A policy development forum recently asked CNA to identify a few key factors that shaped the development of Canada’s nuclear industry. We came up with eight. They range from the Western allies’ war needs in the 1940s (which invested us in uranium-based fission reactor technology) to Canada’s advanced cultures of medicine, public health and safety (which give us a culture of reactor safety, leadership in medical applications of nuclear, and leadership in irradiation and food safety).
The interesting thing about this analysis is how many advantages it reveals. Our industry faces challenges (notably cheap natural gas, lack of carbon pricing, and the problems of sustaining top-notch science and technology infrastructure). But the list of strengths is strikingly longer and more impressive than the list of challenges.
Even in a world where many reactor technology options are in development, it’s hard to beat a design series like the CANDUs that are familiar to regulators, with long track records of safety, reliability, and affordability. Then there’s the proliferation-resistance advantage of these designs, which is not diminishing and is probably growing as an asset in the 21st century. Canadian reactors offer the developing world an ideal combination of affordable, minimal-carbon electricity plus proliferation safety. And that Canadian nuclear brand is further strengthened by Canada’s reputation in safety, medicine and public health internationally.
Which brings up another asset on the list: Canada’s perennial and recognized openness to worldwide investment, technology and talent, and the tens of thousands of highly educated newcomers here who have links to foreign markets and practices. While this is a strength across the board in Canada’s economy, it’s especially powerful in a sector like nuclear that depends on global best practices and global market reach.
These thoughts are a very early step in a policy exercise that we’ll look forward to blogging about over the next few months.