Canada's nuclear energy sector could have a strong future both domestically and abroad, but a long-term strategy is needed in order for it to prosper, according to a new report released by the Public Policy Forum.
The independent report said that with its decades of research, experience and innovation, the Canadian nuclear sector could be "well-positioned" to take advantage of opportunities around the world. But it noted that the sector has experienced stagnation over the past decade, due to lagging domestic reactor technology and developments, making it more difficult for Canada to compete globally.
"Based on our discussions, it is clear that no medium or long-term plan or strategy currently exists that can help the sector achieve its potential or, for that matter, avert further decline," the report says.
"If leaders are to help mitigate problems and take advantage of opportunities, a more organized and collaborative approach will be necessary."
The report - Canada's Nuclear Energy Sector: Where To From Here? - was released on 7 January 2014. The study, which was sponsored by the nuclear industry, including the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) and plant operator Ontario Power Generation (OPG), identifies five critical challenges that need to be addressed to make the Canadian nuclear sector more competitive and resilient. It also highlights areas of opportunity and proposes a series of potential next steps that could help guide they country's decision-makers.
The findings of the report are based on the results of three meetings with leaders from the private, public, academic, association, labour and diplomatic communities, conducted in 2013.
Cost remains a significant challenge
The most significant challenge facing the nuclear energy sector, according to the report, is the 'enormous' upfront capital costs required to build new nuclear plants, which can account for some 60% of total project lifecycle costs. In order to overcome this obstacle, the report suggests that new investment strategies may need to be explored that spread the financial risk and funding responsibilities among different stakeholders.
Another challenge that the sector must address is public concern surrounding nuclear waste. "Fears that spent fuel could be mismanaged and potentially contaminate the environment are very common, and help contribute to the public's opposition to building new power plants," the report notes.
The report also said that government leaders have 'largely been silent' on the future of nuclear energy in Canada, which has 'done little' to address public concerns or to clarify Canada's long-term interests in the sector for private sector leaders and investors.
The remaining two challenges cited by the report were 'unclear foreign investment rules' and the niche market for CANDU reactor technology.
The way forward
The report identifies a number of opportunities that Canadian leaders can consider for the nuclear sector, including those to:
- Leverage Canada's strong reputation to realize new nuclear opportunities abroad
- Build upon the Canada's uranium mining, production and export expertise
- Enhance Canadian nuclear research and development capacity
- Strengthen Canada's high-skilled nuclear and mining labour force
- Replace higher carbon-emitting electricity (and support renewables)
- Continue to develop advanced fuels
- Improve engagement with, and education of, the public on nuclear issues
It outlines two visions for Canadian nuclear sector over the next 20 years. It sees nuclear energy playing "an essential role" in meeting Canada's domestic energy needs, helping to drive economic growth, job creation and innovation. Globally, Canada's nuclear energy sector is viewed as a "strong international competitor, producing innovative technologies, fuels and services to both emerging and existing markets."
Possible future steps forward that could help achieve this vision include:
- Generating new sources of financial support for the sector from overseas lenders or investors
- Pursing opportunities for small modular reactor development
- Working with environmental NGOs and the public on nuclear education
- The identification of 'champions' for nuclear energy, which could play a key role in encouraging agreements with emerging nuclear energy markets
- Strengthening of national laboratory R&D capabilities to benefit the nuclear sector and other industries
- Improving engagement and transparency of the regulatory regime.
Photo: Canada's Chalk River Labs