Imagine a Canada with a clean, affordable diversified energy system that leads the world in having achieved deep decarbonization. Imagine, too, an end to energy poverty in many small and remote Canadian communities that now struggle on diesel fuel. Imagine a Canada utilizing its natural endowment of energy sources – especially those that provide ample, reliable and affordable quantities of clean electricity to households and, increasingly, vehicles and transport.
Many Canadians want this sort of future. Call it clean prosperity or a low-carbon economy or sustainable development. The nuclear industry shares such aspirations – and has solutions to realize them.
It’s often said that achieving bold vision becomes more a matter of will than anything else. The key to having the good public policies to get us there is to combine will with the practical, technological and innovation ability to make such policies work.
The Canadian nuclear industry has just released its “Vision 2050 – Canada’s Nuclear Advantage” which sets out how we can use nuclear technology to deliver a healthy, low-carbon Canadian – and global — future.
What are the key points that fuse the industry’s bold ambition on helping battle climate change with its ability to provide real solutions?
First, Canada’s nuclear industry forms a “super-cluster” of innovative companies and organizations that collectively place Canada on the map internationally in science and technology, engineering, high-quality construction and clean tech. The industry is therefore a strategic asset for Canada, not only at home but also internationally.
Second, nuclear technology contributes to nine of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), bringing benefits to humanity to include and stretch far beyond clean energy to embrace health, nutrition, safe food, medical treatment and clean water. Think of cancer treatment through use of Cobalt-60, which is produced by Canada’s nuclear reactors.
Third, Canadian policymakers and their international counterparts face severe environmental and energy policy challenges. Humanity will need the full toolkit of low-emitting energy sources and technology options. Nuclear is a superb baseload power source, providing clean air with minimal land use. Canada’s exports of CANDU reactors – along with uranium fuel – have effectively brought clean air, lower land use and less need to dam rivers to several countries using our technology and fuel supplies. This is a real contribution to global climate change action.
Fourth, the industry today is poised on a new wave of innovative work in fuels, reactor designs, and applications. In Canada, such innovation will allow our country to better achieve its goals for clean, affordable, reliable energy – particularly in three major areas of pressing need: meeting growing demand for grid power through increased electrification of transport and buildings; de-carbonizing industrial processes, including mining and oil-sands extraction operations; and supplying energy to remote off-grid local and Indigenous communities.
Fifth, the nuclear industry in Canada is building up, not diminishing, its nuclear workforce and supply chain. Canada’s home-grown CANDU reactor technology remains a top performer in electricity affordability, reliability and safety. This technology continues to find markets internationally, especially its innovative use of recycled used fuel that extracts more energy from the fuel while reducing waste quantities.
Sixth, small modular reactors (SMRs) are getting worldwide attention these days. Canada is already recognized internationally as a particularly favorable market and regulatory environment for SMRs, and a number of Canadian-based SMR companies are coming forward with novel designs that reduce size, costs and waste. Such small reactors can contribute directly to the aspiration of having virtually unlimited clean energy in small and remote communities, while able to support energy storage, district heating, seawater desalination, and heat for heavy industry uses.
The path to our shared aspirations requires leadership and will. What that means is broad engagement across many stakeholders – e.g., potential host communities, Indigenous leaders, the broader public, various government levels (federal, provincial, territorial) and, of course, industry. Community engagement and social acceptance will be a starting point for an agenda that is not about technology but rather about serving the human, social and environmental needs of our citizens.
Now is the time to build momentum so that Canadians can more fully benefit from the solutions that nuclear power offers – today and in the decades to come. Vision 2050: Canada’s Nuclear Advantage, a discussion document published by the Canadian Nuclear Association, sets out the pathways, as well as the steps necessary, to get us there.
Dr. John Barrett is President & CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association and served as Canada’s Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.