Tag Archives: Sustainability

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Terrestrial Energy to Sponsor Sustainable Investment Forum in NYC

TerrestrialForumSocialmediaImageThe first UN general assembly following the COP21 Climate Change Summit in Paris, France last December will be held in New York City this September as part of Climate Week.

Climate week runs September 19th-26th, and one of the marquee events will be the Sustainable Investment Forum, sponsored in part by CNA Member, Terrestrial Energy.

This is a global opportunity for the nuclear community to come together and show the world how we can help contribute to a cleaner environment.

For more information and to join in the conversation in New York City this fall, please visit: http://www.sustainableinvestmentforum.org/#

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Essential Energy: Part 1

By Peter Poruks
Manager of Regulatory Affairs
Canadian Nuclear Association

quest

In 1981, the movie Quest For Fire was released. Set in prehistoric times, it showed a trio of early humans on an epic search for fire. Their tribe had been able to capture fire after a lightning strike, but they lacked the knowledge of how to create fire themselves. After fending off an attack from a rival group and being chased into a swamp by wolves, the tribe’s carefully guarded fire becomes extinguished. So three adventurous scouts are sent out to find a new source of fire and encounter sabre tooth tigers, mastodons, and murderous rivals along the way.

While it may seem odd to us today that anyone would assume such risks, it starts to make sense when you consider that harnessing fire is quite literally a matter of life and death. Fire kept them warm, it illuminated the darkness, cooked their food, making it more nutritious, and kept threatening creatures at bay. Long before there were societies with written or even spoken words, humans would risk everything for energy. The knowledge of energy, and especially our ability to harness it, is a hallmark of the human condition.

Indeed, humanity’s quest for fire has only increased in intensity. We have dammed rivers and flooded thousands of square kilometres of arable land. We have deforested vast expanses of Europe and the Middle East, cutting lumber to feed our insatiable appetite for more and more energy. And today we burn billions of tons of coal, oil, and natural gas, all the while emitting climate-altering greenhouse gases.

So much for escaping the sabre tooth tigers; we’ve got out of the pot and climbed into the frying pan! We have radically altered our natural landscape, and now we appear on an irreversible course to altering our climate and the temperature of our globe.

Yet simply cutting back on energy consumption is not the answer. Yes, conservation and efficiency have an important role to play. But energy has an incredibly positive benefit to our lives and we should not shrink away from it. History has shown an ever increasing quality of life tied directly to an ever increasing energy usage density. The most advanced societies – countries with top tier health care, literacy rates, environmental stewardship, industrial output, and consumer luxuries – are precisely those countries that use energy the most intensively.

I am a firm proponent of the ability of science and technology to harness energy constructively, and apply it to the betterment of our world. We can readily find information and debate on financial inequality, such as the Occupy rallies of 2012, but the disparity of energy among populations is just as stark and, I don’t believe, nearly as well articulated. And just as it was for the heroes in Quest for Fire, access to energy remains a matter of life and death for billions of people. Energy brings potable water, light, heat, hygiene, growing crops and cooking food. It underpins every aspect of every activity we engage in. It would be no small injustice to condemn billions to poverty when we have myriad technologies available to produce the energy required to meet their needs. The question is not one of “if” but rather one of “how” to do so, in a fair and sustainable manner.

CNA Responds

Assessing the Assessments: Recommendations to Improve the EA Process

On Thursday November 24, Denise Carpenter, President and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association, addressed the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development to deliver five recommendations to improve the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

The Canadian Nuclear Association has about 100 members working in uranium mining and exploration, fuel processing and electricity generation, and the production and advancement of nuclear medicine.  As may be expected, many of our projects and activities are subject to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.  In fact our Members have completed many Environmental Assessments in the ~15 year period that the Act has been in effect.

Environmental Assessments have become an integral part of how we conduct our business and we have gained considerable insights from carrying them out.  While we believe that Environmental Assessment is a valuable planning tool that leads to improved decision-making, we also believe that there are areas for improvement, particularly regarding process efficiency and predictability.

Our recommended improvements include:

  • the goal of “one-project, one-assessment, by the best-placed regulator”;
  • Environmental Assessments, or EAs, should be effective;
  • EA requirements should be proportional to the risks;
  • EA decisions should be consistent with permitting and authorization decisions; and
  • EA processes and decision-making should be timely.

Regarding the principle of “One-project, One-assessment, by the Best-Placed Regulator,” it is our view that to be truly effective, a project should be subject to only one EA and that that EA should be conducted by the jurisdiction, or regulator with the most comprehensive knowledge of the project or industry – the best-placed regulator.

For most of our industry that would mean the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.  The only exception would be within the province of Saskatchewan, where Canada’s uranium mining industry resides.  While the CNSC is a knowledgeable regulator, one can never underestimate the value of local knowledge, whether it be local community, Aboriginal, or regulatory knowledge.  In either case, our Members would recommend that the agency with the most appropriate authority over a project assume responsibility for the EA, and decision, and that the one assessment satisfy both federal and provincial requirements.

There is also an opportunity to improve the effectiveness of EAs so that Canadians can have confidence that they are fostering environmentally and socially responsible economic activity.  The intent of the Act is to “promote sustainable development and thereby achieve or maintain a healthy environment and healthy economy.”  However, the focus is often on environmental, rather than economic aspects of projects.  Improvements could be achieved through better integration of environmental, social and economic considerations and by increasing the precedent value of EAs.  These steps would help ensure that EAs are fostering the environmentally responsible economic activity that underlies Canadian prosperity.

The scope of EAs should also be proportionate to the environmental risk.  The Act allows for three types of EAs — Screenings, Comprehensive Studies and Review Panels – so that the more likely a project is to cause “significant adverse environmental effects,” the more substantive the process.  But, because of overly-inclusive Law List Regulations, and under-developed Exclusion List Regulations, routine administrative activities, such as approvals made pursuant to a licence – can trigger an EA.

That is because the EA process is triggered for projects involving the listed legal provision without consideration for the extent, or scope of the activity in question.  Under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, the process is triggered whenever a licence is issued, amended or an approval is issued pursuant to a licence.  Such approvals should not trigger an EA when there are no new risks.  The EA scope should instead focus on risks that were not previously addressed.
Known and manageable risks that were previously addressed through EAs and other regulatory processes should not be re-evaluated.  It undermines the earlier process and leads to unnecessary duplication.  This could be prevented by amending the Exclusion List Regulations to exempt minor approvals for existing facilities from another EA and modifying the Act to exempt activities that improve environmental performance.

Re-evaluation should also be avoided in subsequent authorization and permitting processes.  Currently, the Act has no application to permitting, licensing or any of the other authorizations that are required following the EA; that in fact triggered the EA.  As a result, these authorizations are not always consistent with the EA conclusions.  The absence of coordination is particularly apparent at the federal level where an authorization under the Fisheries Act may not be acceptable under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act licensing process.

Ideally, if an EA concludes that a project is unlikely to result in significant adverse environmental effects and the risks addressed by subsequent authorizations were previously addressed, then authorizations should be certain and timely.  To increase certainty, CNA members recommend that proponents be able to opt for the review of permits and other authorizations as early in the EA process as they chose.  Also, Fisheries Act and other authorizations should be maintained as discrete processes, separate from the EA and not delay the EA decision.

Together these recommendations would improve the certainty and timeliness of EA processes.  The duration of EA processes can be long and unpredictable.  According to the Major Projects Management Office, the typical timeframe for approval of major projects in Canada is four years, not counting the studies carried out by the proponent.  In some cases, even minor projects, subject to screenings, can take years.

The Act should be amended to ensure that EAs are conducted according to mandatory timelines, particularly for key steps.  Service agreements outlining timelines for key steps would help ensure that they are undertaken within a reasonable timeframe.  Agreed timelines should also reflect the project complexity and be developed with input from the proponent.

In conclusion, the important points to remember are:

  • once the best-placed regulator is identified, federal and provincial agencies should accept each other’s processes and decisions as equivalent to their own,
  • EA decisions should focus on socio-economic as well as environmental factors as a means of fostering socially responsible economic activity,
  • previously assessed projects and activities should not be re-evaluated
  • authorizations and permits should be consistent with previous assessments
  • a formalized agreement should be established to improve the timeliness of the EA process.

 

Messages Nuclear Energy

The Global Nuclear Renaissance will be Slowed, not Stopped

The global nuclear renaissance will be slowed, not stopped, by events in Japan.  That was one of the messages in a presentation delivered in Ottawa on June 24 by World Energy Congress Secretary General Christoph Frei.

Nuclear Shift

According to Secretary General Frei, two-thirds of the world’s reactors under construction are in three countries – China, Korea and Russia – that show no sign of changing their building plans in response to Fukushima.  If anything, he said, Fukushima could accelerate a shift of the nuclear industry out of the developed democracies and toward emerging economies.

Frei opined that the expansion of shale gas output is likely a greater challenge to the nuclear renaissance than events in Japan, and that oil shale also has enormous potential in energy supply.

Contextualizing Clean Energy

While there is currently massive investment in clean energy sources, Frei noted, this needs to be put into longer-term context.  Because the existing base for most new energy technologies is so small, even very rapid growth may take many years to transform the world’s capital stock.  As a result, the future impact of green energy is probably being overestimated in the short- and medium-term – but, for the same reasons, will be underestimated in the long term, if high growth rates continue to prevail when the sector is more mature.

Development vs. Sustainability

Finally, he observed, it is legitimate for poorer countries to put development ahead of sustainability.  The world needs to offer them “a development framework with climate mechanisms, not a climate framework with development mechanisms.”

Christoph Frei, an engineer and econometrician, has headed the WEC Secretariat since 2009.  He was previously with the World Economic Forum and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.  CNA was part of a select group of energy policy stakeholders who met with Frei in an event organized by the Energy Council of Canada and hosted by the Canadian Gas Association.