Tag Archives: Climate Change

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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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Small modular reactors help us take a giant leap in the fight against climate change

By John Gorman
Originally published in The Globe and Mail, December 12, 2019

To many Canadians, it may not seem like a big deal that the three provinces that have nuclear sectors – Ontario, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan – signed an agreement to develop small modular reactors (SMRs). But this milestone represents a giant leap forward for Canadian industry and the fight against climate change.

I’m new to the nuclear industry, but I’ve been working in the energy sector for 20 years. I’ve seen new technologies revolutionize how we produce and manage electricity. The development and deployment of SMRs has the potential to be even more transformative than the introduction of wind and solar power.

Why am I and others in the energy sector so excited about SMRs? The answer is in their name. First, they are small. Large reactors are powerful: They generate clean and inexpensive electricity for decades. But they take years to build, they are suitable only for large demand and they can’t be moved. SMRs, on the other hand, are like solar power in that they can be scaled to suit local needs.

SMRs are also modular, meaning they can be mass-produced and shipped to remote locations. A small city could use an SMR until it reaches capacity, then add another as the city grows. A mine could use an SMR to help with its peak production, then ship it to a new location when operations slow down.

The modular approach will also help to reduce costs. A new advanced reactor could cost more than $1-billion, but mass production removes duplication of the costs of licensing and customization. Bulk purchasing of parts and replication of skills would reduce costs further. In short, the upfront investment will be big, while the payoff in terms of inexpensive energy will last decades.

SMRs are to large reactors what desktops were to mainframe computers in the 1980s. They made computing practical, flexible and accessible for everyone.

There are three main ways that SMRs can transform Canada’s energy sector. First, as more provinces and territories phase out coal, SMRs can fill in the gap, producing similar amounts of power without carbon emissions and other pollution. SMRs produce a steady supply of electricity making it an ideal partner to wind and solar by eliminating the need for fossil fuel backups when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.

Second, SMRs can be deployed in the many remote communities in Canada that still use fossil fuels to generate electricity because it’s simply not economical to build hundreds of kilometres of power lines to connect to the grid.

Finally, SMRs can help with the operation of heavy industry, such as oil sands and mines. These facilities are a big part of Canada’s economy, but they are often remote and off-grid, and they need a lot of heat and power to operate.

There are some environmentalists who still resist the expansion of nuclear power. When I was chief executive of the Canadian Solar Industries Association, I was one of them. That’s until I realized that the critical transition to a low-carbon economy will be almost impossible without the reliable, safe and clean energy that nuclear technology provides. We need nuclear power to reduce emissions, as an increasing number of environmentalists, industry leaders and the International Energy Agency agree.

SMRs have several safety advantages built into them. Some designs use molten salt or liquid sodium as a coolant instead of water. Some are built so that the reactor shuts down if it is not being actively managed, while others are designed so that the reaction slows if it gets too hot. And the designs incorporate several advances in managing waste as well. Some are designed to require refuelling only every few years or even decades, and some “recycle” spent fuel, producing only a fraction of the waste of a conventional reactor.

We’re about to witness a fascinating race to determine the best SMR design, and some of the leading candidates are Canadian. Three companies have now passed the first review by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. They are now entering the second phase, a more detailed examination of their safety. Seven more designs are now in the first phase, and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories plans to have a demonstration unit built by 2026.

Canada has a great history as a leader in nuclear technology, dating back decades. We have some of the largest resources of uranium in the world. We also have the right people with the right skills to build safe and reliable nuclear reactors. And now that three provinces consider them a key technology for meeting emission targets, we have a clear demand for SMRs.

The agreement between the three provinces is the beginning of a transformation of our energy sector. But it’s more than that. We’ve just witnessed an election campaign that exposed regional divisions around energy and climate change. I don’t think SMRs are the entire answer to this debate, but they have the potential to be a uniting force between federal and provincial interests. Working together, we can use SMRs to meet our growing energy needs, reduce emissions and introduce carbon-free electricity to many new places in Canada and around the world.

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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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Three reasons to think about nuclear on Earth Day

Monday, April 22 marks Earth Day.

The first Earth Day in 1970 is considered by some the birth of the modern environmental movement.

Nearly a half century later, the day has become an international event.

This year’s Earth Day theme is Protect Our Species, focusing on how human activity contributes to the extinction of species, whether that be climate change, deforestation, pollution or a long list of other things.

Nuclear technology and research has an important role in protecting the environment. Here are three ways nuclear can help protect our species.

#1 Stopping the spread of disease among animals

Nuclear techniques are used to diagnose livestock diseases and improve livestock growth and resistance to disease. Radioimmunoassay methods are essential in stopping the spread of animal diseases, such as rinderpest. Thanks to the role played by nuclear technology, rinderpest is now an animal disease of the past, having been completely eradicated worldwide.

Seventy countries use disease diagnostic and monitoring tests to assist their animal disease prevention, control and eradication programs.

#2 Studying how toxins move through marine life

Radiotracers track the effects of acidification on ocean chemistry and marine life. Nuclear techniques monitor the oceans’ shifting chemical balance caused by ocean acidification – vital information to protect the marine environment.

#3 Assessing animal migration

A nuclear technique known as stable isotopes has helped uncover migratory routes, trophic levels, and the geographic origins of migratory animals. It can be used on land as well as in the ocean and has revolutionized how researchers study animal movement.

Nuclear technology is involved in many areas of research and technology and the advances play an important role in protecting marine and wildlife.

If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of nuclear, please read “The Role of Nuclear in the World.”

CNA2019

Environmental Impact and Climate Change Targets Panel at CNA2019

Top to bottom: Steve Aplin, Andrew Rowe, Laurie Swami

On Thursday, February 28, at 3:30 p.m., Steve Aplin, Andrew Rowe and Laurie Swami, will gather onstage at CNA2019 to discuss new nuclear, environmental impacts and climate change targets.

Our governments promise evidence-based approaches to policy. Nowhere is such an approach more needed than in the analysis of climate change impacts and GHG reduction. How to temper high-flown aspiration with hard data and engineering? New Nuclear aims to make a real contribution to the low-carbon economy, while protecting the environment. Can we find new ways to engage communities on science-based solutions and gain their support?

Steve Aplin is data strategist at emissionTrak. He has launched and led energy- and environment-related projects dealing with current and future energy production and use at the macro and micro levels. In addition to the technical, technological, and organizational aspects, all these projects involve also a political dimension, which often necessitates advocacy at various levels of government as well as in the public arena.

Andrew Rowe is the director of the Institute for Integrated Energy Systems, and professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, at the University of Victoria. He is a principal investigator with the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions’ 2060 Project examining decarbonization of Canada’s energy system.

Laurie Swami is President and CEO of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO). She was appointed to the role in 2016 and is responsible for implementing Canada’s plan for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel. Ms. Swami previously served as Senior Vice-President of Decommissioning and Nuclear Waste Management at Ontario Power Generation (OPG). She holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Chemistry from Queen’s University and a Master of Business Administration from the Schulich School of Business.

For more information about CNA2019 visit https://cna.ca/cna2019/.

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A Carbon Tax Isn’t Enough — Canada Needs More Nuclear

By John Barrett, President and CEO, Canadian Nuclear Association
Originally published in the National Post, December 18, 2018

Today, the big federal-provincial debate centres around Ottawa’s plan to introduce a carbon tax. Changes in provincial governments have brought premiers into office who are openly opposed to Ottawa’s plan. But, as a country, are we becoming too wrapped up in one specific policy to combat climate change?

Climate change mitigation cannot be successful through carbon pricing alone. By only focusing on this we are losing sight of the importance of ramping up our clean electricity capacity.

Global emissions continue to increase at a rapid pace and most G20 countries are not on track to meet their Paris commitments, according to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The sheer amount of clean electricity needed to meet future demand and help end energy poverty in the developing world will take all available generating sources.

Standing above all other options in sheer capacity to generate large quantities of clean electricity is nuclear energy. It is a solution that is proven and available now.

Greater progress required for a cleaner future

Canada’s nuclear reactor technology and uranium exports have contributed globally to the avoidance of millions of tonnes of CO2 over the last 30 years, by displacing fossil fuel sources.

Today, nuclear energy produces approximately 15 per cent of Canada’s electricity. In Ontario, it provides 60 per cent of the province’s electricity, and in New Brunswick, it provides 30 per cent.

Ontario is justly proud of phasing out coal generation. Contrary to what some people would have us believe, this was not due to variable renewable energy sources such as wind and solar coming online, but rather the refurbishment and subsequent coming online of Bruce Power nuclear reactors that made the end of coal a reality.

Last year, Sweden generated a whopping 95 per cent of its total electricity from zero-carbon sources, with 42 and 41 per cent coming from nuclear and hydroelectric power, respectively. France generated 88 per cent of its electricity from zero-carbon sources, with 72 and 10 per cent coming from nuclear and hydro sources. In both countries, the establishment of a fleet of nuclear power reactors during the 1970s and 1980s effectively decarbonized their electricity supply.

A plan for Canada and the world

While the contributions of wind and solar continue to climb, they cannot solve the immediate need. As they produce energy intermittently, they can’t run 24/7 and require backup generation, usually through fossil fuel sources, which add to GHG emissions.

By contrast, there is growing consensus for the need to ramp up nuclear. In April of 2014, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommended tripling the amount of energy use from nuclear and renewable sources to keep climate change within two degrees Celsius.

Furthermore, Canada’s Mid-Century Long-Term Low-Greenhouse Gas Development Strategy, released at COP22, included nuclear in all the models it espoused for achieving drastic GHG emission reductions by 2050.

The nuclear industry has innovative new reactor technologies under development. They are distinguished by their smaller size, lower costs, and diverse applications, from powering off-grid communities to heavy industrial processes to hydrogen production. This is what we call the new nuclear – and it’s on its way.

By using today’s proven nuclear power and tomorrow’s new nuclear, we have a chance in Canada to actually meet our GHG reduction targets and claim real leadership in the transition to a low-carbon future.