Good afternoon, I’ve been asked to supplement my colleagues presentations on the nuclear industry with some information on climate change and some discussion of the role nuclear energy might  play in meeting that challenge.
Dr. Don Lemmen, Director , Terrain Services Division of the Geological Survey of Canada made a most interesting climate change presentation to the Alberta Irrigation Projects Association Conference in Lethbridge in November last year. I thank him for providing his introductory overheads.  I’m making use of these to help provide some background on the climate change issue and Canada’s actions to address it. I’ll then focus on the ability of nuclear energy to provide process heat and electricity with minimal greenhouse gas emissions and provide a few examples of potential application in Alberta in the context of controlling atmospheric greenhouse gases.
Dr Lemmen explained that gases accumulating in the atmosphere are trapping energy on earth leading to increases in temperature. Much of this is due to natural processes. Water vapor in the atmosphere is responsible for most  of this heating and is largely responsible for making earth warm enough to support life as we know it. Human activity is contributing to a buildup of other gases, particularly carbon dioxide, and this is the reason for our concern we may causing changes to climate.
Extensive studies of geological and biological information, as well as measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide content, indicate a sudden up turn of both carbon dioxide and methane in the last century in conjunction with our ability to retrieve and burn fossil fuels. Please note that the increase in methane is larger than CO2 increase although the contribution to heating the atmosphere is less. Methane is of particular significance to Alberta and is, I believe, responsible for helping to make Alberta the number one province in greenhouse gas emissions.
An increase in earths surface temperature over the same time period has been observed. This might seem kind of trivial to those of us exposed to the daily vagaries of Alberta climate. However world governments are very concerned about this increase.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has commissioned a watch by foremost scientists. Their third extensive analysis and report over the past decade notes the conclusions of the next overhead.
There are those who dispute these conclusions and the linkage of increasing greenhouse gas emissions to rising temperatures. A recent book titled “The Skeptical Environmentalist” does and has come under intense scrutiny by the Scientific American. A series of articles reviewing the book under the general title “Misleading Math about the Earth” are published in the January 2002 issue of the Scientific American.
In view of the global nature of the problem the United Nations has taken on the task of trying to coordinate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  In the process of negotiations reduction targets have been set for the so-called developed nations. Developing nations have been (temporarily) excused from numerical commitments as they so far have not been the major contributor of emissions. A  UN meeting last fall arrived at an international agreement  to limit greenhouse gas emissions to about 5 or 6% below 1990 levels by about 2010. Many countries, including Canada, are considering signing on the bottom line by ratifying the agreement in 2002. Should this happen it will be an important first step toward controlling greenhouse gas emissions.
Why is this just a first step? Please note that this initial commitment from the developed countries is expected to be more than countered by increased emissions from others. Atmospheric CO2 levels will double in 2055 instead of 2045. Long term success depends on getting more countries involved in controlling emissions – likely to a still lower level relative to 1990.
Canada will be pledging to reduce emissions to 6% below 1990 levels if the Kyoto Protocol is ratified. This pledge was initiated in 1997 at Kyoto. The so-called National Climate Change Process was initiated in early 1997 to undertake an in-depth review of the implications of the commitment proposed at Kyoto. A number of “Issue Tables” were formed then to solicit federal, provincial, industry and other stakeholder input. The work included extensive assessment by sector and overall economic assessment undertaken by an Analysis and Modeling Group.
The work is notable by the volume of work made public and available for all Canadians. Perhaps this openness can be partly attributed to the ascendancy of the World Wide Web as a meeting place in recent years.
The commitment at Kyoto translates to a need to find a way to reduce Canada’s expected “Business as Usual” greenhouse gas emissions of 770 Mt in 2010 to 571 Mt representing 6% below 1990 emission levels.
Some of you may recall that a commitment to reduce Canada’s emissions to 1990 levels was made in the early 1990’s. Some actions were taken as a result which are believed to have slowed growth of emissions. Even so we were still left with a 200 Mt projected “Gap” in 1997. Canada has already initiated some more actions under the Business/Action  Plan 2000 which tend to focus on energy efficiency.
The plans implemented to date are not intended to close the gap. Rather they are intended to position Canada for  ratification of the protocol.
We can anticipate some more difficult and costly decisions will be needed to close the remaining gap of 135 Mt.
Details of the business plan can be found at:
This slide from the federal government, courtesy of Don Lemmen,  summarizes the points of the previous overhead. The upper line shows where we would have expected to be without pre 1997 actions to limit emissions. The blue line indicates where we expect to be with actions initiated to date.
We will be  looking for a reduction of 134 Mt per year by 2010 should we need to close the “Kyoto” gap.
Where does nuclear energy fit in this?      Many studies of lifecycle emissions from various electricity production options demonstrate the low emissions from the nuclear energy cycle. CO2 emissions from the best hydro, nuclear and wind practice are vanishingly small compared with fossil fuels - absent sequestration.
Figure from;  Rogner, H.H., and A. Khan “Comparing Energy Options”, IAEA WWW Site, April 13, 1999
Additional references
Andseta, S., M. J. Thompson, J. P. Jarrell and D. R., Pendergast, “CANDU Reactors and Greenhouse Gas Emissions”, 19th Annual Conference, Canadian Nuclear Society, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, October 18-21, 1998 , Posted at:
Dones, R., U. Gantner and S. Hirschberg, Greenhouse Gas Total Emissions from Current and Future Electricity and Heat Supply Systems”,  Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies, Interlaken, Switzerland, 31 Aug. – 2 Sept. 1998, Pergamon, Amsterdam (1999) 891-896.
Another example indicates the reductions that could be made in CO2 from our personal transportation based on the use of hydrogen from electrolysis used in hydrogen powered ICE hybrid vehicles. This figure points out the particularly low emissions from the CANDU system due to it’s use of natural uranium. As a point of reference average emissions from Canadian personal use vehicles in 1995 were about 5 ½ tonnes.
Figure from: Pendergast, Duane, “Nuclear Power and Carbon Dioxide Free Automobiles”, 20th Annual Conference of the Canadian Nuclear Society, Montréal, Québec, Canada, 1999 May 30 - June 2
Additional reference
Matt McCulloch (Pembina Institute) "Life Cycle Value Assessment of GHG Mitigating Technologies", Climate Change 2: Canadian Technology Development,Toronto, October 3-5, 2001, Presentation posted at:
Canada’s nuclear plants were avoiding about 100 million tonnes of CO2 annually in the early 1990’s as Darlington was completed. This contribution has declined in recent years as some units have been shut down for maintenance. We anticipate that most of these will be back in operation in time to make a significant contribution should Canada ratify Kyoto. Putting new nuclear plants into operation before 2010 would require Herculean effort and would displace existing electricity generating capability which has not reached it’s planned end of life. A commitment to Kyoto implies the need for additional greenhouse gas  reduction activity after 2010. A longer time period allows for the development of infrastructure which would allow for the expanded use of greenhouse gas  free nuclear energy sources. Direct use of nuclear process heat has not been applied in Canada to date. Greenhouse gas free electricity has the potential for more use in industry and in transportation.
The National Climate Change Process includes an overall assessment of the the costs to Canada of actions to achieve the Kyoto commitment. The package of input options included new technology to sequester CO2 from coal and initiatives to allow greater use of hydropower via expanded transmission facilities. The analysis predicted very substantial emissions reductions from the electricity sector on the basis of this technology. Any new nuclear plants were precluded from consideration by the model by the assumption that any decision to build new plants would be delayed till at least 2013 and that it would take ten years to build them.
The results of the AMG work are available at:
These results encouraged the  Canadian Nuclear Association to reassess these results with some more upbeat input assumptions with respect to nuclear electricity. The Canadian nuclear industry knows CANDU plants can be built in less than five years. A higher degree of urgency with respect to lowering greenhouse gases could lead to earlier decisions to deploy more nuclear plants. The nuclear industry has also started to build on lessons learned with the first commercial reactors to come up with lower cost designs. In essence, we repeated the analysis of the Analysis and Modeling group to incorporate modified input assumptions for start and build time. An additional case incorporated the lower cost of the new design.  The model then chose to build new nuclear plants – essentially  in place of sequestration from fossil plants and the expansion of hydro electricity. The lower cost of electricity also resulted in some expansion of electricity use displacing other energy sources. The cost reduction of nuclear of 30% changed the model predictions quite dramatically, illustrating the high sensitivity of the least cost model to economic conditions.
These results are available to the National Climate Change Process.
References on NG CANDU available at:
Torgerson, David F., “Reducing the Cost of the CANDU System” CNS Climate Change Symposium, Ottawa, Ontario, 1999 November 19 Wren, D.J. and J.M. Hopwood, “The CANDU Contribution to Environmentally Friendly Energy Production”, Climate Change 2: Canadian Technology Development Conference, Toronto, Ontario, 2001 October 3-5.
The nuclear industry has long dreamed of application to Alberta’s oil sands. Many studies have been done. Oil sand projects tended to be too small to utilize the large energy output from CANDU reactors. Processes used for extraction tended to require higher temperatures than available from CANDU. I understand one incentive for AECL to embark on the development of a higher temperature organically cooled reactor was the potential for application to the oil sands.
A relatively new extraction process finding favor in Alberta’s  oil sands also promises a better fit with the characteristics of Canada’s nuclear reactor technology.
The process, known as Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage, can utilize lower temperature steam than some earlier processes contemplated for nuclear extraction.
Oil sand projects are tending toward larger installations. A very preliminary review suggests that the use of nuclear energy for extraction and upgrading could avoid the 1/10 tonne of CO2 typically generated by the production of a barrel of oil using current techniques.  Oil sand projects now appear to be of the size which could utilize nuclear plants.
Nuclear energy provides a means to nearly completely avoid the CO2 emissions associated with increasing production from Alberta’s oil sands.
Donnelly, John K. and Duane R. Pendergast, Nuclear Energy in Industry: Application to Oil Production, 20th Annual Conference of the Canadian Nuclear Society, Montréal, Québec, Canada, 1999 May 30 - June 2. Posted at:
During the negotiating sessions at the United Nations, Canada argued for the inclusion of agricultural sinks without explicit limits. This was agreed to. Limits were defined for forest sinks in the developed countries and the stage was set to develop procedures for establishing and verifying the capacity of biological sinks. So far agricultural sinks don’t seem to have garnered much attention in the media although their potential is of keen interest to the agriculture sector of Canada’s economy. Few of the many casual observers of the climate change scene seem to notice to date that taking maximum advantage of sinks will require land water, and nutrients.
Energy can be used to provide water and nutrients.
One of the participants in last falls Alberta Irrigation Projects Association conference was asked to make some projections for the future. One tongue-in cheek suggestion was that natural gas pipelines might ultimately be converted to pump water south from Alberta’s North.
That suggestion prompted me to consider the amount of carbon that might be removed from the atmosphere by moving northern water south for irrigation.
This figure illustrates the huge amount of water flowing through Alberta’s northern rivers to the Northwest Territories and the Arctic Ocean.
Map available at:
Data from the foregoing figure and Alberta’s irrigation industry suggests that just one half of the water from the Slave river would irrigate about 20 million acres. Additional data from Alberta Food, Agriculture and Rural Development and from the Ontario Corn Producers Association suggest some crops can remove carbon from the atmosphere at the rate of about 8 tonnes per acre per annum for a total of 160 million tonnes/annum.  I wonder how much of that could ultimately be credited as a sink with the development of appropriate techniques? Unfortunately, Northern Alberta is about 700 metres lower than Southern Alberta so gravity will not easily relinquish that water for our convenience. About 2 kWhr/m3 of energy input would be needed to overcome gravity and about 12,000 Mw would be needed to lift half of the Slave River flow. Would the value of the carbon sinks help defray the cost of such a system? Preliminary estimates suggest that if the crop was converted to charcoal to maximize the sink, it might be worth more than food crops. That’s a scary thought. With that whimsy I’d like to conclude.
Actions to control greenhouse gas emissions may take us in some new directions.  Improvements in energy efficiency and conservation will not be enough. Anticipated actions to constrain emissions will really focus our attention to the intrinsic value of fossil fuels as these actions will tend to increase the  cost. This will in turn provide an incentive to continue developing alternative sources of energy such as wind and nuclear. We may need to increase our energy use to control atmospheric greenhouse gases. We provided one possible extreme example of the use of energy to create a greenhouse gas sink through increased irrigation. It’s likely that initiatives to sequester the emissions from coal may also lead to increased energy use.  There are many other such cases. Our human ingenuity in the production and use of energy has served us well to date and it seems there is a lot of room to develop greenhouse gas control technology with greater cognizance of human integration with  the overall environment.