Medical isotopes make modern medicine possible. We depend on a steady supply to sterilize medical equipment, as radiation sources for oncology treatments and for diagnostic imaging. Canada is a world leader in the production of medical isotopes and punches far above our weight. Our national research reactor, which closed in 2016, provided a number of isotopes including Molybdenum 99 which treated 76,000 patients a day in over 80 countries. Now CANDU power reactors have been put to the job and crank out enough Cobalt 60 to sterlize 25 billion pieces of medical equipment and 40% of the world's single use surgical instruments. I am joined by James Scongack, chair of the nuclear isotope council and an executive at Bruce Power, Canada's largest power plant, to deep dive this topic.
Nuclear waste. The bogeyman of industrial wastes and yet it has been fully contained for the 60 years of commercial power plant operation without a single fatality worldwide over that time period. Compare that to fossil fuels which kill over 3 million per year from waste that is simply dumped into the atmosphere and is rapidly heating our planet such that it might not be conducive to human civilization in a few hundred years.
How bad is nuclear waste and what are we going to do with it? Relative risk assessment is not a strong point for the minds of homo sapiens. Deep geologic storage of nuclear waste involves many barriers. Solid ceramic used fuel pellets are housed inside a zirconium fuel rod in a steel cask, surrounded by a copper cannister, surrounded by bentonite clay surrounded by rock which takes water 3 million years to move 1 meter through it buried half a kilometer deep.
I am joined by Sheila Whytock who is a nuclear operator at Bruce Power and leads the community group “willing to listen” which seeks to engage the community with the Deep Geological Repository research process.
Due to the global geopolitics of the 1940's Canada became the unlikely centre for the world's second largest nuclear research infrastructure at the end of World War II. Devoting itself to the peaceful use of the atom It went on to develop a unique power reactor design, the CANDU, based on the use of heavy water to avoid the need for uranium enrichment and pressure tubes to get around the need for a heavy forging industry for reactor vessels. These features make the CANDU ideal for export and technology transfer to less developed countries with industrial capacity resembling that of Canada back in the 1960's.
CANDU reactors provide 61% of the power for the Ontario grid, the largest province in Canada, making it one of the cleanest electricity grids on earth and allowing for the complete phaseout of coal. CANDU has been exported internationally and delivered on budget and on time in China, South Korea and Romania. Alongside it's high grade uranium deposits which are the richest in the world, Canada has a unique ability to foster a made in Canada reponse to climate change. It can export its ultra low carbon technology to address its climate debt by helping developing countries to leapfrog fossil fuels on their way to ultra low carbon energy.
CANDU meets many of the criteria for an advanced reactor design with passive safety elements, modular design, and the ability to use nuclear waste as fuel. Why then is CANDU languishing especially in a country where the supply chain is 95% in country?
Dr. Jeremy Whitlock former president of the Canadian Nuclear Society and Section Head of the Dept of Safegaurds at the IAEA walks us through this incredible history. He is the brains behind nuclearfaq a treasure trove on the history of nuclear energy in Canada. http://www.nuclearfaq.ca/
Nuclear energy is only possible thanks to a highly skilled, largely unionized workforce. In popular culture nuclear workers have been portrayed as incompetent by the Simpson or as evil incarnate by anti-nuclear activists like Dr Helen Caldicott. In Canada nuclear generation is publicly owned and run by a highly unionized workforce. It provides cheap, clean and reliable energy to the commons AKA our grid. Due to the incredibly energy density of nuclear energy each worker has an outsized role in preventing the burning of fossil fuels and producing large amounts of air pollution free and ultra low emissions electricity. I am joined by Bob Walker the national director of the Canadian Nuclear Workers Council to demystify what nuclear workers do, how nuclear energy is a uniquely potent job creator and why political parties and many unions have not engaged or even turned their backs on nuclear workers and their unions.
Jay Harris is an energy consultant and proponent of small modular reactor (SMR) development for remote locations. Jay is a member of the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan and has worked as an aircraft maintainer in the Air Reserves and in the RCMP in the far north. He was the first aboriginal person to attend the World Nuclear University program in Oxfordshire UK. We talk about the existing energy, nutrition and water challenges facing remote Canadian reserves. We explore the fascinating history of SMRs in remote environments which goes back to the 1950's and we look at the possibilities and challenges of SMRs in the far north.
Nuclear North of 60 Slideset
On today's show we explore Ontario's clean grid, how it got there, where its going and how unique it is. Ontario "overproduces" clean energy due to our large nuclear (65%) and hydro (25%) infrastructure. We explore how adding wind and solar to the Ontario grid actually drives up emissions, how wind produces out of sync with demand and how we end up curtailing a lot of our renewables or selling it at rock bottom prices to the USA. We dive into the Green Energy Act and the 20 year contracts that have locked Ontario's rate payers into overpaying dramatically for renewables. As crazy as this sounds Ontario could decarbonize a lot of our heating and transportation by simply giving Ontarion's free electricity off peak hours. Paul is a Mechanical Engineer with over 48 years of engineering and management experience and was the 2013-14 President and Chair of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE).