By Mir F. Ali
In addition to generating safe, reliable, and affordable electricity without emitting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, nuclear energy is also capable of producing technologies which improve medical diagnosis, protect livestock health, develop water resources (i.e. desalination), preserve food, promote agricultural productivity, cure human illness, enhance human nutrition, advance environmental science, eradicate virulent pests and strengthen industrial quality control.
The Canadian nuclear industry began almost 65 years back in 1945 when nuclear fission was controlled for the first time in a reactor at Chalk River, Ontario. Canada became nuclear energy producer for peaceful purposes even before the famous speech on Atoms for Peace which was delivered by US President Eisenhower to the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 8, 1953. Here are some highlights on Canadian nuclear industry according to a document published in 2009 by Canadian Nuclear Association include:
- Nuclear energy is a $6.6 billion/year industry, generating $1.5 billion in federal and provincial revenue through taxes: 21,000 direct jobs, 10,000 indirect jobs plus 40,000 spin-off jobs, 150 firms and $1.2 billion in exports.
Here are some nuclear statistics on Canada. In 2008, Canada generated 88.6 billion MWh of nuclear electricity to meet 14.8 percent of the total electricity demand for an estimated population of 33,212,696. As of February 1, 2010, Canada has 18 nuclear reactors in operation with the total capacity of 12,652 MWe, 2 nuclear reactors under construction with the capacity of 1,500 MWe, 4 nuclear reactors planned with the total capacity 4,400 MWe, and 3 nuclear reactors proposed with the total capacity of 3,800 MWe. To put it proper perspective, in 2008, the world generated a total of about 2,600 billion KWh of nuclear electricity which represents 20.9 percent of the total electricity demand in 31 countries in the world where nuclear reactors are being used for generating electricity.
Here is a graph to illustrate Electrical Source in Canada (2008):
Uranium is used primarily in nuclear power reactors for the production of electricity. More than 80 percent of Canadian uranium production is exported to countries around the world, solely for peaceful uses. According to Canadian Nuclear Association, Canada is the second largest world’s producer of natural uranium, providing 22 percent of total world production from Saskatchewan mines in 2008. The two biggest deposits at Saskatchewan’s McArthur River and Cigar Lake are the world’s richest, with average ore grades more than 100 times the global average for uranium mines. McArthur River and Cigar Lake contain energy equivalent to 15 billion barrels of oil or 4 billion tonnes of coal. Electricity from Canadian uranium avoids hundreds of millions of tonnes of emissions worldwide
In addition to the application of electricity generation, the following nuclear energy applications are being practiced in Canada:
1. Medical Diagnosis and Treatment:
In 1951 the first two cancer-treatment machines using Cobalt 60 (radioisotopes) were built in Canada. There are 20 million medical diagnostic procedures using radioisotopes in North America each year. Over half of the world’s medical isotopes are produced by Ottawa’s MDS Nordion. MDS Nordion supplies 60 percent of the world demand for Cobalt 60 used for cancer treatment, sterilization and food irradiation. Canadian produced medical isotopes are used in 60,000 medical procedures per day worldwide, 5,000 in Canada.
2. Hydrogen Production:
The evolution of nuclear energy’s role in hydrogen production over perhaps three decades is seen to be: Electrolysis of water, using off-peak capacity; Use of nuclear heat to assist steam reforming of natural gas; High-temperature electrolysis of steam, using heat and electricity from nuclear reactors; and High-temperature thermochemical production using nuclear heat.
3. Food and Agriculture:
Canada is a leader in irradiation technology used to treat fruits, vegetables, meats and spices to prolong their shelf life and prevent risk of food-borne illness. Canada’s MDS Nordion is the world’s largest supplier of gamma irradiation systems. Canada plays a leading role in developing radiation technology to improve agricultural production by eliminating harmful insects. Radiation technology is used to control the codling moth in British Columbia’s apple orchards.
4. Industrial and Manufacture:
Radioactive materials are used in manufacturing or operations of many consumer items. Cosmetics, hair products, contact lens solutions are sterilized to remove irritants and allergens. Smoke detectors rely on radioactive sources to detect smoke and fire. Photocopies use small amounts of radioactive material to eliminate static and prevent paper from sticking together and jamming the machine.
5. Desalination of Seawater:
One fifth of the world’s population does not have access to safe drinking water. Lack of potable water is set to become a constraint on development in some areas due to population growth relative to water resources. Desalination of water is energy intensive and in most cases uses fossil fuels emitting CO2 into the environment.
Nuclear energy is already being used for desalination, and has the potential for much greater use.
Here is a news flash on the activities associated with Canadian nuclear energy plants:
- Nuclear Refurbishment and New Construction in Ontario:
Bruce Power Plant is located in Ontario and is the only private sector nuclear operator with eight units, the second largest nuclear power station in the world. Bruce Power Plant is currently refurbishing Bruce A Units 1 & 2 with a return to service date by 2010 -2011. Bruce Power Plant is evaluating building new nuclear plants in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
June 2008 – The Government of Ontario selected the Darlington site (near Toronto, Ontario) as the location to build two new nuclear reactors. June 2009 – Government of Ontario announced a delay in the procurement process to select a vendor for the new reactors (AECL, Westinghouse and AREVA were under consideration).
- Nuclear Refurbishment and New Construction in New Brunswick and Quebec:
March 31, 2008 – New Brunswick Power began refurbishing the Point Lepreau reactor to extend the stations life to 2032. In 2008 New Brunswick Power also begins investigating the building of 1 or 2 new units at Point Lepreau. Hydro-Québec made the decision in 2008 to refurbish Gentilly-2 in Quebec to extend the stations life to 2035. Refurbishment is supposed to begin 2011-2012.
- New Construction in Alberta:
Nuclear energy is being promoted as a non-emitting electricity generator for Alberta’s oil sands operations. Nuclear energy would be a substitute for natural gas saving this premium fuel for uses in transportation, home heating, as a chemical or export.
March 2008 – Bruce Power begins the process to consider new nuclear in Alberta west of the town of Peace River.
- New Construction in Saskatchewan:
In May 2008, the Government of Saskatchewan began to express strong interest in building a nuclear reactor and becoming more involved beyond the uranium mining industry. Saskatchewan uranium reserves contain about four times more energy than all known conventional oil reserves (not including the Athabasca tar sands. There is ample uranium in the world to fuel nuclear power plants today and in the future. Higher uranium prices will encourage investment and exploration.
Canadians like any citizen of the world are very much concerned about the safety of nuclear energy plants and they have every right to do so. However, they must know that not one single fatality has resulted from radiation exposure at a nuclear power plants in Canada and this is due to the fact that the nuclear industry in Canada is constantly making improvements to their processes and procedures, the effective regulations implemented and monitored by Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) are in place to help, and the international peer reviews conducted by IAEA are serving as quality controls to better mange nuclear energy plants in Canada. The CNSC is the federal regulator mandated to protect the health and safety of persons and the environment, and to ensure national security from risks associated with the use of nuclear energy and nuclear material:
- The regulator issues regulations dealing with nuclear reactors, uranium mines, the use of radioactive material, radioactive waste and other related activities;
- Nuclear power plants (and other major nuclear facilities) require specific approvals for all stages from site selection to decommissioning. CNSC staff conducts inspections during construction and throughout the operating life; and
- The industry works with the CNSC to develop and improve standards and operating procedures to ensure that the Canadian public have safe nuclear power plants.
When people ask questions about the safety of nuclear energy plants, the nuclear waste is on their minds. They have bad memories about the Chernobyl and the Three Mile Island and they want those things never to happen again. One of the major reasons which ensure the safety of Canadian nuclear energy plants is the way they manage nuclear waste as the total amount of used nuclear fuel in Canada could be stored in five hockey rinks up to the boards:
- Used fuel is initially stored in water-filled bays at nuclear power reactor sites for 5-10 years and then safely stored in concrete canisters;
- The Nuclear Waste Management Organization provided a report to the Federal Government recommending storage at reactor sites and deep geological storage; and
- No member of the public has been harmed by a radiation leak from a nuclear power plant or a waste storage facility in Canada.
Since 1996, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) delivered seven new CANDU reactors to other countries – 3 to South Korea, 2 to China, and 2 to Romania – contributing to the very high rate of power generation growth in these countries. Currently, AECL is developing the Advanced CANDU Reactor (ACR) to meet customer requirements for the emerging nuclear market over the next 20 years of sales. The ACR-1000 is an evolutionary, Generation III+, 1200 MWe class heavy water reactor, designed to meet industry and public expectations for safe, reliable, environmentally friendly, low-cost nuclear generation. The ACR-1000 is the only Generation III+ reactor in the world to have completed Phase 2 of the CNSC pre-licensing review. In September 2009, the CNSC released the results of this review and concluded that there were no fundamental barriers to licensing the ACR-1000 for new-build construction in Canada.
The bottomline is that probably no other country on earth is more empowered technically than Canada to expand its nuclear energy capability to meet and exceed the increasing electricity demand in Canada with safe, clean, and cheap nuclear electricity as Canada holds large reserves of the world’s highest grade uranium and Canada has almost 50 years experience of building, maintaining, and operating CANDU nuclear energy reactors. Perhaps the missing piece of this puzzle is the funding.