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President’s Corner: Alberta Bound

On September 17, I was part of a dynamic discussion on with other energy experts and thought leaders on introducing nuclear energy into Alberta (thanks to Ted Gruetzner of Global Public Affairs for the invite). This was déjà vu for me as in an earlier life, and there have been a few of these for me.

Alberta Calling

Back in 2005 to 2007 I was part of the AECL Reactor Division team that worked with local Alberta developers on deploying CANDU reactors in Alberta. I clearly recall a phone call in early 2005 from someone from the newly formed Energy Alberta Corp saying, and I paraphrase. “I am calling from Alberta and I want to buy a nuclear reactor!”. We did not get many calls like that so several us jumped on a plane to fly to Calgary to meet the Energy Alberta Corp founders Wayne Henuset and Hank Swartout, both of whom had found success in oil.  I recall Wayne telling the story of how a severe hurricane hitting his winter home in Florida made the impact of climate change very real and personal for him – inspiring him to take action and bring nuclear to Alberta to reduce carbon emissions from the oils sands operations. We worked closely with Energy Alberta for almost three years – meeting many oil company executives, other local business leaders, and investors to turn Wayne’s dream into reality. Based on our momentum and profile Bruce Power acquired Energy Alberta in 2007 and pivoted the strategy to supplying nuclear electricity to the Alberta grid.  We considered a number of applications for clean nuclear electricity including using high current in situ resistance heating to extract oil from carbonate formations and producing “green” electrolytic hydrogen for a large bitumen upgrading facility at the “Industrial Heartland” complex northeast of Edmonton.        

In the end none of these concepts and proposals bore fruit.  Simply put – the CANDU 6 and ACR-1000 designs were too large (and the pressure too low) for deployment in the oil sands and on the Alberta grid and the nuclear industry was lacking a broad base of community and political  support. But we learned a few lessons along the way and 2020 is not 2005. Climate change has become more urgent and widely discussed. Nuclear power’s role in addressing climate change and getting Canada and the world to net zero GHG emissions by 2050 is now more widely understood and accepted. By signing the three-province MOU last December Saskatchewan’s Premier Hon. Scott Moe has demonstrated increasing western Canadian interest in nuclear and SMR’s (small modular reactors) specifically.  Finally, the impact of COVID on the Alberta economy has stimulated a recognition that Alberta must broaden and diversity its industrial base beyond the oil and gas sectors.  Alberta therefore joined the now four-province SMR initiative in August 2020.

Nuclear Power: Part of Canada’s Energy Transition

During the September 17 panel on “Nuclear Power: Part of Canada’s Energy Transition” I described Canada’s nuclear supply chain of some large contractors, multi-sector designers and fabricators backed up by more than 200 innovative/nimble SME’s located in communities across southern Ontario and beyond. I shared examples of how non-nuclear companies the Grey/ Bruce/Huron and Durham regions have joined the supply chain by partnering with or supplying sub-components to established nuclear suppliers by adopting the QA (quality assurance) programs and production methods of the latter to help them embrace their “nuclear safety culture”. I asserted that Albertan companies that design and manufacture complex equipment and components for multi-$ billion bitumen extraction and those who upgrade facilities would have most of the requisite skills and capabilities to join the nuclear supply chain. Take New Brunswick (NB) as a case study.  NB Supply chain assessments undertaken by the two Advanced SMR developers in New Brunswick, ARC Canada and Moltex, conclude that up the 65% of components and materials (by value) for Advanced SMR projects in New Brunswick could be manufactured or sourced locally.  Alberta with its strong oil and gas industrial base could achieve the same localization ratio.

Alberta’s Nuclear Supply Chain – First Steps

OCNI will soon engage with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), COSIA (Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance), and other related oil and gas supplier groups to explore how we can lay the foundation for an Alberta nuclear supply chain to support SMR’s in Alberta and beyond.  As a first step we invite Alberta companies to participate in the New Brunswick /OCNI Supplier Partnering Webinar on October 30, 2020 to learn about the New Brunswick /OCNI strategy to grow the New Brunswick nuclear supply chain to underpin an Advanced SMR program in that province.

I am so pleased to see nuclear technology gaining momentum in the West. For me its “déjà vu” all over again. In fact this week I received a call from an engineering firm in Calgary wanting to understand the qualifications certifications required to work in the nuclear sector. Not quite as bold as my “buy a reactor” call from the Energy Alberta 15 years ago but promising none the less!

As a first step we need to broaden our outreach to Albertans and specially to Alberta’s Indigenous communities to discuss nuclear energy and climate changes and nuclear by-products like medical isotopes and green electrolytic hydrogen.  We need to understand and address local concerns. We have great local resources at the universities in Alberta such as Jason Donev who teaches foundational classes on nuclear technology at the University of Calgary and Duane Bratt of Mount Royal University in Calgary who lectures and has publications on the politics of nuclear energy.  These men, their colleagues, and students could become objective and respected voices to help tell the story of nuclear in Alberta.

Let us be inspired by Paul Brandt’s moving music video “Alberta Bound”!!!