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Canada’s Climate Plan: Nuclear Power

It’s essential for keeping a clean-energy electrical grid.

Nuclear power has been the backbone of Ontario’s clean electric grid for the past half-century. Starting in 1971, the Canadian province constructed 20 large heavy-water reactors over the next 22 years. The rationale at the time wasn’t combating climate change but replacing expensive coal imported from the U.S. Once Ontario started building these reactors, it stopped building the mammoth coal stations that once made up 25% of Ontario’s electrical grid, accidentally decarbonizing.

Low-carbon grids share one of two traits: Either they are supported by near-endless hydroelectric potential (as with Quebec and Washington state) or they rely on significant nuclear power (Ontario, France and Sweden). Hydroelectricity, however, is increasingly vulnerable to the long-term effects of climate change. Because of a multiyear drought, hydroelectric production in California declined by half from 2013 to 2015. Quebec has lost more than $1 billion in revenue in 2023 because of dwindling precipitation.

Which leaves nuclear power. At the end of January, Ontario made the forward-thinking decision to refurbish its Pickering nuclear station, extending its operations by 30 to 40 years. This will ensure clean, dependable energy for a generation demanding real climate action from its leaders.

The Pickering nuclear station produces more clean electricity than all of Canada’s hydroelectric production at Niagara Falls. Earlier plans to refurbish the station were rejected at a time when electricity demand was stagnant and Ontario had plenty of idle natural-gas-fired power stations. But with population growth, electrification of steel production and new large investments in the green industry, the provincial government sees that those reasons no longer apply. And the environmental reasons for refurbishing the nuclear plant are convincing: Nuclear energy has only 1% of the emissions of natural gas over its life cycle, according to a recent United Nations analysis.

In recent decades, some climate scientists have advocated for nuclear energy’s climate and health benefits. Globally, nuclear energy has prevented the emission of 64 gigatons of carbon dioxide, almost twice global emissions in 2022.

At COP28 in Dubai, 22 nations signed a pledge to triple their current nuclear-energy output by 2050. Ontario’s historic expansion of nuclear energy between 1971-93 shows it can be done. Our urgent need to address the climate crisis demands that we dramatically improve how we generate electricity over the next 30 years. Closing a clean-energy powerhouse in the middle of a climate emergency is an option Ontario will thankfully no longer entertain.

Source: Wall Street Journal