Canada’s nuclear path7 July 2021
The 40th annual Canadian Nuclear Society conference delivered two clear messages: Canada’s nuclear future is now and there is room for everyone. Jacquie Hoornweg reports
Above: At the June 2021 Canadian Nuclear Society conference, Kinectrics announced development of the Helius Innovation Campus to support development, testing and commercialisation of novel clean energy technologies
THE 40TH ANNUAL CANADIAN NUCLEAR Society (CNS) conference held 6-9 June was a metaphor of the industry itself. The four-day, online event was filled with plenaries and technical workshops on current Candu performance while simultaneously, bringing forward a view of a future, already very much under development.
On that path there are nuclear scientists, innovators and operators but there are also the people who stand to benefit most from nuclear in its increasingly diverse uses, and the people who connect the two groups.
In the conference opening Seamus O’Regan, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, reconfirmed the federal government’s inclusion of nuclear in its clean energy plan, stating, “We need an all-energy sources approach and that includes nuclear.”
O’Regan referenced International Energy Agency reports saying that the world will face an up-hill battle to reduce carbon emissions without nuclear. Unequivocally, the minister stated, “We need nuclear to get to net zero.”
In two of Canada’s provinces, Ontario and New Brunswick, as well as six other countries worldwide, Candu nuclear stations provide the backbone of the electricity system. The conference’s first plenary covered the state of operations and provided updates on refurbishment projects now under way. After refurbishment, some Candu units will continue to operate until the mid-2060s. In addition to electricity, some Candu units supply isotopes for crucial life-saving nuclear medicine and other uses like food sterilisation.
The second plenary on the future of nuclear in energy and technology systems illustrated that the future is progressing, driven by increasing interest from provinces across Canada who want to include small modular reactors (SMRs) in their future energy mix. That interest is buoyed by efforts of small modular reactor design vendors and an active Canadian supply chain.
Kinectrics, a Canadian-headquartered, life cycle management company, used the conference to announce plans to build and operate Helius, an innovation campus and testing facility that will advance nuclear applications such as molten salt thermal energy storage, hydrogen generation, industrial and district heating and water treatment.
Canadian Nuclear Laboratories highlighted its recent science and technology developments in collaboration with industry partners and laboratories worldwide. Developments focused on progress in small modular reactors, using nuclear for hydrogen production and reactor sustainability.
Above: Conference panelist Austin Paul (right) is pictured speaking with a member of the community at an environmental open house for New Brunswick Power's Point Lepreau Generating Station
Meeting public expectations
Although CNS is largely a technical organisation, the conference made room for social aspects, including how to develop communication pathways to engage a spectrum of civil society on next generation nuclear technology, and how to maximise the benefits of nuclear across society.
Many industry organisations are working with First Nations and other indigenous peoples to share information and to learn from their unique perspectives and traditional knowledge.
The continued work being done to attract more women to the industry, to improve equity, diversity and inclusion, as well as the importance of working with Indigenous peoples in all projects going forward, was threaded through the conversations of several sessions.
The 45th annual CNS / Canadian Nuclear Association Student Conference is held in parallel with the CNS conference each year. As the two intersected in 2021, it reinforced that Canada’s nuclear innovation is as much about what’s happening in the street and on TikTok, as it is what is happening in laboratories.
Author: Jacquie Hoornweg is Managing partner at Querencia Partners