Nuclear energy provided 60 per cent of Ontario’s electricity in 2018 helping to keep costs down.

Leveraging Ontario’s nuclear advantage, our province has phased-off of coal and eliminated smog days. That’s a real impact on clean air in Ontario that helps people with asthma and other respiratory illnesses enjoy a summer day and Torontonians enjoy a blue sky. This is a world-leading achievement that we must be proud of. Even Quebec, which has a large hydro fleet still has over 40 air quality warnings every year.

Refurbishing the Bruce and Darlington stations will extend their lives for decades, providing a cost-effective, long-term supply of clear electricity for Ontario. This investment in energy security for Ontario is also creating thousands of jobs within the province and generating life-saving medical isotopes in the process.

Market mechanisms in Ontario help to ensure we receive power from Quebec when we need it and when it makes economic sense. The reverse is also true. Last January, Ontario provided Quebec with more than 400 GWhs to support its winter demand for power.

Quebec simply does not have the capacity to send power to Ontario in the winter and relies on the nuclear fleet in Ontario to help keep the air as clean as possible.

Ontario is committed to a nuclear future with the life extension of the existing nuclear fleet, which is now scheduled to provide reliable and affordable electricity into 2060s.

The Financial Accountability Office (FAO) released a report that states there is currently no portfolio of alternative low emissions generation that could replace nuclear generation at a comparable cost.

The FAO report is clear: ratepayers are protected; the Ontario’s Nuclear Refurbishment plan is projected to provide ratepayers with a long-term supply of low-cost, low emissions electricity.

This transformational change in Ontario was accomplished through the strength of Ontario’s nuclear sector that provided 90 per cent of the incremental electricity needed to phase out coal.

Thankfully, today, the people of Ontario have cleaner air from cleaner energy.

With such a reliable supply of carbon-free energy being provided by Ontario’s nuclear fleet, the future is bright, and the sky is blue for Ontario residents.

Taylor McKenna, Ontario’s Nuclear Advantage

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Our move to zero emissions must use nuclear energy

By John Gorman
Originally published in Policy Options, September 27, 2019

his spring I changed jobs. I shifted from advocating for renewable energy to promoting nuclear energy — to many, a surprising twist in my career path. But for me, it was a logical outcome of the realization that the climate emergency requires us all to pick up the pace of transformation.

Solar technology is clean, it empowers people and businesses, and it’s scalable. I remain a big proponent of both wind and solar.

But I and others are becoming increasingly aware that wind and solar aren’t enough to respond to the climate emergency. Twenty years ago, 36 percent of the world’s electric power was clean, coming from sources that don’t emit greenhouse gases (nuclear plus renewables, including hydro).  Twenty years and $3 trillion in investment later, the non-GHG-emitting share of world electricity is still at 36 percent.  Seeing these unchanging numbers has been a shock.  Despite the impressive growth of wind and solar, we’re not moving the needle on decarbonizing global electricity systems.

I’m convinced that two factors stop renewables from cleaning up the world’s energy system. One is that electricity demand keeps growing quickly, and that need has to be met somehow. Too often, coal and gas are the only sources that can finish filling that gap.

The other is that wind and solar are intermittent, and fossil fuels are being used to back them up. It’s clear that if renewables are going to transform the climate picture, they will have to partner with something more sustainable.

The International Energy Agency has just studied this problem, and it’s absolutely clear in its report that two changes are needed. First, we have to stop closing nuclear plants prematurely. These closures, driven by politics or by the availability of cheap natural gas, take huge chunks of clean power out of the system, further increasing the demand gap that gets at least partly filled by fossil fuels. Second, we have to stop backing up wind and solar with fossil fuels.

What else can partner with renewables? Well, there’s very little time — 10 or 20 years, at best — to get this done. So it has to be a proven, or at least modelled and tested, technology that we can start building today.

What technology has already decarbonized entire large economies, like France and Sweden and Ontario? Nuclear energy has. And while existing nuclear plants have shown they can pair with variable wind and solar to some extent, the new, small reactors will be even more flexible, and they’ll be more distributed in location, too.

Today about 81 percent of Canada’s electricity comes from clean sources such as nuclear, hydro, wind and solar. However, four provinces still have high concentrations of fossil fuels. The challenge is to shift the country the rest of the way toward a clean grid.

In the absence of a plan to do this, as we push these provinces to get off coal, we’re pushing them toward gas — which only reduces the emissions by about half. Add in the growth of demand for power, and a switch to gas will hardly make a dent in emissions.

Any realistic way to respond to the climate emergency and move to zero emissions has to include nuclear energy. Once we face this reality, it becomes a question of how we bring nuclear into the mix. We might make progress with more stringent emissions rules that would slow the rush toward gas. But it would be better to have a plan for investing in a combined clean energy solution: renewables and small, distributed nuclear plants, integrated together. That’s the direction I want to go in with my role at the Canadian Nuclear Association.

The urgency of the climate challenge means we have to use proven technologies, or at least technologies that are well along in testing and commercialization. Hoping that brand-new, untested, unscaled technologies are the answer just risks deferring action until they are scaled up and proven and safe and commercialized. That might take decades and cannot be relied on. Focusing on new technology is highly uncertain and ignores the scale of worldwide infrastructure change that we should be doing right now. The only readily available technology that can complete our response to this emergency is nuclear.

Fortunately, the urgency is forcing decision-makers to revisit their attitudes to nuclear. They’re seeing that current solution paths aren’t working. Those arguing for 100 per cent renewables — and I was one of them — are starting to admit this. And when, as a solar energy advocate, I started to look again at nuclear, I realized how much misinformation is out there. If you look at its full record and its full life cycle, nuclear is safe, reliable and clean.

Individual actions — veganism, electric cars, not flying — have the same challenges as renewables: they’re valuable, they deserve credit, but what if they can’t turn the tide? Household decisions can go some distance, but it’s policy steps — like all the anti-pollution measures taken in the 1970s and ’80s — that will be transformative.

The value of declaring an emergency is that the public might decide to give governments the space and the permission to make really hard policy decisions, and take action. That’s how we have to respond now.

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Nuclear energy is a vital part of solving the climate crisis

By John Gorman
Originally published in The Globe and Mail, October 24, 2019

I never thought I would become a passionate champion for nuclear energy. But after 20 years of advocating for renewable energy, I’ve overcome the misconceptions I had in the past and I am convinced by the evidence we can’t fight climate change without nuclear.

When I was the chief executive of the Canadian Solar Industries Association, I thought the “holy grail” was to make renewable energy cost-competitive so it could fulfill our energy needs. Today, wind and solar are among the cheapest forms of energy in many places around the world. The generous subsidies that fuelled early growth are no longer at play, yet the growth of wind and solar continues.

Despite the strong growth, the percentage of emissions-free electricity in the world has not increased in 20 years. It’s stuck at 36 per cent, according to a recent IEA report. This is because global demand keeps increasing, renewables often need to be backed up by new fossil fuel sources and existing nuclear plants are being shut down prematurely. We must face a sobering reality: Renewable energy alone is simply not enough to address the climate crisis.

This is a difficult thing for me to admit. In 2014, I delivered a TEDx talk in which I was an unabashed champion for solar energy. I installed solar panels on the roof of my home and smart battery storage in my basement. I bought an electric vehicle. And I continue to be a supporter of wind and solar because we need every clean energy solution available. But I now realize I dedicated 20 years – very precious years from a climate-change perspective – promoting a partial solution.

An overly optimistic view of renewables has affected major decisions about other energy sources, particularly nuclear. Our global focus on renewables has caused existing nuclear plants to be retired early and has stalled investment in new projects. It’s given people a false sense of security that we don’t need nuclear any more when nothing could be further from the truth.

What’s worse, because wind and solar are variable (they produce electricity only when the wind blows or the sun shines), they must be paired with other energy sources to support demand, and these are almost always fossil fuels. In the absence of enough nuclear energy, renewables are effectively prolonging the life of coal and gas plants that can produce power around the clock.

Unfortunately, many Canadians wrongly believe our future energy demands can be met with renewables alone. A recent Abacus Data poll found that more than 40 per cent of Canadians believe a 100-per-cent renewable energy future is possible. This is simply not true. The deadline to save the planet is approaching and we are no closer to a real solution.

A critical issue is that nuclear is vastly misunderstood by policy makers and the general public. These well-intentioned people – and I used to be one of them – continue to believe fallacies, misconceptions and even fear-mongering about nuclear, including claims that it’s expensive, dangerous, and produces large quantities of radioactive waste.

The truth is that when you consider the entire power generation life cycle, nuclear energy is one of the least expensive energy sources. That’s because uranium is cheap and abundant, and nuclear reactors – though costly to build – last for several decades. Furthermore, it’s safe: Used nuclear fuel is small in quantity, properly stored, strictly regulated, and poses no threat to human health or the environment.

There’s a staggering lack of knowledge and understanding of nuclear. I was active in the energy business, and I’ve lived my whole life in a province – Ontario – where nuclear makes up a significant portion of the electricity supply, and I still didn’t know the facts about nuclear energy until very recently.

People fail to realize that nuclear is the only proven technology that has decarbonized the economies of entire countries, including France and Sweden. We can pair renewables with nuclear energy and start to meet our energy targets. But it will take a change in mentality and new investment in nuclear energy.

So this is why I’m now on a mission to help people discover and rediscover nuclear as the clean technology solution to decarbonize our electricity systems and solve the climate crisis. We need to extend the life of existing plants rather than close them prematurely. We need to invest in new modern technologies including small modular reactors, which can be deployed in off-grid settings such as remote communities and mining sites. And we need to use nuclear alongside renewables to power the grid. We must act before it’s too late. And we can’t afford to be distracted from real, practical solutions by a completely impossible dream of 100 per cent renewable energy. We don’t want to look back on this time and realize we made the wrong decisions. The time for nuclear is now.

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2020 Canadian Nuclear Achievement Awards – Call for Nominations

We are announcing the Call for Nominations for the 2020 Canadian Nuclear Achievement Awards, jointly sponsored by the Canadian Nuclear Society (CNS) and the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA).  These awards represent an opportunity to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions, technical and non-technical, to various aspects of nuclear science and technology in Canada.

The deadline to submit nominations for the 2020 Canadian Nuclear Achievement Awards is January 12, 2020The Awards will be officially presented during the CNS Annual Conference held May 31 – June 3, 2020 in Saint John, NB.

Nominations may be submitted for any of the following Awards:

  • W. B. Lewis Medal
  • Ian McRae Award
  • Harold A. Smith Outstanding Contribution Award
  • Innovative Achievement Award
  • John S. Hewitt Team Achievement Award
  • Education and Communication Award
  • George C. Laurence Award for Nuclear Safety
  • Fellow of the Canadian Nuclear Society
  • R. E. Jervis Award

For detailed information on the nomination package, Awards criteria, and how to submit the nomination, see the linked brochure or visit: https://cns-snc.ca/cns/awards/. The nomination package shall include a completed and signed nomination checklist.

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Moltex Energy pursuing SMR build in New Brunswick

The next generation of nuclear reactors is on its way in Canada.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are a type of reactor that are smaller than conventional nuclear reactors. They can be built in factories and delivered to power sites and remote locations for installation at a low cost.

In Ontario, both Ontario Power Generation and Bruce Power are working with companies to develop SMRs.

And in New Brunswick, two companies signed agreements with NB Power and the Government of New Brunswick as part of an effort to build a manufacturing hub and potentially a second or even third reactor at Point Lepreau.

One of these companies is Moltex Energy.

At the recent Canadian Nuclear Society conference in Ottawa, Moltex Energy Canada Chief Executive Rory O’Sullivan spoke about the company’s efforts to have a stable salt reactor available before 2030.

“We signed the agreements with NB Power and the New Brunswick government last year,” he said.

There are now 10 full-time engineers at the Moltex office in New Brunswick, with five more expected to start in the fall.

“The main objective from the New Brunswick side is understanding our technology so they can eventually build a demonstration plant,” he said. “The long-term vision is to have New Brunswick as a cluster, to build a plant there and get the local supply chain engaged in the best position to sell components as we sell reactors around the world.”

Moltex’s reactor is an SSR, short for Stable Salt Reactor. It uses molten salt fuel in conventional fuel pins. The technology can reuse spent fuel from CANDU reactors at Point Lepreau. It can store heat as thermal energy in large tanks of molten salt that can be converted to steam to create electricity and be able to operate on demand.

In severe accidents the fuel can tolerate temperatures up to 1,600 degrees before it starts to boil.
“The concept of a meltdown doesn’t really apply,” O’Sullivan said.

Companies like Moltex are among those working in Canada to build the next generation of nuclear reactors that offer more flexibility to work with renewables in clean-energy systems of the future.

“All grids around the world need more flexibility as renewables grow and as grids change and you get more electric vehicle charging spikes,” he said. “We are not just developing a reactor that runs baseload all the time. We are developing a hybrid nuclear storage solution.”

“Nuclear is going to be part of a decarbonized future grid. Our way of getting there is trying to build a nuclear solution that operates as cheaply as possible.”

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Carbon dating: A window to the world

As global warming causes the Earth’s permafrost to melt, scientists are uncovering some astonishing finds from deep beneath the ice.

Producing an accurate age of these treasures is a key step for archaeologists, made possible through carbon dating, a process of dating organic material as far back as 60,000 years using nuclear technology.

One well-known discovery was “Ötzi the Iceman,” who became a bona fide scientific celebrity after being found in 1991 by two German hikers 3,210 metres above sea level in the Ötztal Alps on the Austrian-Italian border. The mummified corpse was partly entombed in the ice and thought at first to be a fallen mountaineer or Italian soldier from one of the world wars.

It wasn’t until scientists used carbon dating to determine Ötzi’s age that they discovered he had perished 5,300 years earlier during the late Neolithic period. In 2018, researchers published a detailed analysis of the tools discovered alongside Otzi’s body. These tools would have only given clues as to Ötzi’s age without the help of carbon dating.

The ability to carbon date organic objects was first discovered in 1946 by Willard Libby, a professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago. He determined that carbon-14, a radioactive isotope of carbon naturally found in the atmosphere, was absorbed by green plants and the animals that ate them.

Libby correctly theorized that if the amount of carbon-14 in an object could be detected, its age could be known by calculating the half-life (about 5,730 years) or rate of decay of the isotope, a process that begins when a living organism dies. Once this occurs, carbon-14 is no longer absorbed and the existing isotope count begins to steadily diminish. In other words, the older the specimen, the less carbon-14 will be present.

Until Libby’s discovery, the age of objects could only be determined in relation to the surrounding site by examining the geographic layers where an artifact was found.

New applications have developed for the technique as well. Carbon dating has been used to successfully confirm alleged art forgeries such as the painting by French cubist Fernand Léger and Robert Trotter’s forgery of Sarah Honn’s artwork.

Both were identified as fake after analyzing the radioactive forms of carbon-14 in the canvas and paint to establish whether there was a realistic correlation between their ages. Forgers are well known for using old canvas to appear authentic but have no choice but to use much newer paint.

Scientists also use carbon dating to study monarch butterfly migration routes from Canada to Mexico and back. The method solved a longstanding mystery about why some monarchs are found on the East Coast as well as the traditional interior.

Researchers studied 90 butterfly samples from 17 sites from Maine to Virginia along with 180 samples of milkweed, which monarch larvae feed on. This revealed where the monarchs were born and their age when they consumed the milkweed.