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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.

Nuclear Policy

Kicking Off the Discussion for a Policy Exercise

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

A policy development forum recently asked CNA to identify a few key factors that shaped the development of Canada’s nuclear industry. We came up with eight. They range from the Western allies’ war needs in the 1940s (which invested us in uranium-based fission reactor technology) to Canada’s advanced cultures of medicine, public health and safety (which give us a culture of reactor safety, leadership in medical applications of nuclear, and leadership in irradiation and food safety).

The interesting thing about this analysis is how many advantages it reveals. Our industry faces challenges (notably cheap natural gas, lack of carbon pricing, and the problems of sustaining top-notch science and technology infrastructure). But the list of strengths is strikingly longer and more impressive than the list of challenges.

Even in a world where many reactor technology options are in development, it’s hard to beat a design series like the CANDUs that are familiar to regulators, with long track records of safety, reliability, and affordability. Then there’s the proliferation-resistance advantage of these designs, which is not diminishing and is probably growing as an asset in the 21st century. Canadian reactors offer the developing world an ideal combination of affordable, minimal-carbon electricity plus proliferation safety. And that Canadian nuclear brand is further strengthened by Canada’s reputation in safety, medicine and public health internationally.

Which brings up another asset on the list: Canada’s perennial and recognized openness to worldwide investment, technology and talent, and the tens of thousands of highly educated newcomers here who have links to foreign markets and practices. While this is a strength across the board in Canada’s economy, it’s especially powerful in a sector like nuclear that depends on global best practices and global market reach.

These thoughts are a very early step in a policy exercise that we’ll look forward to blogging about over the next few months.

CNA2012

2012 CNA Conference and Trade Show – Photos!

Anyone who was in attendance will agree: the 2012 Canadian Nuclear Association and Trade Show was top notch! The variety of speakers covered everything from the global industry’s response to the events at Fukushima to nuclear medicine to science and technology etc.,. We’re still busy recovering and wrapping up  – which includes going through hundreds of photos of presenters, participants, exhibitors and all the fun, learning and networking that was had.

Take a look at some of the highlights over on our Google+ page. Feel free to tag, share and download full-sized versions of the photos too.

Click to visit our #cnagm2012 G+ Photo Album

CNA2012 Nuclear Energy Nuclear News Nuclear Outreach Nuclear Pride

Canada’s Nuclear Industry Aligned for Growth in 2012

February 24, 2012 – Ottawa, Ontario

Canada’s nuclear industry is poised for future growth and prosperity, according to discussions at the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) Annual Conference and Trade Show in Ottawa.

Canada’s nuclear industry is as strong as ever,” said Denise Carpenter, President and Chief Executive Officer, CNA. “Over the past few days, we have had great discussions on how our industry is leveraging lessons learned from Fukushima and how innovations in research and technology can improve and grow nuclear in Canada and abroad.”

More than 650 delegates from the nuclear community attended the conference, themed ‘Leadership Through Innovation.’

Tom Mitchell, President and Chief Executive Officer, Ontario Power Generation (OPG), provided an overview of the progress made by the World Association of Nuclear Operators Fukushima Response Commission and discussed groundbreaking methods of communicating risk and nuclear safety. (Download the PDF of Tom’s speech here)

“We are not ignoring the lessons we learned from Fukushima,” said Mitchell. “Safety, despite our industry’s excellent track record, can never be taken for granted.”

OPG has almost a dozen Fukushima-related projects underway or planned for implementation between now and the end of 2016.

Underscoring the industry’s growth, the Honourable Rob Norris, Saskatchewan’s Minister Responsible for Innovation, announced a multi-year agreement to provide funding for the new $30 million Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation.

Other conference highlights included a keynote speech by Patrick Lamarre on the future opportunities for SNC-Lavalin Nuclear following their recent acquisition of the CANDU Reactor Division of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, and the presentation of the annual Ian McRae Award to Mr. Gerald (Jerry) Grandey, former Chief Executive Officer of Cameco Corporation.

Conference highlights, including links to videos from speaker sessions, can be found on Twitter by following @TalkNUclear and #cnagm2012.

(Update: check out #cnagm2012 photo highlights on our Google+ page)

Messages Nuclear Energy

Size Matters: Small Nuclear Reactors and Alberta’s Oil Sands Development

Earlier today, Denise Carpenter, President and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association, gave a presentation at the Oil Sands Infrastructure Summit in Calgary. The presentation focused on developing and maintaining a sustainable oil sands infrastructure, and on the role nuclear technology can play in achieving that objective.

President & CEO of the CNA – Denise Carpenter

The Canadian Nuclear Association represents all nuclear technologies in Canada.  The tens of thousands of Canadians whose jobs are connected to those technologies work in nuclear power generation, nuclear medicine, pharmaceuticals, food safety, materials science, engineering, science and technology services, and many other areas.

We believe that small modular reactor technology represents a unique and discrete change in the possibilities for applying nuclear energy in the oil sands.

SMR technology creates an opportunity for Alberta to show the world that you have the courage and commitment to live up to your vision.

Small Modular Reactors: How Small Is Small?

The acronym SMRs originally referred to Small and Medium Reactors, where “small” was defined to be less than 300 megawatts of electricity and “medium” reactors to be between 300 and 700 megawatts. The SMRs of interest in the oil sands typically fall into the “very small” range.

Why Small Nuclear for the Oil Sands?

At this point you may wonder why I think nuclear is a good fit for the oil sands. After all, haven’t there been a number of studies that seem to suggest that it’s not?  Well, the problem with these studies is that they were looking at the wrong size reactors.

Large reactors present a challenge for use in the oil sands. These include, among other things:

  • Large, permanent installations with high capital cost;
  • Large support staff with high operation and maintenance costs;
  • Relatively short maintenance and/or refueling cycles;
  • Excessive energy production (thermal & electric);  and,
  • Concerns about whether the steam is of adequate temperature and pressure.

To our knowledge, there have not been any comparable studies of SMRs for the oil sands. However, very preliminary evaluations that have been carried out by some in the nuclear industry suggest that SMRs can overcome these shortcomings and that they provide a vastly better match for Steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD).

The Hydrocarbon Value Chain
Today, most bitumen production is from in-situ processes, and of these, the SAGD process is the fastest growing. The SAGD process uses high-temperature, high-pressure steam for extraction of the bitumen from the oil sands, and for the most part this steam is currently generated using natural gas.

 

–    Quote Source: Oil Sands Technology Roadmap.

 

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Possibly the most critical issue that has stimulated interest in using nuclear power to produce steam for the SAGD process rather than natural gas is the growing concern over greenhouse gas emissions.

At present it takes up to 30 cubic meters of natural gas to produce a barrel of oil.  With projections of three million barrels per day by 2016, a great deal of natural gas will be required.

Quite apart from the question of gas availability, this has major CO2 implications.  Essentially, the equivalent of about 20% of the energy in the oil is required to produce it and about 80 kilograms of CO2 is released for every barrel of oil produced.

This is even before refining begins – and without even talking about a price on carbon.  If any substantial price were put on carbon, we could be talking about a very great deal of money indeed in this context.

Nuclear power generation is an important part of a clean energy solution for Canada as it produces virtually no greenhouse gas emissions.  The emissions are actually zero from the heat generation process itself, but we say “virtually no emissions” because building and servicing any plant still requires using trucks, equipment and so on that do emit some greenhouse gases.

How clean is nuclear compared to the alternatives?  Well, it has been calculated that the use of nuclear power generation instead of coal avoids about 90 million tonnes per year of GHG emissions.  And nuclear is a strategy for making that kind of change in the oil sands.

Click here for the the full speech (PDF).

Nuclear Pride Nuclear R&D Waste Management

CNA Visits AECL’s Chalk River Laboratories

Last month, the CNA was invited to tour the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL)’s Chalk River Laboratories (CRL). If you thought Chalk River was all about the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor, you are mistaken. There is so much going on at Chalk River, it’s really quite incredible.

We began our tour by signing in with security at the CRL outer gate. “Safety first” in the nuclear industry extends to security, which at CRL is impressive to say the least. After checking in and receiving our visitor badges, we were off with our tour facilitators, Pat and Philip from AECL Site and Community Affairs.

First stop on the tour was the Waste Analysis Facility (WAF). Completed in 2008, the WAF is where waste that is believed to be clean (known as “Likely Clean”) is checked before being sent for recycling or disposal. It’s the final safety test before clean waste leaves the AECL site. If contamination is found (less than half of a percent of total material) the item is sent for decontamination or storage on-site. Materials verified as clean are taken off-site by trucks, which also pass through sensitive vehicle monitors to make sure no contamination leaves the site. EVER.  This is also a big advantage as it has allowed AECL to implement new programs to recycle more material, and, in many cases reduces the cost of storage. AECL does waste storage for materials generated on-site but it also serves to safely store and secure radioactive waste from hospital, schools and lab facilities from across the country.

Here we are in front of the Brockhouse Building at AECL’s Chalk River Labs

Next we arrived at the Brockhouse Building for a presentation by Bill Kupferschmidt, the Vice-President of Research and Development, at AECL’s Nuclear Labs. But first, a safety brief: alarms will sound if there is an emergency, you go to the predetermined meeting spot, and there is an easy number to call to report an emergency, any questions? No? Then we’ll begin.

The presentation took us through the history of CRL. It’s the birthplace of Canada’s nuclear technology and has a 60-year nuclear legacy. Today CRL is the “knowledge base” of the Canadian industry. It’s a major producer of medical isotopes and a leader in nuclear environmental stewardship. The nuclear labs are applying science and technology for the benefit of Canadians and the world by way of specialized expertise, facilities and the unique ability to work with radioactive materials. It is truly impressive stuff! The Chalk River Laboratories are home to many facilities that can be found nowhere else in Canada.  These facilities, along with the people that work within them, play a big role in the scientific and industrial communities in Canada.

Our next stop on the tour was the Surface Sciences Lab. This is where expertise in a variety of disciplines – metallurgy, chemistry, physics, microscopy – all comes into play to solve any number of industrial materials challenges, and help make the industry safer and more efficient

AECL’s key areas of expertise include: material identification, characterization and qualification; mechanical failure analysis; corrosion analysis; non-destructive testing and analysis; sample preparation for metallographic and surface analysis; metallographic examination; characterization of radioactive specimens; and process qualifications including decontamination and cleaning.

Surface Sciences Lab

Complementary to the surface analysis capabilities are the remote-handling facilities for examining and testing irradiated materials and equipment. The Shielded Facilities include a reactor bay for receiving and initial processing of materials, shielded flasks for transferring highly radioactive materials, and hot cells!

The hot cells contain state-of-the-art equipment used to conduct post-irradiation examination (PIE) experiments and testing of radioactive materials. Mechanical arms behind shielded walls and windows allow the work to be done safely. The hot cells were this blogger’s favourite part of the tour.

Shielded Facilities

But then, we hadn’t yet arrived at the NRU. National Research Universal (NRU); a landmark achievement in Canadian science and technology. Completed in 1957, the NRU provides a unique facility for scientists across Canada through the National Research Council (NRC) and many others. Professor Bertram Brockhouse won a Nobel Prize in physics for his work at NRX (National Research Experimental, NRU’s predecessor) and NRU on neutron scattering. The technique he pioneered enables scientists today at the NRC Canadian Neutron Beam Centre at NRU to investigate materials with neutrons. In fact, each year over 200 professors, students and industrial researchers use this unique and powerful national resource. We are just “beaming” with pride!

NRU is also where the fundamental knowledge required to produce and evolve Canada’s CANDU fleet emerged AND where much of the world’s life-saving medical isotopes are produced.

Waste analysis, a history of CRL, surface sciences, hot cells, NRU — and all before lunch! In the second half of the tour we visit Zed-2, tritium and hydrogen research technologies, inspection technologies, and end with the Biological Research Facility. Read part two of CNA Visits AECL 2011 tomorrow on the TalkNuclear blog.