Clean Nuclear Power and Lower GHG Emissions


Guest Column / James Scongack

Electricity is so intricately woven into the everyday life of advanced economies that it takes a full power outage for people to even think about it.

The constant availability and reliability of power has allowed it to become a convenience—when it is dark, electricity is there at the flick of a switch; with the click of a button on your smartphone you’re connected to family on the other side of the world; and if you or a loved one is sick, you can seek medical attention in a fully-equipped hospital, all thanks to electricity.

As the world’s population continues to grow—and developing economies seek to improve their quality of life—so will the demand for energy. In most cases, as energy demand increases, so does the level of greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions into the atmosphere. This increase in GHGs is mainly from the burning of fossil fuels during the production of energy.

These emissions are the major reason for the extreme changes we are seeing in the climate, as well as impacts on human health because of poor air quality. It is our duty, as global citizens, to meet the world’s growing energy needs without sacrificing the climate or human health. Growing energy demand must be met with clean and affordable electricity options that drive down emissions and improve air quality.

The world is truly at a pivotal decision-making point. If we do not start decreasing our global GHG emissions, the earth will continue to warm and the quality of air will continue to deteriorate. 

Meeting energy demands in a clean and affordable way is possible, and Ontario is a perfect example of how. In the early-2000s, the provincial government committed to phasing out coal from its energy mix portfolio—a goal met in April 2014. The phase-out of coal saw a significant reduction in the level of harmful GHG emissions, and the number of smog days plummeted from 53 in 2005 to zero in 2014.

The people of Ontario now have cleaner air from cleaner energy. 

A major part of this commitment was made possible through the refurbishment of previously laid-up nuclear reactor units, including four of the units at the Bruce Power site. Bringing Bruce Power’s four units back online replaced 70 per cent of the electricity that was lost by the closure of coal plants, while the other 30 per cent was mainly found through conservation and the expansion of renewables.

Global energy demands can be met with a combination of nuclear and renewables, which would sharply decrease GHG emissions, improve air quality, boost quality of life, and benefit economies—just as Ontario has shown.

Another area where nuclear power is making an enormous difference in people’s lives is in the growing production of medical isotopes. Ontario’s nuclear fleet plays a critical role in supplying isotopes globally, and, by leveraging our experience, nuclear assets and innovative technologies, we believe there is more we can do to ensure Canada remains one of the world’s key suppliers. Ontario’s nuclear fleet provides 60 per cent of the province’s electricity while continuing to be a low-cost and reliable power source. This fleet also produces isotopes globally to keep hospitals clean and safe, to fight the Zika Virus and assist the fight against cancer.

In April, a coalition of Canadian science, health care and nuclear sector organizations launched the Canadian Nuclear Isotope Council to ensure Canada remains a world leader in the production of life-saving isotopes by raising awareness and supporting long-term policies at the domestic and international levels.

Since 1940, Canada has been producing isotopes used to save lives through medical imaging, cancer therapy, sterilization and diagnostic development. The demand for a reliable supply of these critical isotopes continues to grow as advancements in health care continue and jurisdictions seek to secure fair access to diagnostics and treatments for patients as sterilization is recognized as critical to clean hospitals and infection control.

Our Council of Leaders in health care, energy and academia have come together because we believe this is a critical role people in Canada and around the world are counting on us to play in the years to come. Medical isotopes are an important part of Canada’s innovation agenda, and beyond medicine, the nuclear sector contributes to a wide range of other scientific and economic activities, including energy, human health and safety, material testing, food safety, and even space exploration.  

James Scongack is Executive Vice-President, Corporate Affairs & Operational Services at Bruce Power.