Setting aside but in no way diminishing the terrible news out of Paris from the week, I want to talk about some actual good news related to Paris. Specifically, this relates to the upcoming climate talks. Chinese nuclear companies announced last week their intention to build new CANDU nuclear power reactors in Argentina and Romania. These projects, each of which involves a new 745-megawatt CANDU EC6, will result in a total of around 1,490 megawatts of zero-carbon generation.
In Ontario, my home jurisdiction, 1,490 megawatts is the amount of power required to serve the electrical energy requirements of roughly 1.3 million typical four-person homes over a typical month. (Some would say you could swap out the word “typical” in the last sentence with “mythical.” That would not be inaccurate.) This is just a ballpark estimate—I will set aside the enormously important but complex question of load factor and assume that 1.3 million Ontario homes require, in every minute of every day, to function properly, 1,490 megawatts of steady power. It is a rather simplistic assertion, but far less so in the case of nuclear power than in the case of wind or solar. In the latter cases it is outright false. But I digress.
Neither Argentina nor Romania is as well off—meaning, as well served with steady uninterrupted electrical power—as Ontario is. Citizens in both countries must get by with much less electrical power than the average Ontarian. The average Ontarian uses close to 10 kilowatt-hours per day; the average Argentinian uses, I estimate, about 4, and the average Romanian about 3 (see sources).
Now, before efficiency and conservation enthusiasts jump onto that and accuse Ontarians of being profligate in their electricity usage, let me point out that on a percapita basis Ontario’s CO2 emissions (roughly 1.06 metric tons) were lower than those of both Argentina (1.3 tons) and Romania (1.7 tons). That’s right—Ontarians, who enjoyed twice the amount of power of either Argentinians or Romanians, had, in 2012, a smaller electricity-related CO2 footprint. And it gets even more mind-blowing. Two years later, Ontario had chopped its 2012 electricity-related CO2 in half. We made about as much electricity, but with literally half the CO2 as in 2012.
If you used natural gas to make 1,490 megawatts of power for sixty minutes, then you’d make around 600 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). That is waste, just as discarded meat wrappers, diapers, used coffee filters, discarded facial tissues, and takeout containers are garbage. And, just as we dispose of normal everyday garbage, we would similarly dispose of the CO2 garbage. Only instead of putting it into plastic bags and then putting the bags into the garbage disposal or leaving on the curb, we would simply dump our CO2 into that earth’s atmosphere.
Now, if we were to apportion those 600 tons of garbage created by serving those 1,3 million homes with natural gas fired electricity for one hour, then each one of those homes would be responsible for the disposal of 400 grams of CO2.
That might not sound like a lot of garbage but it actually is a lot: 400 grams is just under half a kilogram. A typical person in Ontario produces 777 kilograms of municipal waste in one year, says the Conference Board of Canada. This works out to 89 grams of waste per hour.
Well, if a typical 4-person home uses roughly a kilowatt-hour of grid electricity every hour and that kWh were made in a gas-fired generating plant, then because that kWh comes with at least 400 grams of CO2 waste, we can divide the 400 grams of waste among the four inhabitants of the home and say that each one of them is responsible for 100 grams of CO2 every hour.
Where would an inhabitant of the home put the 100 grams of CO2 for which he or she is responsible?
This is where it gets tricky. CO2 is a gas at most temperatures with which we humans are familiar. Each inhabitant of the house would have to find some sort of container to hold it. How big of a container? One hundred grams of CO2, i.e. one hour’s worth of CO2 from gas-fired power generation, would require a 50-litre container such as this one.
Imagine being responsible for that amount of garbage every single hour. Over a single day you would need 24 50-liter containers. That would fill nearly 1.2 cubic meters of space. Over a couple months you would fill up large master bedroom; over a year, 6 master bedrooms.
To repeat, that’s the amount of CO2 for which one person, inhabiting a typical four-person Ontario home powered with gas-fired electricity, is responsible. Which means that the occupants of that home are collectively responsible for enough CO2 to fill their home about six times.
Argentinians and Romanians are, with the announcements of new CANDUs, on the road to not having to worry about having such a deleterious effect on the planet. That four person home, powered solely with CANDU nuclear, would accumulate 15 grams worth of solid waste over a month. That would fill a volume about half the size of a triple-A battery. Over a year, it would amount to six triple-As.
Six triple-A batteries, versus six typical-size homes worth of CO2.
No problem dealing with that.
So the announcement of new CANDUs for Argentina and Romania is extremely good news. However, don’t expect to see it even mentioned apropos of anything having to do with the Paris climate talks scheduled to begin at the end of this month. For a number of reasons so weak and transparently ideological as to be embarrassing, nuclear power is anathema to most climate activists, advisers, and commentators. The sheer weakness of these reasons will eventually become clear, and for the sake of the planet I hope that happens soon. A wholesale changing of the climate guard is urgently needed, and it is long overdue. The climate has been extremely poorly served by the current crop of activists, advisers, and commentators.
Carbon is building in our atmosphere, only nuclear power can prevent it, and many of the people who protest loudest their concern over carbon are the very ones blocking the only technology that can reduce it.
END NOTE: I mentioned load factor earlier in this article, in connection with my assertion that 1,490 megawatts is enough to power 1.3 million Ontario homes. I will return to this subject in upcoming articles.