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Canadian Nuclear Tech making China’s Growing Energy Sector Cleaner

People increasingly want energy sources that don’t have a climate change impact, and regulators are asking energy companies to reduce their emissions. All of this affects Canada’s energy landscape. Recognizing this shift, Gneration Energy, is profiling representatives from the energy sector to understand how they use innovation and technology to support opportunities for a low carbon future.

How do you see Canada’s energy landscape changing?

As Canada moves to fulfill its international climate change commitments, nuclear energy will be a key way to fill the gap as we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, says Justin Hannah.

Justin Hannah
Justin Hannah

Hannah is the Director of Marketing, Strategy & External Relations at SNC-Lavalin, Canada’s largest nuclear engineering service provider and the only company in Canada that can design, build and service nuclear reactors.

“We’re moving into a low carbon era and we at SNC-Lavalin are excited to be part of that,” said Hannah.

In Ontario, about 60 percent of electricity comes from nuclear but nationally the figure is only 16 percent so Hannah sees a huge opportunity for growth. “There are opportunities from a pan-Canadian perspective, whether it be New Brunswick, Saskatchewan or Alberta or even the northern territories.”

Canada was one of the first among 58 countries at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference (COP-21) that identified nuclear as part of the climate change solution. Hannah also cited a report by Environment and Climate Change Canada to the United Nations that showed that five out of six scenarios project a major increase in nuclear generation to meet the overall commitment to reduce greenhouse gases to 2005 levels by 2030.

“I think that there is a pathway set out by the government – as a member of the Canadian nuclear industry and Canada’s largest engineering company we want to talk to them more about how we can make that a reality over the next few decades,” said Hannah

How is your work influencing that change?

Although not an engineer, Hannah has been working for five years on marketing one of the centrepieces of SNC Lavalin’s technology portfolio – the Advanced Fuel CANDU Reactor (AFCR).

CANDU Fuel Bundle
CANDU Fuel Bundle

The AFCR will take the classic CANDU design, which uses heavy water and natural uranium, and adapt it to use recycled uranium. This is a key selling-point for countries like China that are not blessed with the wealth of natural uranium that Canada has.

“It’s something that Canadians should be aware of and be proud of because it’s not only something where we can affect climate change within our borders but where we can affect it on a global scale as well.”

Qinshan CANDU reactors in China
Qinshan CANDU reactors in China

In September 2016, SNC-Lavalin signed an agreement in principle with China National Nuclear Corporation and Shanghai Electric Company to form a Joint Venture to complete the AFCR design and build them in both China and abroad. When operational, every AFCR will generate enough power to meet the daily needs of two million people with no emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulphur oxide, toxic heavy metals, aerosols, ozone or other pollutants.

“The AFCR as a reactor design displaces about 26 million tonnes of CO2 per year, which in China would mean shutting down a coal unit of equivalent size,” said Hannah. The initial project with China would involve four reactors, which would mean eliminating about 100 million tonnes of CO2.

Hannah and his colleagues at SNC-Lavalin are also looking at markets for the CANDU and AFCR all over the globe including Argentina, Romania, United Kingdom, Poland and Malaysia.

“There’s a whole world out there for CANDU reactors both AFCR and non-AFCR, where Canadian technology and expertise can be utilized and shared with the rest of the world,” he added.

What does your vision of the energy future look like?

In Hannah’s energy future many more people are energy literate – both knowledgeable about where energy comes from and how valuable it is.

“I do think that the future will be low-carbon, it has to be. It will be a situation where fossil-fuel driven electricity goes low carbon, via carbon capture and storage or is completely replaced by low-carbon generation be it nuclear, renewables or hydro-electric.”

On a global scale Canada is one of the few countries that can demonstrate to the world what a low-carbon, yet resource-intense future, can look like. One of SNC-Lavalin’s ideas is to bring nuclear power to the oil sands to decarbonize the oil sands – by replacing the natural gas that is used to extract the oil from the bitumen.

“This is a very big opportunity to lead. It is undeniable, any credible agency looking at how we are going to become low carbon to reach our two degrees scenarios has to have nuclear as part of the mix,” said Hannah.

While the nuclear industry has not always been top of mind for those considering our clean energy future, Hannah sees the younger generation as being a lot more open-minded to the role that it can play. That, along with highlighting potential careers in the industry, is what he wants to push with Generation Energy.