Tag Archives: GHG emissions

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Low Carbon, Clean Energy: Making Communities Healthier

According to the U.S Energy Department’s latest International Energy Outlook 2016 (IEO), worldwide energy consumption will increase by almost 50 percent by 2040. Meeting global demand will require growing the renewable and nuclear power industries.

The IEA forecasts that worldwide nuclear power, which currently offsets an estimated 2.5 billion tons of CO2 emissions yearly, will slightly increase in its contribution to the global electricity grid. The forecasted 2 percent increase is not nearly enough. If countries like Canada are to meet COP21 targets and improve the health of our environment we need more nuclear.

Information confirmed in the latest IEO report found “even though non fossil fuels are expected to grow faster than fossil fuels (petroleum and other liquid fuels, natural gas and coal), fossil fuels will still account for more than three-quarters of world energy consumption through 2040.”

health2An extreme shift in weather patterns brought about by greenhouse gas emissions  has resulted in more heat and flooding, increasing the amount of ground-level ozone, carbon dioxide and particulates – all of which have negative health consequences

The climate change price tag for Canada’s healthcare industry is a hefty one. Data released by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) found that by 2031 air pollution related illnesses, including lost productivity and ER admissions could cost Canadian taxpayers close to $250 billion.

The projected ongoing use of fossil fuels is a concern both for meeting climate targets and for improving air quality which are critical components to improving overall health. In a 2014 news release, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported “in 2012 around 7 million people died – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure. This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Reducing air pollution could save millions of lives.”

In Canada, the rates of Severe Asthma are rising, due in part to climate change. Over a quarter-million Canadians live with severe asthma.  Furthermore, allergies can be triggered by mold related to flooding and by increased pollen production from distressed plants.

“People with severe asthma may struggle to breathe even when they are taking their prescribed medication,” states Vanessa Foran, President and CEO of the Asthma Society of Canada.  “Environmental allergens are the primary triggers for 60-80 % of Canadians living with asthma,” she says.

Continuing to invest in low-carbon energy sources is an important step in improving air quality. The year 2000 saw a peak for coal-fired electricity generation in Ontario, with almost 50 million tons of GHG emissions being released into the environment. Fifteen years later, nuclear energy accounted for the majority of electricity generation – 66.5%, displacing over 90% of emissions, thereby cleaning the air and improving the health of Ontarians.

As Canada’s largest province moves forward in developing its next Long-Term Energy Plan, which has a key focus on clean, reliable energy, it is clear that nuclear must be at the forefront of discussions.

A safe and reliable energy source that contributes to climate commitments, nuclear power can help to improve the health of people around the world while meeting an increased global demand for energy.

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Top 10 Myths about Nuclear Energy

Myth #1: Nuclear energy is dangerous.

Fact: Nuclear energy is one of the safest forms of energy available. No member of the public has ever been injured or killed in the entire 60+ year history of nuclear power generation in Canada. In fact, recent studies have shown it is safer to work in a nuclear power plant than an office. (Source: NEI.org.)

Myth #2: A nuclear reactor can explode like a nuclear bomb.

Fact: It is physically impossible for a nuclear reactor to explode like a nuclear bomb. Reactor fuel does not have nearly enough uranium-235 to be explosive, and all nuclear reactors are constructed with multiple layers of safety controls and self-limiting features. It is also impossible for a person to intentionally or unintentionally modify a reactor, its controls or its fuel to cause an explosion.

Myth#3: Nuclear reactors emit dangerous amounts of radiation.

Fact: Nuclear reactors produce extremely small amounts of radiation. If you live within 75 km of a nuclear power plant, you receive an average radiation dose of about 0.0001 millisieverts per year. To put this in perspective, the average Canadian receives about 3 millisieverts per year from natural background sources of radiation.

Myth #4: Nuclear energy leads to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Fact: The Canadian nuclear industry is regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), which ensures that the country does not manufacture or acquire nuclear weapons, and that nuclear exports do not contribute to the development of nuclear weapons. In the history of Canadian nuclear exports, there has only been one breach of contract, which resulted in severe sanctions.

Myth#5: Nuclear energy produces a huge amount of waste.

Fact: Nuclear energy produces a very small amount of waste compared to other energy sources. In fact, all of the used nuclear fuel generated in every Canadian nuclear plant in the last 60 years would fill 6 NHL hockey rinks to the boards. Additionally, unlike the waste produced by fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, which is released into the air, nuclear waste is kept in secure storage.

Myth #6: There is no solution for the disposal of nuclear waste.

Fact: Nuclear waste is currently being safely stored at the nuclear site where it was generated. Two initiatives are currently underway in Canada to find Deep Geologic Repositories (DGRs) for nuclear waste – one for low and intermediate-level waste and one for used fuel – where it will be safe and secure for many generations to come. There are operational DGRs in several countries around the world.

Myth #7: Nuclear waste cannot be safely transported.

Fact: Nuclear waste is being safely shipped by truck, rail, and cargo ship. To date, thousands of shipments have been made without any leaks or cracks of the specially-designed containers. Some of the measures that contribute to the safe transportation of nuclear waste include expert engineering of vehicles and containers, rigorous screening and training of personnel, inventory tracking, and independent regulatory bodies.

Myth #8: Nuclear energy is expensive.

Fact: Nuclear power is one of the least expensive energy sources. In Ontario, it is second only to hydropower. Natural gas and wind are twice as expensive and solar is nearly ten times as expensive. Moreover, the cost of nuclear is very stable because uranium makes up only 30% of the cost of nuclear power, so an increase in the cost of uranium would have only a small effect on the total price.

Myth #9: Nuclear energy is being phased out.

Fact: Currently, there are 441 nuclear reactors in 29 countries producing 14% of the world’s electricity. Another 61 reactors are currently under construction in 15 countries. Furthermore, new reactor technologies, such as small modular reactors (SMRs), are under development, which will provide additional options for diverse countries around the world.

Myth #10: Nuclear energy is bad for the environment.

Fact: Nuclear reactors emit zero greenhouse gasses during operation. Over the entire lifecycle, which includes construction, mining, operation, and decommissioning, nuclear emissions are comparable to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Nuclear power also has minimal effects on aquatic habitats and uses less land than most other energy sources.

CNA2016

Combatting Climate Change with Nuclear Power

As May came to a close, the AtomExpo began in Moscow, the opening address focused largely on meeting  climate goals laid out at COP21 in Paris in December. And the key message was clear: Nuclear power is needed in order for the world to combat climate change.

How is this so?

Environment and Climate Change Canada has projected that by 2030, Canada’s GHG emissions will be two-thirds higher than previously thought.

Canada’s new government is committed to the climate fight.  Minister Catherine McKenna agreed with other nations to try to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, slightly below the prior 2 degree target.

With the global population rising, it is clear that in order for the world to meet its climate targets; where we get our energy from will be of the utmost importance.  A lower GHG economy in all likelihood will have an integrated energy mix, blending low-carbon sources to supply the needs of consumers while protecting the environment.

A government report in 2012 shows that over 22 years the rates of carbon dioxide that have entered the atmosphere have risen by 47 per cent. China and the United States were the largest contributors to GHG emissions, while Canada accounted for 1.6%.

The rise in climate inducing gases further highlights the critical importance of moving away from higher emitting energy sources. Just how many climate warming gases are produced in order to get the energy to power our lights, fridges and hot water tanks, is best assessed through lifecycle emissions.

The lifecycle emissions of a given energy source include all of the greenhouse gases produced in both the construction and operation of an energy plant as well as the emissions required to turn a natural resource, such as uranium, coal or gas, into energy in that plant.sUPPLYCHAIN

According to recent information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), nuclear is one of the cleanest and lowest GHG producing forms of energy.

co2This means that nuclear power has huge potential to help address the global climate challenge.  Earlier this year, NRCAN outlined some of the major benefits of the Canadian nuclear industry. Canada is home to the largest high-grade uranium deposits in the world. Our CANDU technology meets the highest safety and regulatory standards. At the same time, the nuclear industry continues to provide opportunities for other countries to step away from more GHG intensive energy sources and move towards a cleaner, lower-carbon society.

CNA2016

Lightweighting Vehicles with Nuclear Technology

A big change is coming to a car dealership near you. It’s called light-weighting — producing vehicles that weigh less and leave money in their owners’ pockets.

lightweightgraphic-v2

By 2025, a typical passenger car in both Canada and the United States will require 5.1 litres of gasoline for every 100 kilometers, down from 7.4 litres for 2016 models. That means less pain at the pump – and a cut of nearly 50 percent in climate-changing carbon emissions.

It’s a big deal for industry. Most of Canada’s GHG emission increases between 1990 and 2013 were driven by the fossil fuel industry and transportation.

The approach to reduce CO2 by making vehicles lighter is no easy feat.  It means swapping out steel parts for lighter aluminum ones. But aluminum parts are weaker than steel, and get failing grades from the crash-test dummies.

carmanufacturingThis is where the power of a nuclear research reactor comes in.

A reactor produces subatomic particles called neutrons. The scientists at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) can channel these invisible particles into a beam of energy that can penetrate objects without breaking or destroying them. It’s like turning on a light that can shine through things, like engine blocks in cars.

“When we look at an engine of a car or a frame for a vehicle, we can tell the automotive company where the part will fail, and provide them with solutions on how they can fix it,” according to Elliott Gillespie, director, international business for CNL.

While nuclear technology helps automakers build the next generation of wheels, it’s also helping today’s drivers right where the rubber meets the road. “Almost 92 per cent of the radial tires produced in the world use radiation technology at some stage in the processing,” according to Sunil Sabharwal, a radiation processing specialist with the IAEA in Vienna. Turns out that radiation toughens rubber, helping your tires last longer!

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Nuclear Energy Delivers Clean Air for Ontario

Starting in the 1950s, coal made up a large part of Ontario’s power mix. Coal was inexpensive, and Ontario lacked sufficient alternatives such as hydroelectric power or natural gas. By the late 1990s, however, links between adverse health effects and air pollution were firmly established, and much of this could be traced to Ontario’s coal-powered plants.

In 2003, Ontario began to replace its coal-fired plants with nuclear energy, completing the switchover in 2014. Over that time, air quality improved significantly, reducing respiratory illnesses and deaths.

ONTARIO’S EVOLVING POWER CHOICES

Ontario’s first electrical power supply came from a hydroelectric generating station on the Ottawa River in 1892. Hydro expanded rapidly across the province in the early 20th century. But it could not expand indefinitely: not every river can be dammed at places that are economically feasible and environmentally sensible. So, in the 1950s, Ontario added six coal-fired power stations to meet rising demand. Practical, large-scale nuclear power was not introduced in Ontario until the 1970s.

Coal remained an important part of this mix until the end of the 20th century, when it made up about a quarter of electricity generation in the province. By that time, the health risks of coal were becoming increasingly apparent.

THE LEGACY OF COAL

As burners of carbon-based fossil fuels, Ontario’s coal-fired power plants were heavy emitters of greenhouse gases, which threaten to accelerate climate change. They also emitted pollutants that affect human health directly: mercury, several air-borne carcinogens, and sulphur dioxide, which can make asthma symptoms worse. Sulphur dioxide can also react with other substances to create particulate matter – small solids or liquid drops in the air that can damage lungs.

Burning coal also releases nitrogen oxide, which contributes ground-level ozone, a principal factor in smog, which has a devastating effect on public health.

In Toronto, airborne particulate matter commonly exceeded 20 μg/m3, the level at which adverse health effects can be demonstrated. It sometimes reached 75 μg/m3. Ground-level ozone often exceeded 80 parts per billion, far higher than the level of 31 ppb associated with increased hospitalization rates for asthma, lung disease, and respiratory infections.

The province attributed 1,800 premature deaths and 1,400 cardiac and respiratory hospital admissions each year to smog. Several studies and reports had also highlighted the connection between Ontario’s air quality and public health.

  • In 2004, Toronto’s health department estimated that 1,700 Toronto residents died prematurely and 6,000 Torontonians were admitted to hospitals because of air pollution each year.
  • A 2005 report by the Ontario Ministry of Energy concluded that coal contributed to 928 hospital admissions and 1,100 emergency-room visits each year.
  • In 2005, a report by the Ontario Medical Association identified several other costs of air pollution, including at least $150 million in additional healthcare costs, $128 million in lost productivity, and a total of $2.4 billion in economic damage.

Ontario's supply mix - 2000 vs. 2013 (2)CHANGING THE MIX

Pressure was building to improve air quality. In 1999, the Ontario Public Health Association called on the province to replace its coal-fired power plants with cleaner power sources. The Ontario Medical Association had already declared an air pollution crisis.

Phasing coal out

In 2007, the Government of Ontario adopted the Integrated Power System Plan, guiding the province’s energy choices over 20 years. The plan aimed to stabilize prices, double renewable energy, and increase conservation. Its central goal was to replace toxic coal with cleaner power.

Ontario closed four coal-fired plants in 2010, and the last one in 2014 – making Ontario the first jurisdiction in North America to shut down coal-fired generation.

Phasing nuclear in

Even with the conservation measures set out in the plan, Ontario would have to supply electricity to make up for the closures of the coal-fired plants. Hydro was not an option, as Ontario had reached nearly 75% of its hydro capacity. Renewables such as wind and solar showed promise – and the plan aimed to double their use – but represented only tiny fraction of Ontario’s power supply, and could not be scaled up easily. Furthermore, solar and wind do not produce steady power around the clock, which is necessary to prevent brownouts.

The Government of Ontario recognizes nuclear power as a reliable and safe supplier of electricity. Since 2003, investment in Ontario’s power infrastructure has modernized three reactors (Pickering A Unit 1 and Bruce Units 3 and 4) and returned them to service. Nuclear power, which made up 37% of Ontario’s power mix in 2000, stood at 62% in 2014.

AIR POLLUTION: HOW ONTARIO’S POWER MIX STACKS UP

Any change in the power mix has environmental consequences – which leads Ontarians to ask whether the transition from coal to nuclear power might simply involve changing types of air pollution.

To answer this question, it is important to look at a power plant’s emissions from cradle to grave – including its construction, its fuel source, its waste products, and its eventual shutdown and decommissioning.

Smog factors

All methods of power generation emit particulate matter and contribute to ground-level ozone. However, nuclear energy emits far less particulate matter per unit of electricity than any fossil fuel – and less than wind.

Greenhouse gases

Greenhouse gas emissions by nuclear power are surprisingly low, considering the amount of construction needed to build a nuclear power plant. But those plants operate for decades, and emit no greenhouse gases while generating electricity.

And because of the vast amount of power that can be extracted from a small amount of uranium (20,000 times that of coal, by weight), emissions from nuclear power compare favourably with renewable energy sources, and are well ahead of fossil fuels.

Carbon emissions per kWh

CLEANER AIR, TODAY AND TOMORROW

Today, Ontarians enjoy cleaner air. According to the provincial government, “Ontario’s air quality has improved steadily since 1988. We have good air quality approximately 90 per cent of the time.” With the exception of a spike in 2012, which included a serious drought, the number and duration of smog advisories across the province has dropped steadily since 2003.

Cleaner air means better health. In Toronto, premature deaths attributed to air pollution dropped from 1,700 to 1,300 between 2004 and 2014, while hospitalizations fell from 6,000 to 3,550.

Even with this progress, there is still much room for improvement – especially as Ontario’s population ages and more people are at higher risk of health effects from air pollution. And, as the economy grows, Ontario will need a reliable, clean-air power source that keeps prices stable and affordable. Nuclear power can meet this need, partly because Canadian-designed reactors can be refuelled without shutting down, and because they draw from a fuel source that is abundant in Canada.

Recognizing this value, the province also put primary focus on nuclear energy in its 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan. It decided to upgrade and replace key components at the Bruce Power and Darlington sites, so they can continue to provide clean power for decades.

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Why Ontario Needs Nuclear

The following infographic shows the rationale for using nuclear energy in Ontario. Simply put, Ontario is the second largest energy polluter in Canada, and nuclear is the only reason the province isn’t worse off. Among the clean energy options, nuclear is one of the most affordable, and it’s readily available.

The seven points below make it clear why Ontario needs nuclear.

Why Ontario Needs Nuclear - Infographic