Let Nuclear Energy Drive Ontario’s Post-Recession Economy

The following oped appeared in the March 5 edition of the National Post under the title The Nuclear Option

by Armand Laferrère, president and CEO of AREVA Canada Inc.

Clean energy and new technologies to produce environmentally-friendly products will play a major part in Ontario’s economic renewal program. Given its ability to produce reliable, emission-free, base load electricity, Ontario’s nuclear industry can and should play a central role in the creation of a stronger and more sustainable provincial economy.

Ontario has a running start in becoming a worldwide centre of excellence for nuclear energy. Almost 90% of Canada’s nuclear reactors are located here, producing half of the province’s electricity. We’ve been generating nuclear power for almost 50 years, so we have a deep pool of skilled nuclear scientists, engineers and operators, and a world-leading safety record.

Building new nuclear generation and infrastructure creates thousands of high-paying, long-term jobs for contractors and subcontractors in several industries. Given the long lead time, new reactors aren’t exactly in the “shovel-ready” category of infrastructure projects. However, by announcing a comprehensive strategy to become a leader in nuclear technology and generation, the government would unleash a host of planning and procurement processes. These processes alone, given their size and scope, have the potential to boost confidence in the province’s economy.

This kind of program would also dovetail nicely with emerging energy policy in the United States. We already know that nuclear will play a larger role in U.S. power generation. The Nuclear Energy Institute says, “Maintaining nuclear energy’s current 20% share of generation would require building three reactors every two years starting in 2016.”

As this “clean energy imperative” matures, the energy provenance and carbon footprint of imported goods will be more closely scrutinized than ever before. With an industrial and manufacturing base powered primarily by nuclear energy, Ontario would become known as a place where green products are made, helping to cement our export relationship with the United States.

Nuclear energy also fits Ontario’s vision of economic renewal. The government has announced its intention to help fill our future with electric cars. A TV ad from Ontario Power Generation shows commuters pulling electric cars into their driveways at the end of the day, plugging them in for the next morning’s commute. The voice-over asks where the power will come from. The answer follows: “nuclear that runs night and day, day in and day out.”

This makes sense. Hundreds of thousands of electric cars being plugged in simultaneously before suppertime will require a reliable source of clean base load power, and lots of it. And if those cars are being plugged in on a hot, windless day in the midst of a summer heat wave — when wind turbines won’t turn, reservoir levels above hydro dams are lower and air conditioning is cooling homes and businesses — then demands on the province’s future power grid will be sky high.

Finally, there’s the matter of energy prices. Put simply, countries with large nuclear capacity enjoy cheaper electricity. For proof, look to France and the United States. France has the largest proportion of nuclear energy in Europe and the cheapest electricity on the continent. As for our southern neighbours, a recent policy paper by the Institute for 21st Century Energy and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce confirmed that America’s 104 nuclear reactors provide the cheapest base load electricity per kilowatt hour.

Looking beyond the recent, recession-induced decline in the price of oil, the long-term outlook for energy indicates higher costs, tighter supply and greater demand for zero-emission sources. Countries that have invested heavily in nuclear already have a price advantage over other sources of energy, and the new generation of reactors under construction will widen the gap even further.

It goes without saying that clean, secure, reliable, low-cost energy is an enormous advantage for homeowners and a major incentive for new business investment. The fundamental link between energy and the economy has already been recognized in Washington, where the Obama administration has made these two areas top priority during its first weeks in office.

The Ontario government is moving in a similar direction with its vision of economic renewal that includes innovation and clean energy. That vision should include an expansion of the province’s nuclear assets beyond current and planned capacity. By making a commitment to establish Ontario as a leader in 21st-century nuclear technology, and by encouraging our educational institutions to foster the next generation of nuclear engineers and technicians, the government would be investing in infrastructure today that will create the jobs of tomorrow.