Clean energy must include nuclear

By Krystle Wittevrongel,
Public Policy Analyst,
Montreal Economic Institute,
Courtesy of Troy Media.

In 1950, Canada faced a difficult choice between the desire to be a leader in the development of nuclear energy technology and the fear that such technology would bring the end of the world a little closer.

Despite concerns related to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Canada elected to be in the vanguard.

As a result, world-class Canada Deuterium Uranium [CANDU reactors] were developed in this country and exported around the world. The Chalk River nuclear facility in Ontario, where the CANDU model got its start, became a global contributor to many international nuclear technology projects.

Today, Canada’s nuclear sector includes 19 reactors powering about 15 per cent of the country. Ontario, with 95 per cent of the country’s reactors, generated 60 per cent of its own electricity from nuclear power plants in 2020.

Yet today, this positive narrative has largely been flipped on its head. Due, in part, to anti-nuclear messaging from activists and certain politicians, the development of this technology has stalled, and with it, so has Canada’s capacity to compete as a global leader in the development of clean nuclear energy.

This is unfortunate when we consider some of the challenges we face today that were poorly understood in the post-war era. Nuclear energy represents one of the cleanest, most sustainable sources of power in a context in which reducing emissions has become a universal goal.

But whereas nuclear energy once seemed to be the next logical step in Canada’s energy policy despite warnings about its destructive potential, today, nuclear power ironically gets a bad rap even though it may offer a way of avoiding destructive climate-related effects.

In 2050, Canada’s future leaders must see nuclear as more friend than foe. Ignoring its potential as a fast track to adapting away from greenhouse gas-emitting technologies and resources would be a missed opportunity. Turning a blind eye would also be increasingly unpopular as more and more people are becoming convinced of the dangers of climate change.

Admittedly, there are drawbacks to nuclear power, such as waste disposal. While manageable today, this will present more of a challenge as nuclear infrastructure grows to supply more than just 15 per cent of our electricity.

Still, with Ontario already relying on nuclear for most of its power generation, Canada has only produced enough total spent fuel waste to fill the equivalent of a half-dozen hockey rinks to the height of the boards.

Not only should there be flexibility for the government to invest in nuclear projects from now until 2050, but regulations should be relaxed to allow for the development of ever-smaller reactors. These could become the new frontier of capital investment in a more consumer-friendly energy market of the future.

Indeed, Canada has already started to invest in the development of Small Modular Reactors [SMRs]. This is an exciting way for this clean energy technology to avoid the enormous state-subsidized start-up costs associated with larger reactors. With most experts pointing to cost as the largest barrier to a nuclear future, shrinking reactors could be a significant part of the solution.

Recent developments in Western Canada may point the way forward. With Saskatchewan set to phase out coal by 2030, the government has committed to funding its next stage of investment in alternative energy development projects. Currently focused on solar, the opportunity for nuclear in Saskatchewan is there.

There is so much to hope for in a nuclear future for Canada, and so much to lose if we give in to old fears.

When looking ahead to 2050, Canadians should not be afraid of what the country would look like with more nuclear power generating capacity.

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