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Ottawa urged to give nuclear energy a boost

If Canada is serious about a transition to a net-zero future, the government needs to pay more attention to nuclear energy, says one advocacy group.

That includes continuing to support the next generation of nuclear technology (known as small modular reactors, or SMRs), building new CANDU reactors, and refurbishing existing ones.

Chris Keefer, president of Canadians for Nuclear Energy, is worried that members of the new federal cabinet aren’t as keen on nuclear power as former ministers were.

He’s particularly concerned that Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault will block Canada’s nuclear expansion.

Before he entered politics in 2019, Guilbeault was adamantly opposed to nuclear power in his career as an environmental activist.

READ MORE: Guilbeault refuses to declare support for nuclear

Since taking over the Environment portfolio, however, he’s sung a different tune.

Rather than calling nuclear an illegitimate source of clean energy, he’s been saying it needs to compete in the market with other renewable sources, such as wind and solar.

As for “which forms of energy will be part of tomorrow’s energy mix, it’s not up to government to decide which of these technologies will drive” the transition, he said at a news conference in Scotland on Nov. 5. “It’s going to be up to the market.”

That said, the technologies in “the net-zero mix of solutions will be environmentally friendly, will help us (reach) our net-zero target, and will compete on the market,” he said.

The cost of wind and solar power has dropped dramatically in the past decade, while the cost of nuclear has gone up, according to Oxford University.

In 2009, a megawatt-hour of solar-generated electricity cost $359. In 2019, it was $40. Onshore wind dropped from $135 per megawatt-hour in 2019 to $41 in 2019.

Nuclear went from $123 in 2009 to $155 per megawatt-hour in 2019.

The nuclear industry is betting on SMRs to help it stay viable.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will continue to explore and support nuclear as it transitions to clean energy.

“I think we’re going to need every different alternative … pursued and explored fully as we try to get off fossil fuels, … and that means investing more in wind, investing more in solar, and yes, exploring nuclear,” Trudeau said on Nov. 2.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson also said nuclear is part of Canada’s future.

“We’re quite agnostic (about) the technologies used for energy generation, but we’re in the midst of a climate crisis,” said he said on Nov. 5. “We have to be thoughtful and looking at all non-emitting sources of energy. The government (will) obviously (continue) to look at nuclear as part of Canada’s energy mix.”

Keefer is concerned that by closing the Pickering nuclear plant, Ontario’s greenhouse-gas emissions will spike. The plant is supposed to close in the mid-2020s and be replaced by natural gas.

Ontario generates nearly 60 per cent of its electricity using nuclear power, and nuclear played a big part in weaning Ontario off coal.

The Liberal government has promised to power 100 per cent of Canada’s electricity grid with renewable sources by 2035. But in order to accomplish that, it needs more nuclear plants, Keefer said.

Nuclear power provides baseload electricity supply — meaning the plant generates electricity all day — whereas wind and solar only generate electricity when it’s windy or sunny. Without a robust network of energy storage, wind and solar don’t provide the same benefits, he said.

Wind and solar will definitely be large components of the clean-energy future, but “they need to be complemented with an electricity source that’s available 24/7,” said James E. Hansen, director of climate science at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

“The only candidate we have is nuclear power.”

With existing expertise in CANDU reactors and a nascent SMR market, Canada is extremely well placed to capitalize on nuclear energy, he said.

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Read More: Ottawa urged to give nuclear energy a boost

2021-11-22 14:43:00

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