Speech at the Canadian Nuclear Law Organization
Speech by Dr. John Barrett, President and CEO, Canadian Nuclear Association
at the Canadian Nuclear Law Organization
May 1, 2014
Congratulations on this nuclear law course – the first of its kind in Canada. Bravo to Stan Berger and to all of you.
This evening let’s step back from the fine points of nuclear law, and situate your important work within the broader context of today’s nuclear industry.
As the industry’s advocates, we at the Canadian Nuclear Association aim to help Canadians to understand the many socio-economic benefits from nuclear technology and nuclear energy.
These benefits are many – and not always realized. They range from providing jobs in areas where they are much needed (e.g. Cameco’s aboriginal employment in northern Saskatchewan) to life-enhancing medical breakthroughs on diagnostic imaging and treatment for cancer.
They range from well-paying jobs for communities in Ontario and New Brunswick thanks to nuclear power generation to the training of highly qualified, highly skilled personnel who run the reactors, maintain the sites, do the refurbishments, and provide for safe and secure plant operations.
They range too from research and development in advanced manufacturing to the experts who build and service Canadian-made CANDU nuclear reactors and associated technology, at home and abroad.
I could list even more. But then I would have committed the greatest error of a speech-giver: to list things on and on.
Let’s look at the contribution of the nuclear industry – both to this province and to Canada more broadly. I’ll conclude with an update on current legislation in Parliament on nuclear liability.
To understand the contribution of the nuclear industry, let’s pose a couple of risk propositions and how they can be mitigated.
The risk that we cannot provide sufficient affordable, reliable electricity to our economy. How can we mitigate this?
The risk that we will not be able to reduce GHG emissions or prepare for a low-carbon future. How can this be managed?
The risk to health posed by pollution and dirty air arising use of fossil fuels. What options do we have to deal with this?
Start with the energy supply mix.
In Canada, we are blessed with a variety of sources of energy: first the carbon-based fossil fuels – i.e. oil, coal, natural gas, wood; then there’s nuclear power from uranium, hydro-electricity, wind-generation, solar power – and increasingly bio-mass.
In Ontario, most of these sources are available: some more expensive than others; some “dirtier” than others; some renewable, others not.
But availability is not the same as use. The linchpin between the two is cost.
So we ask – what is the comparable cost of the different sources making up the supply mix? This is done by determining the cost of electricity generation as expressed in kilowatt hours.
Electricity from hydro in 2012 cost less than 4 cents per kilowatt hour.
From nuclear, less than 6 cents. From gas, 11 cents. Wind, 13 cents. Solar, 50 cents. That’s five-zero.
Average cost in Ontario: 8.55 cents per kilowatt hour.
Power bills are rising, yes indeed, but not because of nuclear energy. If anything, our industry is helping to hold down the price of power.
If you go to the Independent Electricity System Operators site – IESO – you will find what that mix is in Ontario as we speak. It includes the current and anticipated requirement for electricity for the day. There we find the contribution of nuclear energy to mitigating the base-load, day-in, day-out supply risk.
Now: socio-economic benefits.
Here in Ontario, the focus right now is on refurbishing ten reactors and extending their lives another 25 years or so.
According to the Ministry of Energy in Ontario, there are 15,600 jobs connected to the nuclear power industry in the province, with 7,800 of these direct jobs. This means $1.97 billion in labour income; and $2.5 billion in direct and secondary economic activity.
With refurbishment, another 9,000 jobs will be added from 2016 to 2031-32, for a total of 25,000 jobs. Most of these will involve what is called craft labour – that is, skilled work.
Experience in refurbishment will aid the nuclear industry supply chain in competing internationally.
Let’s turn to GHG emissions.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has recently released additional studies on the impact of greenhouse gases and the fossil fuel economy on the environment, particularly its impact on climate patterns.
My intention this evening is not to debate the merits of the IPCC’s report or whether greenhouse gases are in fact producing discernible and significant climate change. You will have your own views on that.
But if you believe that greenhouse gases are damaging to the environment, including the air we breathe; and if you believe that this poses a risk to our health, productivity and quality of life – then we should look at this impact and how to mitigate it.
It is important that when we speak of “clean technologies”, we have to include nuclear. Let’s all promise to go forth and spread the word.
For the IPCC, “clean technologies such as nuclear bio-power, wind, hydro and solar are electricity sources with lifetime CO2 equivalent emissions of under/around 20 grams of CO2 equivalent emissions per kilowatt hour.”
By contrast, the major source of GHG emissions is the burning of fossil fuels. When we look at electricity generation, the largest producers of GHG emissions in quantity are from coal and natural gas.
I would recommend you take a look at Steve Aplin’s web-site. www.canadianenergyissues.com
He gives you total Ontario electricity generation in the past hour, along with related carbon dioxide emissions. There you can see clearly the mitigating impact of nuclear power generation.
I like this site because it shows clearly how many tonnes of carbon dioxide are produced per kilowatt hour of electricity – and compares the various sources of generation available in Ontario.
Many of you know Steve Aplin. He often uses international data too – for example, showing the regressive impact of Germany’s decision to abandon nuclear power and return extensively to coal-fired electricity. The precipitous increase in CO2 emissions per kilowatt hour is there for all to see.
This week he talks about the proposal to change Ontario’s GO rail network from diesel to electric. And what it could do for reducing GHG and CO2 emissions if the electricity for the trains comes from nuclear power generation.
We need to differentiate to people. How is the electricity you are using produced? From what source? And if it’s from coal or natural gas, then that source is producing far, far more GHG emissions that electricity produced from nuclear power.
Recently, on 8 April, the Ontario government announced that the last coal-fired generation of electricity was ended. Ontario became the first North American jurisdiction to have phased out coal entirely.
How was Ontario able to do this? Because it relies on that workhorse for base-load – nuclear power.
What does the absence of toxic particulates in the air mean for Ontarians?
According to a 2005 report, phasing out coal could avoid 25,000 emergency room visits, 20,000 hospital admissions, 8.1 million minor illness cases – and provide a financial benefit of $2.6 billion annually.
Since 2003, Ontario’s coal closure plan has eliminated up to 30 mega-tonnes of emissions annually, equivalent to getting 7m cars off the road.
We can genuinely say that Ontario’s GHG emissions are as low as they are – thanks to nuclear power.
Let’s go a step further. We can honestly say that Canada’s record on reducing GHG emissions on a nation-wide basis is my friends, is a fact, undoubtedly and substantially helped by Ontario’s use of nuclear power.
But let’s lift our eyes for the moment beyond Canada to the rest of the world. To Asia or other developing economies where the effort is on to reduce poverty and improve people’s living standards.
What do they seek? More energy. More electricity. Affordable, reliable electricity.
Given the stakes, they are not in a position to simply choose the least-GHG-emitting source. It will be coal and carbon – as long as these are abundant and available.
The only proven GHG-reducing alternative is nuclear power. That is why many more countries are considering joining the nuclear club.
Today 64 reactors are under construction around the world, including five in the United States and one in the United Kingdom.
Should we welcome this?
Yes – if you are concerned about the impact of ever-increasing use of fossil fuels and the CO2 and GHG impact of such relentless increases on the environment and indeed the climate as well – then the answer is clear.
Nuclear power is a key mitigating tool in the effort to reducing such uses and emissions. This is the message of the recent documentary, ‘Pandora’s Promise.’
Now let me briefly turn to safety.
The nuclear industry is highly regulated. This you heard about already from other speakers.
The industry has met the challenge of regulation by having in place detailed operational procedures and physical safety barriers that put the premium on the health and safety of all Canadians – workers on site as well as citizens at large.
If you don’t believe me, then consider the 2nd annual report of the regulator – the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission – just published. It covers the performance of Canada’s uranium fuel cycle and processing facilities – an important part of the industry.
It notes that radiation protection measures were effective and results remained as low as reasonably achievable. No worker or any member of the public received a radiation dose that exceeded the regulatory limit. All conventional health and safety programs were effective in protecting workers. All environmental protection programs were effective and results remained as low as reasonably achievable. And so on.
You can read the report at the CNSC web-site.
Operators at nuclear facilities have set, attained, and continue to improve their safety performance – through the highest standards, through training and exercises, through constant review. They too have passed the test with flying colours.
On January 30, 2014, the Federal Government tabled Bill C- 22.
The Bill includes provisions to increase the liability for oil/gas off shore activities as well as updating the Nuclear Liability Act.
Broadly, this proposed law would raise the absolute liability of nuclear plant operators from $75 million to $1 billion.
I don’t propose to get into details of the Act, but rather to provide you an update on the progress of the bill and some context.
There is reason for optimism that the legislation will pass.
First the government has a majority in both the House and the Senate, and has shown a willingness to use that majority to get legislation passed.
Second, the NLA is not a stand-alone bill this time; it is part of a larger bill involving oil and gas which serves both the purpose of broadening the support for the bill and making it a bigger/more important part of the government’s agenda.
Of course other things have changed as well. The Bill comes forward in the context of much greater concern about liability brought on not only by Fukushima in our industry, but also by the BP Gulf oil spill and this summer’s tragedy in Lac Mégantic.
So what is the status of the Bill?
The Bill has completed first reading and second reading is in process. The parties have begun to stake out their position. Judging from the speeches so far, the NDP plan to vigorously oppose the bill.
Once second reading is finished, it will be referred to the Natural Resources Committee in very near term.
At Committee, selected witnesses will be called to appear. Exactly who and how many will be determined by the committee. But I expect the CNA will be called to appear on behalf of industry. Some individual companies may appear as well.
We should expect these meetings to receive some media attention. Ultimately, the government will use its majority to pass the Bill.
The Bill will then proceed to third reading and on to the Senate, where the process will be repeated, including, as we expect, more hearings. Typically Senate hearings tend to be less partisan and more detailed.
With respect to my comments before the committee, I plan, as CNA representative, to make the following points:
- Industry supports the government’s move to update the legislation, just as it has the previous four times the Bill has appeared on the order paper.
- We are proud of the fact that there has never been a trigger for the Nuclear Liability Act in Canada. We continue to focus on continuous safety improvements and a safety-first approach to operations.
- Industry welcomes the move to international standards. Though the Bill results in a substantial increase in the liability for operators, we feel it strikes the right balance between the needs of industry and a liability regime that protect Canadians in the unlikely event of an accident.
- We strongly support the ratification of the Convention on Supplementary Compensation.
I will be also emphasizing two important parts of the Bill, industry would like to see implemented:
- Industry would very strongly encourage the Minister to move quickly to use this authority to increase the number of eligible insurers. We believe the government should encourage open and fair competition in the insurance pool.
- We would also encourage the Minister to move quickly to outline what other forms of alternative financial security operators will be eligible to use.
The process of updating the NLA has been a long and challenging one, but we are optimistic that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Let me conclude.
The updating of nuclear liability in Canada and the eventual coming into force of the Convention on Supplementary Compensation should stand us in good stead internationally.
It will facilitate international trade in nuclear services. This will be good for Canada, given our significant role in the global nuclear industry.
But more than that, it will be another important block in the foundation of international nuclear governance.
By international nuclear governance, I mean the promotion of broad adherence to the principles and standards of safe and secure nuclear operations. And to reassure the public that nuclear energy can be used safely and security.
Many may not realize this, but Canadians really do lead the global nuclear industry in the effort to strengthen nuclear governance.
Tim Gitzel, the CEO of Cameco Corporation, chairs the World Nuclear Association.
Duncan Hawthorne, who runs Bruce Power, chairs the World Association of Nuclear Operators.
Tom Mitchell, who leads OPG, chairs the Atlanta regional centre of the World Association of Nuclear Operators. He also led the association’s commission on Fukushima.
The combination of effective Canadian leadership, plus a global liability regime, should go a long way toward developing international markets for Canadian technology.
The world is buying more nuclear. 64 reactors under construction right now. Planning, approvals and financing in place for a further 113 reactors.
As I said, this spells opportunity for the Canadian nuclear industry. It spells opportunity for those who support and facilitate the peaceful uses of nuclear technology, domestically and internationally.
And it spells opportunity for the legal profession.
I wish you well in your Nuclear Law Course. Thank you for your attention.