Climate change and Ontario electricity: federal court clarifies the choice

Should Ontario electricity stay as clean as it is right now? Right now (six thirty a.m. on Friday May 16), every kilowatt-hour of Ontario grid power comes with a carbon footprint of 38.5 grams; Table 1 on the left gives last hour’s CIPK (carbon dioxide intensity per kilowatt-hour) in grams. Thirty-eight-point-five grams of CO2 per kWh is nearly thirteen times cleaner than grid electricity in Germany. I think the answer is yes, Ontario electricity should stay as clean as it is now. And I will qualify that by saying I also think we should aim for an even smaller carbon footprint.

It is easy to see why Ontario grid electricity comes with such a low CIPK. At six thirty this morning, the total output of the 139 generators that were feeding the Ontario grid with electricity was roughly 15.9 million kWh. Of those 15.9 million kWh, 9.5 million—nearly 60 percent—were coming from the provincial nuclear plants on Lake Ontario and Lake Huron. Nuclear, as you can see in the tables at the left, comes with zero CO2. Almost all of the CO2 at that time, 600 metric tons, came from the provincial natural gas-fired plants. Which were at the time providing less than seven percent of our electricity.

Which is to say, Ontario’s 38.5-gram CIPK at six thirty this morning was due almost entirely to a fleet of generators that were not even providing seven percent of our power.

Today is a very, very low load day. That means there is not a very big load on the electricity grid. Temperatures across the province are in the “easy” range: 6 to 9 °C. Nobody has their air conditioner on; nobody has their electric heat on.

In spite of this, gas-fired generators, if they continue to produce at the same low level as at six thirty a.m., will take less than five hours to dump enough CO2 into Ontario’s air to fill up Rogers Centre with its roof closed.

If Ontario did not have its nuclear fleet, then gas-fired generators would be producing the 9.5 million kWh that nuclear generators were generating at six-thirty. In that case, instead of dumping 600 metric tons of CO2 into our air, they would have dumped over 6,000 tons, ten times as much. See Item 1 on the right sidebar. The provincial grid CIPK at that point would have been 355.6 grams, instead of 38.5.

These are simple facts. Not enough people know them. But they are vitally important. Here is why.

It is imperative, urgently imperative, that mankind stop dumping CO2 into the air. As I mentioned a week ago, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 has gone over 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. This means that every responsible jurisdiction must do whatever it reasonably can to reduce its emissions of CO2.

Environmental groups have a problem with 40,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel from four decades of continuous operation, but support gas plants and dumping 60,000 tons of climate-destabilizing CO2 into our air in a single day?

Bring it on. Let’s talk about this.

Ontario is exactly such a jurisdiction. And we have a plan to at least hold the line on CO2 emissions from power plants. That plan includes building new nuclear generators at the Darlington nuclear station. This is something we should have done decades ago; if we had we would not have dumped 40 million tons of CO2 into the air in 2000. But better late than never.

Incredibly, there are groups, professing to be environmentally conscious, that oppose building new reactors at Darlington. They would prefer to burn natural gas, which as I mentioned would dump many times more CO2 that we are dumping today.

Some of these groups are celebrating a recent federal court ruling that says the utility that would build the new reactors, OPG, must incorporate consideration of the environmental implications of spent nuclear fuel into its application for permission to build the reactors. These groups claim this as a victory that will halt the construction project if and when it is decided to start building.

This claim is absurd. The utility will do the required consideration, and will find that there is no environmental implication to the spent nuclear fuel. It has been accumulating spent fuel since the 1970s and there has been no environmental implication from that.

I look at the federal ruling as a shining opportunity to actually put the spent fuel issue to bed. There are something north of 40,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel at Ontario’s three nuclear plants. That is from more than four decades of continuous operation, providing most of Ontario’s electricity.

Gas plants, in one single day last summer, dumped more than 60,000 tons of CO2 into the air. Those 60,000 tons are part of why the global atmospheric concentration of CO2 hit 400 parts per million recently.

Environmental groups have a problem with 40,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel from four decades of continuous operation, but support gas plants and dumping 60,000 tons of climate-destabilizing CO2 into our air in a single day?

Bring it on. Let’s talk about this.

13 comments for “Climate change and Ontario electricity: federal court clarifies the choice

  1. May 16, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Slowly, with daily movements you can measure with a micrometer, the Overton window creeps toward the side of nuclear power.

    Do you think that the Darlington plants could be pitched as a way to REDUCE the volume of spent nuclear fuel?  Putting a pair of LWRs there would produce a stream of used fuel at about 1.8% enrichment, far richer than the usual fare given to CANDUs.  If re-used via DUPIC, there would be less spent fuel coming from the CANDUs than with current practices.

    • May 16, 2014 at 10:29 am

      Do you think that the Darlington plants could be pitched as a way to REDUCE the volume of spent nuclear fuel?

      Sure, but why introduce yet further economic obstacles (i.e. the need for a specially trained LWR workforce in a CANDU market) just to reduce an already small amount of easily managed material to a slightly smaller amount?

      Maybe a real-world working example of an LWR-CANDU symbiosis would bring value to the industry in general, but it would be an expensive example from the point of view of the utility that has to pay for it. As a direct stakeholder in that utility, I like the idea of standardized equipment. Plus it’s a very small-footprint fuel economy already: I mean, they drive the NAT-U fuel over from Port Hope!

      • May 16, 2014 at 2:21 pm

        I like the idea of the US industry dealing with its disposal problem by turning their SNF into DUPIC and just giving it to you guys.  It’s the answer to Harry Reid.

        • May 16, 2014 at 2:30 pm

          If such a proposal were put and supported, I have no problem with it. It would be amusing to watch Greenpeace fanatics chain themselves to the border roads in protest of what would be the largest-scale recycling project, with the greatest environmental benefits, ever undertaken in North America.

  2. Joffan
    May 16, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Great points. Absolutely – let’s require an approval process that looks at handling of the byproducts of power production for EVERY electricity generator. And stop accepting “disposal to the atmosphere” as free-pass option.

  3. May 17, 2014 at 5:28 am

    In Port Elgin, we’ve started this initiative to compliment nuclear (Bruce) power.
    http://quixoteslaststand.com/2014/05/16/the-real-green-movement/

  4. Jaro Franta
    May 21, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Have you actually seen the federal court ruling ?
    I’m having trouble finding it.
    Maybe I’m looking in the wrong place?

    http://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/fc-cf/en/0/ann.do

    Thanks.

  5. Mitch
    May 22, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    >> These are simple facts. Not enough people know them. <<

    Simple question:

    Why??

    • Steve
      May 22, 2014 at 10:05 pm

      Because media such as the Toronto Star do the best to obfuscate these facts and engage in deliberate misinformation to the contrary?

  6. james greenidge
    May 23, 2014 at 7:52 am

    Re: “Environmental groups have a problem with 40,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel from four decades of continuous operation, but support gas plants and dumping 60,000 tons of climate-destabilizing CO2 into our air in a single day?”

    Is it too PC to call such a “problem” being a Hypocrite??

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

    • June 24, 2014 at 11:06 am

      good show. I was hoping this would happen. I mean, the Court should have included real experts in its consultations, instead of just a bunch of serial anti-nukes.

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