Why am I so Proud to Work in the Canadian Nuclear Industry?

By John Stewart
Director of Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

Because my industry develops one of humanity’s most sophisticated, promising, and cleanest technologies, for human and environmental good.

Because labour unions in this industry believe as strongly in nuclear energy as I do, and advocate for it as strongly as I do.

Because leading environmentalists advocate for it as well.

Because my industry’s membership is united, not by a business model, but by this technology.  We are universities, laboratories, utilities, engineering and construction firms, standards and training organizations and a global mining company, working together to build a better future.

Because my country, Canada, is a world leader in nuclear technology.

It’s easy to be proud of this.


There’s Uranium in Seawater. And it’s Renewable.

According to Natural Resources Canada, “renewable energy is energy obtained from natural resources that can be naturally replenished or renewed within a human lifespan.” This typically includes sunlight, wind and rain. Uranium has never made this list, as it is generally believed that uranium resources are finite. However this is not the case.

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory exposed this special uranium-adsorbing fiber developed at ORNL to Pseudomonas fluorescens and used the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to create a 3-D X-ray microtomograph to determine microstructure and the effects of interactions with organisms and seawater. Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory exposed this special uranium-adsorbing fiber developed at ORNL to pseudomonas fluorescens and used the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to create a 3D x-ray microtomograph to determine microstructure and the effects of interactions with organisms and seawater. Source: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

While terrestrial uranium (the uranium we currently mine) is indeed limited in quantity, with known resources that will last another 100 years or so, there is uranium in seawater that naturally replenishes itself.

The uranium in seawater is controlled by steady-state chemical reactions between the water and rocks that contain uranium, such that whenever uranium is extracted from seawater, the same amount is leached from the rocks to replace it.

In fact, according to a Forbes Magazine article by James Conca, a scientist in the field of earth and environmental sciences, “it is impossible for humans to extract enough uranium to lower the overall seawater concentrations faster than it is replenished.”

Scientists envision anchoring hundreds of lengths of U-extracting fibers in the sea for a month or so until they fill with uranium. Then a wireless signal would release them to float to the surface where the uranium could be recovered and the fibers reused. It doesn’t matter where in the world the fibers are floating. Source: Andy Sproles at ORNL.
Scientists envision anchoring hundreds of lengths of uranium-extracting fibers in the sea for a month or so until they fill with uranium. Then a wireless signal would release them to float to the surface where the uranium could be recovered and the fibers reused. It doesn’t matter where in the world the fibers are floating. Source: Andy Sproles at ORNL.

Though the uranium concentration in seawater is only about 3 milligrams per cubic meter, the total volume of the ocean is about 1.37 billion cubic kilometers, which means there are about 4.5 billion tons of uranium in seawater at any given time.

There is currently a considerable amount of research being done on extracting uranium from seawater, most notably in Japan, China, and the United States. The latest technologies, which have emerged from Department of Energy’s (DOE) Pacific Northwest (PNNL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL), use polyethylene fibers coated with amidoxime to attract and bind uranium dioxide from seawater. These fiber braids are about 15 centimeters in diameter and can be several meters in length depending on where they are installed.

After a month or so, the fibers are brought to the surface, where they undergo an acid treatment that recovers the uranium and regenerates the fibers so that they can be reused.

“Finding alternatives to uranium ore mining is a necessary step in planning for the future of nuclear energy,” explained Stephen Kung at the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy to Forbes Magazine. But making the process economical is equally important.

The advances by PNNL and ORNL have reduced the cost of extraction by a factor of four in just 5 years, but the cost is still about $200/lb compared to traditional uranium mining which ranges between $10 and $120/lb.

Fortunately, the cost of uranium is a very small percentage of the cost of nuclear power. Therefore even at $200/lb, the cost of nuclear power would not increase dramatically.

Researchers continue to seek more efficient and economic ways to extract uranium from seawater, because the amount of uranium is truly unlimited. It is renewable energy in every sense of the word, and should be considered alongside solar, wind and hydro.


Top 10 Myths about Nuclear Energy

Myth #1: Nuclear energy is dangerous.

Fact: Nuclear energy is one of the safest forms of energy available. No member of the public has ever been injured or killed in the entire 60+ year history of nuclear power generation in Canada. In fact, recent studies have shown it is safer to work in a nuclear power plant than an office. (Source: NEI.org.)

Myth #2: A nuclear reactor can explode like a nuclear bomb.

Fact: It is physically impossible for a nuclear reactor to explode like a nuclear bomb. Reactor fuel does not have nearly enough uranium-235 to be explosive, and all nuclear reactors are constructed with multiple layers of safety controls and self-limiting features. It is also impossible for a person to intentionally or unintentionally modify a reactor, its controls or its fuel to cause an explosion.

Myth#3: Nuclear reactors emit dangerous amounts of radiation.

Fact: Nuclear reactors produce extremely small amounts of radiation. If you live within 75 km of a nuclear power plant, you receive an average radiation dose of about 0.0001 millisieverts per year. To put this in perspective, the average Canadian receives about 3 millisieverts per year from natural background sources of radiation.

Myth #4: Nuclear energy leads to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Fact: The Canadian nuclear industry is regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), which ensures that the country does not manufacture or acquire nuclear weapons, and that nuclear exports do not contribute to the development of nuclear weapons. In the history of Canadian nuclear exports, there has only been one breach of contract, which resulted in severe sanctions.

Myth#5: Nuclear energy produces a huge amount of waste.

Fact: Nuclear energy produces a very small amount of waste compared to other energy sources. In fact, all of the used nuclear fuel generated in every Canadian nuclear plant in the last 60 years would fill 6 NHL hockey rinks to the boards. Additionally, unlike the waste produced by fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, which is released into the air, nuclear waste is kept in secure storage.

Myth #6: There is no solution for the disposal of nuclear waste.

Fact: Nuclear waste is currently being safely stored at the nuclear site where it was generated. Two initiatives are currently underway in Canada to find Deep Geologic Repositories (DGRs) for nuclear waste – one for low and intermediate-level waste and one for used fuel – where it will be safe and secure for many generations to come. There are operational DGRs in several countries around the world.

Myth #7: Nuclear waste cannot be safely transported.

Fact: Nuclear waste is being safely shipped by truck, rail, and cargo ship. To date, thousands of shipments have been made without any leaks or cracks of the specially-designed containers. Some of the measures that contribute to the safe transportation of nuclear waste include expert engineering of vehicles and containers, rigorous screening and training of personnel, inventory tracking, and independent regulatory bodies.

Myth #8: Nuclear energy is expensive.

Fact: Nuclear power is one of the least expensive energy sources. In Ontario, it is second only to hydropower. Natural gas and wind are twice as expensive and solar is nearly ten times as expensive. Moreover, the cost of nuclear is very stable because uranium makes up only 30% of the cost of nuclear power, so an increase in the cost of uranium would have only a small effect on the total price.

Myth #9: Nuclear energy is being phased out.

Fact: Currently, there are 441 nuclear reactors in 29 countries producing 14% of the world’s electricity. Another 61 reactors are currently under construction in 15 countries. Furthermore, new reactor technologies, such as small modular reactors (SMRs), are under development, which will provide additional options for diverse countries around the world.

Myth #10: Nuclear energy is bad for the environment.

Fact: Nuclear reactors emit zero greenhouse gasses during operation. Over the entire lifecycle, which includes construction, mining, operation, and decommissioning, nuclear emissions are comparable to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Nuclear power also has minimal effects on aquatic habitats and uses less land than most other energy sources.


Cost of Nuclear Power in Ontario

The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) has released its latest report which tells customers how much their electricity costs.

What you pay is in part related to where you get your electricity from.  In Ontario, the diversified energy mix is made up of nuclear, hydro, fossil fuels, solar and wind.  Each source has a different cost when it comes to producing energy.  That applies to all energy sources.nuclear-expense-michelle-01

The OEB report confirms that low-carbon nuclear is low-cost to ratepayers.  Electricity generated by nuclear power is almost 7 times most cost-effective than solar.

In recent years, nuclear power has supplied Ontarians with almost 60% of their electricity. The Ontario government’s commitment to refurbish reactors at both Darlington and Bruce shows the province believes nuclear energy – with its minimal greenhouse gas emissions and small land footprint – is not only good for the environment, but also good for ratepayers.

According to Ontario Power Generation (OPG), investing in nuclear means investing in affordable power for the future.

“The price of power from the refurbished station is expected to be between 7 and 8 cents per kilowatt hour,” according to OPG.  The refurbishment assures another 25 to 30 years of operation.


To see how much of Ontario’s clean electricity is produced by the province’s nuclear reactors – in real time – visit www.live.gridwatch.ca

To see how changes to the electricity supply powering your home affects your cost of electricity and the quantity of CO2 emissions produced – try the Energy Calculator at www.brucepower.com  (“How is your home powered?”)


Partnering for the Future

Northern Saskatchewan; remote and rugged, this part of the prairies is known for its pristine lakes, tall arching trees and outdoor adventures.

It is also home to the largest high-grade uranium deposits in the world.

Approximately five hours north of Saskatoon is where you will find the community of Pinehouse Lake, Saskatchewan. The Kineepik Metis village of almost 1,500 is nestled on the Churchill River system.pinehouse

For practically three decades, this community has had a close relationship with Cameco Corporation; the largest private employer in Canada of First Nations and Metis people.

“More or less our community can have a future. Because of our young populations we need to be more sustaining and more certain, and this is one of the things that industry has brought to us, a lot of hope,” states Mike Natomagnan, the mayor of Pinehouse Lake and a former Cameco worker.

For him, hope has translated into real change, including more involvement with the environment, and better educational opportunities for young people. Community dollars have been invested into education through scholarships and partnerships with local schools.

“We want our kids to have a better opportunity to see the world,” Natomagan states, “Push education on top of everything else. It makes for better outcomes.”

Those outcomes can already be seen in the halls of the local high school which boasts a high graduation rate including 37 people pursuing post-secondary studies. For Natomagan it’s a big deal.

The knowledge of elders to provide the community with a better understanding of where they have been and where their world is going through the promotion of culture and language is another key component to educational investment.

Thanks to their partnership with Cameco, Pinehouse Lake has been able to address some health challenges.  Concerned over the rates of diabetes in young people, they invested in a breakfast program and the construction of a community arena to help promote a healthy lifestyle.

He believes in long-term collaborations based on open dialogue and participation. Working closely with industry means more involvement with the environment including visiting the mine site, holding public meetings and providing reports on activities in the area.

Economics is critical to the future of Pinehouse Lake for Natomagan. The mayor sees investments today as the cornerstone of tomorrow.

“Collaborate with industry that wants to be there for a long time. Work with us,” he says. “I hope (Cameco) will be here for a long time. They have stepped up to the table for us.”

In early June, Cameco and First Nations and Metis leaders from across northern Saskatchewan will converge in Ottawa to “celebrate 25 years of partnerships between company and communities.”


When Seconds Count


They happen when the blood that is circulating within the brain is cut off or reduced in an area resulting in a loss of oxygen to that part of the brain. If not treated right away the brain can die.

Thanks to nuclear medicine, doctors can better assess and treat stroke patients, saving lives.

With a stroke, every second counts.  Neurons or nerve cells are lost at a rate of 1.9 million per minute when the brain is deprived of oxygen. The loss of these and other key brain transmitters, or synapses leads to accelerated aging in the brain.


(Chart Courtesy of Dr. Timo Krings, Head of Neuroradiology, Joint Department of Medical Imaging, Toronto Western Hospital & University Health Network)

Dramatic treatment is required to save a patient’s life, everything has to move rapidly.

“2:00am: I was called for a stroke at the hospital. By 2:20 the team was at the hospital and by 2:40 we had removed the blood clot and the patient was off the operating table,” states Dr. Timo Krings, Head of Neuroradiology, University Health Network, Toronto Western Hospital.

From initial imaging to opening the blocked blood vessel and restoring blood flow happens in just a matter of minutes.

The proper diagnosis and successful treatment of strokes is thanks to a branch of Radiology known as Interventional Neuroradiology.

Interventional radiology involves a uses modern Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging or Computed Tomography to identify where the blockage is within the brain and its size.

As Dr. Krings points out, imaging plays a major role in proper diagnosis and treatment.

“The imaging part is just as important because if we choose the wrong patient we can make things worse,” he explains. “If we open a vessel that was occluded for too long, l the dead brain won’t recover but the patient can be in danger because blood will rush to the dead brain, which can lead to a hemorrhage. Therefore the correct identification of right patients is as important as the treatment itself.”

Once the scan identifies a suitable patient, the treatment can begin.

Interventional Neuroradiology involves a minimally invasive procedure whereby an artery is punctured and small tubes known as catheters are placed into the blood vessels. In these small tubes, doctors can push in stents or devices into the blood vessels in order to treat the blood vessel from the inside out.

Symptoms you may be having a stroke: FAST

Face: Drooping eyelid or numbness on one side of your face. Vertigo or a whirling loss of balance

Arm: Unable to move your hand or arm on one side of your body

Speech: You can’t speak properly or speech is garbled

Time: Time is of essence and you should telephone 9-1-1 , if you think you may be having a stroke call 9-1-1

Dr. Krings points to a chain of stroke awareness and treatment. Beginning with the patient to be able to identify the symptoms of a stroke to emergency medical service (EMS) workers who can rapidly identify and take patients to stroke centers where emergency room (ER) teams can fast track patients into imaging.

“It’s a team effort between the patient, EMS, the ER doctor, neurologist, radiologist, dietician and rehab specialists. All of them have to play together to get the best outcome,” says Krings.

New Canadian guidelines call for the two pronged technique of imaging and interventional radiology as the best life-saving method to for the diagnosis and treatment of strokes.