Time for BC to embrace nuclear energy

Nuclear energy powered Ontario's massive growth that helped make it Canada's economic heartland, and it can do the same for BC. 


Projecting and meeting energy demand is tricky. Today, the calculation requires meeting GHG emission reduction targets while driving a prosperous economy. Such an economy considers a growing population and gives young people the opportunity and hope that their incomes and quality of life will improve. 

Achieving these goals requires bold policy, action, and Playing to our strengths. Canada's key strengths are its natural resources and advanced technological capabilities to use them effectively. One powerful example is Canada's uranium reserves and nuclear technology, leading in advanced medicine and electricity generation.      

Canada has the second-largest uranium reserves in the world and was the leader in production until 2009. The World Nuclear Association has praised Canada; "For many years, Canada has been a leader in nuclear research and technology, exporting reactor systems developed in Canada as well as a high proportion of the world supply of radioisotopes used in medical diagnosis and cancer therapy.” 

The world is pursuing two core pursuits: slowing climate change and improving the standard of living and health, particularly in developing and underdeveloped countries. Canadians are proud to offer their strengths to these causes: natural resources and technology.  

To its credit, the federal government has initiated a call to action to chart a path to Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). However, BC isn't participating.         

Europe, England, and China plan to expand their nuclear power programs. According to the CBC Ontario is “going big on nuclear”, but the current energy policy in British Columbia excludes nuclear energy.    

The provincial government of BC has set ambitious climate targets and timelines. However, there are growing concerns about whether successfully electrifying the whole economy will be successful without adversely affecting the quality of life of working people.  

Are we convinced of success without nuclear energy?  

Ontario launched its successful nuclear energy program over 50 years ago. Examining the conditions on the ground leading to its introduction and the subsequent outcomes is undoubtedly worthwhile.    

During the two decades before the launch of Ontario's nuclear program, there was an era of monumental restructuring of the economy and society. A report commissioned by the Ontario Economic Council provides a ton of insight.      

Industrialists were introducing significant changes to the production processes to accommodate secondary manufacturing. Modern machines used in agriculture increased productivity, triggering migration from farms to the city. The role of services in the economy exploded. The investments in the new economy were massive, as were the impacts on society.      

Industrial facilities, infrastructure, and people became densely concentrated along the St. Lawrence Seaway and the MacDonald-Cartier 401 Hwy, creating the region we call the Golden Horseshoe. 

Ontario's population was rising faster than any other province in Canada and faster than any industrialized country. At the 2021 census, the Golden Horseshoe contained 54 percent of Ontario's population, and 20 percent of Canada's.      

The resulting rise in electricity demand put enormous pressure on Ontario Hydro to meet the needs of all the new factories, businesses, and people.      

Did Ontario’s nuclear strategy pay off? 

The answer is yes, and very well. The program met the electricity demand and the steady rise in demand over the ensuing 50 years. The program has completed rebuilds, extending its life into the future. The nuclear program provides the energy to propel Ontario to become a leading secondary manufacturing and professional services centre in North America.   

Compared to the alternatives of the day, nuclear power provides environmental and health benefits. Bruce Power Station produced 6550 MW of electricity. The nearby Nanticoke Power Station produced 3964 MW, emitting 1.5 million tons of C02e  and massive amounts of particulate matter.  

Nuclear power has a range of advantages 

Nuclear power performs exceptionally well regarding emissions and public health. Both the International Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency have underscored the benefits of pairing nuclear and renewables.      

World in Data compares land use, including mining for construction materials, fuel inputs, decommissioning, and handling waste. Nuclear uses the least land of all the options. Nuclear power requires no water, reservoir, specific weather conditions or large tracts of land.    

Shorter transmission corridors minimize further land disruptions and the transmission's power loss. Together these advantages provide tremendous flexibility in site selection.     

Northern BC is becoming nervous about future prosperity. Current projects are reaching completion. The north has gone through decades of investment droughts before. An adequate supply of electricity will be essential.  

The current projects at various stages of development in Northern BC are power-dense. These include mining (critical minerals), Indigenous-led LNG export facilities, expansion projects within the Port of Prince Rupert, and the Prince George Hydrogen Hub.     

Greening the Province's resource-based exports must be a priority. Tax revenues to eliminate the infrastructure, education and healthcare deficit depend on it. Raising middle-class incomes depends on it. Meeting emission targets here and abroad depends on it.   

Globally, GHG emissions are rising exponentially, and air quality is killing millions, predominantly in developing and underdeveloped countries, primarily because of coal in the developing world and primitive heating and cooking energies in the underdeveloped world.    

Canadian LNG, propane, and nuclear technology can contribute to the global fight to reduce emissions, save lives, and raise living standards. Not sharing our resources and technologies with the rest of the world questions our seriousness.    

Leaders facing generational challenges in Ontario in the 1960s were successful by meeting them head-on with an open mind. At this moment, in BC, meeting our present challenges will require open minds. Whatever we decide to be the mix of technologies we employ to achieve our goals, the process needs to start with an open mind, everything on the table.  

Greening our economy will need the gold of our green exports.    

Jim Rushton is a 46-year veteran of BC's resource and transportation sectors, with experience in union representation, economic development, and terminal management.

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