Nuclear’s Role in Fighting Climate Change (0:27-9:00)
Diane Cameron shares her initial thoughts about nuclear energy and why she changed her mind, committing her career to the technology
Q: How did you get into the nuclear sector to begin with?
A: Diane Cameron is Director of the Nuclear Energy Division of the Government of Canada. She has worked on climate change for the past 20 years from different angles, including the private sector and government. Diane’s driving force is to do her part to make the world a better place and address climate change. At some point, she found herself as a graduate student at MIT where she worked for the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment under Dr. Ernie Moniz, who later became Secretary of Energy under the Obama administration. In that time, Dr. Moniz utilized his graduate students to do the analysis and policy work that would inform his ideas about the future of energy and American energy policy. Diane was not part of the nuclear team, instead working on supply chain issues and network-level modeling. At the time, she was a nuclear skeptic, partly shaped by Fukushima, which happened while she was in graduate school. Diane eventually adopted the same view debated in that context, which is that it will take all non-emitting solutions to address the existential threat of climate change, but also that each option has its own costs, benefits, and risks. Within the carbon budget and time available, there is no credible pathway to our net-zero emissions without significant build-out of safe and secure nuclear. It took Diane several years to consider the evidence from the credible, international models showing the amount of carbon displaced by existing global installed nuclear capacity is needed to displace carbon. There were psychological effects from Fukushima, which caused real fear for people. The radiological effects have been able to be managed and responded to in a responsible and appropriate way, but the psychological effects have not been insignificant. Many lessons learned have driven the wave of innovation towards passive safety and inherent walk-away safety features. Canada feels an enormous sense of opportunity and optimism about nuclear innovation which will help non-emitting technologies get rolled out to be a step change in terms of public confidence.
Canada’s Nuclear Action Plan (9:00-19:30)
A review of Canada’s nuclear roadmap and how Diane helped it evolved into an action plan with a timeline
Q: When you joined the Nuclear Energy Division, was there a roadmap and how is this new generation of technology going to be introduced into the commercial sector?
A: Diane Cameron became the Director of the Nuclear Energy Division of the Government of Canada in 2014. At this time, a Government of Canada agenda that prioritized restructuring Atomic Energy of Canada and labs to introduce private sector presence through a government owned-contract operated contracts was coming to an end. CANDU Energy, Inc. was divested from the government into the private sector. This process aimed to get Canada’s domestic house in order to harness globalized supply chains and private sector competitive spirit, rethinking the role of the government and the role of the private sector. Part of Diane’s mandate was to rebuild the nuclear policy team and rebuild a vision for Canada to re engage on nuclear policy nationally and determine what the future of nuclear in Canada looked like. She grew the team from two, in 2014, to 24 in 2020. In that time, Canada’s leadership, vision, and influence has been reestablished, including initiatives around small modular reactors (SMR). Diane served as chair of Canada’s SMR roadmap. The provincial and territorial governments, power utilities, industry, labs, regulator, academia, civil society, and indigenous engagement were engaged to determine if there were markets, customers, and framework for different SMR technologies. This process instilled a sense of passion and optimism in Canada and ramped up the supply chain for SMR technology. Earlier this year, the Minister of Natural Resources announced Canada will be reconvening to turn the SMR roadmap into an action plan to reiterate the vision and the path forward. This action plan will include a statement of vision, explaining what Canada wants to achieve, and a statement of principles, explaining how Canada will achieve that vision. One of those principles is focused on indigenous engagement and meaningful indignous partnership and benefit sharing. Without community buy-in and indegenous partnership, there is no energy project that will be successful in Canada. Each partner will include submissions in the action plan. The federal government submission will respond to all the recommendations from the roadmap and identify new actions based on how the landscape has evolved since the roadmap. One evolution since the roadmap, by natural market forces, is a new framework for SMR’s in Canada. On Stream One, Ontario Power Generation and SaskPower are leading the charge on streamlining near-term grid-scale SMR’s. This stream of work is driven by a legislative mandate to fully phase out traditional coal by 2030. Saskatchewan is going to deploy wind and solar to a maximum, but there will still be a gap, which can be filled with either natural gas or SMR’s. Ontario is an experienced nuclear operator with a licensed site at Darlington and can be a partner for the West which does not have a nuclear power generating jurisdiction. Ontario is investing in the refurbishment of their power fleet which has ramped up the supply chain. This supply chain can then pivot to SMR’s by 2030.
Gaining Community Buy-in for Nuclear Projects (19:30-28:55)
Why Canada values its relationships with communities and stakeholders and how it impacts decision-making across the nuclear sector
Q: What level of supply chain overlap is there between the refurbishment of CANDU style reactors and small modular reactors (SMR)?
A: Regardless of which small modular technology (SMR) technology is built, there is a level of precision and regulatory compliance required in the nuclear sector. This culture and discipline is entirely transferable between the supply chain for refurbishment of CANDU reactors and SMR’s, but will still require some retooling in manufacturing. Canada is very proud that the regulator is flexible to innovation and is a responsible risk-based regulator instead of taking a prescriptive approach. Stream Two is Canada’s advanced Gen IV play, which New Brunswick Power is championing for Canada. Canada has a strong interest on the back end of the fuel cycle and technologies that can close the fuel cycle, both burners and potentially breeders. The interaction between the technology value proposition, as it relates to recycling and reducing spent fuel stockpiles, and what that means for public confidence. The public’s number one concern is the waste, followed by safety and security. Stream Three is focused on off-grid microreactors. Canada has an enormous, vast geographical landscape and all of Canada’s off-grid mining is nearly 100 percent reliant on diesel. Diesel is costly, has dirty emissions, and logistically complicated, so the mining sector is very excited about strong alternatives. The advantage is in combined heat and power. In heavy industries that need high quality steam or high temperature process heat, it is very inefficient to achieve these temperatures with electricity. This provides a real market for off-grid, co-gen microreactors in Canada. The first market is mining, and the second potentially being the hundreds of remote communities throughout Canada that are reliant on diesel and looking for alternatives. Some communities want to consider SMR’s in their options.
Goals for New Operational Nuclear Power (28:55-41:21)
Diane highlights some of Canada’s timelines for establishing new nuclear power technologies on and off the grid
Q: When is the soonest Canada could have a brand new reactor built and operating somewhere in the country?
A: On Stream One, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is driving towards having the reactor built and power on the grid by 2028, followed shortly thereafter by Saskatchewan having one or more reactors online by 2030. There is a down selection of technology that is taking place and a group of utilities, coordinated by OPG, is shortlisting six or seven technologies. RIght now that shortlist is being down selected to the top two or three technologies and the selection will be made within 12-18 months. Canadians are very practical and there is a good amount of due diligence to be done to select the project by 2022 and get electrons on the grid by 2028 for a first-of-a-kind, grid-scale reactor. The first one will take more time to get licensed by the regulator, but Canada is committed to reducing the regulatory timeline going forward. No other countries are coming in faster while maintaining the standards of public engagement, transparency, safety, and security. The process of community engagement and building public buy-in cannot be rushed. Even with the perfect technology, the project will not succeed without public buy-in. Canada’s deep geological repository (DGR) is being advanced through Nuclear Waste Management Organization, which is funded by the waste owners in Canada. Before an organization can turn a reactor on and begin generating waste in Canada, they must first put money into a trust to pay for the long-term storage and waste management and disposal costs. Canada has a lot of great geographical and geological locations that would be great for repositories. The process for choosing the DGR site started out with a call inviting communities to volunteer to be the site for Canada’s deep geological repository. Over 22 communities volunteered to be considered for the DGR. Over the last 10 years, a thoughtful, deliberate process was executed and the list has been narrowed down to two sites. The process started with people first, followed by technology. Stream Two has more of an innovation play, so the timeline might be a little longer, but Stream Three will move more quickly in Canada. The demonstrator reactors, the microreactors, are between 5-15 MW electric in size and have simple designs. There are some leading technologies becoming front runners. Canada might pursue two microreactor demonstrators at the labs, or there might be mining companies willing to entertain and drive first-of-a-kind deployment on their site. Diane Cameron is confident that Canada can have two microreactor demonstrators by 2025. The single greatest threat facing the planet is climate change. There is a moral obligation to come up with solutions to leave the world in a more sustainable state. All the credible models show that nuclear innovation and nuclear capacity is needed to reduce the risks of failure and the costs of addressing climate change.