It seems Canadians are warming up to nuclear energy, with 57 per cent saying the government should expand its use in the power grid, according to a new survey by pollster Angus Reid. That figure indicates momentum is on the industry’s side since only 51 per cent were onside with the nuclear option when Angus Reid asked a similar question in June.
“Touted as a low greenhouse-gas-emission energy source, and a way to insulate against the volatile prices of fossil fuels, nuclear power has returned to vogue following a year of oil price shocks,” the report said.
It might be a good thing Canadians appear to be onside since governments have decided to put more of their eggs in the nuclear basket. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland in Ottawa’s fiscal update on Nov. 3 introduced a tax credit of up to 30 per cent for clean-energy technologies, including small nuclear reactors, tacitly labelling the technology as clean, according to nuclear news agency NucNet.
In the week leading up to the fiscal update, the federal government announced it was loaning Ontario Power Generation, which operates the province’s nuclear system, $937 million to build a small-scale nuclear reactor. Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the investment was happening because nuclear is a “non-emitting” source of energy that Ottawa believes fits into its net-zero emissions goals.
It’s not just Ottawa banging on the nuclear drum. The premiers of Ontario, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan got the small nuclear reactor ball rolling back in 2019. And in March last year, the trio along with Alberta announced each of them would break ground on small nuclear reactor sites. Ontario’s Darlington Small Modular Reactor (SMR) is scheduled to be operational in 2028. Saskatchewan, which does not have any nuclear power stations, has said work could begin on an SMR by the mid-2030s.
Nuclear power, of course, already features prominently in Canada’s energy mix. The World Nuclear Association estimates that 15 per cent of Canada’s electricity is generated from nuclear power supplied by 19 reactors, most of which are in Ontario.
The Royal Bank of Canada has made the case that nuclear will have to play a role in the energy transition, arguing that Ontario specifically could be facing an electricity shortage by 2026 and that nuclear power, among other established sources, needed to stay in the mix.
The Angus Reid report also showed that 43 per cent of Canadians said they would be comfortable with a nuclear power plant operating within 50 kilometres of where they live, and 58 per cent approved if the plant was 500 kilometres away.
Many have questioned the feasibility of Canada achieving its net-zero emissions goals by the 2050 deadline based on current progress. With time ticking, embracing nuclear power more fully could provide the breathing room needed to bring that goal within reach.
— Gigi Suhanic