B.C. Premier David Eby recently rejected the Canadian Energy Regulator's findings indicating that nuclear power would be a necessary component of Canada’s climate change response. His proclamation that the province would remain nuclear-free and would not need the energy appeals to the no-nuke environmentalist vote.
However, with the recent heat waves, no one knows (or cares) that we are frying. Faced with an existential climate crisis, we are still debating and squaring off rather than executing well-thought-out policy. Our leaders, ever wedded to their roles, continue to appease popularist memes rather than evaluate the hard evidence and form policy of meaningful consequence.
The push for renewable energy sources and achieving net-zero via widescale electrification has seen the emergence of wind, solar and biofuels being presented as the great saviours of our time. But adoption of these technologies invokes dark consequences, replete with moral and ethical dissonance.
Crop-based biofuels rob arable land in a fuel-for-food tradeoff — further threatening food security for the world's poorest — while ancient forests in B.C. are being liquidated for wood pellets in a misguided belief this wood-for-coal replacement is somehow renewable.
But wind and solar come with particularly pernicious ethical issues: to be effectively integrated into the grid, they need to be complemented with storage to provide reliable, firm power.
Lithium-ion batteries are the storage technology of choice, but this technology requires cobalt to function — and the world has only one substantive source: the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Anything but democratic, DRC is overrun with foreign exploitation and government corruption.
In the DRC, where 70 per cent of the world's cobalt is sourced, 30 per cent is mined by “artisanal” miners — unshod children working barehanded at gunpoint, often maimed and killed as mine walls collapse. They literally work in their graves.
The profits of the global supply chains from dirt in the DRC, to batteries, have created massive wealth at the expense of enslaved children. This is the repugnant conclusion that every EV driver, cellphone or lithium-ion fuelled device user must face. Lithium-ion is a technology mired in exploitation and tragedy. Forget conflict diamonds, welcome to the age of selective ignorance as conflict batteries become ever-present in our lives.
Against this backdrop, nuclear power is vilified as expensive and dirty and roundly rejected by populist enviro rhetoric. Yet, more humans have died from coal power airborne particulates and in artisanal mines than have ever been affected by nuclear power, including those impacted by well-known and major incidents. The costs of nuclear are roughly equivalent to wind and solar when the required batteries for equitable grid performance are included.
We advocate for nuclear power development in Canada because we are self-sufficient in uranium, and we can and should develop small modular reactors and exploit the technology and domestic resources. In Canada, uranium is mined in an environmentally responsible manner with appropriate regulatory oversight because we are blessed with a functional democracy. And it is a little-appreciated fact that nuclear has the smallest environmental footprint of any energy-generating technology in almost any impact category one chooses.
'We advocate for nuclear power development in Canada." Here's why, write Andrew S. Wright and Taco Niet @BlackSquareTaco @SFU #Sustainability #energy #ClimateChange #cdnpoli
Energy system design is extraordinarily complex, because human well-being, land (food), water and air are all intrinsically linked and affected when energy generation is commissioned. Indeed, eight of the United Nations’ 17 key development goals are directly impacted by energy developments, both positively and negatively.
The negative impacts often fall upon the world's most impoverished. It is repugnant that local populist policies designed to appeal and attract voters ignore global consequences — especially when children are enslaved at gunpoint to service entitled energy-rich lives.
Repugnant conclusions are the consequence of narrow minds born of narrow streets where we “care for kin but not for kind.”
We argue ethical energy development that considers the global consequences of local energy policy should be enshrined in B.C. law and culture. And as such, all technologies, including nuclear, should be evaluated by evidentiary merit, not by myth or meme.
We applaud the Canada Energy Regulator for utilizing an informed modelling approach, because it escapes emotional policy guidance. Its work echoes our modelling efforts and that of other researchers and laboratories.
Dual-expert decision-making by machine modelling with human guidance provides powerful insights and informed policymaking.
Fossil fuel may be Canada’s heritage, but truly clean and ethical energy should be our aspirational future.
Dr. Andrew S. Wright is the former chief technology officer for Datum Telegraphic, a mathematical and algorithmic silicon chip company for the cellular telecommunications industry. He continues to work with industry on innovations in conservation and sustainability initiatives, including working with a variety of cutting-edge technology and engineering startups in Vancouver. His current work is at Simon Fraser University in climate adaptation and mitigation strategies for food, energy and water systems.
Taco Niet is an assistant professor in the School of Sustainable Energy Engineering at Simon Fraser University. He models energy system transitions with a focus on the interaction between the energy, land and water system and is interested in the equity and justice implications of the energy system decisions of society. Niet has taught courses, including those on instrumentation, systems design and modelling, control systems, strength of materials, and technology and society. He supervises graduate students in research related to systems modelling, focusing on building tools that help society and policymakers address climate and other system impacts and tradeoffs.