Australia begins search for National Radioactive Waste Management Facility

On March 2, 2015, the Australian Government announced that it had opened the process for voluntary site nominations for a future “National Radioactive Waste Management Facility” that will be designed to handle 4,248 cubic metres of low level and 656 cubic metres of intermediate level nuclear waste. The Australian Nuclear Association, in summarizing the government’s proposal, outlined the key objectives of the initial site identification phase which include: community well-being, equity, environmental protection, security, and economic viability.

Australia’s recent past with nuclear waste has been fraught with debate. In 2010, the Australian government passed the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill. The Bill paved the way for what some media outlets called a highly controversial plan to store nuclear waste in Muckaty Station, a northern Aboriginal community.

The Muckaty Station plan fell apart, and in response the government amended the Bill in 2012 with provisions for a new voluntary land nomination process. This shift to a voluntary process, in addition to the increased protection for Aboriginal communities, quelled the initial controversy over the 2010 Bill. However, with the nomination process now underway, the media and public’s attention has shifted to a number of new issues.

In an article posted March 7, 2015, Cameron England of Australia’s Sunday Mail discussed the government’s announcement and the broader political, economic, and social debate over nuclear waste storage in South Australia.  England argues that:

“Currently Australia is only involved in the first stage of the nuclear fuel cycle – that is, we mine uranium and ship it overseas for others to use. Like many other commodities, such as iron ore and wheat, we miss out on the lucrative ‘value adding’ that is involved in making the raw commodity a useful product.”

Citing a paper commissioned by the Committee for Economic Development in Australia, England argues that this involvement in the full nuclear fuel cycle, including reprocessing and long-term disposal, could boost the value derived from uranium by about 250 per cent.

Alternately, Mark Parnell, a South Australian Greens leader, is quoted in the article as pointing out the potential negative impact on public health and tourism in the region and the industry’s lack of development and deployment of small modular reactors (SMRs). In addition, Parnell argues that nuclear’s role in our energy future is uncertain due to the rise of and public preference for alternative energy sources.

Australia is not alone in its current development of nuclear fuel storage plans. In Canada, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), a federally mandated body created in part with Ontario Power Generation Inc. and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, is currently evaluating proposals for a number of nuclear waste storage sites in Ontario and one in Saskatchewan.

A recent feature article in The Globe and Mail takes a decidedly critical look at the development of a future Deep Geological Repository (DGR) for long-term spent-fuel storage. Another article, published March 9, 2015 in The London Free Press, covers much of the same ground on the issues surrounding the DGR site selection process. This local story, in part, starts in 2002, when the Canadian Federal government passed the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act, which mandated the creation of the NWMO and the development of a waste disposal strategy. The preamble to the Act explicitly calls for a “comprehensive, integrated and economically sound approach” to the management of nuclear fuel.

The Canadian Act, and much of the NWMO’s own goals, mirror the same Australian policy objectives highlighted in the introduction: balancing economic, environmental, and social responsibility. If we can highlight a single take-away from the media articles noted above, it is that industry and government must do anything and everything possible to make the process as transparent and open as possible. That means not just education but conversation, and a balanced approach to discussing not only how important nuclear energy is to our current energy system, but what role it will play in the future. Such efforts can not only shift the substantive outcome of the selection process, picking the best and safest site for nuclear waste management, but also inform and shape the integrity of the process itself.

 

Westinghouse and OPG agreement a watershed moment for Canadian nuclear industry

With little fanfare, an unassuming tweet came across my screen yesterday afternoon while attending the global carbon leakage seminar at Bennett Jones. Apparently, Westinghouse and OPG had signed an agreement to collaborate and work on selling their nuclear expertise, products, and services in global markets. Under the agreement, the companies will consider a diversity of nuclear projects including refurbishment, maintenance and outage services, decommissioning and remediation of existing nuclear facilities, and new nuclear power plants.

This agreement could represent a watershed moment for Ontario’s economy, certainly for the nuclear industry. Like a sportscaster that tries to call the definitive momentum shifting play in a game, we won’t know for a while yet. But this agreement could be a gamechanger. Let me tell you why. Ontario has been built on the back of cheap energy, first from Niagara Falls and then nuclear. It is cheap energy that allows us to mine economically and manufacture cars with the best the world has to offer. Similarly, in Quebec, the vast hydro projects underpin their economy. In Alberta, oil and gas are key drivers. Any robust economy in the world has an abundant, secure source of energy.

Ontario’s CANDU technology has been a global leader and a gamechanger for many countries in the world. However, as in all technology driven industries, there is great innovation happening, it happens relentlessly,  and CANDU is not the only nuclear technology that growing nations are considering. The thriving economies of the world, China, India and others, are craving cheap, abundant, clean, safe energy. While Ontario does not have the demand to build new reactors now, other countries do. The challenge for our nuclear industry has been to somehow get our tens of thousands of nuclear related jobs serving the global market, not just maintaining our stable domestic market. This means being able to support the multiple and diverse nuclear technologies that are evolving in the global marketplace today.

The significance of the Westinghouse deal is that it ties OPG to a global leader in a non-CANDU technology. OPG is a globally recognized leader in operating nuclear power generating stations. It has an unblemished safety record that is the envy of the world. What a glorious opportunity this represents to market that operating expertise and enter other markets being served by emerging nuclear technologies. There is certainly a place for CANDU in the future. However, Westinghouse has their APS-1000 line of reactors that are making inroads in several countries. Kudos to OPG for seizing this opportunity and diversifying how they deploy their expertise.

Kudos also to Westinghouse. Westinghouse recognizes that in the 21st century the world will need more nuclear energy if it is to stem the effects of GHG driven climate change. In a post Chernobyl world there has been a relative shortage of young engineers and trades trained in the nuclear sciences. Ontario has almost 300 companies in the nuclear supply chain. There are more than 25,000 jobs related to the nuclear industry. There are nine universities that have courses in some sort of nuclear science. We have Chalk River and AECL, world leading nuclear research in medical isotopes and other applications beyond energy. And we have the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) which is increasingly being viewed as an innovator and leading exemplar in nuclear regulation by emerging economies and jurisdictions that need to model their own regulatory regimes.

Ontario’s Green Energy Act has spurred wind and solar energy. Cumulatively, renewables represent a single digit percentage of our energy mix. There are thousands of jobs related to renewables, depending on how you count them. This is wonderful news as renewable energy represents an important part of the energy mix. The Westinghouse OPG agreement reminds us that Ontario’s existing nuclear industry, expertise and workforce are an order of magnitude larger than the current renewable industry.

The full press release may be viewed at http://bit.ly/1m7nPmg .

Henry Vehovec
Chair, Future of Nuclear Advisory Board
President, Mindfirst Inc.

Criteria for New Build Nuclear Energy in Ontario

November 7, 2013 – Toronto, ON  Last month, on the day after the Future of Nuclear 2013 Conference in Toronto, Ontario Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli made an announcement, “New nuclear will not be part of Ontario’s new Long Term Energy Plan.” He continued, “Sometime in the future, we might look at building new nuclear, but it will not be included in this review,”.

This begs the question. How long is the “long” in the Long Term Energy Plan. At our conference we’ve seen that realistically energy mix changes play out over decades and the most interesting perspectives and lessons are learned when taking an even longer time frame of a century or more. Certainly the people in Durham and the more than 20,000 employed by nuclear industry in Ontario are interested to know when new build might be appropriate.

Answers to these questions were provided by Amir Shalaby, VP of Power System Planning, Ontario Power Authority, at a breakfast in Durham yesterday. A full story may be viewed by clicking this link to the Oshawa Express.

Summarizing, at the DSEA breakfast, Shalaby laid out three criteria that must be satisfied for the new build to reappear on the province’s radar.

“If the situation three years from now or five years from now demonstrates high need for electricity in Ontario, more than the capability we have in the province, then that’s one factor,” explains Shalaby. “The other one is confidence in the project management and execution capability of the industry to bring in projects on budget and on cost. Complex projects have commercial risks and commercial consequences that are of concern to the province and others if they’re not done right.”

When asked how much demand would be required to justify a new build at Clarington, Shalaby called an increase of 20 terawatt hours to be a good start. By the Ministry of Energy’s estimate, Ontario uses 140 terawatt hours of power annually. In other words, the province’s energy needs would have to jump by nearly 15 per cent.

The new build is/was only one element of Ontario’s nuclear strategy though, notes Shalaby. In Durham, there is still the refurbishment of Darlington’s existing reactors and the continued operation of Pickering’s nuclear generating station. The continued safe operation of existing plants should be another priority for the nuclear industry, says Shalaby.

The third issue would be the effectiveness and efficiency of nuclear power compared to what else is available.

“The one good thing in Ontario is we have a lot of options,” says Shalaby. “Natural gas is a good option, imports from Quebec are a good option, efficiency is a good option, renewables are coming down in cost. So there’s a lot to choose from.”

Thank you to the Oshawa Express for reporting this story and providing the quotes.

 

 

PWU and OCI promote nuclear over wind power

The Power Workers’ Union (PWU) and the Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries (OCI) issues a press release promoting investment in nuclear power generation instead of further investment in wind power.

The press release was based on a report from Strategy Policy Economics Inc.  It posits two scenarios.  The first scenario sees an expansion of Ontario’s wind farms and natural gas power stations to compensate for the intermittency of wind power.  The second scenario would scale back the growth of wind power in favour of refurbishing existing nuclear plants and building new ones.  According to the report, investing in nuclear power represents a $60 billion net incremental increase to Ontario, when compared to retaining wind power.  They also predict a 108 million tonne reduction in greehouse gasses in the nuclear scenario.

The report and the press release that followed come just as the Government of Ontario reviews its Long Term Energy Plan (LTEP), created in 2010.

Sources:

PRESS RELEASE: New study concludes that nuclear generation is the best investment for Ontario’s energy future, Power Worker’s Union, http://pwu.ca/

Brouillette, Marc, Ontario Electricity Options Report, Strategy Policy Economics Inc., http://strapolec.ca/

Toronto hosts first Future of Nuclear conference

The first Future of Nuclear conference is to be held in Toronto, Ontario.

The Province of Ontario is home to thousands of professionals working in the field of nuclear energy, many universities that provide courses in nuclear engineering, and several operating reactors. In addition, Ontario is currently planning a refurbishment of the Darlington Nuclear Generation Station, and is in the process of reviewing Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan.  Ontario’s capital, Toronto, is the ideal location to hold the first Future of Nuclear conference.

The conference will be held July 9, 2013 at MaRS discovery district, located blocks away from the University of Toronto, the Queen’s Park Provincial Parliament buildings, and Toronto’s financial district.

Click here to learn more about the event.