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
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.
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.