A Small Idea that's REALLY BIG

A Small Idea that's REALLY BIG

July 21, 2020

I have spent the past few weeks visiting with residents in Edmonton Strathcona via phone, Zoom calls and even via socially distant front yard visits. And guess what issues come up time and again?

I call them the “Triple E” trio. And, no, it has nothing to do with the Senate.

They are the economy, energy and the environment. And when these topics come up, more often than not they’re accompanied by a sense of frustration.

People recognize that we have a climate challenge, that we are entering a period of prolonged economic downturn, and that many of our nation's traditional energy projects are stuck in the courts of public opinion or never-ending legal challenges. And they see no real plan to address these issues.

How are we going to meet our climate commitments while ensuring future generations can enjoy the prosperity Canadians have become used too? How can we diversify our local economy right here in Edmonton Strathcona?

The first idea we’ve talked about recently here is hydrogen. Tapping into Alberta’s vast gas reserves and turning Edmonton into a hub of hydrogen production, storage and distribution to replace diesel and grow our economy in a sustainable manner.

And, here’s a second idea. A small one that’s REALLY BIG.

What if I told you we need to look to our past, right here in Edmonton Strathcona, to discover our future? What if I told you Canada’s #1 energy export in volume of energy (petajoules) is uranium?

That’s right – we export more uranium energy annually than oil or gas energy.

So, why don’t we start using our #1 energy export – uranium - to generate zero-carbon, clean nuclear energy, right here in Edmonton Strathcona?

“Nuclear? Are you crazy?”

Nope. Because this is nothing new – we’ve been there, done that. Safely and securely.

Edmonton Strathcona was, until recently, already a “nuclear” community for almost 40 years. There was a nuclear reactor at the University of Alberta that was commissioned in April 1977. The University of Alberta's Safe Low Power Kritical Experiment (SLOWPOKE) Nuclear Reactor Facility was a low-power reactor used to support research, teaching and industry. It operated for approximately 40 years without any safety or environmental impacts to the community it served. It was decommissioned in 2018 as it had met the end of its operational life.

The nuclear community has now developed a new nuclear technology, known as an SMR or small modular reactor. They can be very small, in some cases fitting within the confines of a CFL football field, or even on a ship. They are designed with full containment (Chernobyl was built with no containment structure), and are designed to fail safely should they be exposed to an earthquake, flood, or some other event that jeopardizes the ability to control the reactor (loss of power is what caused the Fukushima accident). SMRs automatically shut down in these situations with no risk of a radioactive release.

They are also extremely small. You won’t see them, and they house a very small amount of nuclear fuel.

Let me offer this up. Nuclear energy is the safest form of energy on the planet (reference figure below). Electricity generation from nuclear plants produces no carbon emissions and provides decades of reliable baseload power. Nuclear powered naval vessels such as submarines, aircraft carriers, and icebreakers have sailed our seas for millions of miles since the 1950's, with impeccable safety records


The Russians just commissioned the Akademik Lomonosov, a Russian floating SMR power plant. The ship will provide heat and electricity to an isolated northern community. With the electric generation capacity of roughly 70 megawatts, it could easily power and heat a city of well over 50,000 people.

I think we need to talk about going back to our roots of taking smart risks. An SMR could energize our academic community, bring new forms of funding to the U of A, and provide our riding with the zero-carbon energy abundance that goes with longer, healthier lives. It will create hundreds of millions of dollars of local economic activity and lower the emissions generated in our community.

Oh, and guess who’s against developing our nuclear energy sector? The federal NDP, that’s who. They oppose all nuclear development, at the same time that they oppose pipelines, fossil fuel extraction and want to kill Alberta’s energy sector.

The Bottom Line is this: nuclear is a safe bet, and a smart one, for a zero-carbon future in Canada. As Conservative MP for Edmonton Strathcona, I will boldly support a push for an SMR at the University of Alberta and push for viable solutions to leverage on this technology for all Canadians.


- Rick Peterson


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