Testimony to the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources

April 21, 2016

Testimony by Dr. John Barrett, President and CEO, Canadian Nuclear Association
to the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources
April 21, 2016

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The Canadian Nuclear Association is a national industry association founded in 1960 to raise awareness of the many benefits that civil nuclear technology brings to Canadians.

Those benefits are around us every day – in the form of life-saving medical diagnosis and treatment, sterile medical supplies, safer food, greater engineering and manufacturing quality, stronger materials, better consumer products – and, not least, the benefit of 20% of Canada’s clean electricity that comes from nuclear power.

Cutting greenhouse-gas emissions is a tough job.  Environment and Climate Change Canada projects Canada’s GHG emissions in 2030 will be 55% above the previous government’s target.  We can be sure the current government will set much more ambitious GHG reducing targets.  As Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said, “More needs to be done to close the gap between where we are today and where we need to be.”

Aspirations are high, Mr. Chairman.  That is why all low-carbon energy technologies must be on the table and given a fair hearing – not only for what they promise tomorrow, but, more importantly, for what they deliver today, because the carbon challenge is immediate.  We cannot afford to cherry-pick some technologies over others because of prejudices and preferences.

The Canadian Nuclear Association would like to offer some insights into how nuclear technology can help the Government achieve its ambitious clean energy and climate change objectives, on the way to a low-carbon economy.

First, nuclear generates about 15% of all of Canada’s electricity and 20% of its low-carbon electricity.  This means that nuclear’s capacity to deliver low-carbon energy is a fact.  It provides approximately 60% on any given day of Ontario’s clean electricity needs.  Without this contribution, Ontario would not have one of the best provincial records for clean electricity generation.  It wouldn’t have had the generating capacity to substitute clean energy for coal.  Without nuclear power, dirty fossil-fuel fired electricity would still be in effect, polluting the air of the Greater Toronto Area and southern Ontario.  Ontario’s leadership on clean energy would be jeopardized.  Also, uranium from Cameco, Canada’s largest uranium mining company, powers 1 out of every 18 homes in the United States and 1 of every 10 in Canada.  This represents an enormous amount of avoided GHG emissions.

As it stands, Ontario has announced the biggest single investment in clean energy in North America – and most of the world (except China).  $25 billion in refurbishment of 10 reactors will guarantee a significant supply of clean electricity out to 2040 and beyond.  This gives not just Ontario but the rest of Canada confidence that the 20% of clean electricity supplied by nuclear power will continue to be a foundation stone, an endowment, for the Canada’s evolving low-carbon economy.

Second, nuclear technology supports the increasing integration of other low-carbon options – such as wind and solar – into the grid, as the Ontario electricity system shows.  In the future, innovation at nuclear power plants will help this baseload source to become more “load following”, with the capacity to ramp up and down in accordance with fluctuating supply from renewables.  Given that today, and for the foreseeable future, wind and solar account for extremely modest contributions to Ontario’s energy needs, the nuclear contribution will remain essential.  Reliability of renewable sources and sufficiency of storage are not here today; they may take some time to reach nuclear’s 60% share, if at all.

Third, nuclear energy in Ontario can play a very important role in supporting the various collaborative arrangements agreed among the three North American Energy Ministers at their meeting in Winnipeg in February 2016 and between President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau in Washington in March 2016.  Nuclear can combine with other sources (e.g. hydro) to provide clean electricity across provincial borders and to other jurisdictions (such as the northeastern U.S. states).  Should American demand for clean electricity ramp up, Canadian capacity would help to supply these markets, with Ontario exporting quantities of clean energy generated by nuclear and hydro; while Manitoba and Quebec could draw on their hydro capacity.

Fourth, nuclear construction, operations and refurbishments provide good jobs and economic benefits – the supply chains are Canadian; the knowledge requirements are high.  Studies by Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, by KPMG and by others have demonstrated the important positive economic impact in local Ontario communities as well as right across the province.  The fuel comes from Canadian mines, mainly in Saskatchewan; it is refined and fabricated into fuel bundles in Ontario.  This, along with building, refurbishing, operating and servicing, brings “made-in-Canada” economic success to Canada, unlike other sources of energy technology where the manufacture – and resultant income and jobs benefits – take place off-shore.

Fifth, nuclear technology plays a role in other important aspects of the government’s clean energy policies, particularly on the international level.

No other Canadian source of clean energy has the same international impact as nuclear.  For a start, Canada’s nuclear technology expertise gives credibility and influence to Canada’s policies on nuclear non-proliferation, safety and security.  It is a strategic asset for the country’s foreign policy, enabling Canada to participate and have its voice heard on a range of international security issues, from Iran’s nuclear program to UN expert meetings on arms control and disarmament verification and the cut-off of fissile material.

In addition, the export and servicing of Canada’s CANDU nuclear technology abroad is an important element in bilateral relationships.  Canada’s relations with countries utilizing Canadian nuclear technology – China, India, South Korea, Pakistan, Argentina, Romania – are underpinned by the long-term nature of nuclear cooperation.  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.

Finally, there are two further areas of the federal government’s clean energy goals that could be successfully achieved with support from nuclear technology.

One is the possibility of bringing electricity and energy to remote Indigenous Peoples communities, whether in Canada’s north or in places far off the transmission grid.  These communities need non-fossil energy resources sufficient to power electricity needs as well as water purification and public health needs.  A very small modular nuclear reactor, inherently safe and simple to operate, would be a real option.  That possibility is coming closer as the SMR technology develops around the world and right here in Canada.

The second is also an outcome of small modular reactor (SMR) development, this time in the resource extraction sector.  Much of mining operations (current and potential) occurs in areas away from electricity transmission lines.  Similarly, the oil sands industry relies on producing vast amounts of steam to use in the extraction of bitumen.  Today, the enormous energy required by the industry is provided by fossil fuel generation, resulting in the highest levels of GHG emissions in the whole country.  Were the steam produced by clean electricity from an on-site SMR, the situation would be dramatically changed – and Canada’s emissions reduction targets would become more achievable.  The oil sands would become the clean sands.

A final point concerns uranium mining.  By taking this element out of the ground, refining it and placing pellets of it in a nuclear reactor, the industry is bringing Cobalt 60 to the world; it is bringing medical imaging and cancer treatment to millions of patients.  It is allowing researchers to delve deeply into sub-molecular structures of living tissue or of new composite materials or in the soundness of rotor blades in jet engines.  These are just some of the non-destructive testing applications of nuclear technology that bring benefits to Canadians and people the world over.  And our leading uranium miner, Cameco, is the largest industrial employer of Indigenous People in Canada.

In all of these areas described above – whether in uranium mining, in refurbishment of Ontario’s reactors, in applications to energy-consuming applications such as remote communities or resource extraction – the single feature that unites them all is INNOVATION.  And to this end, the industry is putting the finishing touches on a “Nuclear Innovation Roadmap” that sets out the aspirations of the industry in providing clean energy to Canada.

To expedite the role and contribution of the nuclear industry to Canada’s low-carbon future, we propose the establishment of a Nuclear Innovation Council.  This forum would have participation by industry, the federal government, and provincial governments.

The goal of the Nuclear Innovation Council could be:

  • To bring together key stakeholders to align the nuclear industry’s Innovation Roadmap to the Canadian Energy Strategy and to a pan-Canadian framework for clean growth and climate change – as outlined in the Vancouver Declaration.to the national climate change framework, and to investments in clean technology innovation;
  • To discuss the Roadmap’s priorities and enabling facilities, including funding models, sources and partnerships.

Furthermore, the Council could be part of a national “Climate Change Innovation Council”.  Such a Council would bring together innovative technologies from diverse low-carbon energy sources and would help to give strategic direction to federal and provincial funding & investment instruments.  (For example, the federal government’s Mission Innovation and the new Low-Carbon Economy Trust).

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee:

This is a time when we need all hands on deck in meeting national and global GHG targets.  Let’s not overlook what Canada’s nuclear technology brings – in reality as well as potentially – to, as Minister McKenna said, “closing the gap between where we are today and where we want to be.”

Thank you.  I am happy to answer any questions you may have – or explore in more detail the many innovative developments in Canada’s nuclear technology that contribute to our country’s clean energy and its prosperity.

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