Tag Archives: Canadian Nuclear Association

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Stretching our Carbon Budget with Nuclear Power

By John Gorman
Originally published by MediaPlanet, December 17, 2019

Nuclear power is a practical and inexpensive technology, and it’s essential to avoiding the worst effects of climate change in the coming decades.

Modelling our climate is complex, but the big picture is simple: to keep global warming under 1.5°C, as proposed under the Paris Agreement, there’s only so much carbon we can pour into the atmosphere – about 580 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide.

Humanity is burning about 37 gigatonnes per year, which means that the time left to stave off catastrophic change is short. By the time we burn through the budget, we’ll have to be taking out as much as we put in.

Limited national progress

Through the Paris Agreement, countries around the world committed to target limits on their total carbon emissions. If kept, these should keep us within the carbon budget.

But they aren’t. Many countries are not even coming close to their targets, partly because of increased demand for power and rapid industrialization. Germany, for example, has had to increase its fossil-fuel use because of the closure of nuclear power plants. And China is massively increasing coal-fired electricity generation. Even Canada is not on track to meeting its target of reducing carbon emissions by 30% from 2005 to 2030. According to the International Energy Agency, greenhouse-gas pollution has risen worldwide for two consecutive years.

Green alternatives

There have been hopeful signs. Prices of low-carbon renewable energy, such as wind and solar, have dropped substantially in recent years, and there’s been a corresponding increase in use. In 2017, solar power reached a global capacity of 398 GW. And carbon capture and sequestration, the only technology proven to remove carbon from industrial operations, has been demonstrated in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. We can expect these technologies to continue to advance. But can this be done in the decade or so we have left in the carbon budget?

Nuclear power: clean and affordable

Given how short our timeline is, nuclear power offers a practical way ahead, and it’s already doing a lot to keep carbon out of our atmosphere.

The lifecycle carbon emissions of nuclear power are comparable to wind and even lower than for solar. According to the World Nuclear Association, the world’s 445 reactors are saving 2.5 gigatonnes of carbon-dioxide emissions every year. This is why Ontario, which generates almost 60% of its electricity through nuclear, has seen a steady drop in air pollution since 2003. It’s why countries such as Sweden and France have been able to decarbonize their economies. It’s also why provinces such as New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, and many countries around the world, are taking a closer look at what we call the “new nuclear” – small modular reactors that can power industrial activities and remote communities.

Environmentalists look to a future powered by renewables, but there is also increasing recognition of nuclear power as part of that future, or at least a bridge to it. This is partly because the transformation of our energy sector is going to be expensive, while nuclear power delivers electricity at competitive prices. This, along with the increasing capacity of nuclear technologies to support variable sources of electricity like wind and solar, makes nuclear an attractive option for decarbonizing our electricity grids.

As our climate crisis deepens, and our needs for clean electricity increase, nuclear power is emerging as our most practical, clean technology choice.

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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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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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IEA report stresses need for maintaining nuclear

The world will have an almost impossible task of meeting climate targets if nuclear energy is not increased.

IEA Director Fatih Birol.

That’s the conclusion of a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that was released at the 10th Clean Energy Ministerial in Vancouver in May.

In its report, “Nuclear Power in a Clean Energy System,” the IEA said if governments don’t change their current policies, advanced economies will be on track to lose two-thirds of their current nuclear fleet, risking a huge increase in CO2 emissions.

“Without action to provide more support for nuclear power, global efforts to transition to a cleaner energy system will become drastically harder and more costly,” IEA Director Fatih Birol said.

“Wind and solar energy need to play a much greater role in order for countries to meet sustainability goals, but it is extremely difficult to envisage them doing so without help from nuclear power.”

The report made eight policy recommendations to governments, including authorizing lifetime extensions if safe for current plants, supporting new build and supporting innovative designs, such as small modular reactors.

The IEA estimates that it would cost approximately $1.6 trillion between 2018 and 2040 in additional investment to replace existing nuclear with renewable energy, supporting technologies and infrastructure. That works out to $80 billion higher per year on average for advanced economies.

The study also notes the past contribution of nuclear energy to the climate.

“Globally, nuclear power output avoided 63 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) from 1971 to 2018,” the IEA noted. “Without nuclear power, emissions from electricity generation would have been almost 20% higher, and total energy-related emissions 6% higher, over that period. Without nuclear power, emissions from electricity generation would have been 25% higher in Japan, 45% higher in Korea and over 50% higher in Canada over the period 1971-2018.”

The IEA understands the best path to decarbonization, but currently, many people in the clean energy space believe in a single solution.

We need all available tools and technologies to reduce emissions. And they must complement each other and work together in an integrated clean energy system. That system should include nuclear.

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How to get millennials aboard the nuclear bandwagon

A recent poll by Abacus Data found Millennials are especially open to using nuclear to combat climate change once informed that it is a low-carbon energy source.

The poll found there is growing evidence that the millennial generation evaluates and supports innovative technologies more strongly when they are seen to bring real solutions to society’s challenges. First and foremost, among the solutions is whether it can significantly reduce GHG emissions and help decarbonize our energy supply.

To measure how familiar people are with the carbon impact of nuclear energy, Abacus asked whether certain energy sources had greater, equal or lesser impact than oil. The results revealed that only 38 per cent of Canadians were aware that nuclear is a lower carbon form of energy compared to oil.

When informed that nuclear power emissions are similar to solar, wind and hydro, and asked how they felt about the idea of using nuclear in situations where it could replace higher emitting fuels, a large majority (84 per cent) said they are supportive or open to this.

The findings were more pronounced for young people. Eighty-nine per cent of those 18-to-29 supported or were open to using nuclear in this scenario, compared to 83 per cent of the overall population. The poll also found that 86 per cent of those 18-to-29 supported or were open to small modular reactors (SMRs) as an alternative to fossil fuels.

Climate change seems to be driving young people looking for solutions to replace fossil fuels.

Young people were the most concerned about climate change. Sixty-two per cent of those 18-to-29 said they were extremely or very concerned about the issue, compared with 54 per cent overall.

Those 18-to-29 were also more likely to say a shift from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy sources was extremely or very important – 69 per cent, compared with 58 per cent for the general population.

“These results make clear that for many people, the issue of climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions, means being open to potential new roles for nuclear technology,” explained Abacus Chair Bruce Anderson. “To date, many people are unaware of the carbon-reducing contribution that nuclear can offer, and the data indicate that when informed about the facts, there is broad interest in exploring potential trials in a regulated context.”

The survey was conducted online for the Canadian Nuclear Association with 2,500 Canadians aged 18 and over from February 8 to 12, 2019. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 1.9%, 19 times out of 20.

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World nuclear output reached new high in 2018

The latest International Energy Agency (IEA) numbers are out and nuclear power continued to grow in 2018, despite concerns about reactor closures in the U.S. and elsewhere.

In its March “Global Energy & CO2 Status Report,” the IEA said overall global energy consumption grew by 2.3 per cent due to “a robust global economy as well as higher heating and cooling needs in some parts of the world.”

The increase in energy consumption meant CO2 emissions rose 1.7 per cent last year, a new record high.

Gas accounted for 47 per cent of the new energy growth and nuclear represented seven per cent of new growth.

The growth in nuclear was based largely on new capacity in China and the restart of four reactors in Japan, according to the IEA.

In related news, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that nuclear output reached a peak in 2018, surpassing the previous peak set in 2010.

This happened despite the fact that seven reactors have been taken out of service since 2010 and only one new reactor has been added to the grid. The increase was due to reactor upgrades that improved efficiency and reactors shortening the time they are out of operation for maintenance.The IEA has been more vocal in recent months about the importance of nuclear energy.

In February, the IEA held a workshop on the role of nuclear power in the clean energy system, which will lead to a report on the issue, and IEA Executive Director Dr. Fatih Birol spoke on the margins of the Canadian Nuclear Association’s annual conference in Ottawa.

“Nuclear energy plays an important role in both energy security and sustainability in today’s energy mix,” Birol said at a recent IEA workshop.

“However, without appropriate policy attention, its contribution will shrink, creating challenges for meeting our energy policy goals in the future. As an all-fuels and all-technologies organization, the IEA monitors the development of nuclear energy and its potential role in the clean energy transitions.”

The IEA has an important role in making policymakers understand the scope of the challenge the world faces in providing clean and reliable electricity as transportation electrifies and more and more people in the developing world become electricity consumers.

Governments need to act pragmatically and, like the IEA, realize the role all technologies can play in the energy system of the future.