By Jean-François Béland
Executive Vice-President, AREVA Canada
During the year that has passed since the earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, many have questioned the future of nuclear energy in nations around the world. While a few nations have decided in the wake of Fukushima to move abruptly away from nuclear energy, many others have taken this opportunity to take a long hard look at this technology and have moved forcefully ahead.
Driven largely by internal political concerns, Germany declared it will gradually shutter its nuclear plants, opting instead to depend more on fossil fuels (domestic brown coal and imported Russian gas) and more renewables. But for the near term, Germans can expect higher electricity prices, more carbon emissions and imports of nuclear-produced electricity from France.
Others, such as China, India and the United Kingdom, are moving forward aggressively with plans for new nuclear power plants. China alone has 26 new reactors under construction, including two by AREVA. The U.S. government recently approved the construction for the first new reactor in 30 years, an event that will lead to other projects.
Here in Canada, we stand at a crossroads. While some politicians have expressed their support for nuclear energy, this has not translated into the concrete actions necessary to spur significant new investments. Canada’s nuclear power plants generate 15% of our electricity safely, reliably and without producing greenhouse gases. But nearly 20 years have passed since a new plant has come online.
In Ontario more than 50% of the electricity comes from nuclear energy, making this technology critical for the economy. Nuclear energy’s low cost and reliability enables our industrial base in Ontario to remain competitive. Let’s face it, nuclear power generation helps maintain industrial and manufacturing jobs in Ontario better than any other fiscal incentive to date.
The refurbishment project at Darlington Nuclear Generating Station in Ontario has just taken another step forward. This is indeed a positive development. But we must move forward now with the development of new plants to ensure we have reliable power for the future. In addition, each new nuclear plant project would create thousands more jobs and spur billions of dollars in regional investment.
We continue to work with NB Power and other partners on the possibility of developing a Clean Energy Park at the Point Lepreau site in New Brunswick, using a combination of AREVA’s nuclear energy and renewable energy technologies.
We are delighted to see strong support in Saskatchewan for further development of nuclear technology in the province. Saskatchewan has the world’s best uranium deposits. And for decades, AREVA has been a leading uranium producer in northern Saskatchewan.
Over the past year, the Canadian nuclear industry has thoroughly assessed its systems and operations to ensure its safety. In December, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission concluded that all Canadian nuclear plants could withstand conditions similar to those at Fukushima. But, as an industry, we are still working every day to improve our operations, our efficiency and our safety. AREVA is likewise constantly striving to help our customers produce cleaner, safer and more reliable electricity.
Canada has an opportunity to regain a leadership position in the one of the world’s pre-eminent clean energy technologies. But to do this, our leaders must take courageous, long-term decisions to invest in new nuclear energy projects today. As a proud Canadian and nuclear industry employee, I look forward to seeing the next new nuclear plant under construction in Ontario. While this may not be the easiest course of action, our leaders will find that new investment in nuclear energy is good for Canadians’ electricity rates, Canada’s industrial base, and Canada’s clean energy future.