CEOs agree on benefit of nuclear waste
Posted on September 20, 2021 | By Ashley Fitzpatrick | 0 Comments
A panel of Canadian Energy sector CEOs talked publicly this week about nuclear waste, celebrating it as a strange-but-true benefit in a world pushing for greater environmental protections.
“I think we’re actually the best environmental steward of waste and byproducts,” Ontario Power Generation president and CEO Ken Hartwick said during the ‘Industry CEO Panel’ session at the Canadian Nuclear Association’s 2021 conference. His comments poked a figurative finger at the environmental vulnerability of alternative power sources including wind and solar power.
The panel also included Bruce Power president and CEO Mike Rencheck. Operating eight reactors, Bruce Power provides Ontario with over 30 per cent of its electricity.
“For too long we’ve been quiet and we’ve let other people talk about (nuclear) in ways that really aren’t true,” he said.
“Yes, we make waste, but we’re likely one of the only industries that captures all that waste and stores it and knows exactly where it is. If you want to see the waste from Bruce Power or Ontario Power Generation for the last 50 years, we can take you and show you where it is in a canister. It’s not hurting anybody, it’s safe, it’s contained. Technologies have been there for decades now that can store wastes for long periods of time, and also recycle. We’ve chosen through policy not to recycle over the years. We can do these things. And quite frankly, if we’re going to look long-term for a clean energy future and really look at electrifying things en masse, there is no solution without nuclear energy supplying that baseload, 24/7, clean, reliable and affordable electricity.”
NB Power’s president and CEO Keith Cronkhite was also on the industry panel and said people in New Brunswick may not always think about the significance of nuclear power in the energy mix as a reliable base. They also may not be aware of exactly how NB Power manages its nuclear operations, he said.
“Every technology has challenges that need to be balanced and overcome and nuclear — or whether it’s solar or wind or other forms of energy are the same. We just need to do, I think, a better job of communicating that and informing our stakeholders on programs we have in place. I think when we do that, we will get some more folks on side and believe that this is the right path forward,” he said.
Cronkhite added he was confident the nuclear industry will find ways to reprocess more of its existing nuclear waste and have smaller volumes produced from operations moving forward.
Sask Power president and CEO Mike Marsh was asked about his perspective, given Sask Power doesn’t have nuclear waste to manage at this point, but is looking at adding a small modular reactor (SMR) to its power production mix. Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have signed an agreement to further explore the potential in SMRs and Marsh said the utility is looking particularly to Ontario and New Brunswick and their lessons learned over many years of nuclear energy operations.
“We take great strides in trying to make sure we provide a very environmentally safe and sustainable process from end to end,” he said.
“We spend a lot of time and effort in managing these aspects of our business today and we are committed as a utility, Sask Power is committed as a utility, to the highest levels of safety and sustainability in all our operating processes and we will take that same commitment and place it on our nuclear file as we go forward.”
President and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission Rumina Velshi made a point during the industry session to say she was bound in any policy commentary by the caretaker convention through the federal election, but she did speak to the waste issue.
“At our Commission proceedings, when it comes to nuclear, we don’t hear concerns about safety or proliferation, but we do hear about waste,” she said, speaking generally, emphasizing the importance of waste management in the modern discussion around nuclear.
“Consistent with what we’ve heard so far, we actually have a really good news story…. People may be against nuclear, but people cannot be against the responsible management of waste and nuclear waste and as a sector we have, as Ken said, the stewardship we have shown, is incomparable.”
Velshi pointed to the reporting by utilities to regulators and cooperation but also Canada’s reporting internationally on nuclear waste management. She pointed out licenses for nuclear power production require funding be set aside to manage waste all the way to its end point. “Which other sector has that? It doesn’t happen,” she said.
And it needles at a sore spot for the wind and solar supply sectors.
A Bloomberg Green report in 2020 highlighted the waste issue for wind turbines. It noted components could largely be recycled but the fiberglass blades—increasing in size—remain a problem. The report stated some blades are burned in kilns in Europe in creation of cement or in power plants but with a weak energy output and with the emission of pollutants. Most of the blades will go to landfills for disposal, “which the American Wind Energy Association in Washington says is safest and cheapest.”
Solar also poses a waste challenge, with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) having highlighted large amounts of solar panel waste are expected to emerge by the 2030s, given the lifespan of panels, estimating it could reach 78 million tonnes by the year 2050. However, in a piece published in the Harvard Business Review, technology professor with Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires (INSEAD) Atalay Atasu, University of Calgary Business professor Serasu Duran and INSEAD professor Luk Van Wassenhove argued the estimates on solar waste are being undershot by a significant margin.
“If early (panel) replacements occur as predicted by our statistical model, they can produce 50 times more waste in just four years than IRENA anticipates,” they stated.
“Alarming as (estimates) are, these stats may not do full justice to the crisis, as our analysis is restricted to residential installations.”
The nuclear crowd agreed this week that’s a story that needs to be told more. It’s not to knock people off support for renewables, they said, but to advance the discussion and debate around waste and the energy mix.
The nuclear industry leadership may not be the best representatives for advancing the waste discussion however, given storage of nuclear waste and particularly social license for new storage is a heated issue in Canada. As the CBC reported, there was disappointment from environmental groups in Ontario that storage of nuclear waste and site selection for storage hasn’t been discussed more during the federal election. And in Newfoundland and Labrador, the very mention of a discussion around establishing storage for international nuclear waste in Labrador caused outcry earlier this year.
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