Good morning, everyone, and welcome.
Welcome, Ms. May. It's nice to see you with us. You were, of course, with us for Bill and contributed to the discussion on Bill C-12, so in a sense, it's your return to our committee.
Welcome to the witnesses for today's hearing. I just want to go over a few rules of procedure, more for the benefit of the witnesses than anyone else, since we're all used to the rules of procedure here during COVID-19.
For those who are in the room, please maintain a two-metre physical distancing. Please wear a non-medical mask when circulating in the room. It is highly recommended that the mask be worn at all times, including when seated. There's hand sanitizer, if needed.
As for the witnesses, you can speak in the official language of your choice. When you are not speaking, please put your mike on mute, which would help in terms of avoiding ambient noise. Before speaking, and this goes for the members of the committee as well as the witnesses, please wait for me to call you by name.
Before we begin, I would like to ask for unanimous consent, if possible, for the steering committee report.
We could receive legislation. It's always a possibility, because we're a legislative committee.
Thank you for that, colleagues.
We can now proceed to the nuclear study. It's our first study of the 44th Parliament.
I would like to thank Ms. Pauzé for suggesting such a worthwhile study. This is an increasingly timely issue.
Today, we will be hearing from five witnesses. They will each have five minutes for their presentations. After that, we will have three rounds of questions. Since we don't have a new panel for the second hour, we'll keep going until the end of the rounds.
We have with us today Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility; and John Gorman, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Nuclear Association. From Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, we have Ole Hendrickson, who is a researcher. From Ontario Power Generation, we have Jason Van Wart, VP nuclear sustainability services. We also have Laurie Swami, president and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization.
Welcome to all the witnesses.
We won't waste any time, and we'll begin—
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the environment committee, for the opportunity to participate today. It's truly a privilege.
In the spirit of reconciliation, I would like to acknowledge that while I'm coming to you virtually today, I am physically on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
I'm John Gorman, president and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association. I'm also former president and CEO of the Canadian Solar Industries Association.
The Canadian Nuclear Association represents the entire spectrum of the nuclear industry. That includes the mining sector, nuclear utilities, engineering, manufacturing and supply chain companies. We account for 76,000 direct and indirect jobs. It's a cornerstone of Canada's innovation system.
One of the reasons we're doing so much innovation in this very healthy nuclear ecosystem is the $26-billion refurbishment that is currently under way in Ontario, of the Ontario Power Generation and Bruce Power units, proceeding on time and on budget and allowing for this extraordinary innovation in the areas of small modular reactors and life-saving medical isotopes and nuclear medicine generally. As I'm sure all of you are aware, we're also the second-largest exporter of uranium in the world. Cameco is a key global player in our nuclear ecosystem.
Before I speak to the nuclear waste and by-product aspects of our industry, I would like to provide a little bit of context on how the nuclear industry contributes to Canada's key goals and priorities. As you know, Canada, along with the rest of the world, has been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, but we're also witnessing the long-term impacts of climate change. We saw in 2020-21 the acceleration of fires, floods and heat waves worldwide, and we experienced it here at home, all validating the UN IPCC's warning that this is a “code red for humanity”. In fact, as this government and all of us have noted, this is a climate crisis that we're experiencing here and around the world.
As world leaders concluded at COP26, there is an urgent need for an all-out effort to address the climate crisis. As part of that effort, all the tools at our disposal, all non-emitting and clean energy technologies, including nuclear, are needed to play a role in dramatically reducing emissions. This view is reflected internationally. The governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Finland and others have indicated that nuclear technologies, both large and small, will need to be part of the clean energy solution to address climate change. We saw that earlier this week as well, with the EU commission reinforcing this position when it issued its decision to include nuclear as a sustainable technology required for a net-zero future.
Emissions targets agreed to at COP26 will require a significant amount of new electricity, as we all know, an amount two to three times the amount of electricity generation we have here in Canada. Provinces like Ontario, which were able to transition away from coal due to nuclear, will also need significant amounts of new non-emitting electricity as we fuel-switch from fossil fuels.
We also see this interest growing provincially in a pan-Canadian way, with other provinces recognizing that they need small modular reactors. The premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick have all identified new nuclear as needed to meet their low-emissions targets. They have signed a memorandum of understanding on this.
Some have raised issues associated with nuclear waste. I think this study provides an opportunity to give an overview about how robustly the nuclear industry and its products are regulated. Canadian nuclear waste is the most highly regulated and managed waste possible from an energy waste perspective. All energy sources, including renewables, generate waste. Nuclear is the only industry that can account for all of the waste, and of course we don't emit any pollution. Nuclear waste is regulated by our regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, and we're monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
It's important to note that not all waste is high-level. We tend to think of waste as spent fuel, but nuclear waste includes low-, medium- and high-level waste by-products in uranium mine and mill tailings waste forms. It's important to distinguish what we're talking about.
Canada has led the way in creating and supporting the efforts by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization to identify a suitable site for a deep geological repository, a DGR, for a permanent storage solution for our waste.
DGRs are recognized worldwide. I'd like to add that France, Finland and Sweden have all taken similar paths.
Thanks to the committee for instituting this important study. I'll make eight points.
Number one, permanent disposal facilities for nuclear reactor waste have never been approved in Canada. Such facilities will impact many future generations and we must get them right.
Number two, prior to 2015, the nuclear legacy liabilities program was under the management of Natural Resources Canada. In fall 2015, the government transferred responsibility for oversight of public expenditures for decommissioning of its nuclear facilities and reduction of its nuclear waste liabilities from NRCan to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. AECL issued a 10-year, multi-billion dollar contract to a multinational consortium under a government-owned, contractor-operated—or GOCO—model.
The GOCO contract was based on similar arrangements in the U.K. and U.S., but in April of 2016, the U.K.’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority terminated its GOCO contract with the consortium operating the Sellafield nuclear site. Problems included escalating GOCO costs, increased liability amounts, large GOCO executive turnover and questionable contractor expenses.
Then, in March 2017, the NDA announced that its GOCO contract with the nuclear Cavendish Fluor partnership would be terminated after five years instead of 14 years. Texas-based Fluor was a partner in that partnership and is a partner in the Canadian National Energy Alliance, which is AECL’s GOCO contractor, so does AECL, which now has 40 staff, have sufficient capacity for oversight of the GOCO contract and associated subcontracts?
This raises concerns about government accountability, fiscal responsibility, public oversight of Canada's nuclear waste liabilities and our ability to meet international obligations related to nuclear waste and nuclear safety. Intervention by Parliament is recommended to restore public control and oversight of federal nuclear facilities and their radioactive wastes and to ensure public funds are spent wisely to contain and isolate these wastes.
The third point is that AECL’s discounted $7.4-billion liability for federally owned nuclear sites, which is an “asset retirement obligation” in the Public Accounts of Canada, exceeds the $7.1-billion federal liability for over 2,500 contaminated sites. AECL’s undiscounted liabilities are estimated at $16 billion.
Deloitte recommends discounting of asset retirement obligations only if the “aggregate amount of the liability” is “fixed or reliably determinable” and “the amount and timing of cash payments are fixed or reliably determinable”. However, future liability amounts and payments are uncertain. The 2021-22 main estimates include $808 million for AECL’s nuclear decommissioning and radioactive waste management expenses. As of September 2021, AECL had $59 million in a trust fund reserved for disposal of federal high-level spent fuel and $47 million in a long-term disposal of waste fund to manage commercial wastes.
The fourth point is that commercial wastes, some imported from foreign countries, are transferred from private to government ownership and stored at AECL’s Chalk River Laboratories. This has potential to increase the government’s nuclear liability. Proposals to build small modular reactors on AECL’s properties could also increase the liability.
The fifth point is that Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, owned by the GOCO consortium, is proposing three permanent radioactive waste disposal projects on AECL’s properties. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is assessing these proposals under the former Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. An environmental assessment expert panel noted an apprehension of bias regarding CNSC’s role as the responsible authority for nuclear projects. The panel recommended that CNSC not retain this role, and the new Impact Assessment Act reflects that for future projects, but proposals continue under the old regime.
The CNSC recently announced a licensing hearing for the near surface disposal facility, or NSDF, which involves the permanent disposal of a million tonnes of federal and commercial radioactive waste in a landfill-type facility at Chalk River.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for inviting OPG here today.
I am the vice-president of Ontario Power Generation's nuclear sustainability services division. Nuclear sustainability services handles all of the by-products of nuclear power generation from OPG-owned nuclear stations in Ontario, including the Pickering, Darlington and Bruce power plants.
First, I'd like to take a bit of time to talk about our company and what we do for Ontario and Canada. OPG is Ontario's largest clean energy producer. We generate 50% of the electricity consumed in Ontario, and 60% of that total energy in Ontario comes from nuclear power.
Thanks to the reliability of nuclear energy, Ontario was able to stop burning coal in 2014. As a result of this transition from coal to nuclear, Ontario now has the cleanest electricity grid in North America.
OPG's climate change plan, which we released in 2020, commits the company to being net zero by 2040 and will help the Canadian economy reach net zero by 2050. Last year, OPG released our first ever reconciliation action plan to support reconciliation with indigenous peoples. It makes a series of specific commitments, including achieving $1 billion in economic benefits for indigenous peoples over the next 10 years.
On the urgent issue of climate change, as has been stated by Natural Resources Canada, no credible path exists to net zero by 2050 without nuclear. As we move off fossil fuels, Canada needs a lot more electricity to meet future demand. In a scenario of high electrification, including in the transportation sector, Ontario electricity demand may increase by 40% by 2040. Globally, the International Energy Agency has forecasted a near doubling of electricity demand by 2050.
In this context, we must remember that nuclear is the lowest carbon form of energy measured by its entire life cycle, as reported by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. Renewables such as wind and solar cannot do the job alone. They're part of the clean energy mix, but they only work when the wind blows and the sun shines. We need a reliable baseload of electricity. We need nuclear energy. It helps keep our hospitals, businesses and homes running 24-7.
As for nuclear by-products, or waste, it is all tracked and safely stored, which no other form of energy can claim. By-products of fossil fuels go into the environment as air pollution, releasing CO2 emissions and contributing to global warming. Solar panels go to landfills and they contain toxins, such as cadmium, chromium and lead.
It's important that I note that some of the by-products of nuclear energy are, in fact, extremely valuable assets to Canada. For example, medical isotopes produced in nuclear power plants are helping to save millions of lives every year. These include cobalt-60, which has been produced at the Pickering nuclear station for over 50 years, and molybdenum-99, which will be soon produced at the Darlington nuclear station. These isotopes are used in sterilizing medical equipment, diagnosing disease and treating cancer. I think we all know someone whose life has been touched by these medical isotopes.
Even by-products once thought of as nuclear waste are proving to be strategic assets for Canada. For example, tritium, which is produced in a nuclear reactor as a by-product of generating electricity, is used in emergency lighting, as a biomedical tracer and in international research on fusion power. Tritium, in turn, is a source of helium-3, which is an extremely rare isotope. It doesn't occur on earth. It's used in quantum computing, border security, neutron research and medical imaging.
Our nuclear governance in Canada is strong, with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission regulating the industry under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act. Canada's regulatory regime is aligned with international best practices guided by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
All nuclear waste is well regulated in Canada by the CNSC and managed safely by owners, with an excellent safety record at OPG and across Canada. In my division, good stewardship of the waste is our mission. We embrace the three Rs—reuse, reduce and recycle—to minimize the volumes that we store. We're continually researching, investing, innovating and applying new technologies to reduce the volumes. All of the waste is currently in interim storage. While this is safe in the short and medium term, it's not a plan for the long term. Interim storage cannot be maintained in perpetuity for thousands of years. Buildings and packages degrade over time and need to be continually maintained. What is needed is permanent disposal. It's the right thing to do for our future.
On the subject of permanent disposal, OPG supports the Nuclear Waste Management Organization's, NWMO, process to see a deep repository for permanent disposal of used fuel, and we'd like to see it in service by 2043. We thank the Government of Canada for its foresight in creating the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act 2002, which set the stage for the NWMO to develop a solution for all of Canada. Canada's on the same path as Sweden and Finland, which have already approved construction of DGRs for their used fuel.
For the disposal of lower levels of waste, OPG notes that NRCan released its draft of a modernized policy framework this week, following a period of public engagement that began in 2020. We participated in that public process and will be providing comments on the new draft.
Good morning, Mr. Chair, vice-chairs and members of the committee.
My name is Laurie Swami. I am the president and CEO of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, or the NWMO. It's an honour to appear before you today to discuss the work of the NWMO. I would like to begin by acknowledging that the study we are participating in today is being conducted on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
Today I am here to talk about the NWMO and our mandate to implement Canada's plan for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel in a manner that protects both people and the environment.
The need for a permanent solution for Canada's used nuclear fuel has been studied and discussed for more than 50 years. The overwhelming result of this work—and work done over the same period internationally—was that over the long term, used nuclear fuel should be managed in a deep geological repository and in a location that is socially acceptable. Further, to be successful, there must be political fortitude to move waste projects forward. We have seen this fortitude in Canada as government direction has steered policy forward, starting with the creation of the NWMO by federal legislation in 2002 and the selection of Canada's plan in 2007.
We are an independent, not-for-profit organization and are fully funded by Canada's nuclear electricity producers. By funding us, the waste producers demonstrate responsibility for implementing a long-term disposal plan.
The federal government has oversight of our work. We submit annual reports, which are tabled in Parliament by the Minister of Natural Resources. We are also accountable to Canadians. Starting at the very outset, we engaged Canadians from coast to coast to coast, including first nations, Métis and Inuit.
Based on the values and priorities that Canadians and indigenous people said were important, we proposed a plan for managing used nuclear fuel in a purpose-built, deep geological repository, using both engineering systems and the rock itself to protect people and the environment. We also heard that we must locate our repository in an area with informed and willing hosts.
I cannot emphasize enough that Canadians have made it clear that we must take responsible action now rather than leaving waste for the next generation.
While utilities are accountable and continue to safely manage used nuclear fuel on site at reactor facilities, the current approach is temporary and not suitable for the long term. As we have implemented our plan, we have heard repeatedly that purpose-built, deep geological repositories represent the best way to protect people, the environment and our precious water resources over the very long term. Canada can be proud to be among the leading countries advancing repository projects and doing our part to set a safe, science-based global standard.
I would like to provide a few recent examples of the international consensus and support for deep geological repositories.
Last year, the OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency issued a report on the management and disposal of high-level radioactive waste, which confirmed that geological repositories are the best approach.
This year, the International Energy Agency's review of Canada's energy policy recommended that the Canadian government support NWMO's mandate in selecting a site for a deep geological repository.
Finally, last week Sweden announced its approval of a deep geological repository for its spent fuel, just a few weeks after Finland applied for an operating licence for its repository.
Today we are well into a voluntary site selection process and are on track to identify a safe site for our country's repository, with informed and willing hosts, by the end of 2023.
I am proud of the work this country has done and continues to do to ensure that radioactive waste management remains a strength of the nuclear sector, keeping people and the environment safe now and for the future.
As I conclude my remarks, I want to leave the committee with the following quote from the Swedish Minister for Climate and the Environment regarding the approval of the Swedish repository:
The technology and the capacity are available. It is irresponsible to leave nuclear waste in water tanks year after year without taking a decision. We must not pass on this responsibility to our children and grandchildren. Our generation must take responsibility for our waste.
Let me first thank Madame Pauzé for proposing this study. This gives us a chance to talk about issues that are important to not only her voters but those right across the country.
I appreciate the attendance of everyone here today, and I hope that Mr. Edwards can be accommodated somehow, whether it be through a written statement or at a follow-up meeting.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to start by asking questions of Mr. Gorman from the Canadian Nuclear Association.
Thank you for being here today, sir.
You have stated unambiguously that nuclear energy is necessary on the road to achieving net zero. I assume that means that the rehabilitation of our existing CANDU reactors and other facilities here in Canada. I think that's supporting the development of small modular reactors here in Canada. I believe that the commercialization of that technology to sell around the world is so we can not only lower not only greenhouse gas emissions here at home to power the electric vehicles that we know consumers are looking for, but also ensure our energy security and tackle domestic and international greenhouse gas emissions.
Could you tell me, to start with, what things the government is doing right when it comes to nuclear? What things do we need to take our own policies domestically and our own technology commercially to really tackle the issue of climate change?
First of all, Canada is doing everything right when it comes to the generation, safe management and operation of nuclear. We're a tier one, globally respected nation in terms of our assets, our facilities and our regulator. We have over 50 years of providing almost 16% of Canada's non-emitting electricity in an enviable fashion.
The international community is watching us very closely, because we're doing other things right. We're taking our existing assets and we're refurbishing them on time and on budget. We're using the very healthy ecosystem that we created here on this large infrastructure project to be a world leader in the development of small modular reactors and in nuclear medicine.
In terms of what we need to do going forward and what we can't get wrong comes back to this decision around what we do with our spent fuel and other forms of nuclear by-products and waste. As my colleague Laurie Swami said so eloquently in the quote that she used to wrap up her remarks, the onus is on our generation to ensure that we take that spent fuel and find a permanent solution for it.
It's clear that nuclear is providing a very important solution in Canada now and has for 50 years and it will in the future as we head towards a net-zero future and as new nuclear is required. The onus is on us to ensure that spent fuel has a permanent storage solution.
Small modular reactors are particularly relevant to Canada's challenge around decarbonizing our economy.
Mr. Albas, it's true that we have a challenge ahead of us in terms of doubling or tripling the amount of electricity generation that we need in this country, so we can fuel-switch away from fossil fuels and support electric vehicles, etc.
Canada's challenge has a lot to do with how we are going to decarbonize our heavy industry; the way we create cement, steel, fertilizer. It will affect our mining operations, and the way we extract and process oil and gas. Small modular reactors are very scalable, high temperature, clean-heat machines. They can be scaled, and used in those settings to use the high temperature heat to create electricity and heat, and produce hydrogen, all at the same time, and help us decarbonize our heavy industry.
The support that the federal government has been giving toward new, small modular reactors is being used to make Canada a leader on this front. The coordinated plan that we have to continue on that pathway is going to serve Canada well, and help nations around the world with new nuclear to decarbonize.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I also want to thank all the witnesses for joining our committee meeting today.
My first question is also to Mr. Gorman.
I'm very intrigued with your career path in moving from the business side of one non-emitting form of electricity in solar to another in nuclear. It puts you in a unique position to answer my first question.
As you know, much of Canada benefits from access to cheap, non-emitting, baseload electricity in the form of hydro that's been built over the course of many decades, but you've identified some provinces that don't.
How do you see the full life-cycle costs of nuclear in provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan, compared to solar energy, where we also have a lot of unrealized potential when combined with electricity storage?
This is a question fundamentally about cost, and I'm glad, Mr. Weiler, that you've pulled something to the forefront that is often overlooked when we talk about cost.
Nuclear is a non-emitting electricity source with the lowest full-life carbon cycle footprint, and it produces electricity 24-7, 365 days a year. With small modular reactors, of course, this promises the ability to make this source of electricity and clean heat very scalable. When we look at the cost of intermittent or weather-based technologies like solar, as you mentioned, and wind, we have to acknowledge that the cost of making solar and wind a reliable source of electricity requires storage or some other form of partnership.
That being said, nuclear has a very good track record of being a low-cost electricity provider in Canada. In Ontario, as a matter of fact, it is a lower cost than wind, solar and gas. The prospect of small modular reactors is that they are very responsive and scalable and can support more solar and wind. It is true that the cost has to be proven out. These are first-of-a-kind deployments, but our studies show that they are going to be competitive when you look at them from an entire cost perspective with solar and wind.
You started this with Mr. Gorman around the cost of electricity generation with nuclear. I think one thing that's fundamentally important for the nuclear sector is that the generation of electricity from nuclear is full life cycle. It includes the disposal cost as well as the generating cost as well as the construction cost, so it's all in.
What's important about that is the funds are set aside now to implement disposal projects for the waste that exists. As we sit today, there are funds held by each of the electricity producers that will cover the full costs of disposal projects. For my project in particular, we are funded by the electricity sector to cover the costs of siting, moving through the regulatory process, and there are funds set aside now for the construction and operation of the facility for the 150 years that we will require that. That money was set aside a number of years ago, and as a generation of electricity proceeds, new used fuel bundles are created in Canada. The money is again set aside so that as future bundles are created the money is always there.
Trust funds are set aside and specifically paid into, but can only be accessed once the APM or the project—the deep geological repository for used fuel—moves into the construction phase. Once we have a construction licence, NWMO will be able to access that fund and use it for deployment of our project.
Mr. Chair, I want to start by saying how regrettable it is that the motion behind today's study is being hijacked, so I urge committee members to stick to the study in hand, nuclear waste.
My question is for Mr. Hendrickson. It has to do with waste classification.
Mr. Hendrickson, we've seen the Department of Natural Resources minimize the importance of a robust and consistent system aligned with the standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
I'd like to hear your comments on the situation, especially in light of the regulation made by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in the summer of 2020. It reclassified the level of radioactivity for waste.
Isn't that the real reason behind the reduction in intermediate-level radioactive waste in Canada's inventory, which Canada likes to boast about?
Thank you, Madame Pauzé. That's an important question.
We need to be talking about nuclear waste, not nuclear energy. High-level spent fuel waste is only the tip of the iceberg. Federal nuclear research and development has generated a $16-billion waste and decommissioning liability.
The Auditor General is anticipating the publication of an environment and sustainable development audit of nuclear waste management this year. Parliament should consider its findings before any permanent nuclear waste disposal facilities are approved. I mentioned earlier the project to dispose of a million tonnes of commercial and federal waste at Chalk River. That project has been widely criticized as not meeting international safety standards, but the CNSC has recommended its approval.
I ask that the committee consider the merits of creating an independent, publicly owned nuclear waste management and decommissioning agency, which is independent of the industry and government industries that promote the industry. It could draw upon governance models in other countries that have more advanced nuclear waste management programs.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair; and thanks to all the witnesses.
First of all, as a proud Canadian, I champion all energy sources we have, whether it be hydro, solar, wind or natural gas, and especially coming from Alberta, I think we have a great renewable industry there that has everything other than a lot of hydro. Certainly championing those things is important.
Of course, the one concern I have, and I'm sure we'll talk about it in future discussions, is the requirements for mining so that we can actually develop energy storage systems so that they're going to be able to work with all these new technologies.
Mr. Gorman, I'd like to talk to you a bit about SMRs, as they've increasingly been seen as a solution to help us achieve net zero. However, as has been coming from some of the discussions we've had here, how about the need for research on this technology for minimizing waste?
We know that on the Moltex stable salt reactor, there's research being done there, the waste-burning SSR-W. We also have Purex, on the processing of used nuclear fuel.
Could you give us an idea how we can discuss that as we talk about nuclear fuel waste and its management?
That's great. I was a student in the 1980s at Carleton, and I remember going to some of the lectures and sessions he held.
My first question—and I may have time for one more—is around the expansion of nuclear energy, which, of course, would result in more nuclear waste.
Just to put this on the record, Mr. Chair, I'm open to all technologies that will help us meet our very ambitious emission reduction targets.
I will point out, on the topic of the small modular reactors, that it's not going to help us with our 2030 targets, and, hopefully, there's a promise to assist us with our 2050 targets.
I'm particularly interested in the application of SMRs in our remote communities. The west side of Hudson Bay is very connected to Manitoba, and we're looking at extending our power lines to Rankin Inlet, Arviat and other communities, and it is in the billions with disruptions to wildlife and various environmental impacts.
It's probably Mr. Van Wart who can speak to this. What are the waste storage issues that we might encounter in sensitive remote environments like this?
Could you also talk about the issue of subsidization? We're going to be looking at oil and gas subsidies in our next study.
Thanks, Ms. Collins, for that.
Shouldn't technologies be able to stand on their own two feet without subsidization?
Maybe I will ask Mr. Van Wart or any of our other speakers to comment.
I'm happy to speak about the waste handling and storage, but the subsidization is beyond my area of expertise.
In terms of waste storage and handling, as has been noted in the discussion, most SMR designs are just entering into their detailed design phase. I can speak specifically about OPG. We're working with GE and Hitachi. That's out in the public space.
We are working directly with GE and Hitachi as they work on their detailed design to understand the waste streams, the kind of waste that would be produced at the SMR. Then, as we have done with all of our waste produced from our CANDU reactors, develop safe containers, safe transportation methods and safe interim storage. Then we would look, obviously, to optimize those streams of waste as time goes on and we understand exactly what would be coming up in the design.
It's a little bit preliminary to try to forecast exactly how you would transport and have interim storage, but we're actively working with our SMR developer at OPG.
First, I would like to have the clerk follow up on this request.
Mr. Gorman, you made a number of claims regarding the cost of hydroelectricity produced in Quebec versus the cost of nuclear energy. Something you seem to disregard in singing the praises of nuclear energy is the cost associated with the waste generated by small modular reactors. You also made a claim in relation to the phase-out of natural gas in western Canada.
I would like to have Mr. Gorman provide the committee members with the documentation to back up his claims.
My next question is for Ms. Swami.
Ms. Swami, please know that I do not doubt your good intentions.
Your organization's mandate is to oversee the long-term management of high-level radioactive waste. However, your leaders, the owners, are the organizations that you report to, in other words, the polluters.
How can you fully carry out your mandate when the polluters are the ones calling the shots regarding their own pollution? The fox isn't usually in charge of the henhouse.
Yes. Thank you very much for giving me the time to answer this important question.
The NWMO has nothing to hide in terms of the work that we're doing. In fact, the whole point of engagement with Canadians is to be open and transparent, to share information and to seek input to the process that we have under way.
The federal invited us to begin looking at the strategy for implementing a pan-Canadian and all-encompassing waste strategy for Canada. In order to do that, the first step that we always take is to go back to Canadians to ask what's important to them, so that we make sure our strategy is effective. Policy is separate and distinct, and that is absolutely the responsibility for the government. Our work is to develop what we should do to make sure that all waste is safely managed in the disposal pathway. That's the critical step that we're doing.
As I said earlier, we have nothing to hide, and we would be happy to share the “What we heard” reports that we have just published.
No. Having been involved in several of the energy industries, as you know, nuclear really has a very positive story to tell and, in my view, is an important example to set for other energy industries.
In addition to having the lowest life-cycle carbon footprint of any energy technology, we are also, as you've heard, accountable for every bit of the waste that we produce—from the mining of the uranium right through to the decommissioning of a site. We prepay for it and we do all of those functions very responsibly.
I'd like to point out that spent fuel has never injured, let alone killed, anybody here in Canada or around the world. That's because it's a straightforward thing to do and it's regulated internationally. It's regulated well in the various nations, especially here in Canada, but it doesn't remove the need that we have here to find a permanent storage solution, which is what we're talking about today.
If other technologies—not only the ones that are emitting pollution in the air, which nuclear doesn't—like wind and solar could follow the example of the nuclear industry in terms of prepaying and being regulated to manage their waste, it would be a very positive thing for the environment and the world.
Sure. We have opened a clean energy sorting and recycling centre with the support of McMaster University. It's something we're very proud of at OPG. During the pandemic we were able to open the facility, which is fully licensed and audited by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. We bring our low-level waste to the facility where we sort and recycle.
Some of the very interesting preliminary findings we've had are that approximately 60% of the low-level waste that we store up at the Bruce site is actually medium free release targets. This means that we can eventually release it out from underneath the management of the low-level waste category.
We've also identified that the radioactivity that was originally measured and assigned with the waste has reduced significantly with time and the natural decay of the radioisotopes. On average, it's approximately 10% of the radioactivity that was originally there when we stored the waste. Over the period of 30 to 40 years, the waste has significantly decayed in terms of radioactivity.
The preliminary findings at McMaster will be finalized for us later this year, but it's quite interesting and applicable to our business.
Thank you to Madam Pauzé for this study, and to the witnesses for a very good discussion this morning.
I wanted to start off with OPG, with Mr. Van Wart.
Recently I met with the Canadian medical isotope innovation ecosystem.... You mentioned McMaster's involvement. It also involves the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, TRIUMF and Bruce Power, which were all on the call with me. I had planned to go to the site and also to the Saugeen Ojibway Nation to meet with the chief last week, but COVID got in the way. They're looking at how to expand the medical isotope production in Canada and at ways to work with the Government of Canada.
In the Government of Canada, we have NRCan and ECCC. ECCC is involved with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada and, of course, NRCan is responsible for the radioactive waste policy.
How would you work with ECCC, which is the department that is most closely tied with this committee?
I think the most primary thing that nuclear power brings is the electricity that we're using today. As I said in my opening comments, it provides half of the electricity in the province. It's stable. It's reliable. It's cost-effective. At times, I think, in the discussion about nuclear, we forget about that absolutely core piece that we all need in our lives, which is electricity.
So I would start there. As you said, it promotes a number of jobs. Mr. Gorman could probably provide the exact number in the province.
As I talked about in my opening remarks, there is an entire by-product stream providing cobalt-60, which sterilizes medical equipment and food. When you think about the pandemic, over the last two years cobalt-60 consumption has skyrocketed to produce the PPE required for fighting the pandemic.
Molybdenum-99, which we're going to produce at Darlington, will immediately create a North American supply of tech-99 generators to allow people with lung cancer or heart disease to have the diagnostic treatments they need in order to understand their symptoms and to then have them subsequently addressed.
Mr. Longfield mentioned lutetium, which is a cancer treatment. We are working with our partners at OPG to also produce helium-3. For anyone who is interested in quantum computing, the next generation of really advanced computation requires helium-3. It's not naturally occurring on earth. It's a by-product of our tritium that we store safely at the Darlington tritium removal facility. We have innovated and invested in ways to produce a reliable source of helium-3 for Canada and for North America for the development of these technologies. It's used in 5G electronics.
We're also looking at products to help remediate the back end of our decommissioning projects. For our Pickering decommissioning, which will occur in the back half of the decade, one of the major things we need to look at is the heavy water that's left over at our facility. We are working with a number of partners on remediation of that heavy water. Virgin-grade heavy water is a strategic asset. It's not readily available anywhere. Chalk River Laboratories has a certain amount of inventory, but that is a declining inventory. We're looking at investing in remediation of that water to bring a strategic asset like virgin-grade heavy water to Canada as part of the development of diagnostic technologies.
I think those are the things I would add.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to start by saying I'm going to be sharing my time with Elizabeth May. I'd like to give her two minutes at the end, if you can let me know when my time is out.
The Chair: Sure.
Ms. Leah Taylor Roy: I'd like to thank you, Madam Pauzé, for suggesting this study on the disposal of nuclear waste. We seem to have strayed quite far from the topic you suggested. It's good to know about all of these great by-products and the isotopes and all of the other things that are benefiting us, and I think that's wonderful. Like Mr. Duguid, I'm not opposed to any type of power that could help us reach our goals. However, I do have some real concerns about the disposal of nuclear waste, not only in Canada but worldwide, as there is still no long-term operational disposal project for high-level radioactive waste. That's really what we're talking about, I think.
I appreciate that Mr. Mazier asked about the requirements of the nuclear industry when you're talking about waste, and how much more rigorous they are, but I do believe that we all would acknowledge how much more dangerous this waste is as well.
When we're looking right now at the adaptive phased management program that's in place, the costs were estimated to be $23 billion in 2015 dollars. We still haven't found a site for that. In fact, there's a lot of opposition. We were just talking about relations with first nations, and we saw that the Kincardine site was rejected by the Ojibway Nation.
What is the realistic expectation of finding one of these sites for our waste? If we're not able to do that, what is the alternative?
There are a few things in your comments. First of all, facilities for low- and intermediate-level waste worldwide are operating and have been in service for some time. Certainly they vary in terms of depth and that type of thing, but essentially we will be using the same concept and the same process for used fuel that we would use for low- and intermediate-level waste, particularly intermediate-level waste. Those do exist. So we have proof of concept.
Finland's facility is under construction. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, they have applied for an operating licence and they anticipate placing their spent fuel in their repository in the next two to three years. Sweden has just approved a site. I would say that, as are all of the tier 1 nuclear nations, Canada is on the cusp of doing that.
We are working very closely with communities in two particular areas. In the northwestern part of Ontario, there is Ignace municipality, but we're also working very closely with Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation. In the south we have South Bruce and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation that was just talked about. In both of those cases, we have made a commitment to indigenous communities that we will not proceed without their free, prior and informed consent. This is fundamental to our work.
As to whether I think we will be successful, I believe we will be. We have been working with these communities for many, many years, and they are beginning to understand—
Again, thank you to all the witnesses who are here.
I'd like to start with Mr. Van Wart. In regard to SMR development, obviously the Darlington site is going to be Canada's first shot at trying this out. It's my understanding that this particular Hitachi project is a third-generation modular reactor versus a fourth generation.
Could you just explain what the difference is in the technology? Also, what are their results for waste? I understand if you can't say, because fourth generation is still being tested, but could you just give us an idea? Is there going to be more waste? What kind of waste? Will it fit well into the current regime we have here in Canada? Let's start with that.
I think all of those things are needed. I'll start with clear support from all government policy-makers, clear and ongoing repeated acknowledgement that nuclear is not only clean but needed for a net-zero future. That's extremely important for all sorts of different reasons.
In terms of financial support, I think there are a couple of important things to recognize here. One is that the industry, including four utilities and four provinces, has come together with an integrated pan-Canadian plan for the development and deployment of small modular reactors. It was developed with Natural Resources Canada over a number of years through wide consultation and followed up with an action plan from the Liberal government.
The utilities are not only forging ahead but bringing matching financing, so that financing request should be met. I think, as I remarked earlier, the tax credits and accelerated capital cost allowances that are being extended to other clean energy sources like wind and solar must be extended to the nuclear industry, and that includes the contemplated investment tax credit.
All of those things, leadership in terms of recognizing that nuclear is clean and matching financing for the first-of-a-kind rollout of these small modular reactors, are essential.
Thanks very much. I think this is a really important part of the work we did many years ago now.
We established a process for reaching out to communities to understand who might be interested in learning more about the potential to host a used fuel repository in their community. It was 2010. At the time, we had 22 communities come forward, from Saskatchewan as well as from Ontario.
Over the last number of years, we have been looking at the community, understanding their interest in this project. We've also looked at the geosphere or the rock that would be available in the communities to really understand interest. During that period of time, we've learned much about those communities, their interest in the project, as well as the indigenous communities where the traditional territory or the unceded territory might be.
Therefore, we've worked with many people to understand interest and the safety around deploying in that particular area. We are now working only in two communities, which I referenced earlier.
A very important part of our work is that we must have a willing and informed community, and communities, where we will deploy our project.