Tag Archives: Food and Agriculture Organization

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Nuclear Science, Climate Change & Sustainable Development: An Idea Worth Sharing

The fury of the Atlantic was on full display in late summer and early fall as hurricanes lined up to batter the Atlantic coast. Harvey, Irma and Maria knocked out power to millions of people and left communities in ruins. The power of Irma destroyed or damaged almost all the buildings on Barbuda, forcing the entire island to be abandoned. Meanwhile the force of Maria was enough to knock out power to all of Puerto Rico and citizens could be in the dark for months.

The Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), recently reported that ocean warming, resulting from climate change could have direct impacts on future hurricanes.

“Anthropogenic warming by the end of the 21st century will likely cause tropical cyclones globally to be more intense on average (by 2 to 11% according to model projections for an IPCC A1B scenario). This change would imply an even larger percentage increase in the destructive potential per storm, assuming no reduction in storm size.”

It’s not just through hurricanes that we see the direct impacts of climate change on human life. Climate change plays a huge role in access to food, water, health and the environment. As such, it is one of the contributing factors affecting sustainable global development. There are other factors to be sure. Together however, they condemn large parts of the world to poverty, underdevelopment, poor health amid a deteriorating environment. So, what to do?

To make life better for both developed and developing countries, the United Nations, in partnership with the global community, set out seventeen Sustainable Development Goals. These goals focus on meeting our needs today without compromising our future.

Thanks to uranium atoms, we can provide the necessary power to help lift people out of energy poverty, provide clean drinking water and help protect the environment, thereby bettering the lives of billions of people around the world. Nuclear science meets NINE of the seventeen sustainable development goals.

2 Zero Hunger:  Using nuclear science to alter the DNA of plants is a proven effective method to make them more resilient to climate change and is in use by 100 countries.

3 Good Health And Well-Being: A nuclear by-product, Cobalt-60, plays an important role in nuclear medicine. Low-grade Cobalt-60 is used to sterilize medical equipment such as syringes and catheters. High-Speed Activity (HSA) or medical-grade Cobalt-60 is widely used to treat cancer patients. Over 70 million people have been treated thanks to nuclear science.

6 Clean Water And Sanitation: Nuclear science using electron beams (e-beams) can break apart chemical bonds. China, the world’s largest textile industry, recently opened-up an e-beam wastewater treatment facility to treat and reuse wastewater used in clothing manufacturing.

7 Affordable And Clean Energy: According to IAEA projections, energy demand will rise by 60-100% by 2030. To help lift people out of poverty and realize the climate goals set out in Paris, low-carbon, cheap energy is needed. According to the Ontario Energy Board, in 2016, nuclear cost just under 7 cents per kilowatt hour, making it one of the most cost-effective, clean sources of energy. (Solar costs 48 cents per kilowatt hour and hydro 6 cents.)

9 Industry, Innovation And Infrastructure: Innovation in nuclear technology includes Generation IV reactors, hydrogen fuels, small modular reactors (SMRs) and fusion energy.

13 Climate Action: Globally, nuclear power avoids 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions every year, equal to taking approximately half of all (520 million cars) off the world’s roads. Nuclear power is the largest non-hydro source of low-carbon, clean energy worldwide, providing almost 12% of global electricity production.

14 Life Below Water: Nuclear science techniques that use radioisotopes can diagnose the impacts of ocean acidification on the food chain, giving scientists a better understanding of how rising acidity impacts both ecosystems and marine life.

15 Life On Land: Isotopes are a valuable environmental risk assessment tool as they can identify various contaminants which can help to assist with environmental monitoring and remediation of land areas.

17 Partnerships For The Goals: The global nuclear community has a long list of partnerships including various UN agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), universities and thank tanks and Indigenous communities.

While violent hurricane seasons are nothing new, the warming of our ocean waters, brought about by climate change, raise the concern that more catastrophic hurricanes, like the ones this season, could be the new normal. It’s just one example that underlines the importance of investments in sustainable science and technology, like nuclear, in order to keep the Earth on course to meet sustainable development goals today, ensuring a successful tomorrow.

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Highlighting the Need for Nuclear

January 2017 was the third warmest January in over 100 years, according to scientists with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. As the planet continues to warm, temperature increases continue to wreak havoc. A United Nations report on weather-related disasters pegged the cost of extreme weather events like floods, storms and droughts at close to 300 billion US dollars annually. The impact of the climate crises on communities has been echoed time and time again.

“In the long-term, an agreement in Paris at COP21 on reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be a significant contribution to reducing damage and loss from disasters, which are partly driven by a warming globe and rising sea levels,” according to former head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), Margareta Wahlstrom.

The impacts of climate change go far beyond the thermometer. Rising temperatures and erratic weather patterns will make the viability of growing and feeding an expanding world population even more challenging as stressed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Then there are health impacts of these environmental changes. The Canadian Cancer Society recently set off alarms following the release of a report that stated that nearly half of all Canadians, 1 in every 2 people, will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime.

But among all the chaos of melting ice caps, increasing cancer rates and concerns over global food supply, there lies a solution in an atom. One energy source, that alone, can provide solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems: nuclear energy.

Canada’s history with nuclear power dates back to the 1970s when the Pickering nuclear generating station came online. The benefits of nuclear power across Canada, and specifically in Ontario, have been profound. It is reported that 45 million tons of carbon dioxide is avoided every year, making nuclear one of the most important contributors to clean air in the province.

The public health impacts of carbon emissions have been well documented by Health Canada and others who have cited an increased risk for cancer, heart attack and stroke as a result of poor air quality. In fact, the Asthma Society of Canada stated that, “asthma exacerbations due to air quality have decreased thanks to carbon-free options such as nuclear, hydroelectric and renewables.” A statement that should come as no surprise when one considers that turning off the switch to coal fired electricity generation in Ontario meant reducing carbon emissions by a staggering 87%.

The importance of nuclear energy was highlighted by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in a recent article by Reuters that stressed the interconnectedness between meeting climate targets and investments in nuclear power. Without nuclear, climate targets could fall short by decades.

Then there are the other benefits. Nuclear science, has enabled huge leaps forward in medicine.  Through work with isotopes and Cobalt-60, a key ingredient in nuclear medicine, doctors can improve the quality and save the lives of millions of patients – from the diagnosis and treatment of cancers to treating other diseases and afflictions such as Alzheimer’s.

Nuclear science is also addressing pest populations and making plants more resilient to climate change, thereby protecting the agriculture lands we need to sustain a growing population.

Nuclear science and nuclear energy can address several the global challenges including the challenge of providing large amounts of power to communities without the high price tag. Nuclear power, while reducing carbon emissions is also cheaper than most other renewable energy sources.  The latest data released by the Ontario Energy Board in their Regulated Price Plan Report, shows that the cost for nuclear power is the second cheapest next to hydro; making nuclear a viable baseload (can run day or night) clean and affordable option for communities.

From fighting food insecurity to providing a low-cost and clean energy solution, further investments in nuclear are needed if we are to win the war on climate change and ensure a more sustainable future for all.