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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.