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On Queen Street: new president of Canadian Nuclear Association excited about emerging technology for industry

By Jesse Cnockaert
Originally published in The Lobby Monitor, May 15, 2019

As Canada works to reduce its carbon footprint, John Gorman sees his background in the solar power industry as something that will be of benefit in his new role as president of the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA).

“It’s going to take more than wind and solar and battery storage to meet all of the challenges that we’re facing when it comes to decarbonizing the electricity system and meeting this growing demand globally,” said Gorman, who took over at CNA on May 13. “From where I come from, I just can’t see how we can meet those challenges without nuclear energy. So, when the opportunity came to lead the CNA, particularly at this time when there are exciting new technologies in nuclear coming out, I thought it was an important opportunity to be able to contribute and promote Canadian technology here and abroad.”

Gorman takes over the position from former president John Barrett, and is currently registering to lobby on behalf of CNA.

He comes to CNA after more than seven years as president of the Canadian Solar Industries Association, the trade group that represents the solar energy industry across Canada.

Now with CNA, Gorman will be leading the organization that represents Canada’s nuclear industry.

Gorman may have switched his professional allegiance to a different source of electricity generation, but he considers both solar and nuclear as renewable forms of energy. He said his involvement in the energy industry stems from a personal desire to contribute in some way to climate change solutions.

“I think there’s a lot of work that has to continue in terms of educating the public about the role nuclear plays in Canada and can continue to play globally,” he said. “We’re going to need everything we’ve got in terms of clean energy for these problems.”

Two of CNA’s priorities in their discussions with the federal government are the international trade of nuclear technology, and greenhouse-gas emissions trading under Canada’s commitment in the Kyoto Protocol, the registry shows.

In the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty signed in 1997, countries accepted targets for limiting or reducing carbon emissions. Any countries with emission units to spare – emissions that are permitted but not used – can engage in “emissions trading,” where those units are sold to other countries that have exceeded their targets.

Gorman also sees this as an important time for the nuclear industry because of the emerging small modular reactors (SMRs) industry. SMRs are nuclear fission reactors designed to be smaller in size than conventional nuclear reactors, and can therefore be produced in larger numbers. These reactors are made to be portable and scalable, so that nuclear energy can be taken to smaller power grids and off-grid areas, like northern communities and reserves.

In November 2018, Natural Resources released the SMR Roadmap, a document intended to establish a long-term vision for Canada’s nuclear industry. In the roadmap, Canada is described as having “one of the world’s most promising domestic markets for SMRs,” and places the potential value for SMRs in Canada at approximately $5.3 billion between 2025 and 2040.

Natural Resources called SMRs an emerging global market that could be valued at approximately $150 billion per year by 2040, in a news release accompanying the roadmap.

Gorman’s background in energy also includes more than six years representing Canada’s solar industry as a member of the executive committee of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The IEA is a policy advisory organization made up of 30 member countries to promote clean energy and share ideas for best practices.

He is also a former board member of the Green Ontario Fund, which prior to its cancellation in 2018 by Ontario Premier Doug Ford, was a non-profit provincial agency tasked with reducing greenhouse gas pollution in buildings and industry to help the province meet emission reduction targets.

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Nuclear – Canada’s Clean Energy Future

When it comes to meeting the needs of global climate change mitigation efforts, nuclear technology plays an important role.

Partnering with other counties, our nuclear industry can help contribute to affordable and clean energy around the world, including countries such as Argentina, China, South Korea, Romania and India. Our industry’s investments in innovative nuclear technology have the capacity to provide a clean source of energy to remote communities, resource extraction sites and provincial electricity grids and provide desalination options. Canada’s nuclear future is clean, competitive and able to provide power to much needed communities while contributing in the fight against climate change.

For our part, Canada’s nuclear reactor technology and uranium exports have, over the last 30 years, contributed globally to the avoidance of at least a billion tonnes of CO2 (in displacing fossil fuel sources).  Uranium alone from Cameco, Canada’s largest uranium mining company, powers 1 out of every 18 homes in the United States and 1 of every 10 in Canada.  This represents an enormous amount of avoided GHG emissions.  Thanks to Canadian CANDU technology, our nuclear reactor fleet provides clean, affordable and low-carbon energy, powering approximately 60% of Ontario’s electricity needs and one-third of New Brunswick’s.

The federal government’s recent Mid-Century Long-Term Low-Greenhouse Gas Development Strategy included nuclear in all its models for achieving drastic GHG emission reductions by 2050.  Earlier, at COP21 in Paris, Canada joined 21 countries plus the European Union to create Mission Innovation, a pledge to double national investments in clean energy innovation over five years.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014 recommended tripling the amount of energy use from renewable energy and nuclear power to keep climate change within two degrees Celsius.  Meanwhile, in its 2016 World Energy Outlook scenario, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said limiting the increase in global temperatures to less than 2⁰ C would require global nuclear generation to increase by almost two-and-a-half times by 2040.

If mitigation pathways are to be on target, keeping a global temperature rise limited to 1.5 degrees while simultaneously staying on course to meet the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the international community must continue to promote and invest in low-carbon technologies, including nuclear.

Important breakthroughs are coming in the area of advanced reactor technology and more efficient fuels that will have exciting domestic and global applications. Hydrogen fuels, molten salt reactors and fusion energy are a small sample of the next generation of nuclear powered technologies.

Nearly all the value chain in our nuclear sector comes from, and belongs to, Canada – from mining to innovative reactor technology, all the way through to eventual decommissioning, giving Canada a highly valuable and skilled clean-tech workforce.

We need public policy-makers to support access to sufficient financing for Canada’s clean technology exports.  Important breakthroughs are coming in the area of advanced small reactor technology that will have exciting domestic and global applications.  This opportunity combines global growth potential with a climate-friendly technology.  Canada can have a competitive edge here, given timely policy and financing support. Our nuclear industry has the potential to provide more than just clean energy but affordable and sustainable options for Canada and internationally.

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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.

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Next Generation Nuclear

Recently, the Government of Canada announced an initiative called Generation Energy; re-imagining Canada’s energy future. An energy future that, if climate goals are to be realized, must include a mix of clean, cost-efficient, reliable power. Several companies in Canada and beyond are racing to create the nuclear reactors of tomorrow.

Enter the next generation of nuclear. #NextGenNuclear

Image: Luke Lebel

Luke Lebel is one example of young leaders looking to slow down the impacts of climate change thanks to nuclear technology.

“I finished my undergrad degree in 2008 and I was thinking about grad school and was wondering where I could make a difference”, said Lebel, a Research Scientist at CNL. “I liked the idea of energy and helping to mitigate climate change, and I chose the nuclear industry because I think it can make the most amount of difference in replacing fossil fuel energy.”

Lebel concludes strongly that engaging with his peers and advocating for nuclear will be key to the industry’s future success.

“We have to start connecting with young people and have an image out there that makes us feel high tech. If you want to be like Google, you have to act like Google,” said Lebel.

Possessing a strong background in research and analysis, Lebel believes steering a successful next generation of nuclear will require information sharing, communication, mentoring and partnership.

“People of my generation are going to be working on the issue (Paris climate goals) the whole time. The role of younger people is really important just because of that,” said Lebel.

The International Energy Agency in its 2016 World Energy Outlook, estimates that 16% of the world’s population still lives without access to electricity.

Image: Rory O’Sullivan

“In order for people to lift themselves out of poverty, particularly in Africa, they need energy to be cheap and clean”, according to Rory O’Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer at Moltex Energy.

This need to help others is what lead O’Sullivan to forge a path in clean energy. A mechanical engineer by trade, his career took him through project management construction and wind energy before landing on nuclear and Moltex Energy was born.

Recently, Moltex Energy announced a partnership with Deloitte and is in talks with Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), and major utilities to work together on this vision for #NextGenNuclear. Moltex team member Eirik Peterson was also recognized for his work on reactor physics by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as the recipient of a “Young Innovator” award in Russia recently along with Lebel.

“The waste is concentrated and produces a lot of heat, you can’t put it in the ground, but if you shield it and put it into a box, you can plug that box into a turbine,” said O’Sullivan. “That box can then produce power for 10 years, maintenance free. It can also be used to provide district heat to communities.”

This ability of #NextGenNuclear to recycle used fuel to provide heat and power will improve humanitarian conditions, ensuring a brighter future.

Image: Eric Meyer

Advocating for nuclear is exactly what Generation Atomic has set out to do. Founded by Eric G. Meyer, this grassroots nuclear advocacy group is self-described as “energizing and empowering today’s generation to advocate for a nuclear future.”

Using a combination of the latest in new digital technology and on the ground outreach, Generation Atomic is raising awareness about the importance of nuclear energy for people and the planet.

As the Government of Canada looks to reimagine its energy future, it is clear: the next generation of nuclear is here and is working hard to ensure that we have a clean, low-carbon tomorrow for the next generation and beyond.

Do you have a next generation energy story?

CNA Responds

CNA response to “Nuclear energy isn’t ‘clean'”

Re: Nuclear energy isn’t ‘clean’ (Winnipeg Free Press, April 25)

Dave Taylor’s opinion piece declaring nuclear neither clean nor the future ignores the reality of decarbonization at the national and global level.

In April of 2014, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommended tripling the amount of energy use from renewable energy and nuclear power to keep climate change within two degrees Celsius.

The International Energy Agency in their 2016 World Energy Outlook predicted a requirement for global nuclear generation to increase by almost two and a half times by 2040.

Canada’s nuclear reactor technology and uranium exports have, over the last 30 years, contributed globally to the avoidance of at least a billion tonnes of CO2 (in displacing fossil fuel sources) – a unique and ongoing contribution to global climate change mitigation which no other Canadian energy source can claim.

Globally, nuclear power is on the upswing. According to the World Nuclear Association, there are 60 nuclear reactors currently under construction worldwide, with another 157 on order or planned, and 351 that have been proposed.

Unlike some other sources of energy, nuclear does not release its waste into the atmosphere. Spent fuel is safely stored and relies on sound science and technology. Through the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, Canada has a plan for the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel that is fully funded by nuclear operators in Canada.

Finally, contrary to Taylor’s statement regarding the futility of Canada’s reactor sales, it should be noted that Canada has actually sold 12 CANDU reactors to China, India, Romania, Argentina and South Korea.

John Barrett
President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association