Opinion: We need nuclear power to meet our climate goals


Nuclear power is vital to greening our future and fighting climate change, writes Tom Reid of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

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In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body responsible for assessing the science of climate change, released its latest report.


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The news is frightening and undeniable: climate change is widespread, intensifying and accelerating. If we don’t take bigger steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, some of the consequences we have all seen – extreme heat waves, heavy rains and flooding in some areas, droughts and massive forest fires in some areas. ‘others – will be permanent. Earth is on the way to disaster unless we make significant changes.

While some impacts of climate change are now inevitable, the good news is that it’s not too late to avoid the worst that will happen if we do nothing. If humans stop burning fossil fuels within the next 20 years, we can avoid some of the most drastic effects. We have a little time, but we need to start the transition now.

Canada’s electricity sector is critical to this transition, but we need to significantly increase our overall electricity supply. The Canadian Electricity Association estimates that to achieve ‘net’ carbon emissions by 2050, Canada will need to double or even triple the size of the current electricity supply to support the changes needed to phase out fossil fuels .

We’re starting from a good point, with over 82% of the electricity produced in Canada already emitting no greenhouse gases. But we’re going to have to add a lot of new capacity from low carbon sources.

While it is not possible to immediately phase out the use of fossil fuels for power generation (these plants are currently required for base load, peak demand and grid balancing), we can use the 20 years we have to build a better electrical system that combines intermittent renewables, hydraulics, storage and nuclear. Of these, nuclear energy is perhaps the most important.


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Our modern society depends on a constant supply of basic electricity, and although renewables play a vital role, the fact that the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow means that they cannot replace power plants. which operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and form the basis of our electricity network. Energy storage can help stabilize the grid, especially at peak times, but it cannot replace baseline power in the middle of the night or in the dead of winter.

Hydropower has a role to play, but with the exception of the Gull Island project in Labrador, there are not many large-scale feasible sites left to develop in Canada.

This leaves nuclear power as the best source of non-emitting base load energy that we can use to increase the supply of electricity that we will need to reach net zero. In addition, nuclear power plants are the only energy source capable of producing both low carbon electricity and clean heat, which means that they will also play an important role in decarbonizing processes. energy-intensive such as steelmaking and hydrogen production.

Fortunately, Canada is well positioned to develop our nuclear industry to achieve this low carbon future. For more than 75 years, we have been a world leader in the development and operation of nuclear technologies for nuclear medicine and power generation, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is recognized as a class regulator global. We are also one of the world’s largest producers of uranium, which means we have a secure supply of fuel.


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In Ontario and New Brunswick, CANDU nuclear power plants have provided much of that province’s clean electricity needs for many decades, and their existence anchors an exceptional Canadian nuclear industry on which we can rely to help us achieve our low carbon future.

Now is the time to build on this experience so that other Canadian provinces and territories can also enjoy the same benefits of low carbon electricity generation.

At the end of 2020, the Government of Canada released its Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Roadmap, aimed at fostering innovation and developing a long-term vision for the nuclear industry. Additionally, the governments of Saskatchewan and Alberta have joined with Ontario and New Brunswick in signing a Memorandum of Understanding supporting the development of the next generation of advanced PMSs and committing to moving them forward. .

Because of this provincial and federal leadership, the world-class body of nuclear experience and knowledge that exists here, and our strong regulatory framework, it is no accident that the major developers of the next generation of RMP have settled in Canada. Their presence creates enormous economic and employment opportunities to manufacture and sell high quality, advanced Canadian-made SMRs around the world.

Just as there are already working CANDU reactors here in Canada, as well as in Europe, Asia and South America, there will be a strong market for the latest generation of advanced SMR reactors manufactured here and then shipped. at their final location, whether it be on an existing electrical site, an industrial site, a remote community in Canada’s Far North or international sites.


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Access to reliable, low-carbon electricity is an essential service in our modern society, a key measure of quality of life and crucial in tackling climate change before it is too late.

Intermittent renewables and distributed generation are badly needed and will be part of our energy future, but they will not be able to completely replace the need for a large amount of reliable, low-carbon baseload electricity. This is why nuclear energy is vital for greening our future and fighting climate change.

Tom Reid is the International Vice President for Canada of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The IBEW represents the workers of 69 operating nuclear reactors in Canada and the United States.



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