The COVID-19 crisis has dominated most recent media coverage but environmental concerns remain.
Friday for Future, the movement launched by Greta Thunberg, has come back to protest the federal government’s inaction on earlier green promises such as curbing greenhouse gas emissions. More and more, we’re seeing green activists fighting against industry and energy consumption.
But a largely ignored solution can help the fight against pollution and ensure Canada’s electricity needs: nuclear power.
Canada’s uranium resources are the fourth largest in the world, after those of Australia, Kazakhstan and Russia. As of Jan. 1, 2017, Canada held 514,000 tonnes or eight per cent of the world’s total uranium known resources, recoverable at a uranium price of US$130 per kilogram.
And Canada is the world’s second-largest producer of uranium, after Australia, with 13 per cent of global production in 2018. It’s also the fourth largest exporter of uranium in the world.
Most of the Canadian uranium comes from the Athabasca Basin on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. Recent explorations on the Alberta side have revealed vast amounts of uranium that can be exploited. In 2016, Cameco Corp. discovered large resources in Fox Lake.
These Canadian and Alberta holdings can be a real game-changer for the energy economy.
The Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters have reinforced the fear of nuclear power. But the data show another reality: nuclear power is one of the safest energy sources.
Atomic energy would have caused just 4,900 deaths in the world between 1971 and 2009. And its use would have avoided the deaths of 1.84 million people over the same period, according to a study published in the journal of Environmental Science & Technology.
In addition, nuclear power doesn’t release CO2 and so creates no atmospheric pollution.
Yet a considerable number of political decision-makers continue to oppose nuclear power in the hope of developing renewable energies.
Never mind that renewable power isn’t productive enough. Its failure has meant that countries like Germany have had to relaunch coal or hydrocarbon power plants that are dangerous to ecology and public health (as shown by the Norilsk disaster in Russia in June 2020).
In 2018, Alberta’s total energy usage was the largest in Canada – and the highest on a per capita basis. Nuclear power could help meet the rising demand for electricity in the province and meet neutral carbon objectives.
Canada has a strong background in nuclear reactor technology with the CANDU or Canada deuterium uranium. These reactors are a real asset to Canada. They’ve been exported to countries like Argentina, China, India, Pakistan, Romania and South Korea. Thirty CANDU reactors are in operation around the world. And India has built 16 reactors based on this design.
Sixty per cent of the energy produced in Ontario comes from nuclear power. This helps Ontario keep its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions relatively low. In 2017, Ontario’s electricity sector emitted 2.0 megatonnes of CO2 emissions or three per cent of total Canadian GHG emissions attributable to power generation.
In comparison over the same period, Alberta, with no nuclear power production, produced 44.3 megatones of CO2 emissions. That’s 60 per cent of total Canadian GHG emissions from power generation.
This summer, Alberta signed an agreement with Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick to support the advancement and use of nuclear energy through small modular reactors (SMRs).
Natural Resources Canada says this technology can improve the economic competitiveness of the country: “Conservative estimates place the potential value for SMRs in Canada at $5.3 billion between 2025 and 2040. Globally, the SMR market is much bigger, with a conservative estimated value of $150 billion between 2025 and 2040.”
Nuclear power should be a prime option to fight pollution and address environmental issues. It can also help Canada and Alberta gain a new advantage in the global economy.
Alexandre Massaux of France is a research associate with Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
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