“If it weren't for electricity, we'd all be watching television by candlelight.” – George Gobel
On April 24, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier held a wide-ranging discussion with students at the University of Ottawa. The gathering lasted over an hour, during which time the two politicians fielded questions on a variety of important topics, including energy. At approximately the 50-minute mark, Trudeau made some uncharacteristically bullish comments about the future of nuclear power in Canada – all the more provocative considering the party seated to his right. This is from the transcript (lightly edited for clarity, emphasis added throughout):
“But we know that where we're getting to in the future, 10 years from now, over the coming decades, as we get towards a net zero world, the capacities we have in Canada to generate energy for the world through wind and solar and geothermal to hydro – which is a huge part of our mix right now – even a return to nuclear, which we’re very, very, very serious about and investing in some of the small modular reactors. I mean, as we look at what the base load energy requirements are going to be needed by Canada over the coming decades, especially as we continue to draw in global giants like Volkswagen, who choose Canada partially because we have a clean energy mix to offer to power them, we’re going to need a lot more energy and we're going to have to be doing much more nuclear over the coming decades.”
Trudeau’s remarks are testimony to what can only be called a complete about-face by Canada’s ruling Liberal Party on its support of nuclear power. While we are certainly no fans of Trudeau, his repositioning on this topic is remarkable. The comments were preceded by moves to extend the life of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, support the construction of a state-of-the-art small modular reactor (SMR) project in Darlington, Ontario, and include nuclear in the clean energy investment tax credit in the 2023 Federal Budget. Even Steven Guilbeault – Canada’s notoriously anti-nuclear Environment Minister – has been brought to heel, much to the chagrin of left-leaning climate change activists in the country.
A notable portion of the credit for Trudeau’s pivot can be attributed to our friend Dr. Chris Keefer, a medical doctor and President of the non-profit Canadians for Nuclear Energy (C4NE). His team’s grassroots efforts are paying dividends and prove that everyday citizens can have an impact on political outcomes. In April of 2022, Keefer testified before the Parliament of Canada. Then in October, he managed to score a rare one-on-one meeting with Trudeau himself. Just last week, Keefer’s petition to prioritize CANDU nuclear power technology was officially raised at parliament, bringing a successful conclusion to an uphill battle. These accomplishments are made all the more impressive when you consider that C4NE is operating on a shoestring budget compared to the avalanche of cash deployed to stop nuclear power around the world. (To donate to C4NE’s efforts, click here – we have done so in the past and will be making another contribution after this article publishes.)
The nuclear industry is likewise experiencing renewed support in the US as more political leaders arrive at the same inevitable conclusion that we have argued from the very beginning of Doomberg: there is no path to significant decarbonization of our economy without a global nuclear renaissance. Recent signs of a welcomed re-engagement with physics here include the effort to extend the life of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, the significant support for nuclear incorporated in the Inflation Reduction Act, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)’s approval of a new SMR reactor design, and the first new nuclear reactor going critical in the US in seven years. After decades of holding the upper hand, anti-nuclear Malthusians are finally on their back foot.
Airtime given to solar, wind, battery storage, and nuclear power is most often focused on how best to serve our electricity grids, but vast swaths of the economy burn huge amounts of fossil fuels to create steam for use in heavy manufacturing. The newfound momentum behind nuclear energy creates an opening to decrease the carbon intensity of this important vertical in our economy. In a notable development, a major chemical company is collaborating with an innovator in SMR technology to customize a nuclear solution addressing the need for industrial-grade steam. If successful – an outcome that is by no means certain – the initiative could catalyze a structural change to the front end of our economy. In our view, the project has not received the attention it deserves. Let’s give it some.