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New Brunswick environmentalist does a 180, now supports nuclear

Saint John, New Brunswick

The growing movement of environmentalists supporting nuclear came to Canada in March.

CBC News reported that New Brunswick environmentalist Gordon Dalzell has dropped his opposition to nuclear power and now sees its role in the fight against climate change.

“The world is really at a disastrous tipping point and we need to really seriously consider nuclear power as a viable option, because we know how serious it is,” said Dalzell, who CBC described as Saint John, New Brunswick’s “best known environmentalist.”

Dalzell told CBC News he no longer believes energy efficiency, wind and solar alone can contain the growth of emissions as developing countries rise out of energy poverty.

In other countries, a large number of prominent environmentalists have come over to the pro-nuclear side due to the urgency of tackling climate change. This includes people like former California gubernatorial candidate Michael Shellenberger, author Gwyneth Cravens, Kirsty Gogan, executive director of Energy For Humanity, Ben Heard, director of Bright New World, and Carol Browner, former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy.

In Canada, fewer environmentalists have joined the pro-nuclear movement, which begs the question why?

Is it a refusal to recognize the benefits of nuclear energy, which includes a large amount of power with a small environmental footprint, safer new technologies and, most importantly, carbon-free electricity generation that addresses climate change?

Environmentalists have interpreted a recent United Nations report as suggesting that there is only a 12-year window for governments to take action and avoid some of the worst effects of climate change.

“We do not have much time,” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May recently stated. “If we miss the goal of reducing emissions globally by 45 per cent in 12 years, that one last chance is lost. Forever.”

Assuming we only have 12 years left, then why can’t more people in the environmental movement have open minds about nuclear? They don’t have to necessarily be supportive, just be open to viewing it as one of the tools, along with all other clean energy technologies, available to tackle climate change.

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CNA response to CBC story on SMR’s in Saskatchewan

Re Viable alternative’ or ‘greenwashing?’: Sask. experts divided on nuclear power

In your May 24 story, Jim Harding says Saskatchewan’s electricity grid is small enough to be powered by wind and solar.

While Saskatchewan has some of the best wind and solar resources in the country, there are limitations as to when these technologies produce electricity as well as how much can be accommodated on any one electricity system (regardless of the size of the grid). As a result, the way to create more “space” for renewables is to pair them appropriately with power that’s available 24 / 7.

As a result, the real question should be—what is the best mix of electricity for Saskatchewan?

The Government of Saskatchewan is considering new nuclear—specifically Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)—because the province has some of the world’s best uranium resources.

They are considering it because they know it works reliably and cleanly, and it generates great jobs.

Lastly, while giving credit for nuclear not emitting carbon when producing electricity, Mr. Harding claims that nuclear energy’s life-cycle emissions detract from this.

The fact is, all forms of electricity production emit some amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, even if they don’t burn fossil fuels.

Though nuclear energy does have an intensive life-cycle, from mining of uranium ore to storage of spent fuel, it releases no carbon in its operations. When all of these steps are taken into account, nuclear power still compares favourably with renewable energy sources – and is well ahead of fossil fuels.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, nuclear power sits alongside renewables such as wind and hydro as electricity sources with lifetime carbon emissions of under or about 20 grams per kilowatt-hour (g/kWh).

Saskatchewan is blessed with abundant solar, wind and uranium resources. The best mix of technologies to decarbonize its electricity system is abundantly clear.