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Small modular reactors could help create a national, net-zero electricity grid

December 3, 2020

By John Gorman, President and CEO, Canadian Nuclear Association

Imagine the day when we will be able to announce that Canada’s entire electricity system produces no greenhouse gas emissions, when all of our power comes from clean energy sources. It sounds ambitious, doesn’t it? But if we take action today, that day may be much closer than you think.

I’m really proud of how far we’ve come already. Today, Canada’s electricity system is one of the largest and cleanest in the world. In 2018, 82% of Canada’s electricity was generated without greenhouse gas emissions.

We are well on our way. But transforming to 100% clean electricity doesn’t happen by accident. It takes foresight, ingenuity, and collaborative planning. It requires industry and government to work together. And that should happen now.

Here’s a great example: In Atlantic Canada, there is now a clear and ground-breaking path to net-zero electricity emissions. The new federal-provincial roadmap for the four provinces is a powerful, collective vision that lays out a plan to use hydro, nuclear, wind, and solar energy.

If we act now, a similar strategy could be applied across the country. And it could include powerful new technologies like small modular reactors, or SMRs. Nuclear power is already the second-largest contributor to Canada’s increasingly clean electricity supply. Every year, nuclear energy avoids 80 million tonnes of carbon emissions.

Think of the impact a national, net-zero electricity system will have on all the sectors of our economy as they strive to achieve significant emissions reductions. All of our major industries – transportation, real estate, agriculture, steel and cement, oil and gas – can use clean electricity to decarbonize and help Canada achieve its overall goals.

Some people treat different sources of energy as competitors. But as someone who used to work in the solar industry, I see them as partners. We need wind and solar, but we also need to support their variability in supply with clean baseload power from sources like hydro and nuclear.

Federal and provincial governments, provincial utilities, and all the sources of clean electricity in Canada should begin to collaborate immediately, so that over the next decade we can make our energy system one of the cleanest in the world. The decisions should be immediate, in the current budget cycle. And they should include empowering new technologies like SMRs.

We have a huge opportunity – a responsibility, in fact – to work together to achieve this remarkable goal.

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