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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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:
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.
from; Rogner, H.H., and A. Khan “Comparing
Energy Options”, IAEA WWW Site, April 13, 1999
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:http://www.cns-snc.ca/events/CCEO/candureactors.pdf
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.
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
(Pembina Institute) "Life Cycle Value Assessment of GHG Mitigating Technologies", Climate Change 2:
Canadian Technology Development,Toronto, October 3-5, 2001, Presentation posted
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
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: http://www.nccp.ca/NCCP/pdf/AMG_finalreport_eng.pdf
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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
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
I wonder how much of that
could ultimately be credited as a sink with the development of appropriate
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
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.
control greenhouse gas emissions may take us in some new directions.
Improvements in energy efficiency and conservation will not be enough.
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.