Nuclear energy and climate change: no CANDU in Canada’s contribution at Cancun

Anne Lauvergeon, the CEO of the French nuclear company Areva, told Forbes a few months ago that there is no solution to California’s electricity problems without nuclear power. She is right on the money, and not just when it comes to California. Anywhere there is significant fossil-fired electricity, nuclear should see more action. China understands the connection between nuclear energy and climate change policy; China plans to build 114,00 megawatts of nuclear generating capacity by 2020. What a shame then that Canada’s contribution at the climate conference at Cancun contains nothing about nuclear energy. Talk about an atomic disconnect.

You’d expect that kind of omission from the professional “green” groups for whom these climate conferences, in exotic locations inaccessible without kerosene-powered air transport, are the high point of the year. The “greens” are, almost without exception, so anti-nuclear that they actually support natural gas–fired generation, which emits enormous amounts of carbon. They work diligently and deliberately to ensure there is no connection between nuclear energy and climate change policy.

Speaking of kerosene-powered air transport, I wondered about the personal greenhouse gas, or GHG, accounts of the professional anti-nukes who traveled from Canada to Mexico for this conference. Assuming they flew from Toronto to Cancun, each of them is personally responsible for over 202 kilograms of carbon dioxide, the principal GHG.

And assuming the greens are coming back to Canada, we have to add another 202 kg, making their round trip GHG tally a whopping 404 kg of GHGs.

(For detail on how I arrived at these numbers, see the MyClimate Flight Emission Calculator published by the Climate Protection Partnership. The distance from Toronto to Cancun is 2,588 kilometers, and I used the calculation for a long-haul flight.)

It’s hard to miss the irony. Each of these self-styled environmentalists will have put over two-fifths of a metric ton of GHGs into the air as a result of flying to and from a climate change conference—the main agenda item of which is to agree on how to reduce GHGs. While at that conference, they continue to block the biggest GHG-reducing technology known to man.

But as mentioned, this is what we have come to expect from the professional “greens.” What’s disappointing is that the Canadian government announced just over two years ago that it aims to ensure that 90 percent of Canada’s electric power comes from non-emitting sources. Though nuclear figures prominently in the government’s plan to meet that goal, the word “nuclear” has received little, if any, play at the Cancun conference.

Canada could take a giant step toward that goal by resolving the Darlington impasse with Ontario. Ontario’s long term energy plan calls for new reactors at Darlington; in 2009, the province asked for bids and chose the reactor model it likes: the new Advanced CANDU (ACR). But because the maker of the CANDU is none other than Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL), a federal crown corporation the government wants to sell, the process to actually build the reactors at Darlington got bogged down.

Hence, no CANDU at Cancun. And no progress on GHG reductions.

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