Nuclear: A Made in Canada Climate Change Solution
What follows is an open letter whose signatures include Dr. James Hansen, Dr. Kerry Emanuel, Madeleine Redfern, Jay Harris, Dr. Geraldine Thomas and Zion Lights, among a great many others.
Canadians for Nuclear Energy, a grassroots group of environmentalists, and health and labour advocates, is joined by climate scientists and prominent figures from around the world in supporting Canadian nuclear energy as a keystone technology for climate mitigation and as a backbone of a green recovery in the aftermath of COVID-19.
Nuclear’s role in fighting climate change should not be controversial. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made it clear that the world needs to dramatically increase nuclear energy to meet our climate commitments. All four of the decarbonization pathways examined by the IPCC, see a prominent role for nuclear power. Three pathways call for an increase of between 150-501 per cent.
Nuclear power emits no carbon dioxide (CO2) or air pollution. Its entire lifecycle carbon emissions are as low as wind and one-quarter that of solar, all without requiring battery or fossil fuel back up. Nuclear has a proven track record of displacing fossil fuels. In Ontario, nuclear energy provided 90 per cent of the power needed to phase out coal. Air quality improved dramatically, with smog days dropping to zero in 2014 from 53 in 2005. The Ontario Power Authority has called this the single greatest greenhouse-gas reduction measure in North America.
Beyond the health benefits of zero air pollution electricity, our nuclear fleet has played a vital role in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. We produced enough Cobalt-60, a medical isotope specifically made in CANDU reactors, to sterilize 20-billion surgical gloves, masks or COVID-19 swabs in 2020.
Energy density is the secret to nuclear energy’s environmental benefits. Gram-for-gram nuclear fuel contains one-million times more energy than fossil fuels. As a result, nuclear requires a tiny fraction of the mining, processing, infrastructure and land, compared to every other source of energy including renewables. This energy density also means that the amount of waste created is very small. All of the spent nuclear fuel produced in Canada since the 1960s would fit inside one hockey rink piled up 30 feet, or less than one telephone pole high. Nuclear is the only energy source that fully isolates its waste from the environment and our spent nuclear fuel has been safely stored without harm to a single person in more than 60 years. Canada is well-positioned to be a climate leader with our home-grown nuclear technology, skilled nuclear workforce and experienced regulatory agencies. It's also good for our economy. Nuclear plants across Canada employ between 1,000-4,000 full-time workers each, most of them in high-quality, skilled, union jobs.
In total, 60,000 Canadians are employed across our nuclear supply chain from our state-of-the-art uranium mining to the skilled trades people and engineers working at our nuclear generating stations. Canadian nuclear is 95-per-cent made-in-Canada, meaning almost every dollar spent on fighting climate change with nuclear stays within the Canadian economy. This is truly unique. It’s time to spread Ontario’s nuclear success story to high-emitting provinces, such as Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia. Small modular reactors (SMR), in particular, will have a vital role to play in decarbonizing grids in less-populated provinces, and replacing air-polluting diesel generation in rural and remote communities, as well as in such sectors as mining. The SMR road map is an exciting step in that direction. We believe that Canada finds itself at a crossroads as it emerges from the economic challenges of COVID-19 into the ongoing crisis of climate change. In the context of the IPCC call for increasing nuclear energy, there is a highly-effective, made-in-Canada solution with a demonstrated track record of rapid and deep decarbonization. It's time to build on Canadian nuclear expertise and use nuclear energy to its full extent as a vital part of Canada’s climate-change response. Sincerely, Dr. James Hansen Director of Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions Program Columbia University Earth Institute Dr. Kerry Emanuel Professor of Atmospheric Science Massachusetts Institute of Technology Madeleine Redfern Former Mayor of Iqaluit President Ajungi Arctic Consulting Co-chief executive officer, CanArtic Inuit Networks Jay Harris Indigenous Energy Consultant Cowessess First Nation Andrew Weaver Former Leader of the Green Party of British Columbia Steven Pinker Cognitive psychologist, linguist and popular science author Carl Page Founder and President, Anthropocene Institute Paul Acchione Past-President of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers Tom Hess Grid Operations Specialist and Trainer Former IESO Shift Supervisor Dr. Geraldine Thomas Chair in Molecular Pathology Faculty of Medicine Imperial College London Director of the Chernobyl Tissue Bank Wade Allison Emeritus Professor of Physics University of Oxford Dr. Douglas Boreham Division Head of Medical Sciences at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine Professor of Medical Physics and Applied Radiation Sciences Anton Van Der Merwe, MD PhD Molecular Immunologist Co-founder Doctors for Nuclear Energy Zion Lights Founder and Editor of Extinction Rebellion Hourglass newspaper UK director Environmental Progress Dr. John Hollingworth Founding member of Canadians Physicians for the Environment Kirsty Gogan Founder of Energy for Humanity Mark Watson Executive Assistant to the Executive Secretary-Treasurer IBEW Construction Council of Ontario Myles Sullivan Assistant to the Director United Steelworkers, District 6 Peter Moss President, United Steelworkers Local 1568 Dave Trumble Vice-President, Grey Bruce Labour Council Ross Galbraith Business Manager, IBEW Local 37 John Wabb, President Canadian Union of Skilled Workers