Author and educator Dan Gardner says, in the Globe and Mail, that “One in three Canadians thinks nuclear power emits as much carbon dioxide as burning oil. Almost three in 10 think it emits more … [and, he says] … There are several reasons to marvel at these facts, which were uncovered by Abacus Data earlier this year. First, they’re spectacularly wrong. After construction, nuclear power is effectively zero-emission electricity, while oil is one of the leading causes of climate change. Second, the fight against climate change is about replacing fossil fuels such as oil with the short list of zero-emission energy sources. And yet it seems most Canadians don’t know what’s on the list … [but] … what’s most disheartening is that these are Canadians, of all people … [ because he explains that] … Three countries have massively decarbonized with the help of nuclear power. France and Sweden are the first two. The third – and apparently this will be news to most Canadians – is Canada.“
Canada was, as every schoolchild should know, a pioneer in the peaceful use of nuclear energy, with our first reactor operating in 1945. The Canadian CANDU (CANada Deuterium Uranium, so named because it was invented in Canada, uses deuterium oxide (also known as heavy water) as a moderator, and uranium as a fuel) reactor was amongst the first electrical power generating reactors to enter commercial service and, today, the CANDUs produce 15%+ of Canada’s electrical power and the Bruce facility, in Ontario, is one of the largest nuclear power plants in the world. So why are Canadians in the dark about energy?
Mr Gradner explains that “About one-fifth of our electricity comes from fossil fuels. That’s not in the same league as France and Sweden,* but we can still boast that our electricity is far cleaner than most. Wind and solar power get all the attention, but the credit does not go to them. It’s hydro-electric power we have to thank. And nuclear power … [but] … Aside from one reactor in New Brunswick, all of Canada’s nuclear power is generated in Ontario. About 61 per cent of the province’s electricity comes from the splitting of atoms, not far behind the 77 per cent of France’s total electricity generated by nuclear power. But those bare numbers don’t tell the full story … [because] … In 2003, Ontario’s government made the historic decision to fight both climate change and local air pollution by phasing out coal-fired generators. It was a huge challenge. Coal generated one-quarter of the province’s electricity. But by 2014, coal was gone … [but] … what replaced it? Generously subsidized and much-discussed solar and wind power covered about 7 of coal’s 25 percentage points. The remaining 18 percentage points were replaced by unloved, seldom-mentioned nuclear power.” So, Canada’s largest province, Ontario (Population over 13.5 Million and an area of over 1 Billion square kilometres) is, already, generating over 60% of its electricity from nuclear power. Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), the crown corporation charged with supplying electrical power to consumers, reports that Ontario’s energy use, in 2018, by source, was:
Sweden (Population 10.25 Million and an area of just over 450 square kilometres) reported, for 2017, that it generated energy in these forms:
Sweden has a more balanced supply structure ~ Hydro and Nuclear generating almost equal power ~ than does Ontario where Nuclear is dominant.
The ever helpful Swedes also give us some useful data on energy use …
… which shows us that cars and trucks are, still, mainly powered by petroleum …
… while the industrial and residential use sectors are much more reliant on electricity.
With the exception of Norway, which is a world leader in electric vehicle use, I suspect that the Swedish data applies to much of the world. For very practical reasons electricity, however, it is generated, is very good for powering fixed or static applications ~ like my home or the office or facility in which you work ~ while petroleum, (gasoline, liquid petroleum gas, etc) because of its very high energy to volume ratio, remains the gold standard for road transportation, especially when carrying large loads over long distances …
… While I see that MAN is building a large electric truck, I suspect that we are still some time (and distance) away from replacing petroleum as a fuel in North America and Asia, especially.
If Canada wants a sensible environment/climate change policy (some will say that Andrew Scheer’s plan is just that, others will disagree) then, in my opinion, it must include incentives to make the best use of the best available energy sources and technology and, for Canada, that MUST include nuclear power.
The Climate Action Tracker, which self describes as “an independent scientific analysis produced by three research organisations tracking climate action since 2009. We track progress towards the globally agreed aim of holding warming well below 2°C, and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C … [and which] … quantifies and evaluates climate change mitigation commitments, and assesses, whether countries are on track to meeting those. It then aggregates country action to the global level, determining likely temperature increase by the end of the century. CAT also develops sectoral analysis to illustrate required pathways for meeting the global temperature goals … [and] … CAT covers all the biggest emitters and a representative sample of smaller emitters covering about 80% of global emissions and approximately 70% of global population,” and it says that, in mid-2019, that 70% of the world’s people who account for 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions are doing this
Canada is not going to meet its Kyoto and Paris accord targets … the carbon tax is not helping. But we are doing about as
well poorly as are Australia, the EU (which includes France and Sweden) and Norway and better than the USA. No matter how one feels about the Kyoto and Paris accords and about Canada’s performance (which was actually (very slightly) better under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government than under either of the Liberal (Chrétien or Trudeau) regimes that came before and after), there is room for Canada to do more to help preserve our natural environment and help to mitigate the impact of global climate change. I believe, firmly, that building pipelines to get Canadian oil and natural gas to tidewater and, then, to Asia, especially, can be an important part of a global attack on clime change. Some people will say, “No, No! NO!! we must do everything, here, domestically, to cut oil and gas production” rather than using (relatively) clean (and morally really ‘clean’) Canadian petroleum to offset the impact of far dirtier Chinese coal; but I disagree. The problem is global and the solutions need to be global, too and if that means replacing dirty Chinese coal with cleaner Canadian petroleum then that is all to the good, especially if Canadian petroleum use is lowered by using nuclear power to replace coal and gas-fired electrical plants.
I am not suggesting that nuclear is the only answer or even the main solution to global warming, but any environmental plan that does not make more and better use of Canadian resources, including our abundant petroleum and uranium, and, above all, of Canadian technology does a disservice to Canada … and the planet. Coal-fired power plants in Asia are, I believe, the biggest single source of greenhouse gas in the world, followed by petroleum (gasoline) used as fuel. For a variety of reasons gasoline will continue to be used for decades, even centuries for mobile applications but it should not be used for static applications like electrical generation when nuclear power, including small modular reactors, perhaps based on the pioneering Canadian SLOWPOKE (Safe LOW–POwer Kritical Experiment) systems, are available.
Canada can and should be a world leader in helping to reduce the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere by coal-fired power plants and through transportation without reducing the benefits that electrical power and efficient transportation of people and goods bring to billions of humans. We can do that by using, at home, and exporting cleaner (than Saudi or Iranian) petroleum products and nuclear technology so as to reduce the world’s reliance on, especially, coal. The first step is being honest about nuclear power. Yes, there are risks in handling, transporting and storing spent nuclear fuel, but they pale in comparison to the risks inherent in ignoring nuclear power and spending money on unreliable “renewable” sources when we have abundant uranium and are world leaders in making nuclear power cheap, reliable and safe.
As Shuvaloy Majumdar explained, about a year ago, in an essay published by the middle-of-the-road, Macdonald-Laurier Institute, “Canada is a world leader in its supply and mastery of virtually every energy resource and technology known to man—and with this enviable access to the assets that fuel 21st-century life increasingly reflecting real political power on the world stage, Canada has the ability to position itself as a true global leader. The sheer size of Canada’s energy interests ensures virtually no corner of the globe is beyond our influence, and should we choose to seize it, we have a unique opportunity to both supply our allies with the energy they need to serve a shared goal of global prosperity, while also lessening the energy influence of the world’s bad actors … [and he noted that] … A survey of the world’s geopolitical evolutions, tensions and conflicts shows that the globe’s economic centre of gravity has shifted steadily eastward as once-emerging and now surging markets in the Indo-Pacific region enjoy a phase of steady growth. So as economies like India’s require more and more energy, and rely more and more on supply routes from undesirable sources, the stakes—and the upside—are high for Canada.“
Taxing Canadians ~ energy producers or energy consumers** ~ is not an environmental policy … not unless or until those taxes are so painful as to be politically impossible. Using Canadian resources and technologies, at home and around the world, to reduce the global impact of CO2 generated by human activity is a sound policy. That sound policy may not be popular with those who have made the environmental movement into more of children’s’ crusade than something useful, but it is more likely to have some helpful impact.
* Mr Gardner says that “France replaced almost all of its fossil-fuelled electricity with nuclear power nationwide in just 15 years; Sweden, in about 20 years … [and] … Both these revolutions were prompted by the energy crises of the 1970s, long before anyone worried about climate change, but they made France and Sweden climate-change leaders, however accidentally. Today in France, 6 per cent of electricity is generated by fossil fuels. In Sweden, it’s 1 per cent.“
** When one proposes to tax a “polluter” the tax ends up being on the consumer, through higher prices or because the producer goes out of business.