Opinion: Government investment in clean electricity must include nuclear to achieve economic and climate goals

Guest Contributor
February 17, 2021

John Gorman, President and CEO, Canadian Nuclear Association John Gorman, President and CEO, Canadian Nuclear Association
John Gorman, President and CEO, Canadian Nuclear Association

No one can dispute that Canada must continue to focus on navigating the social and economic repercussions of the pandemic. But we are also at a critical moment in time when we must determine the longer-term path to get to a better future. Investing in a better future that encompasses our physical, social, and economic well-being includes the fight against climate change and the need to transition to a low-carbon economy.

Transitioning to a low-carbon economy means leveraging the right mix of clean energy sources to include renewables like wind, solar and hydro in partnership with nuclear. Nuclear is a clean, energy-dense, carbon-free, reliable energy available around the clock. It also has an exceptional safety track record built on more than 65 years of innovation with safety and environmental protection at its core. It’s one of the largest producers of clean electricity around the world – and it is one of the most prominent in Canada. Nuclear has already displaced over 80 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year in Canada, mostly by ending the burning of coal to generate power in Ontario. That’s the same as removing 15 million cars from the road each year. Canadians with asthma breathe easier thanks to nuclear.

As a result, new nuclear – particularly small modular reactors (SMRs) – is uniquely positioned to provide clean electricity, decarbonize our extraction industries, provide heat and power to First Nations communities and work in tandem with renewables.

Investing in clean technology, including nuclear and SMRs, is a win-win for our economy, our environment, and our wellbeing. Beyond the critical environmental advantages, there are also huge economic implications. The Government of Canada points to the fact that Canada has one of the world’s most promising domestic markets for SMRs, with a possible value of $5.3 billion between 2025 and 2040. Globally, conservative estimates suggest a market of between $150 billion to $300 billion per year in the same timeframe.

As the government has concluded – along with multiple studies, scientists, and environmentalists – there is no decarbonization model that gets us to net-zero without new nuclear in the mix. Canada’s nuclear industry applauds the federal government’s support in renewing our national nuclear laboratories and university research facilities, advancing new nuclear technology to fight climate change. But we cannot afford to take our foot off the low-emissions pedal. We must commit now to investing in critical clean energy technology to include nuclear if we are to meet the 2050 goals. At the same time, there are fundamental policies Canada must explore to support the transition to a clean economy, including within four key areas:

  1. A pan-Canadian electrification strategy: The International Energy Agency estimates that Canada will have to double or triple the amount of clean electricity it generates to meet its GHG reduction targets. While electricity generation and transmission infrastructure fall under the purview of provincial governments, the federal government has a critical role to play in encouraging a future powered by clean electricity. This includes policies and regulations that create new demand for electricity in various sectors, such as the electrification of the transportation sector. It also involves encouraging a shared future of harnessing Canada’s significant electricity resources – uranium, water, solar and wind – to provide increased amounts of clean electricity generation through regional cooperation.
  2. Continued government support for development in the critical clean nuclear sector: Nuclear currently provides around 15% of Canada’s clean electricity but we have barely scratched the surface of its full potential. Canada cannot afford to delay critical support and investments in the right mix of clean energy technology, including nuclear. A Canada-wide ecosystem of government labs, academic facilities, and corporate innovators has a big role to play in getting Canada to net zero GHG emissions. The federal government must leverage an integrated co-operation between itself, universities, and private industries to invest in and help regulate new technologies, such as SMRs, to fight climate change.
  3. Regulatory support for Canada’s uranium industry: Canada is uniquely positioned as having the world’s largest natural deposit of high-grade uranium, with nearly 85% of production currently being exported. Within this supply chain is a unique Canadian capability in uranium production that provides opportunities for northern, remote and Indigenous communities. But the uranium industry requires particular attention through appropriate regulatory regimes and financial support to address economic and labour stabilization to maintain Canada’s global leadership position.
  4. Continued commitment to clear definitions of clean technology to include nuclear: The government has acknowledged the critical importance of clean nuclear technology to fight climate change. But while there is broad recognition of nuclear as a clean technology, official categorization is lagging. It is imperative that the government continue to provide clear articulation of nuclear as "clean" and "non-emitting" across all government departments and policy frameworks as well as the inclusion of nuclear in export development and climate change policies. The industry must have access to clean funding through relevant energy, environmental and infrastructure programs to ensure further development and the creation of vital, high skilled jobs. A clear articulation of nuclear as "clean" will help ensure this.

With the right investment and government policies, Canada can achieve a healthier future. A future with cleaner, quieter, more efficient machines, vehicles, technologies and industrial processes. A future where Canadians have easier access to environmentally friendly, cost effective options in their lifestyle choices. A future that supports social and economic development opportunities for rural, remote and indigenous communities. And a future where Canada is leading the world in emission reductions and meeting its climate change goals. This future is achieved with a rapid shift to clean electricity.

John Gorman is President and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA). Prior to joining the CNA, John served as President and CEO of the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA), the national trade association for Canada’s solar energy industries, and as Senior Vice President at Empower Energies, a global integrator of energy systems. John serves as Canada’s Designate to the International Energy Agency (Executive Committee – Photovoltaic Power Systems Program) and sits on the Executive Council of the Canadian Council on Renewable Energy.


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