Starting The Conversation On Nuclear
Insight “Modern society could not operate without the contribution of nuclear technologies,” explains Dr. John Barrett, President of the Canadian Nuclear Association.
“Our homes and offices would not have smoke detectors, bridges would not bear weight as reliably, aircrafts would not fly as safely, pipelines would leak more often, and more of our friends and neighbours would die of undiagnosed heart disease and untreated cancers.”
“Canada plays a significant role in improving the safety, efficiency and flexibility of nuclear technologies.”
In short, the fruits of nuclear technologies are all around us—in clean and reliable energy production, food safety, manufacturing, medicine and much more.
Yet, despite the many and varied uses of nuclear technologies, Canadians are surprised at the extent to which nuclear contributes to sustaining our standard of living and quality of life. As such, building public awareness around the enormous benefits of nuclear technologies remains an important goal.
Clean, safe and reliable energy
Canada has a long history of nuclear generation. Since 1962 when the Nuclear Power Demonstration (NPD) reactor came online in Rolphton, Ontario, nuclear power has been an essential component of Canada’s energy supply mix. Today, it provides nearly 17 percent of Canada’s daily needs, and accounts for as much as 62.7 percent of the electricity used in Ontario.
This growth in nuclear generation has, by virtue of it being an emissions-free source of energy, helped to mitigate the impact of climate change, according to Dr. Barrett.
“People sometimes assume, mistakenly, that clean energy is renewable energy,” says Dr. Barrett. “I think that’s it’s important to point out that if you’re thinking of clean, with respect to pollutants or particles put into the air, or greenhouse gas emissions, by those standards, nuclear is very much a clean source of energy.”
Nuclear technologies contribute to our quality of life in other ways too. Take medicine, for example, where radiation and radioisotopes play a vital role in the diagnosis and treatment of various medical conditions such as cancer.
Similarly, nuclear technologies are used in manufacturing to assess the quality of workmanship, in food production to breed disease-resistant plants, and in civil engineering to create safer materials.
“The point is here that people have various views about the use of nuclear reactors to produce electrical power because that’s where they see it most. But nuclear technologies are used in a great variety of ways,” says Dr. Barrett.
“I met a group of researchers at Chalk River who were working on a project where they had discovered that by using neutron techniques, they could image the chests of premature babies who had trouble breathing. And that discovery led to the development of a kind of pharmaceutical to help alleviate breathing problems,” he says.
Innovations at home and abroad
Given our widespread use of nuclear technologies, it should come as no surprise that Canada plays a significant role in improving the safety, efficiency and flexibility of nuclear technologies.
These innovations have, in turn, had a positive effect on the quality of life in other countries around the world that have adopted our practices and technologies.
“Countries that have bought and are using CANDU reactors include South Korea, Romania, Argentina, and China,” says Dr. Barrett.
“What’s happening now with CANDU energy is they’re negotiating with China to build a couple of new reactors that are called Advanced Fuel Reactors. And these new reactors can use fuel other than enriched uranium, and can extract more energy than other reactors,” he says.
With nuclear generation playing an increasingly larger role in Canada’s energy supply mix and the recently announced commitment by the Ontario government to refurbish ten reactors in Ontario, Canada’s nuclear industry is poised for continued growth.
However, in order to maintain this growth, public awareness about the benefits of nuclear must increase.
As was declared at the 2014 Nuclear Industry Summit, “continued public confidence is essential for the application of nuclear technology, and the extensive benefits that it brings.”