President, Promation & Board Chair, Skills Ontario
Mediaplanet chatted with Darryl Spector, President of Promation, about Canada’s world-leading nuclear industry, its recent innovations, and where it’s headed.
Why is nuclear energy necessary to help us combat climate change?
There simply is no path to net zero without nuclear. Although it’s true that other green technologies, such as energy from other generation sources such as wind, solar, tidal, and so on, are evolving rapidly and that their costs are dropping as the technology and supply chain evolves, it’s not there yet and is still decades away from being pervasive enough to displace the existing carbon-based baseload energy supply options around the world. Nuclear is still — and will likely remain so for many years to come — the only reliable, large-scale, low-carbon pervasive baseload energy supply option. This fact is understood and echoed by the majority of the world’s leading climate scientists and stakeholders.
How is Canada ensuring that nuclear power is a safe means of generating electricity?
Canada’s nuclear industry enjoys a world-leading safety record, thanks in part to operating under one of the most rigorous and globally-respected regulatory agencies and frameworks, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). The CNSC mandates and monitors an extremely regimented threshold of compliance standards that all Canadian nuclear operators must comply with on a routine basis. The CNSC operates as a federally-regulated agency, and as such, operates at an arm’s length from the nuclear industry to provide reliable oversight, much like the agencies that oversee safety and quality compliance for the aerospace or automotive sector, or for the elevators that we use every day.
In addition, the Canadian nuclear industry operates on the clear principles of safety first — without question — and has established an extremely robust safety and compliance culture that models the best-in-class behaviours and practices from around the world through organizations such as the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO), the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), amongst which Canada repeatedly ranks amongst the top.
What emerging trends and innovations in Canada’s nuclear industry are you most excited about?
The immediate one that comes to mind — and likely the least appreciated but the most relevant to the everyday public — is the profound advancements in the area of nuclear medicine. Canada is quickly becoming a global leader in the adoption and large scale-up production of critical, life-saving radiopharmaceutical medical isotopes for both diagnostic and therapeutic benefits. Cobalt-60 (60Co) for example, has been produced in Canadian nuclear utility reactors for decades, yet this isn’t well-known, and over 40 percent of the world’s single-use medical devices have been sterilized using 60Co produced in Canadian reactors! More recently, we’ve made huge advancements in Lutetium-177 (Lu-177) and Molybdenum-99 (Moly-99), allowing their production to be scaled up substantially at an industrial level that will elevate Canada’s role as a world-leading major global exporter of these life-saving medicines. This will directly result in saving thousands of lives that we would’ve otherwise lost to prostate cancer (Lu-177) or heart disease (Moly-99). These deaths can be avoided by amazing advances in treatment and early detection.
The other one that people may be more aware of is the advancements in the area of small modular reactors (SMRs), which have been around for decades in research reactors, or more commonly in nuclear-powered submarines. In the past decade, we’ve seen exponential advancements in the development of commercially-viable and scalable deployment cases for SMRs around the world. Additionally, Canada’s licensing framework to enable the development of a prudent and rigorous framework is seen globally as being industry-leading, which has attracted the focus of many internationally-based SMR players, in addition to homegrown initiatives. Again, many leading climate scientists and political policy leaders acknowledge the critical role that SMRs will play in the climate solution in the coming years and decades.
Where do you see Canada’s nuclear energy industry headed?
Canada’s nuclear energy industry will continue to play a foundational role in providing low-cost, reliable, clean, and low-carbon baseload power for decades as the major sites at Bruce Power in Kincardine, Ont., as well as at Ontario Power Generation in Darlington continue through their unprecedented asset life-extension programs. In addition, the advances that the Canadian nuclear energy industry has made in embracing, enabling, and leading the large scale-up will help to change the face of diagnostics and the treatment of historically chronic and pervasive conditions around the world. Finally, as a global leader in enabling the advancement of SMRs, Canada is well-poised to facilitate the influence that large-scale SMRs will have on providing reliable solutions to satisfy evolving, unique, and scalable energy supply needs to ensure we achieve our climate targets while satisfying our ever-growing energy consumption needs — which is even more relevant as we continue to electrify our grids and transportation fleets.
What recent achievements in the nuclear space should Canada be proud of?
Canada is an admired and respected player on the global stage amongst every major jurisdiction in terms of our culture, safety record, performance record, technology adoption, and workforce. Leaders from the Canadian nuclear industry are in demand and are often sought after for international positions in the field. Additionally, our fleet of nuclear reactors continues to achieve world-leading performance records, and we boast the world’s largest operating nuclear utility site at Bruce Power.
The life-extension programs currently underway at Bruce Power and Ontario Power Generation are the largest green infrastructure projects in the nation, and we’re quickly becoming a global leader and champion in the medical isotope space. We need to take far more credit for our amazing accomplishments, but we don’t to the degree that we should. And what is more Canadian than that? Steady, reliable, respected, and modest — it’s the Canadian way!