Director of Nuclear Business Development & Strategy, Hatch
Companies like Hatch are leading the way in helping us to harness nuclear energy’s immense power and transition to a low-carbon economy.
If Canada wants to achieve our net-zero targets, decarbonizing our electricity and industrial sectors are an essential step — and nuclear energy is an essential part of the solution. Nuclear provides a safe, reliable, cost-competitive, and non-emitting source of energy, helping to facilitate the transition to a low-carbon and net-zero future. Fortunately, Canada isn’t new to the nuclear industry. Our country has a long history of utilizing nuclear energy in a socially responsible manner, where the lifecycle environmental footprint is small.
Canada’s impressive history with nuclear energy
“Public perception is that the technology is new, but we’ve been operating nuclear safely and responsibly in Canada for 60 years,” says Mario Pieries, Director of Nuclear Business Development and Strategy at Hatch, a global multidisciplinary management, engineering, and development consultancy headquartered in Mississauga, Ont.
Many people are hesitant about embracing nuclear energy, because it is not well understood, especially contextualizing the story around nuclear waste. According to Pieries, “Over the last 60 years that Canada has used nuclear energy to power New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario, the waste generated from the used fuel could fit in a few hockey rinks stacked from the ice surface to the top of the boards” he says. “Nuclear is so energy dense, that the footprint of the waste generated needs to be contextualized against the benefits of providing clean, reliable baseload electricity to power our homes and businesses. The industry can account for all its waste, it’s truly a closed loop.
Handling nuclear waste responsibly
Not only does nuclear power generation produce very little waste relative to the amount of energy created, but Canadians can also rest assured that the waste generated will be handled conscientiously. “Nuclear waste has been handled very responsibly here in Canada,” says Pieries, adding that we’ve operated 25 reactors in an environmentally responsible way with a capacity of 15.7 GWe for 60 years. “Nuclear is a closed loop system, which means it’s a waste is accounted for through the plant’s lifecycle. Canada has a very strict regulatory process that ensures a structured and systematic approach is taken to evaluate the impacts on the environment.”
The environmental lifecycle of a nuclear operation is considered prior to licensing a plant’s construction, and plans that include requirements to guarantee financing for decommissioning activities are put in place. “Furthermore, the nuclear industry is required to fully account for and capture its waste products,” says Pieries. “That level of control gives the industry the ability to deal with it in a sustainable manner. No other industry requires this level of commitment to mitigate risk to the environment and community.”
Investing in nuclear innovation
Another concern about nuclear is its potential to be prohibitively expensive, but Pieries notes that this is not necessarily the case either. “There’s a misconception that nuclear is expensive to construct and operate,” he says. “But compared with other generation mediums, the levelized cost of nuclear is one of the lowest-cost energy sources out there. Canada’s recent refurbishments in Ontario are an example of how an industry can plan effectively to deliver on time and on budget.
Furthermore, as Canada embarks on deploying small modular reactors (SMRs) improvements in advanced manufacturing and serial production will further drive costs down. As global energy consumption continues to increase, a sustainable energy mix is the only solution. That means nuclear complemented by other clean sources of energy. And we’ll only get there if we continue to invest in technology and innovation. Unlocking non-emitting energy sources won’t just meet the challenges of today — it’s will ensure a healthier planet and livelihood for generations to come.