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Nuclear Power as a Foundation for a Sustainable Energy Future

Recently we were asked by the Canada West Foundation (CWF) to provide a guest blog post about nuclear for their Let’s Talk Energy blog — an initiative under the CWF’s Powering Up for the Future project. The post is basically a nuclear primer for an audience which may not be familiar with all of the benefits and contributions of the technology.

Let us know what you think!

Nuclear Power as a Foundation for a Sustainable Energy Future

Originally posted at Let’s Talk Energy

Given recent events in Japan, the first thing that anyone wants to know about Canadian nuclear is: Is it safe? The answer is yes, and I’ll tell you why.

Safety is our number one priority. Canada’s nuclear power operations have a proven track record of being among the safest in the world. They are highly monitored, stringently regulated and continuously improved through the daily efforts of qualified professionals who are committed to ensuring public safety. In over 45 years of operation there has not been a single significant incident at a Canadian facility.

Our industry continues to make investments and improvements as part of our ‘Safety First’ culture. In response to the Fukushima accident, Bruce Power has taken concrete action on a number of fronts following the events in Japan. For example, they recently announced the re-organization of their emergency response organization, which involves approximately 400 employees who form the basis of their industry-leading emergency response capability. Building on lessons learned from the Fukushima event is a top priority for our industry.

At Ontario Power Generation (OPG), a four-month examination of its nuclear operations following the events in Japan uncovered no major safety issues. OPG carefully studied the safety of its facilities and re-evaluated the potential of unlikely events such earthquakes, severe flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, fire and ice storms having major impacts on nuclear operations. The studies showed that the plants continued to be safe, but as part of continuous improvement OPG will make investments to increase safety margins during these unlikely events. This includes accelerating the installation of hydrogen recombiners and the purchase of additional back up generation and diesel pumps.

Currently there are 17 operational CANDU reactors in Canada that supply 15% of all electricity in Canada. This 15% means the potential emission of 90 million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year is avoided. Imagine, without nuclear power, if that same amount of electricity was fossil-fuel generated, Canada’s total GHG emission would increase by a whopping 12%.

Canada’s nuclear facilities are located in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. Communities in these provinces are benefiting not only from an available, reliable and clean source of energy, but an affordable one as well. According to studies conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a multi-country organization working to further growth and development of its member nations, the overall cost to the consumer of nuclear power over the life of a nuclear power facility is similar to that of large-scale hydro, natural gas and coal, and much lower than wind and solar.

What about the rest of the country, you might be wondering. What are the benefits of nuclear for the rest of the country not currently powered by nuclear? Power generation is only one of the many great things about nuclear, and it isn’t only Canadians who benefit from the Canadian nuclear industry, both today and historically, what with the countless Canadian innovations in the field.

The Canadian nuclear industry provides a broad spectrum of products and services that benefit Canadians and people around the world. The application of nuclear science improves the health and well-being of us all through nuclear medicine and food safety technologies. Innovation in nuclear science is also being applied to address a number of societal challenges such as public health and transportation.

Our nuclear industry is made up of over 70,000 Canadians employed directly or indirectly in exploring and mining uranium, generating electricity, advancing nuclear medicine, and promoting Canada’s worldwide leadership in science and technology innovation. Through the efforts of these Canadians, our nuclear industry is a $6.6 billion per year industry, contributing $1.5 billion in tax revenues and $1.2 billion in export revenues.

Our commitment to public safety and environmental stewardship includes the safe, secure and responsible long-term management of all of the used fuel produced by Canadian nuclear power plants.  Used fuel is initially stored in secure water-filled bays on site of the nuclear power plants for 5 –10 years. It is then placed in large concrete and steel containers safely stored on site. In order to address the long-term care of Canada’s used nuclear fuel, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) was established by nuclear energy producers in 2002 in accordance with the federal Nuclear Fuel Waste Act.

NWMO has worked with industry, research and government organizations to develop a management approach for the long-term care of Canada’s used nuclear fuel, including development of a deep geological repository in a suitable rock formation. Initial stages of the plan are now being implemented. NWMO’s plan and its implementation is highly monitored and regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to protect the health, safety and security of people and our environment. In fact, radioactive waste facilities are monitored by the licensees and by the provincial and federal authorities, and they are kept extremely secure.

Let’s see, we’ve covered: safety, zero-emission power generation, affordability, contributions to medicine, heath, science and technology innovation, various industries, and the Canadian economy, and talked about how we clean up after ourselves. These reasons all illustrate why nuclear energy should be considered not only in the discussions about a Canadian energy strategy, but also as a component for a sustainable energy future.

I’d love to continue this discussion with you. We have a blog at TalkNuclear.ca and we talk nuclear on Facebook and Twitter. Come join the conversation about all things nuclear and energy related.

If you want to know more about the daily benefits of nuclear beyond energy generation, visit our new microsite. Find out how the future is NU.

Originally posted at Let’s Talk Energy

 

Waste Management

Welcoming Nuclear Waste With Open Arms (and Hearts & Minds)

Last week, Spiegle Online International published a four-part article about a Swedish town where 77% of residents are in favour of hosting a permanent nuclear waste repository. In Part 1 of the article we meet Stefan Edelsvärd, a former history and politics teacher. Edelsvärd says even despite the similarities drawn between the troubled reactors at Fukushima and those at the Formark nuclear power plant, which his vacation home on the beach faces,  he has a great deal of confidence the three reactors.

Forsmark nuclear power plant (Photo credit: Maurice Weiss and Spiegle Online))

Edelsvärd isn’t alone. The town of Östhammar is home to 22,000 people where one in five jobs is tied to the three reactors at the Forsmark – the youngest of which has already been operating for 25 years. The town has a long and positive relationship with nuclear, so much so that in 2009 they were competing with a neighboring town to be chosen for the site of the permanent repository.

Part 2 of the article looks through a wider lens at the issue of waste storage in near-by Germany. A planned site in Gorleben went awry due to a lack of transparency and ultimately by officials attempting to buy citizens trust instead of earning it through consultation and dialogue. By contrast, in Östhammar the pros and cons were discussed openly. One mother at the public consultation acknowledged “the stuff has to go somewhere,” while another said “the repository creates jobs, and safety is the top priority.”

Part 3, titled “Nuclear Waste Controllable and Not Utterly Objectionable,” talks about the consultative process between  Östhammar and SKB, the company which has pursued a repository site since the 1980s. After drafting a short-list of suitable hosting sites, SKB focused on Östhammar as the most ideal due to its earthquake-proof, mostly dry and completely solid bedrock. The consultation process began and continues as the project moves forward, always discussing  issues with citizens to reach consensus.

Part 4 addresses suspicions that, frankly, the town of Östhammar must be on the take. This is something Mayor Jacob Spangenberg takes in stride. It’s his job to hold SKB and others accountable to the residents of Östhammar and maintain the established trust. Spangenberg says attitudes towards nuclear hasn’t changed since the situation in Fukushima began because residents have confidence that everything in Östhammar is under control. He feels the community trusts SKB because they have taken the time to explain the science behind the permanent repository plan.

A great benefit of the permanent repository is that the construction work will create 500-600 jobs for about 10 years and, after the site has been filled in, there will another 250 jobs for the next 40 years; in addition there will be numerous spin-off jobs in restaurants, hotels and a training facility for technicians.

What does Östhammar and Canada have in common?
The story of Östhammar provides a good example to any organization or industry that relies on public buy-in (which should be every organization and industry). In Canada, there are public consultations, environmental assessment and licence hearings for every nuclear project. Since the beginning of nuclear power generation in Canada, the industry’s public safety and environmental stewardship commitment has included the safe, secure and responsible long-term management of used fuel.

Currently Canada’s used nuclear fuel is stored initially in secure water-filled bays for 5-10 years, then placed in large concrete and steel dry storage containers, silos or vaults, located at the power plants where it is produced. Radioactive waste facilities are monitored by the operator, federal authorities and by the International Atomic Energy Agency.  Read more about the management of used nuclear fuel and waste in Canada here (PDF).

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) was established in 2002 under the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act (NFWA) to investigate collaboratively with Canadians approaches for managing used nuclear fuel over the long term.  In 2007 the federal government approved Adaptive Phased Management, a plan which involves the development of a deep geological repository in an informed and willing host community.

This section of NWMO’s website provides an overview of the principles guiding the multi-step process through which potential host sites will be evaluated through a series of progressively more detailed scientific and technical assessments.  Several communities have expressed interest in learning more about the project and have begun to consider their interest in hosting the facility. We’ll be following the process along with you, so let us know what you think.