At COP27, countries disparaged Canada for being the world’s fourth largest oil-producing nation despite our country’s stated goals of eliminating coal by 2030, entirely decarbonizing the electrical grid by 2035, and banning the sale of internal combustion vehicles by the same year.
In particular, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault received strong criticism from other nations for refusing to sign an agreement that would commit signatories to a complete phaseout of fossil fuels. Guilbeault responded by explaining that provinces and territories, not Ottawa, have final say over Canada’s natural resources.
The eschewing of federal responsibility mirrored Guilbeault’s response last year at COP26 to questions from C4NE President Dr. Chris Keefer. When asked if he had re-evaluated his past anti-nuclear positions in light of the scientific consensus on the need for nuclear energy to meet climate goals, Guilbeault responded that energy decisions ultimately lie with markets, not with government.
Despite these statements, there is both precedent and mounting pressure for the federal government to involve itself in bold energy policy. It will take decades for nations to rid themselves of fossil fuels, and those pressuring Guilbeault may well blow past unrealistic commitments on fossil fuel reductions themselves. But instead of evading responsibility for its energy and emissions, Ottawa must explore firm steps that Canada can take to replace the services of fossil fuels at home while continuing to help our allies abroad.
The good news? Canada already has a path swept for it.
Starting in 1971, Ontario turned on 22 large CANDU reactors in just 22 years, ensuring decades of secure, affordable, and low-carbon power. It built these with a completely domestic supply chain that remains thriving to this day, thanks to ongoing refurbishments of existing plants that will extent their operation for 40 more years.
CANDU nuclear technology powered Ontario's coal phaseout, the result of legislation, which has been hailed as North America's greatest greenhouse gas reduction. As workers left the Nanticoke coal plant and elsewhere, many were able to transition into dignified jobs in the nuclear sector, thereby achieving the elusive goal of a "just transition."
With the advent of the CANDU 6, Canada turned its eye to the export market, and today several countries, including Romania, Argentina, and South Korea, enjoy the unique advantages of CANDU nuclear power. All the while, Canada's high-grade uranium ore exports, which produce carbon-free energy in nuclear reactors around the world, offset fully one-third of Canada's all-sector emissions and help our allies reduce their dependence on natural gas imports. These exports are poised to increased; Cameco, Canada’s largest uranium mining company and exporter, recently announced it would reopen two mines in Canada in anticipation of increasing global demand.
The fully-licensed and approved Enhanced CANDU 6 offers a low-risk starting point for Canada to commence new nuclear builds at home and abroad. The federal government must take an active role in supporting this goal. A few starting points are:
Making CANDU technology eligible for the same Clean Energy Investment Tax Credit as solar, wind, batteries, and small modular reactors;
Removing regulatory roadblocks to CANDU deployment, such as the protracted impact assessment process that would add nearly a decade to the licensing process for new builds, even at existing sites;
Including nuclear energy in the Green Bond Framework;
One day Canada may indeed phaseout fossil fuels. But that won't happen as long as we willfully avoid the proven path we have laboured to make for ourselves – a path based on CANDU.