A Canadian chain reaction: celebrating World Nuclear Energy Day
December 2 marks the third annual World Nuclear Energy Day, an opportunity for the nuclear sector, its advocates and individuals around the world to celebrate the contribution that nuclear power is making now to our global clean energy goals.
December 2 is a unique date for the global nuclear sector: in 1942, the Chicago Pile-1 became the first nuclear reactor to achieve a self-sustaining chain reaction. And in 1957, exactly 15 years later, the first commercial-sized power reactor achieved critical operations in Shippingport, Pennsylvania—setting a metaphorical ‘chain reaction’ of clean power production in motion.
That leads us to the theme for this year’s World Nuclear Energy Day: “A Chain Reaction.” The theme seeks to remind us of the importance of engaging globally to raise awareness of nuclear not only within our own countries or regions but around the world.
In light of this theme, we’re exploring what Canada is doing to support the global nuclear sector—with the hope this will be a helpful snapshot for our fellow advocates and supporters around the world.
Canada’s nuclear fleet
Globally, nuclear energy provides about 10% of the world’s electricity from 440 installed power reactors of different varieties. In Canada, we come in just over that global average, with 15% of our domestic electricity grid drawing its electricity from 19 nuclear reactors across the country.
These 19 reactors represent Canada’s X-factor when it comes the country’s contribution to global chain reaction: CANDU technology.
CANDU reactors are proudly made-in-Canada technology that first began developing in the 1950s and saw commercial operation in 1971. CANDU technology offers many unique advantages: the use of unenriched uranium and reduced reactor downtime for refuelling and maintenance. Meaning these reactors can—and have been—providing safe, reliable, emissions-free baseload electricity to the grids they serve.
And if all that clean electricity wasn’t enough, CANDU reactors are responsible for nearly ALL the world’s supply of Cobalt-60, a medical isotope that is used to sterilize once-used medical equipment around the world.
Cobalt-60 is also just the beginning for CANDU’s contribution to the development of medical isotopes around the world. Recently, Bruce Power, alongside Isogen—a joint venture between Framatome and Kinectrics—installed a first-of-its-kind Isotope Production System (IPS), which is enabling Bruce Power to produce even more short-lived medical isotopes without interrupting operations.
Already, the IPS system is being used to produce Lutetium-177, a medical isotope used to treat neuroendocrine tumors. The IPS system built for CANDU reactors at Bruce Power is a game-changer for the global supply of these life-saving isotopes.
It's no wonder then, that CANDU technology has been exported around the world: according to the World Nuclear Association, there are 27 CANDU power reactors operating in seven countries around the world, including South Korea, Romania, India, Pakistan, Argentina and China, as well as 17 ‘CANDU-derivative’ reactors in India.
Here in Ontario, CANDU has done the heavy lifting when it comes to decarbonizing our provincial electricity grid, producing an electricity system that is more than 90% carbon free (60% of which comes from nuclear!).
In fact, it was only when CANDU units at Bruce Power came back online that Ontario was able to fully phase out the use of coal-fired electricity generation—a goal for many jurisdictions around the world.
A chain reaction of positive public policy in Canada
Here in Canada, a wave of support for nuclear is resulting in public policy changes that will enable increased levels of nuclear power production.
This starts with policy certainty that has been in place for years, though. Long-term system planning in Ontario by its Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) has allowed for site operators at Bruce Power and OPG to commit to significant refurbishment projects that will keep these reactors online for decades to come.
The chain reaction starts there: protecting what we have. But how do we enable even more nuclear power production here in Canada?
Here are just a few positive policy initiatives that we’ve seen in recent years:
Government of Canada launches Canadian Small Modular Reactor Roadmap.
Governments of Ontario, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Alberta sign inter-provincial Memorandum of Understanding to advance the deployment of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).
Ontario Power Generation (OPG) announces work to build Ontario’s first grid-scale SMR at Darlington site.
Government of Canada’s 2022 Fall Economic Statement announces Investment Tax Credit for Clean Technologies and includes SMR technology as an eligible investment, with the potential to include large-scale nuclear projects (following consultations to take place in the coming weeks).
The chain reaction has indeed started here in Canada. There is new momentum for Canada’s nuclear sector every day as we look to nuclear as a foundational part of our global goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
For the Canadian nuclear sector, our message is simple: net zero needs nuclear.
Chad Richards is the Director of the Bruce Power Centre for New Nuclear and Net Zero Partnerships.