Tag Archives: Ontario

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Climate Action, Clean Energy and the Case for Nuclear

By John Barrett
President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association

Originally published by Policy Magazine.

With more and more countries struggling to meet the emissions goals set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement, it makes sense to consider all the low-carbon options at our disposal. Canadian Nuclear Association CEO John Barrett makes the case, ahead of the G7 in Charlevoix, for an approach that includes a renewed focus on nuclear energy. 

As world leaders gather in Charlevoix, Quebec, this June for the 2018 G7 Summit, the agenda will focus on concrete solutions to global challenges that extend far beyond the borders of these seven countries. Climate change and clean energy will be front and centre. What does Canada have to offer in leadership and real solutions?

Canada and France are leading the way in clean energy generation in the G7 and this is due in part to major investments in low-carbon, affordable nuclear power. In fact, according to a recent report by Natural Resources Canada, Canada’s electrical system is 80 per cent free of greenhouse gas emissions, second only to France out of all G7 nations. Furthermore, thanks to investments in clean energy, Canada’s overall GHG emissions profile went down by a few percentage points in recent years even as the economy grew. 

This is important because time to meet international climate change targets is running out. 

The International Energy Agency’s first Global Energy and CO2 Status Report found global carbon emissions hit a record high in 2017, after three years of being flat. In Canada, a joint audit, conducted by federal Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand and auditors general in nine provinces, found Canada was not on track to meet its 2020 or 2030 greenhouse gas emission targets. 

Investments in clean and affordable energy aren’t just about reducing emissions, they are the foundation to ensuring access to jobs, health-care and education. Clean and cheap energy is necessary to lift communities out of poverty while ensuring environmental protection. Without proper electricity, countries suffer. As the World Bank reported, “one-quarter of the world population have no access to electricity. In the absence of vigorous new policies, 1.4 billion people will still lack electricity in 2030.” 

And, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), seven million people die every year from air pollution. The challenge is to produce policies and investments to transition to a lower-carbon economy. And to help other countries, where appropriate, to acquire the technology and materials for generating electricity from low-carbon sources. 

Some propose single solutions based on a preferred technology. Single answers to complex problems invite false hope for technologies that are today neither available nor proven effective when quantity, reliability and affordability are considered. This adds a considerable risk for huge costs as well as detrimental environmental impacts. 

For example, Germany’s Energiewende is a cautionary tale on why going green isn’t as easy as it sounds. Germany has shut down nuclear plants while making huge investments in wind and solar energy. However, its emissions have not declined. The new renewable energy has only offset the loss of nuclear—meaning that Germany has given up on meeting its 2020 emissions targets. Coal still represents 40 per cent of Germany’s electricity mix. At the same time, the cost of power over the last decade has escalated, rising by close to 50 per cent. 

This begs the question that, if we are really concerned about the impacts of climate change and if we really do need to ramp up energy production as a method of lifting people out of poverty and driving economic growth, why would we not include a low-carbon option such as nuclear power?

Instead of looking to Germany, look to Canada, especially the province of Ontario. Ontario is the real clean energy leader. 

Nuclear power is the main driver of Ontario’s almost zero-emission energy grid. The province is home to one of the largest investments in clean-energy nuclear on the planet. Nuclear provides the bulk of the electrical generation to the province; close to two-thirds of the energy supplied every day comes from the nuclear generating stations. 

Outside Ontario, New Brunswick has also demonstrated the benefits of nuclear to a clean and affordable electrical grid; displacing tens of millions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. And thanks to the power of uranium from Saskatchewan, a pop-can sized amount of this rock is all the amount a person would need to power their lifetime; using a small amount of the Earth to create massive amounts of power.

The next generation in nuclear energy technology is already here. Natural Resources Canada is leading a mapping process under the Energy Innovation Program to explore the potential for on- and off-grid applications for small modular reactor (SMR) technology in Canada. Driven by interested provincial and territorial governments and energy utilities, the exercise will assess the characteristics of different SMR technologies and how they align with user requirements and Canadian priorities. The roadmap will be an important step for Canada to advance innovative, next-generation nuclear technologies and become a global leader in the emerging SMR market.

Meanwhile, the CANDU-reactor refurbishment program, supported by Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan, is underway and moving through the first phase at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station on time and on budget. This program will replace major components and refurbish 10 reactors in total over the next 12 years at Darlington NGS and at Bruce Power’s site in Kincardine.  

This $26 billion program is the single largest clean-energy investment by any jurisdiction in the western hemisphere and possibly beyond. Moreover, it has unleashed creative juices, as both Ontario Power Generation and Bruce Power are encouraging innovation and advanced technology use at every step. Already there are important advances in robotics and control systems that will have application in other, non-power sectors of the Canadian economy.

Canada’s nuclear contributions to the G7 aren’t limited to energy. Nuclear science and technology has many proven benefits, meeting nine of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Nuclear reactors provide opportunities for water desalination to communities that experience water shortages. Desalinating water requires a tremendous amount of energy and nuclear can do it while releasing hardly any greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

Research and innovation in health care has helped to make Canada a world leader in the production of Cobalt-60, which is used in many areas of our health industry. Cobalt-60 is used in sterilization, diagnostics and treatments. This includes isotopes to help detect and treat diseases, new research into gamma therapy, and blasting tumor cells from the inside out and protecting healthy, surrounding tissues.

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.

The next generation of nuclear technology will build on Canada’s track record of excellence, looking to recycle current spent fuel, developing reactors that can provide power and heat to communities and even hold the promise of carbon-free gasoline. 

Climate change and clean energy are two of the most pressing issues of our time. Canada has a real opportunity to continue to take centre stage on these issues. The facts still matter. If we are to achieve our climate targets, sustainably manage resources for future generations and provide the world with access to clean and cheap energy, then we need nuclear to be part of the mix. Recognizing this is an important step to bringing real solutions today, without waiting for technologies that are not here now. 

With time running out to meet greenhouse gas emission targets and to prevent climate change from increasing temperatures by two degrees Celsius—now is not the time to expect a silver bullet to appear or to rely on one technology over another. 

A more effective and realistic approach is to foster collaboration that makes the best use of all available solutions to create a low-carbon future, allowing the world to meet emission targets while avoiding the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change. 

Thanks to nuclear’s role in our electricity mix, Canada and Ontario can show how it can be done.

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Attention environmentalists: Ontario, not Germany, is a clean energy leader

In 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a radical plan to close all the country’s 17 nuclear plants by 2022.  At the same time, the country plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 and up to 95 percent in 2050, compared to 1990 levels.  Many environmentalists and anti-nuclear types viewed this Energiewende (“energy transition”) as good news.

But Germany’s green Energiewende is producing one big not-so-green result. The regressive impact of Germany’s decision to abandon nuclear power has done little to phase out coal-fired electricity.

Despite its ambitious plans, Germany remains the coal capital of Europe.

The German broadcaster Deutsche Welle recently reported the mining company RWE is planning the expansion of some of Europe’s biggest coal mines – Garzweiler and Hambach.

Yet these developments have not stopped advocates enthusiastic about wind and solar at energy conferences in Canada from using Germany as an example of a clean energy leader. This adulation is particularly puzzling, when these people just need to look in their own backyard to find a better example of a low-carbon leader.

In 2016, Ontario’s electricity generation was 90 per cent carbon free, with nuclear accounting for 61 per cent of power generation and coal zero. In contrast, 2016 estimates for Germany show their grid was 42 per cent carbon free (a mix of 13 per cent nuclear and 29 per cent from renewables), and coal still making up 40 per cent of electricity generation.

Unlike Ontario, which used a combination of nuclear, gas and renewables to phase out coal, Germany has increased renewables, cut nuclear with very little impact on coal.

Not only do these numbers raise doubts about Germany being able to keep its emission reductions commitments, they come at a cost.

An analysis of 257 of 280 coal-fired power plants in the EU found that their 2013 emissions caused over 22,900 deaths. In Germany, 3,630 people died from coal-related illnesses in 2013, the report by the Health and Environment Alliance, Climate Action Network Europe, WWF European Policy Office and Sandbag reported.

Germany’s electricity mix is still comprised of 23 per cent lignite coal, which is often referred to as “brown” coal, which causes the highest CO2 emissions per ton when burned.

Meanwhile in Ontario, nuclear energy played an important role in Ontario’s phase-out of coal in 2014 and ending smog days across the province.

Between 2000 and 2013, nuclear-powered electrical generation rose 20 percent in Ontario, coinciding with a 27 percent drop in coal-fired electricity. During the same period, non-hydro renewables increased to 3.4 percent from one percent.  Bruce Power doubled its fleet of operating reactors from four to eight, becoming the world’s largest nuclear generating station.

While more renewable energy did come on line, Bruce Power estimates they provided 70% of the carbon free energy needed to replace the power from the shutdown of coal plants.

All in all, this major transition to a cleaner Ontario could not have happened without nuclear.

The long-term results of Germany’s Energiewende experiment are not known. Based on current data it should stand as a cautionary tale for governments thinking about replacing low-carbon nuclear energy with carbon-creating fossil fuels.  It should stand as an example of a global clean energy leader.

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ONTARIO’S NUCLEAR ADVANTAGE: LOW-COST ELECTRICITY, JOBS & GROWTH; HEALTH & CLEAN AIR

Ontario has a nuclear advantage. Yet many in the province don’t realize it or how much it benefits them and their everyday lives.
When we flick on the lights, turn on the computer, or charge electric vehicles, we give no thought to how our electricity is produced. We should take comfort in knowing that nuclear power is the backbone of Ontario’s electricity system.

Nuclear power provides families and businesses with a low-cost, safe, reliable source of electricity, and it makes our Energy Star appliances even cleaner when they run on low GHG-emitting Nuclear. For those who like solid facts: Ontario’s nuclear plants supply over 13,000 MW of clean power – or, about 60% of Ontarians’ needs every day of the week, every week of the year. What’s more, as Ontario’s electricity demand increases, with people turning to electric vehicles and the province growing in population and economic activity, nuclear power can expand to ensure our electricity stays clean.

When we think of the challenges of climate change, and the need for carbon-pricing, we do not automatically realize that nuclear power is virtually GHG-emissions-free. The clean electricity from nuclear generation is not impacted by cap-and-trade costs.

When we urge our governments to do something about the effects of climate change, we don’t always grasp that Ontario’s ability to end coal-fired generation was largely made possible by the return to service of two Bruce Power reactors, and the return to commercial operation of units 1 and 4 at Pickering.
The clean, smog-free air in parts of southern Ontario is a blessing to those with asthma or breathing problems. Today, Ontario has over 90% of its electricity powered by clean energy sources. Nuclear shoulders 2/3rds of that.

When we think of concerns about hydro bills, we often tend to lump all generation sources together. We assume they’re all equally to blame for producing expensive electricity. But that’s not the fact. Nuclear generation in Ontario is currently paid 6.6 cents/kWh compared to the average residential price of 11 cents/kWh, according to the Ontario Energy Board. And the power that’s bought by Ontarian consumers is reliable, not intermittent, and not dependent on the fluctuations of weather. Thankfully.

When we think of friends and family who have undergone treatment for cancer and when we assume that the medical equipment used around them is safely sterilized, we don’t say thank goodness for nuclear reactors. But we should. The reactors at Bruce Power and OPG’s Pickering plant produce 70% of the world’s Cobalt-60, used to attack cancer cells. Cobalt-60 is also used to sterilize gowns, gloves, implantable devices and syringes in hospitals in Ontario and around the world. What other energy sources treat cancer and save lives? Nuclear does.

When we think of high-tech, good-paying jobs for our families and children, we seldom look first to Ontario’s nuclear industry. But do Ontarians realize how many jobs are supported by the nuclear industry and how much communities benefit from having companies in the nuclear supply chain? The nuclear industry in Canada contributes over $6 billion annually to the economy and supports 60,000 direct and indirect jobs. Many of these are in Ontario, and they stay in Ontario because of the expertise and high-quality manufacturing and engineering skills required by the industry.

When it comes to innovation in advanced energy technologies, you only have to cite the potential of small modular reactors (SMRs) or the next generation of inherently safe reactors that recycle fuel to feel the excitement among the younger generation of scientists, engineers, environmentalists. They see increasingly what new innovations in nuclear can do to bring reliable, safe, emissions-free energy – in the quantities needed – to an energy-hungry world desperately wanting more. They will be the generation to deliver this extraordinary benefit to humanity.
Take all of these and add them up. What you get is Ontario’s incredible nuclear advantage. Time to recognize this and capitalize on it. Nuclear provides solutions to the pressing needs of today and tomorrow. Time to think afresh about nuclear and its contribution to growth, to the environment, to an innovative, clean energy future.

An opportunity for such thinking is the Ontario Government’s forthcoming Long-Term Energy Plan. This is where Ontario’s nuclear advantage is established, underpinned and presented imaginatively for the future.

For our part, the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) is proud to launch a new website that promotes fact-based awareness and understanding of Canada’s nuclear success story: www.ontariosnuclearadvantage.com Ontario’s world-class nuclear sector is something of which Ontarians and all Canadians should be proud.

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Op-Ed: Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan: Why Pickering Matters

By John Barrett
President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association

Originally published in QP Briefing on February 7, 2017.

Ontarians and their government are completing a review of the province’s Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP) to guide energy decision-making over the next three years to 2019. As anticipated in the previous LTEP (2013-16), the government of Ontario announced in December 2015 plans for the refurbishment of 10 power reactors at the Darlington and Bruce Nuclear Generating Stations over the coming 15 years. This was followed by the announcement that operations would continue at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station to 2024 to meet Ontario’s clean-power needs during the early refurbishments.

There is a fundamental logic in the decision to extend Pickering to 2024. It is the linchpin of the refurbishment process, which in turn underpins the LTEP. It optimizes an existing asset, reduces electricity system costs for Ontario ratepayers, avoids a substantial increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and supports thousands of highly skilled, full-time jobs. Moreover, its 3,100 megawatts of power help to keep emissions down and pollutants out of the air during the important early stages of the Darlington and Bruce reactor refurbishments. This in turn preserves the integrity of the refurbishment project, which will give us another 25 to 30 years of positive clean energy, environmental and economic impact. In short, the Pickering extension is part and parcel of Ontario’s long-term energy future.

So Pickering matters for the long term. But it also matters for today’s Ontarians over the next few years.

One in seven homes and businesses in Ontario is powered by the Pickering nuclear station, just east of Toronto.According to a 2016 report from the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), nuclear power costs approximately seven cents per kilowatt hour, making it one of the most cost-effective, clean electricity sources.

In fact, during the most recent speech from the throne, the government of Ontario acknowledged the financial importance of Pickering, citing a cost-savings to ratepayers of $600 million simply by keeping the reactor running through 2024.

Next, environmental benefits. Nuclear power generation is zero-emitting when it comes to greenhouse gases. Continued operations at Pickering will therefore mean cleaner air and a healthier environment for the people of Ontario. How so? The numbers are substantial. Over the next eight years, power from Pickering will avoid approximately 17 million tonnes of climate-altering GHG emissions. This is the equivalent of taking 3.4 million cars off Ontario’s roads, making Ontario’s nuclear fleet the largest contributor to the province’s 2020 emissions-reduction target. If you take the emissions avoided thanks to the work of Pickering, and couple this with the benefits of the Darlington and Bruce refurbishments, the result would be like eliminating the GHG emissions generated by almost every building in Ontario.

Recently, critics of nuclear have advocated for the early closure of the Pickering nuclear station. Their argument — that the power from Pickering could be easily replaced through imports of hydro from Quebec — misrepresents the claimed ease with which Quebec imports can substitute for Ontario’s own clean electricity system and infrastructure. It would replace a reliable non-emitting source of energy with a blind faith — that Hydro Quebec will invest billions in transmission and generation to make it happen.

In fact, the 2013 LTEP concluded that, by shutting down Pickering in 2020 rather than 2024, electricity-sector emissions would rise by a staggering 60 per cent. Ontario would have to replace a large amount of carbon-free nuclear power with natural gas, resulting in GHG emissions and a dramatic move away from the government’s climate commitments. Then there are questions over Quebec’s ability to supply the 3,100 megawatts, which would come at a commodity price higher than that of Pickering today. Quebec would need new hydro-generating capacity if it’s to replace Pickering, with many regulatory and environmental approval hurdles to surmount. And new transmission infrastructure would have to be built by both Ontario and Quebec, with Ontario’s share being at least $2 billion and requiring seven to eight years to build. Importing Quebec hydro is therefore not a viable option as a substitute for Pickering.

By contrast, the continued operation of Pickering through 2024 gives Ontario a stable, reliable, affordable and non-emitting foundation for future de-carbonization of the province’s energy system. At the same time, Pickering is a vital asset to Durham Region’s economy, providing 4,500 full-time jobs to the community and over a billion dollars in local economic benefits. These highly skilled workers come directly out of Ontario’s own population and institutions such as Durham College and UOIT; they belong to the Power Workers Union, Steelworkers, IBEW and Building Trades; they’re your neighbours.

As Ontario looks to balance the immediate and longer-term needs of the economy with protecting the environment and the electricity consumer, while adapting to emerging trends and technologies — the “triple E” (clean energy, clean environment, economic benefit) contribution of Ontario’s nuclear power generation will become all the more important to the well-being of Ontarians.

The decision by the Ontario government to keep Pickering operational through 2024 was the right one. At a time when Ontario needs affordable, reliable energy to keep the lights on — when businesses and homeowners are depending on the province to provide clean energy and keep the air free of pollutants — we need to be open about the benefits of nuclear power. Nearly 60 per cent of Ontario’s daily electricity comes from clean nuclear. That is the reality. That is why Pickering matters.

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Ontario Got Rid of Coal, But Who’s to Thank?

There’s a lot of talk about what actually contributed to the successful elimination of coal-fired electricity in Ontario. Was it oil and gas? Wind and solar? Restructuring and conservation? Additional nuclear? Advocates for each group would have you believe that their guys did the heavy lifting, but in reality, everyone played an important part.

One of the most accurate (though not necessarily simplest) ways to look at the data is to consider coal’s lost output from the time Ontario started actively phasing it out in 2006 until it was completely eliminated in 2014, and what energy sources (or conservation efforts) replaced it.

Coal plants produced 34.5 TWh in 2005, and a total of 159.4 TWh between 2006 and 2014. That means that approximately 151.1 TWh had to be made up over the course of 9 years.

(34.5 x 9) – 159.4 = 151.1

The chart below shows what energy sources increased as a function of lost coal output – as well as lost output from other sources (since it’s impossible to separate them at this level).

For example, coal production decreased from 34.5 TWh in 2005 to 28.7 in 2006. That’s a 5.7 TWh decrease in coal, which was met with increases of 5.5 TWh of nuclear, 2.5 of diesel, 0.4 of hydro and 0.1 of wind. It was also met with a 1.9 TWh decrease in natural gas and a 0.9 decline in demand.

5.5 + 2.5 + 0.4 + 0.1 – 1.9 – 0.9 = 5.7

coal-graph1

As you can see, diesel played a small part early on, but was quickly eliminated. In 2009, the global financial crisis caused a decline in energy consumption, however usage increased as the economy recovered. Natural gas made up for the largest share of lost coal between 2010 and 2012, but nuclear was clearly the main reason that Ontario was able to meet its goal in the end.

Nuclear’s strong support in the final years of coal was due mainly to the fact that Bruce Power Units 1 and 2 came back online in 2012, providing about 11 additional TWh annually to the grid.

If you look at the results in terms of total output replaced from 2006 to 2014, nuclear made up 69.6 TWh, which represents about 44% of the whole. Natural gas made up 27%, wind made up 13%, lost demand (or conservation, depending on how you look at it) made up 7%, hydro made up 6%, diesel made up 2% and solar made up less than 1%.

coal-graph2

Getting rid of coal has had enormous health and environmental benefits for Ontario. It also serves as an example to other provinces and countries of what can be realized given sufficient public support, methodical planning, and a truly diversified supply mix.

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Rolling Out Refurbishment with Reliability and Skills Development in Mind

In just a few short months, Ontario will begin refurbishing 10 nuclear reactors at the Darlington and Bruce Nuclear Generating Stations. Refurbishment means replacing key reactor parts, such as pressure tubes, so the reactors can keep operating safely and at peak performance.

Refurbishment has been planned far in advance. It will extend by decades the lives of reactors that have already provided affordable and reliable electricity to Ontarians for 25 years. And because nuclear plant operations do not emit greenhouse gases, they are also addressing Ontarians’ growing concerns about climate change.

Keeping on schedule

Just as with renovating your home or servicing your car, scheduling the refurbishments is key to minimizing inconvenience. After all, nuclear reactors provided 62% of Ontario’s electricity in 2014, and refurbishing each reactor takes two to three years. Having too many of them offline at the same time would lead to brownouts in the power grid, or force Ontario to buy more expensive – and potentially less clean – electricity from other sources.

Ontario’s 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan, which set the refurbishment program in motion, recognized these challenges. The decision to refurbish reflects three of the five core principles of the Plan: cost-effectiveness, reliability, and clean energy.

To ensure reliability, the Plan set out a sequence for refurbishment at both the Darlington and Bruce facilities:

CNA-100 Nuclear Timeline-D4 (2)

This sequence ensures that no more than three reactors are offline at the same time. It allows spacing of the refurbishments so that the teams of engineers and other skilled professionals can learn from each refurbishment. That will help them to improve their methods and generate cost savings. During the early part of the project, up to 2020, Ontario will keep operating its reactors at the Pickering facilities.

Long-term benefits

The spacing of refurbishments over 15 years will ensure that nuclear power remains the major source of Ontario’s baseload power – the foundation of the province’s electrical supply. It will also provide lasting employment to skilled workers who will have opportunities to continue working on the reactors they helped refurbish – contributing to Ontario’s economy and growing the province’s skills base.