Unite Behind the Science

Last week I spoke at the Clarington Board of Trade to launch an important new initiative and challenge the business leaders in attendance to think big when it comes to the future of our region, our country and our planet. The Clean Energy Capital initiative highlights the cluster of innovation in the Durham Region that generates Green House Gas (GHG) emission free electricity for Ontario through the fueling and operation of nuclear generating stations in Pickering and Darlington. The initiative also challenges people to question whether Canada and the world can meet our climate change commitments without leveraging our expertise in nuclear power.

Watch: Durham Region, Canada’s Clean Energy Hub

The Durham Region became Canada’s Clean Energy Capital somewhat by accident because of Canadian research and development. We were the third country to demonstrate controlled nuclear fission and developed what has become the safest and most reliable nuclear power-generation technology (CANDU) and a leadership role in the generation of medical isotopes. Our area has been part of this story of innovation from the start as Canadian uranium has been upgraded in Port Hope since the 1930s. Today, CANDU reactors around the world are fueled by Port Hope and those in Pickering and Darlington generate a third of Ontario’s electricity. In recent decades, Durham College and Ontario Tech University have developed world class programs related to training, education and innovation in energy. Ontario Power Generation is moving their headquarters to Durham and suppliers are joining them, so our region is Canada’s Clean Energy Capital and we need to leverage this expertise for our economy and for the environment.

Read: Canada’s Clean Energy Capital

The second part of my presentation challenged business leaders to demand a more serious discussion about climate change. We need long-term, science-based plans that minimize economic disruption and that consider global emissions alongside our own. Our plan should start with the fact that 85% of global energy use comes from the burning of fossil fuels and one-third are burned to generate electricity. The biggest role Canada can play is helping to make electricity generation around the world greener through the elimination of coal and a shift to nuclear when and where possible. A review of the global numbers shows why. Since 2000, Ontario eliminated 8.8 GW (Giga Watts) of coal power while global coal use almost doubled from 1066 GW to 2024 GW. The economic growth in China has largely been powered by coal and many other developing economies are building more coal-fired electricity generation. The elimination of coal in Ontario seems paltry when compared to rising global trends, but we did it through the reliance upon nuclear and natural gas for base load electricity generation with hydro and renewable sources used wherever possible. We must take our Ontario experience global.

Read: The World’s Coal Power Plants

Canadian Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) can displace coal use in electricity generation around the world at a time when developing countries need more energy. Our oil and gas sector is the most ethical and environmentally conscious in the world and we should leverage that strong regulatory environment as we export to these countries. At the same time, we can leverage our expertise in nuclear power to allow more developed electricity grids to be powered by CANDU technology and by continuing our role as a pioneer in nuclear energy for the next wave of innovation. Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) have been used in military submarines for decades, but now technology is being developed to allow for smaller or remote communities and industrial sites to have clean power on a smaller level and with less cost and complexity. SMRs should be central to any serious plan for global emission reduction and our country and region can be the hub for that innovation.

The need for more serious dialogue on climate change was underscored a few hours after my presentation when Canada’s Minister for Climate Change tweeted out an emoji collage about climate change. Her “climate change is real” tweet embodied the superficial treatment the Trudeau government gives the subject. Minister McKenna has never mentioned the role of nuclear energy in a lower carbon future because many voices in the environmental movement are conflicted on nuclear energy and prefer fantasy over reality. I lamented this fact in a column four years ago after the Paris climate conference and it has only gotten worse since then. We can admire young activists like Greta Thunberg for the attention they are bringing to the environmental issues, but she is similarly caught in the same bind as Minister McKenna and doesn’t support nuclear energy. Despite the fact she sailed across the ocean on a boat with “Unite Behind the Science” on the sail, she is ignoring the view of most scientists on how we can most effectively displace coal from the global production of electricity. We need more serious dialogue on climate change, so I hope I have just started the conversation for you.

Read: Carbon-Friendly Power

Read: The Real Climate Consensus: Nuclear Power