Nuclear energy plays a key role in meeting Canada's net-zero goals – Policy Options

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There’s an plain reality that Canadians might want to settle for: embracing nuclear energy is a key ingredient of reaching net-zero.
Trade associations and worldwide organizations are collectively pointing to nuclear vitality as a necessity for Canada’s decarbonization efforts – and a linchpin in connecting right now’s vitality realities with our 2050 net-zero commitments.
Investing in nuclear energy and enabling crucial mineral exploration are clear and pragmatic steps to each decarbonize present vitality infrastructure and to scale inexperienced vitality manufacturing.
Canada is the solely nation within the Western Hemisphere with an abundance of the crucial mineral sources essential for superior battery manufacturing. The deployment of nuclear vitality can be utilized to decarbonize the heavy industries that extract and refine the very minerals required to scale its personal energy provide, making a round and optimistic suggestions loop.
Regardless of almost 90 per cent of Canadians reporting that they’re being negatively affected by local weather change, solely 17 per cent report confidence in Canada’s potential to satisfy its net-zero commitments. Given the environmental footprint and area people pushback on new hydro infrastructure, and the transient nature of different renewables resembling photo voltaic or wind, nuclear can present clear, dependable vitality constantly.
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When accounting for the total lifecycle, the Canadian Nuclear Affiliation finds that pure fuel produces 29 occasions extra carbon in comparison with nuclear, whereas oil and coal produce 52 occasions and 62 occasions extra, respectively.
From a land-use perspective, an space the scale of Nova Scotia can be required to deal with all of the mining and nuclear energy crops wanted to produce the whole world’s present electrical energy demand. Comparatively, a solar-powered world would require an space the scale of Alberta, and wind an space the scale of Quebec.
Nuclear can also be a foundational pillar of Canada’s health-care sector, supporting greater than 8,500 jobs in Canada’s medical isotope {industry}. With the Canadian medical isotope market estimated to develop to $1.176 billion by 2032 at a compound annual development fee of 12.7 per cent, Canada is remarkably well-positioned to leverage nuclear capabilities to proceed to be a frontrunner within the area.
Nonetheless, whereas the advantages appear clear, there may be restricted public acceptance of increasing nuclear.
A 2020 report by the Canadian Nuclear Affiliation underscored that solely 21 per cent of Canadians help nuclear applied sciences as a viable local weather answer. Nonetheless, the identical report exhibits that just one in three Canadians report having a superb understanding of nuclear know-how.
Although photos of Fukushima and Chernobyl are prime of thoughts when discussing nuclear security, the Canadian Nuclear Security Fee continues to push the envelope on nuclear security requirements, conducting best-in-class security, hazard and waste administration analyses to guard the well being, safety and surroundings for Canadians.
That is most evident in small modular reactor (SMR) applied sciences, which offer a mechanism to alleviate public security and value issues whereas maximizing vitality potential. In comparison with the 19 nuclear energy reactors presently operated in Canada, which offer a complete energy capability of 13,624 megawatts, SMRs typically present round 300 megawatts (e) per unit of carbon-free electrical energy or much less.
Not like standard nuclear crops, SMR applied sciences can be utilized to construct added electrical capability as wanted to help a broader vary of purposes. These can embrace offering impartial items for distant websites, offering industry-specific wants, producing electrical energy and burning nuclear waste.
The legitimacy of SMRs has been backed by a 2021 interprovincial feasibility research concluding {that a} co-ordinated method to SMR growth would help home vitality wants whereas curbing greenhouse fuel emissions, all whereas positioning Canada as a worldwide chief in an rising $150 billion international market by 2040.
Following the discharge of the 2018 roadmap for SMRs, Ottawa subsequently launched a small modular reactor motion plan in 2020 that concerned greater than 100 companions and outlined greater than 500 actions. The federal government additionally invested in know-how (such because the $27.2 million at Westinghouse Electrical Canada’s SMR facility) and deepened public and Indigenous group consultations (resembling with the Indigenous advisory council on SMRs).
Immense upfront capital prices to construct nuclear reactors, gas supply shortage, reliability of rising applied sciences and the ever-present query of how you can handle nuclear waste are just a few points that should be addressed to clear the way in which for a renewed dedication to nuclear vitality.
Canada’s electrical energy demand is anticipated to develop by 47 per cent from 2021 to 2050, so any failure to scale cost-effective growth and deployment of nuclear applied sciences mortgages the way forward for Canada’s vitality {industry} and the financial system extra broadly.
Pathways Alliance, an affiliation representing corporations with 95 per cent of Canada’s oil sands manufacturing, publicly indicated that the deployment of SMRs is a cornerstone of decarbonizing the nation’s oil and fuel sector. The result’s that nuclear vitality has change into more and more built-in into discussions on Canada’s rising critical-minerals technique.
Canada’s crucial mineral deposits are typically present in distant northern areas of the nation. Sustainably extracting and processing these sources would require vital supporting infrastructure – together with vitality infrastructure. As a substitute of a continued reliance on diesel to gas distant mining operations, there may be the potential for SMRs to be deployed for the lifecycle of a mine.
SMRs stand to profit from a 20 to 60 per cent value benefit of electrical energy over diesel. They might present a extra dependable supply of energy in self-generating mines, enhance the worldwide competitiveness of operations and cut back GHG emissions of a person underground mine by as much as 25 per cent.
Furthermore, these applied sciences could assist unlock future mineral deposit extraction and supply vitality safety to traditionally underserved and distant communities.
Canada’s 2018 SMR roadmap acknowledges 24 off-grid mines as being appropriate for SMR deployment. To successfully join this financial alternative with vitality planning, short-term actions are wanted to assist enshrine a long-term imaginative and prescient for the nuclear {industry}. Constructing on the 50-plus suggestions detailed by that roadmap, the federal government ought to present funding to cost-share the demonstration of SMR applied sciences with {industry} companions. Such efforts represent a risk-sharing mechanism with personal traders and incentivize business SMR deployment throughout Canada.
Decolonizing vitality and the nuclear narrative
Time for Canada to decide to nuclear energy
Whereas the roadmap particulars a number of suggestions pertaining to regulatory effectivity and legal responsibility, the federal authorities can be clever to modernize regulatory necessities whereas standardizing nuclear applied sciences. This may assist facilitate a extra well timed and economically viable path ahead for the deployment of nuclear applied sciences.
Lastly, Ottawa should help capacity-building and schooling initiatives in partnership with {industry} and utilities to develop a extra nuanced understanding of nuclear energy among the many Canadian public. By constructing off preliminary public discussions launched as a part of the SMR roadmap, proactive and significant engagement with distant and Indigenous communities can positively affect the event of nuclear undertaking proposals.
Current bulletins by the Canada Infrastructure Financial institution that it will contribute $970 million to assemble a state-of-the-art SMR in Ontario is an encouraging signal. However we’re solely on the beginning line.
Strategic deployment of SMR know-how can place Canadian sources as an answer for worldwide provide chains with out risking our personal nation’s decarbonization efforts. Extra broadly, the reintegration of nuclear into Canada’s vitality combine can help our net-zero ambitions.
Canadians should come to acknowledge nuclear as a key lever to driving decarbonization and unlocking the inexperienced financial system.
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by David Billedeau, Nicholas Palaschuk. Initially revealed on Coverage Choices
November 10, 2022
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