President & CEO, Canadian Nuclear Association
If Canada wants to achieve energy security, create jobs, boost our economy, and reach our ambitious net-zero goals, we must support nuclear.
Nuclear power is playing an increasingly vital role in Canada’s energy security, economy, and net-zero goals. However, the topic of nuclear energy brings up strong opinions and emotions, both for and against its development and widespread use. Concerns abound about nuclear power’s safety, reliability, and cost effectiveness. Given nuclear power’s potential to contribute substantially to Canada’s energy security and to help us reach our net-zero goals, however, it’s time to clear up some facts.
Addressing common misconceptions
Anti-nuclear discourse often centers on myths and fears based on simple misconceptions. A major concern that many Canadians hold is nuclear energy’s safety. And with everything that’s going on in the world today — including Russia’s war on Ukraine and emerging superpowers China and Russia starting to lead new nuclear reactor builds — many are understandably hesitant to embrace nuclear energy.
“The more that people understand the real effects behind nuclear, the more supportive they are,” says John Gorman, President and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association, an organization that has been the national voice of the Canadian nuclear industry since 1960. Nuclear is proven, safe technology, and Canada has a long history — seven decades — of innovation in nuclear research and technologies. It’s also the perfect time for nuclear. The war against Ukraine has demonstrated how important it is for countries to have energy security, and nuclear power provides dispatchable, reliable, and economical energy.
However, despite Canada’s longstanding leadership in nuclear research and technology, we’ve been losing market control over the past two decades due to a lack of investment and unfavourable policy environments. Since 2017, 87 per cent of the new reactors that have broken ground use Russian and Chinese designs — and it’s essential that Canada re-establish our leadership in the global civil nuclear power export market, both to secure jobs and revenue and for national security purposes.
“Energy security has been highlighted recently with world developments and in today’s context of our global energy crisis, with sky-rocketing fuel prices, energy security challenges, and our ambitious climate commitments,” says Gorman. “Nuclear is an accessible, affordable, clean, and reliable source of energy for countries looking to transition away from fossil fuels and to secure energy independence.”
Understanding the true benefits
Canadians also have concerns about the high costs and long build times involved with constructing nuclear power plants. Some argue that Canada should be refocusing capital and time on building renewables instead, and that renewables are a superior source of energy because they’re low-maintenance and safe. However, nuclear has advantages over renewables in terms of reliability, greenhouse gas emissions, land use, waste, and its ability to supply baseload energy. “And while the initial cost is high, a nuclear power plant can run for 30 to 60 years, with low operating costs that offset the initial capital investment,” says Gorman.
Further, proponents of nuclear point out that nuclear was never intended to exist in a vacuum. Rather, nuclear should work together with renewables as one of the many tools needed to solve the big problem of climate change.
Working to reach net zero
Despite the misinformation and outdated ideologies creating gaps and inaccuracies in how Canadians perceive nuclear energy, we’re also seeing increasing interest in nuclear as more and more people wake up to the realities of climate change. Climate change is a serious issue, and it makes sense to support nuclear as it’s a powerful low-carbon energy that can help Canada reach our net-zero goals.
Canada’s new federal emissions reduction plan aims to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050. The years are dwindling while our energy demands are growing annually. It’s an equation that simply doesn’t work without nuclear energy. Reaching these targets will require a full decarbonization plan for every industry, and nuclear is well-positioned to facilitate the transformation. For example, one of the challenges of decarbonizing certain sectors is the industries’ need for high-temperature heat, which is typically only achievable through burning fossil fuels. “Nuclear power can produce both high-temperature heat and electricity,” explains Gorman. Given the tight time frame we’re working within, it makes sense to use every tool in our arsenal to solve the pressing climate change problem.
From environmental goals to energy security goals and beyond, the benefits of nuclear are impressive. It’s time we fully embrace and understand this powerful energy source.