Energy Sources

Nuclear

Ontario Power Generation

Nuclear power is a type of thermal power in which electricity is generated from steam produced by the fissioning, or splitting, of uranium 235 atoms being bombarded by neutrons. Canada is the seventh largest producer in the world of electricity using nuclear power. In 2012, Canada generated 96.4 billion kilowatt-hours of nuclear-sourced electricity.

The major difference between nuclear power generation and coal or natural gas fired generation is the fuel: nuclear power plants use uranium for fuel, and instead of burning it, they exploit the heat created by nuclear fission in the uranium.

Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation

Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation

Nuclear energy currently provides around 15% of Canada’s total electricity needs (over 60% in Ontario), contributing meaningfully to climate change and other atmospheric emissions objectives, since it is virtually an emissions free electricity source. Canada's uranium production ranks 2nd in the world while its reserves rank 3rd around the globe. Uranium is not only used in nuclear reactors but also is helpful in the field of medicine, the preservation of food and agriculture! 

HARNESSING NUCLEAR

Nuclear fission breaks apart an atom, usually uranium, to generate energy. When the atom is struck by a neutron, it splits apart and releases energy, radiation and more neutrons. These neutrons form a chain reaction, striking other atoms of uranium.

Scientists use a nuclear reactor to split atoms. The resulting energy heats water to make steam, which spins a turbine. The mechanical energy of the spinning turbine is transferred through a shaft to a generator, which converts it into electricity for the grid.

                                        

                                                      Ontario Power Generation

The Canadian nuclear energy industry is mainly concentrated in Ontario, but has a presence in Saskatchewan, Quebec and New Brunswick.  There are 19 reactors nuclear power built in Canada, 18 in Ontario and 1 in New Brunswick. They are operated by public utilities and private companies.

NUCLEAR FUSION

Nuclear fusion joins atomic nuclei together creating a new single nucleus that has a mass smaller than that of the nuclei that formed it. During fusion, that mass difference is converted into large amounts of energy. This process is constantly happening in the core of stars. On Earth, only the lightest elements will fuse, but at extremely high temperatures. Scientists strive to achieve and control nuclear fusion in experimental reactors that would replicate temperatures found in our Sun.

Nuclear fusion is for many researchers, the answer to our energy needs. The Canadian nuclear energy industry consists of a mixture of private sector firms and public sector organizations at both the federal and provincial levels and covers the entire nuclear energy fuel cycle from R&D, uranium mining, and fuel fabrication to nuclear reactor design, nuclear plant construction, maintenance, waste management and decommissioning.

Opportunities and Challenges - Nuclear Fission

Opportunities:

  • Canada has the third largest uranium reserves in the world, and is the world’s top producer.
  • Canada has the world’s largest high-grade uranium reserves.
  • Nuclear generating plants release fewer greenhouse gases than fossil fuel powered facilities.
  • Overall life cycle emissions are lower than those for fossil fuel.
  • Nuclear plants produce virtually no pollutants that contribute to smog and acid rain.
  • Energy storage is relatively easy.
  • A reliable energy source.
  • Strict government regulations ensure the safety of uranium mines and nuclear facilities.
  • Proper management reduces the impact of uranium mine tailings on the environment. 
  • Modern nuclear plants have reactor containment facilities in case of accidents.

Challenges:

  • The long-term storage of radioactive waste is difficult.
  • High capital cost — power plant installation is $4 per watt produced.
  • Uranium mine tailings may contain radioactive atoms and heavy metals, which naturally occur in rocks and soils.
  • Uranium extraction can contaminate plants and wildlife.
  • Some people are wary of the risks of nuclear energy.

Opportunities and Challenges - Nuclear Fusion 

Opportunities:

  • Excellent potential to produce very large amounts of clean energy using very little hydrogen.
  • The European Union, China, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States are currently working on ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), a large-scale scientific experiment to demonstrate the feasibility of commercial energy production from nuclear fusion.
  • Does not produce radioactive waste.

Challenges:  

  • Research and development require enormous financial and technological resources.
  • Despite recent advances, research is at an early stage.
  • Researchers estimate that it may be 50 years before commercial fusion energy is available.
  • Requires long-term scientific, political and financial commitment.
  • The high temperatures and confinement required for fusion are difficult to achieve.
  • More research and development are needed to ensure that fusion reactors produce more energy than they consume.

This page contains content provided by: CSTMC, Natural Resources Canada, Centre for Energy, World Nuclear Association