The World Continues to Choose Nuclear

September 10, 2013

Are we going to remain part of it, or not?

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

Four high-growth economies—India, China, Russia and South Korea—are all investing in nuclear power today.  They are far from alone.

Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are planning ambitious nuclear power projects.

Many other countries are renewing or expanding their nuclear capacity, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Italy and Argentina.

The numbers are staggering.  India has six units under construction, 18 planned, and 39 proposed.  China has 28 under construction, 53 planned, and 118 proposed.  Russia has ten under construction, 24 planned, and 20 proposed.

Globally, 68 reactors are being built today, according to the World Nuclear Association. A further 162 have been proposed, and firm proposals exist for another 316.

Were we to close all the plants operating today, and then open all the plants proposed, planned and under construction, we would exceed today’s nuclear generating capacity by about 65 percent.

Wherever one stands on the electric power mix of the future, a new generation of nuclear is arriving.

Welcome to the nuclear renaissance.

The timing is appropriate. Throughout the developing world, rapidly growing countries need to produce electrical power in large, reliable amounts from a small land footprint without creating greenhouse gases.

Alternatives abound. Fossil fuels have defied the resource-scarcity theorists by remaining cheap and abundant.  In many places, hydro, geothermal, and biomass are options.  Non-hydro renewables, encouraged by eager policy makers and often subsidized, are beginning to contribute large-scale generation.

And conservation and energy efficiency have, for now, relieved some of the demand for new generating capacity.

Given that the largest-scale alternatives to nuclear are GHG-emitting fossil fuels, a growing number of carbon-concerned environmentalists, many who had been anti-nuclear, now accept nuclear power as the preferred fuel source.

Amid this global renaissance, Canada’s choice should be simple and easy.

We are among the very few countries with a comprehensive nuclear sector ranging from uranium mining through to power generation and onward to power-plant decommissioning.

Our nuclear organizations rank among the best in the world for safety and reliability; we have an internationally respected independent regulator, a Canadian reactor designer and manufacturer, a rich network of expertise, and a strong supply chain.

Three of the highest-growth, most opportunity-rich developing economies have already bought our unique, home-grown nuclear reactor technology:  South Korea, China and India.

Apart from selling reactor designs and associated services, there are abundant opportunities for Canadian expertise.  Seizing these opportunities is not just about demonstrating and enhancing Canada’s status as a top-tier nuclear nation.  Rather, it’s about our status as an advanced, high-knowledge economic player in the 21st century.

Eventually, more nuclear generating units will be built here in Canada. The 19 safe, reliable power reactors that keep our lights on today will all need eventually to be replaced.

Nuclear will continue to make sense as part of our electricity supply mix because hydro will remain quite physically distant, non-hydro renewables quite intermittent, and fossil fuels (including natural gas) quite dirty.

If those new Canadian units are not designed by Canadian engineers, then they will be designed by Americans, Japanese, French, Koreans, Chinese or Indians – to the detriment of our Canadian nuclear organizations.

The world continues to choose nuclear. In that world, Canada owns an enviable place. We must maintain that place if we want to remain part of the knowledge-based 21st-century economy.

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