Chris Keefer is a Toronto-based medical doctor and president of Canadians for Nuclear Energy. In his fourth appearance on the podcast, (previous appearances were November 2021, May 2021 ) and April 29, 2022) Keefer talks about Ontario Power Generation’s decision to reverse course and extend the life of the Pickering Nuclear Generation Station, a move that could keep the 3.1-gigawatt plant running for another 30 years, the essentiality of the Cobalt 60 isotopes that are produced by CANDU reactors, and why Ontario has “the most pro-nuclear government in the western world.” (Recorded September 30, 2022.)
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone, welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. In this podcast, we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And I’m proud to welcome again for I believe, the fourth time to the power hungry podcast. Chris Keefer. Dr. Chris Keefer. Welcome back, Chris.
Chris Keefer 0:19
It’s always a pleasure to be here, Robert, thank you for having me.
Robert Bryce 0:24
Okay, so I’m going to have you introduce yourself. Again, I always do that even though you’ve been on before. But we’re going to talk about Pickering and the fact that just this week, in fact, on Wednesday, which would have been September 28th, on pure Ontario Power Generation announced they’re going to extend the life of the Pickering nuclear plant, which there’s several deep details on that. But before we get to that, if you know the drill here, you’ve just arrived somewhere, you just arrived in a new emergency room, and no one knows you there. Introduce yourself, please.
Chris Keefer 0:52
I’m going to keep it really brief. For those listeners who have already met me via your excellent podcast, Robert, but I’m gonna start off the way you do. I am the very proud father of a beautiful almost four year old. As you mentioned, I am an emergency physician, the president of Canadians for nuclear energy, which is relevant to today’s conversation, the host of the decouple podcast, and all around great guy, I hope.
Robert Bryce 1:19
Okay, well, that gets that that is a good summary. So I got to tell you, congratulations. I know that a lot of people worked on saving at the Pickering nuclear power generating station in, in Ontario, but you were part of that movement. And this announcement by the Ontario government that they’re going to save the plant is more evidence I think of one this the change in focus Chase success of nuclear in the public mind. Well, tell me what how you view this what? How happy does this make you give me the typical journalist question. How do you feel mister Dr. Keefer? How do you feel about this?
Chris Keefer 1:57
Oh, Robert, I’ve been pinching myself, honestly, these last two days. Just to make sure this isn’t a dream. Because, you know, two years ago when we started this movement to save the Pickering nuclear station. This was one hell of a long shot. You know, I’m not a gambler. But I give us one in a million odds. I was very inspired by Zulu and Dietmar down in New York with their campaign to save Indian Point. I think that was a big turning point for me certain, certainly strengthened my desire to throw myself into this battle. Despite it basically being too late in New York. They did absolutely incredible work, created amazing documentation reports, etc. And really made the environmentalists who helped shut Indian Point down pay the price, the reputation documented, the skyrocketing emissions and natural gas use. So, you know, that was that was a big part of this journey. That one in a million odds we started with.
Robert Bryce 2:59
That wasn’t that long. Do you think Chris, honestly, there was one in a million? No.
Chris Keefer 3:02
I mean, everybody told us this was hopeless, you know, and I mean, we were looking
Robert Bryce 3:07
for ally aid, and that there was no backing down and that this was a done deal, and that all of the remaining six reactors right at Pickering were going to be shut. Right. But that was the plan. That was
Chris Keefer 3:17
the plan. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, absolutely. I mean, our band of merry men and women, in Canadians for nuclear energy, you know, made a decision that this was going to be our central focus, and very generous of those of us outside of Ontario to do but I mean, what’s good for Ontario, nuclear is good for the whole country. And, yeah, I mean, God, where to start, you know, we started with some folding tables, some homemade pamphlets. And even just doing that it did get the attention of the utility on tower, Ontario Power Generation, and I have to give them enormous credit. They have come around fully on board with the plan not only to extend the plant, but to seriously explore and make possible refurbishment and another 30 years of operation. If you remember, Robert Jesus, remember, you know, candies have a lifespan of you know, at least 60 to 80 years. There’s nothing to say we can’t refurbish them even longer. You know, second refurbishment. I don’t see any reason why that’s not technically possible. I haven’t had explained why it wouldn’t be. But you know, most candles around the world, you know, built in the 70s 80s and 90s are up for a midlife refurbishment. The critical piece of the plant that needs to be replaced is the pressure tubes you can think of the you know the P WR the BW or the standard light water reactors like a pressure cooker with a big chunk of fuel inside that inside that pressure cooker and can do is a really different design. You know, heavy water is the moderator it lets us use natural uranium we burn dirt, and luckily it’s Canadian dirt so you know supreme energy security. really ingenious design And does even more than, you know, carbon free, reliable always on affordable energy, it also produces medical isotopes. So we had so many reasons to fight for this. But, you know, again, at the very beginning, the utility contacted us and said, Listen, you know, this isn’t good for the nuclear industry pickerings
Robert Bryce 5:18
to shut up that you are, you’re being too vocal.
Chris Keefer 5:21
Yeah, yeah. And I mean, that’s not out of step, I think with a lot of utilities around the world, particularly utilities that, you know, have nuclear, as well as other assets, you know, in their, in their portfolio. And, you know, we’re mostly nuclear and hydro, we do have some gas, the plan from our independent electricity systems operator was to replace Pickering with gas. And, you know, again, those odds, I think, started kind of one in a million. But as you’re aware, so much has happened in the last two years in terms of this emerging global energy crisis. And, you know, the assumptions when the plan was made not to pursue refurbishment, because this is what’s interesting. There was actually a regulator approved plan to refurbish the Pickering nuclear station in 2009. But what was going on at that time, we had the global financial crisis, we had deindustrialization, big drop in forecasted power demand, we had historically cheap natural gas coming online because of the fracking revolution. And finally, gas was cool, you know, we had coal on our grid, then gas was lower carbon. Thank God, we use nuclear instead of gas to power through our coal phases, were one of the only jurisdictions in the world that basically made coal illegal. And we did that again, with 90%. The energy was from nuclear energy from restarts of mothballed reactors, to get us up to the full strength that we’re at now. And it looks like we’ll be running at that full strength into the 2060s. Really, because of the vision of of this government and I have to take my hat’s off to them.
Robert Bryce 6:54
Well, it is a big, it is a big change. And I agree with you. And it was one of the things that seems to me that I mean, I would say even in the last two months, this there’s been a significant shift globally around attitudes toward nuclear, right Western Europe being obvious one of the obvious examples, Boris Johnson saying we’re gonna build a reactor a year, well, Boris is gone, but nevertheless, that the governments across Europe saying that they’re going to pursue nuclear avidly because they they’re they’re uncertain gas supply situation. And then here in the US, I can you know, you know these as well as I do, but I’ll just repeat them very quickly that Holtec International, which bought Palisades, the nuclear plant in Michigan announced that they’re, even though the plant was shuttered in May and thought to be for good. They just in the last few weeks said, No, we’re gonna keep this plant open, we want to keep it open. And we’re seeking federal funding to do so. Dat one of the most perhaps the most interesting of all these, I think, is Dow, the big chemical companies saying they they’re planning to build a small modular reactor at their petrochemical complexes in the in the Texas or Louisiana Gulf Coast. This is a very old line, very conservative Chemical Company, and they’re signaling to the market. We think SMRs are ready for primetime. So you have those moves the vote on Diablo Canyon, all of these together I think are really are a part of this shift. That is a sea change in terms of attitude about nuclear and then propelled I think, as well, of course, by Russia, Ukraine, and the high price of natural gas, I don’t know what TTF is today. $55, something like that, which is a very high price when it you know, 24 months goes by, you know, three single digits. But let me just get a couple quick things out of the way here, because I want to make sure that the people are listening, Ontario Power Generation is the utility that controls the electricity in, in Ontario. And so that’s publicly the province, the provincial government is the controls OPG is that right?
Chris Keefer 8:48
Yeah, it’s, you know, we did have a deregulation where we carved off transmission from generation and we used to be Ontario Hydro, and Ontario Hydro was who had the vision to build these massive nuclear plants. You know, don’t forget that we have the largest operating nuclear station in the world. That’s Bruce Power. That’s eight 880 megawatt reactors all on one site, Pickering, only six of the reactors are running, but that was eight 500 megawatt reactors. And we have Darlington station, which has for almost 900 megawatt reactors. So you know, this was the age of public power. When we were doing things, right. We knew how to build we knew that building the same design, you know, plant after plant right next door to each other learning lessons from the construction. And we did great. And I mean, Pickering was built on budget and on time. You know, there was some controversy around Darlington it was unfortunately built. Well, during the time of Chernobyl was put on hold for a couple of years when interest rates were 15 20%. And we unfortunately had a government on the political left that lost its enthusiasm so that plant did go over but you know, we really did things right. But yes, you’re right, Ontario Power Generation is the sole shareholder is the Government of Ontario. And so, you know, when we phased out slowly,
Robert Bryce 10:08
and that’s really key here, I think is that, you know, you know, the difficulty in the US has been that, well, New York Power Authority sold Indian Point to Entergy for a song, right, and that the public ownership of these assets, and I’m all about public, I love electric cooperatives. I think the public power and public ownership of public of critical energy infrastructure is very important. And I’m absolutely in favor of not opposed to investor owned utilities, but having the people own stakes in these critical projects, I think is important. But I just wanted to make sure we point out that so I was looking at the OPG website and also CBC. So they said OPG, the Ontario Power Generation said that they’re seeking approval from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to continue operating pickerings units five through eight, so four reactors through September of 2026, which is a one year extension. And then they’re saying that they’re going to go ahead with the retirement of units, one and force it at the end of 2024. So they’re saying they’re going to retire to and keep four is that up to date with OPG is saying, what’s the current situation?
Chris Keefer 11:13
Yeah, it sounds kind of reminiscent of Germany in a sense, keeping to and trashing one, but it’s very different. Again, you know, there’s eight units at this plant, a side was built in the 70s. Two of those units were refurbished in the early 2000s, they have a good 10 years of life in them still, under our estimation of the experts from our group, you know, they are harder to refurbish again. So, you know, our hope would be that the B side is refurbished for another 30 years. And you know, this is getting highly technical, but the A side is dependent on some safety system from the B side, you know, we’re hopeful that we’ll get the refurbishment and then we know, we’re never done, you know, as crazy nuclear advocates, we never give up, we’ll start fighting for the A side. Those two guys, you know, they’re full lifetime, we should, should squeeze that out of them. We certainly need the power Ontario’s pursuing a real electrification goal with electric vehicles. But also a lot of our steel industry is transitioning into electric arc furnaces, just at one facility, those those furnaces will put a 300 megawatt baseload draw on the grid. So you know, there is a severe supply and demand mismatch that’s brewing. And I think that’s part of what’s behind the government’s decision. I just didn’t want to follow up, you know, this, this, you know, the Ontario government owning being a sole shareholder, and OPG means that they have had the power to do some pretty extraordinary things. And one of those was to make coal burning illegal in Ontario, that was by government, Fiat or dictate, right? We weren’t able to do that, because we’d had enough nuclear. And, you know, it’s interesting, we’ve had pro nuclear and anti nuclear governments. And the amount of coal that was being burned was directly proportionate, obviously, to, you know, more units being online and some units coming off, you know, the 1990s, were not a good decade, for nuclear, again, we had governments that were not supportive, that we’re not putting in the right amount of investment. Mark Nelson did a great show with us on what the hell’s going on with the French nuclear fleet or half of it’s down during this critical energy crisis. You know, there’s a good side to government ownership, but if you get an anti nuclear government, you know, you have what happened to us in the 90s. That’s when coal really went up, you know, you have with what’s happened in France, and, you know, to some degree, South Korea was set back, you know, during the, the presidency of, of President moon. So, you know, there’s a bit of a double edged sword. Nuclear is tricky, right, because even the utility people say, a lot of a nuclear industry, this and that. The only nuclear industry that there is, especially in the West, or not really building much is the decommissioning industry is sort of the safety upgrade industry. There’s not really, you know, a power there, right. You know, there’s utilities that run nuclear plants, they’re not particularly committed to them. They don’t really care. And so
Robert Bryce 14:04
they don’t really have a Locus of Power geographically. And I think that that’s one of the key differences between Canada and the US is that in Ontario, you have this concentration of nuclear industry, nuclear jobs. OPG is saying that saving the plant will be protecting 4500 jobs. That’s a lot of jobs. But that here in the US, we have more nuclear plants than any other country in the world. But they’re diffused geographically. So there’s no there’s no geographic congressional delegation that is in favor of nuclear, right, because it’s all spread out unlike the coal industry, right, which Wyoming Kentucky, or the oil and gas industry, Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, New Mexico are all big oil and gas producing states and they’re going to their delegation in Congress is going to represent those industries. But we don’t have that in the nuclear sector, which I think is one of the reasons why they’re they’ve been so ineffectual. Now they’re, they’re making gains in the US but It’s nothing like the Locus of Power and concentration of jobs, capital and government involvement that you have in Ontario. And I think that that’s what makes the Canadian story. So interesting. And, and frankly, for, you know, what you’ve been able to do and move government to understand, no, you need to save these assets. These are critical for a lot of reasons, not just co2 jobs, you know, energy, security, all of these things that I think came together now, and it’s I mean, but it’s got to feel so gratifying to go to go to war on this and get and turn government. I mean, that’s how I see it that, that that what that’s what you and your colleagues, Canadians for nuclear energy did, is that rhyme with what you think?
Chris Keefer 15:42
You know, I’m blushing. But I do think so. As I said, everybody said, not everybody, but you know, the utility. Government, folks, we talked to other folks in industry, we’re all, you know, not happy with us pursuing this, again, they said this was bad for the nuclear industry in Canada, because we were fighting for this, you know, outdated station, you know, there’d be a lot of public opposition to it. You know, we should just focus on supporting the new SMR build at Darlington. And we said, you know, that SMR Bella Darlington is great, huge export opportunities, we’re, you know, a center of nuclear excellence, a tier one nuclear nation at tier one nuclear province, for God’s sakes, this is good. But we need to hold up a shield, you know, where we’re most vulnerable. And, you know, Pickering brings enormous benefit, as you said, 4500 jobs right, within the broader context of 76,000 jobs here in Ontario, highest union density of any sector, something like 90%, you know, six figure incomes to trades people, STEM professionals, every dollar that we invest in our candy refurbishments gets $1.40, back in GDP and economic activity. And I mean, that seems a bit mind boggling. But let me let me make the comparison, because I’m gonna posit to you, Robert, that Ontario has the most pro nuclear government in the western world right now. Because they just made a big decision, right? There was a kind of path dependency to sleepwalk into natural gas, replacing this nuclear station. Now, what would the implications of that have been for the people of Ontario, we would have been buying a bit of gas from out west, you know, we only have one little pipeline bringing gas from Saskatchewan and Alberta, we would have been buying a lot of gas from the US. Right, right. I mean, this is this is like Europe, it’s like sending your dollars away overseas, right? You know, help the frackers out in Pennsylvania, but doesn’t do anything for us. So we would import gas, which is getting increasingly expensive, you know, competing with the Europeans now competing with international LNG market, and generate, excuse my language, but fuck all jobs right here in Ontario, you know, five 600 megawatt gas plant can run on 3040 employees. Right, right. Our nuclear plants, the parking lots, I mean, again, because these are multi unit sites, to 3000 spots at some of these some of these facilities. So nuclear is cheap uranium, and well paid jobs, a lot of them. And when that benefit all accrues locally, you get that economic advantage. Our nuclear refurbishments are Canada’s largest infrastructure project. About half of that is being financed privately because the Bruce, the Bruce Power, again, that’s publicly owned, but privately operated. But in any case, enormous economic benefit is occurring from this. But the nuclear industry has been quite sheepish, not fighting for their interests. And I mean, that’s this is such an interesting phenomenon. Like Robert, I’m an emerge doc. My background is, you know, I was a consulting physician at the Canadian Center for victims of torture. I was, you know, I founded one of the first seasonal agricultural migrant worker clinics, right, I was a course to health correspondent for Canada’s largest indigenous newspaper. Did I ever think I would be doing what I’m doing now? No, but I asked myself, you know, what is the how can I match my resources and abilities to make the biggest difference in the world? You know, and there’s this joke, you know, be vegan, you can save a ton of carbon every year don’t drive your car, you can save two you can reduce your carbon footprint by two tons. I am so proud to be joining you know, Maddie hilly Mark Nelson Paris Ortiz wines. Isabel, Ben, Mickey, you know, all of the people that made saving Byron Dresden Diablo Canyon, like it is such a mark of honor to join them. And I mean, we joke sometimes, you know, because we end up probably flying a lot. But you know, this whole offset, you know, it gets a bit silly kind of dividing up tons of co2, but like, it’s mind boggling, like we’re keeping 8 million tons of co2 out of the air every year. That’s 8 million transatlantic flights. It’s It’s an amazingly wonderful thing to save a nuclear plant. And, you know, the trend right now is we’re saving the things eat Even even in Germany, for God’s sakes, because this is this is another thing, Robert, right. You know, Russia. I mean, it took blowing up a pipeline for Germany to finally come to its senses and say, you know, I mean, you can’t hold these reactors in standby when their core is depleted, they have to keep running. Okay? But imagine Europe cut off from all, you know, all this false imagine, you know, who knows who did it, but say it was someone allied to the Americans and the Russians blow up the Norwegian Polish pipeline, or there’s no more of that kind of activity. They’re going to keep every nuclear plant running as long as they possibly can. I mean, in the end of the day, you need energy. So people are coming to their senses. I’m rambling, but you get the point.
Robert Bryce 20:45
Well, so those are all key things you’re talking about. And the Germans coming around after the the sabotage of Nord Stream I think is maybe this was the catalyst that brings Ontario Power Generation around. But I also just did a couple of quick analysis quick looks at some numbers. You know how I love to do comparisons. pickerings big plant six, six reactors in operation 3.1 gigawatts of capacity. 24 terawatt hours produced per year. So for comparison, Canada produces about five terawatt hours from solar. I’ve been in Canada, it’s not a big solar place. So 5x all roughly 5x all Canadian solar, and two thirds of the wind output about 35 terawatt hours per year from wind according to the latest BP number. So by itself pickerings producing 24 terawatt hours, that’s two thirds of your wind output and it’s baseload. It’s it’s not going to stop producing if the weather changes, right, which is the problem with wind. But in terms of the energy as I look at this, I’m not from Canada haven’t been following and followed it but not in anything like the depth you have that maybe this is just one of those moments where the regulator’s the bureaucrats are saying, Ah, who, you know what, this is about energy security, we need a big dose energy realize we’re gonna keep this thing open. I mean, it was it all of these factors were and I know, you know, Alex and other people, but can you can you even know if people at OPG said there was one thing that made us change our minds?
Chris Keefer 22:10
Well, I have my I have my hypothesis, and I’ll get to that in just a second. Okay. Two things, you know, in terms of that output, you know, Ontario, we’re the we’re the France of North America, in terms of, you know, having almost as much nuclear as part of our generating mix as the French probably because the French nuclear fleet is not operating Well, right now. Right. We tried to become the Germany of North America. We had this Green Energy Act, all said and done by 2040. We will have spent $60 billion on subsidies
Robert Bryce 22:39
and that was occurring, McGuinty government right but McGuinty government put that in place, right?
Chris Keefer 22:44
Pickering produces more power than every single one of the 3273 grid connected wind and solar projects in Ontario. Okay, we mentioned that we Ontario
Robert Bryce 22:57
numbers I stated the whole Canadian all of Canada, which is a very big place. Okay.
Chris Keefer 23:01
Right. Exactly. I wasn’t gonna say next story. Your high wind, wind, about about 25% of our wind production Ontario is curtailed because we don’t need the goddamn stuff when it produces. So our peak demand is summer we have disgusting, hot, humid, you know, two weeks of 40 degrees, you know, 90% humidity, Maybe I’m exaggerating, but like you would kill for a breeze to blow some of that sweat off your forehead. It doesn’t show up. Right. So you know, if you look at our wind profiles, it’s extraordinary. Almost nothing in our hottest months, July to early September. Okay. Goes gangbusters in the spring and fall. You know, that’s when our grid demands about 10 gigawatts. Right. Some are we’re peaking up at 26 gigawatts, you know, we do our outages and maintenance on our nuclear plants in the shoulder seasons in the spring and fall. And we run gangbusters and pickerings at a site record all six reactors going for 100 days straight right through our peak demand season. So you really can’t make the comparison. It’s It’s extraordinary thing that’s that we do. You know, you’re asking again, did the senior minds prevail? We were at the ISO meetings, which were called as part of, you know, we have this group. I call them the Ontario green air Alliance. They got a lot of gas funding back in the day. They wanted our coal fleet to be replaced by natural gas, interestingly enough and are evenly anti nuclear. But they’re hats off to them. They’re pretty effective organizers. They’ve gotten 40 municipalities to demand at the Ontario government investigate a phase out of gas. Now we don’t use much gas just for peaking in the summer again, right. But it did force the government to ask her independent electricity systems operator to look into this. Now, we got on that call with them the consultation call and we said how are you not modeling a refurbishment of Pickering when you’re talking about trying to phase out gas because the whole reason gas is going to go from 7% And to 30% is because you’re shutting down this nuclear plant. Right? Right. They refuse to do it. That was seven, eight months ago. Right. So Robert, what made the difference? And I think, you know, we’re gonna have a Twitter spaces with Bloomberg. In the next week or two, Maddy Mark and I, you know, the nuclear advocates cookbook, you know how to save a nuclear plant. But, you know, I want to take a moment, get emotional, you know, and really pay my respects to Dylan moon, who is the jack of all trades, and has contributed so much to the success not only of my podcast, but Canadian renewable energy, truly a jack of all trades, you know, the audio engineer, you know, the editor, the sound master for the podcast does a lot of research, but also the researcher and writer of our report safe Pickering, which was a 23 page policy report, heavily referenced, you know, absolutely stellar quality writing incredible graphics. You know, without, without Dylan, I’m not sure we would have saved this nuclear plant. Without that, you know, what, you know, in terms of Diablo Canyon, what did Gavin Newsom hold up in the air he held that study, I’m forgetting about 76 scientists that did an analysis of Diablo Canyon, if these policymakers, you know, Milton Friedman said this right in the middle of a crisis, you know, it’s these policymakers are looking around for paper on the ground, and they pick something up, right? What ideas are floating around in the middle of a crisis. And you know, the ISO is forecasting a major crisis for us, you can’t just take off a 3.1 gigawatt baseload power facility, in the midst of electrification in the midst of these electric arc furnaces coming on, right. And so they, you know, it is my belief is my belief that they picked up that report. And it really has served as the template because what we were arguing for was extension and refurbishment. And remember, everyone was calling us crazy for this, you know, the nuclear establishment, we’re saying cease and desist. And this isn’t good for nuclear. And this is crazy. And we never gave up. And again, I mean, there’s so many people to list in terms of, you know, who made this possible? You know, there were times when my faith wavered, Chris Adlam, who’s just an encyclopedia of all things, nuclear, despite being an IT professional by day, you know, I don’t want to name too many names, because I’ll leave so many people out. But you know, it was really, it took a village to save this plant. You’re
Robert Bryce 27:31
Jesse. I’m forgotten Jessie’s last name,
Chris Keefer 27:35
Jesse Freeston. The video Man Yes. But again, honestly, it’s, it’s without that report. You know, and we’re a very small group contains pretty good energy, you know, bare bones budget, I was able to divert some resources really from from the podcast. And that’s how Dylan was able to write this thing. But without someone with the writing skills, to pull all of the great research we had together into a beautiful document. And I’ll tell you in a second, how it got into the hands of decision makers. But, you know, the template that’s being followed is the one that was laid out by us. And as of two months ago, it was not on the agenda at all, and it rapidly got on the agenda. And here we are, we’re getting a life extension. And from what I’m telling what I’m being told, this isn’t just, you know, I let’s see if it’s possible, it’s make it possible. That’s kind of the directive. And, you know, people at the Pickering nuclear station are saying, the workers have pep in their step. They are excited about this, you know, the kind of pride that goes into work when you think we’ve got a chance to save this thing. It’s, it’s amazing. So morale has been boosted. You know, it’s just it’s such exciting times, Robert,
Robert Bryce 28:45
you know what? I’ve thought about the nuclear plants and I’ve been in at Indian Point, and I’ve seen a lot of industrial facilities. I’m, you know, I’m in my dotage. Now, right. I’m 62. I can collect social security. But I’ve been in the business of journalism for a long time. And I’ve been in mines, I’ve been in factories of all kinds. But the nuclear plant that I went to, it was the most amazing because I, you know, comprehending the power density of it and comprehending the thing is a machine right? And that this machine is the driver of society. And that’s where I’ve thought lately about the idea of nuclear nuclear plants as our mutual friend Emmett Penny calls them are industrial cathedrals, but they’re so if you’re going to have something that power society, you have to freaking maintain it, you have to have mechanics, you have to have people tradespeople there all the time that are making that machine work and maintaining it for the long term. And instead of putting up these flimsy and I’m going to use that because the right word, a bunch of stuff that depends on the so on the sun and the wind, you know, we don’t we can’t run society on something that can blow away you need something that’s durable that you can that is going to be there when the chips are down and that is a machine that is dirt built not just for years, but for decadal kind of timeframes, and that’s where I think this is such a Uh, you know, I think as I said that we’re at an inflection point on nuclear and the momentum has been remarkable the shift in just the last two years. And I would say even the last two months, and that it’s just very heartening. And I, you know, it’s, I know you, you’re not going to get all the credit and you shouldn’t, but you, you were in the vanguard here and I so I congratulate you. I think it’s just amazing, you know, and attaboy, so I wanted to get that out of the way. So good. Good on you,
Chris Keefer 30:29
Robert. You know, John Constable said something interesting. I think probably in both of our podcasts, he talked about Alexander the Great surging across Asia, and coming across probably the Baku oil fields where the petroleum was bubbling to the surface, right. And constable said, you know, he didn’t have any, you know, distillation chemists, you know, petroleum engineers. He didn’t have any diesel engines beyond lobbing it, you know, at his enemies as Greek fire wasn’t much use for this stuff. Right, right. Or maybe, you know, pitching a roof or something like that. These nuclear plants are miracles that transform rocks, very little rocks, magic rocks into an insane amount of energy, right, reliable, affordable, carbon free air pollution, free energy, and vandalizing them decommissioning them shutting them down is it’s an outright crime, particularly in the context of the energy crisis. I mean, you’ve spoken about this a lot, you know, Germany, shutting down nuclear plants and then trying to you know, not trying to but outbidding poor countries on available fossil fuel resources, starving the global self driving up prices to a level that they’re unaffordable. I mean, it’s, it’s completely unforgivable. You mentioned kind of the human side of this and I had Michael Shellenberger on recently after the Diablo Canyon victory, you know, what we’ve been labeling Heather Hoffman, I have been labeling, you know, Diablo Canyon and Pickering as sister plants. But something that he said that really struck me was the failure of the nuclear industry is not to emphasize the human side, the human factor of the technology. Ultimately, this is not about, you know, especially in communications, not about a picture of a valve or, you know, a steam generator or whatever else. This is a human story, you know, and it’s, it’s an incredible culture of excellence that comes together, to design these things, to build these things to operate these things. You know, I’ll be the first to admit nuclear is difficult. But you know, I’m an optimist. I’m a humanist, we rise to that challenge. And, again, I am so bullish on nuclear in Ontario, you know, more than any other place in the West, because we have this active supply chain, an active workforce intimately familiar with the Kandra design, we’ve never operated the camera designed better. And you know, we’re refurbishing on
Robert Bryce 32:46
government, and you have the government behind you. I mean, it’s yeah, those those those supply chains, the workforce, the government, all of these things aligning, which are remarkable. You mentioned Constable, I’ll interrupt because he said something else. And maybe he said it on your podcast, but he was here in Austin, we, we did some interviews with him or an interview with him for this documentary that I’m working on. And he made a point that I’d never thought of before. He said, You know, when you look in nature, there are a lot of organisms that rely on the sun and on, you know, things that come from the sun and the plants and so on. And they’re algae and other things. You know, there’s nothing in nature that relies solely on the wind, the wind does not surprise does not provide enough energy to any living organism interested in nature. And I thought about that, and I thought, just another reason why I hate those fuckers in the wind, because, like, I’ve made it clear, I don’t like the wind industry, they don’t like me back, I’m okay with that. But you can’t run a modern society. Depending on the wind blow, you just can’t do it. It’s, you can use some of it, and you can store some of it, but you can’t. That’s why nuclear to me is so incredibly important because it is this engine for society. And that’s what it is, is a big ass heat engine, and it needs a support and it needs nurturing and it needs constant inputs to make sure that the engine keeps running. And if you do it, it’s like a Toyota it’s gonna run for hundreds of 1000s of miles, but you got to take it to the mechanic and you got to maintain the damn thing.
Chris Keefer 34:10
You know, at the press conference, there was a reporter you know, who was trying to harass the minister and said Listen, I’ve got like a 2010 Dodge Caravan it’s end of life. Right? And you know, the thoughts that came to my mind are you know, did you take that Dodge Caravan to the mechanic every 5000 miles or maybe every 1000 Miles right? Did you change the belts when there was the slightest imperfection in them? Did you get an oil change? You know every 1000 miles? Oh, and did you drive it like a granny obeying all of the speed limits going 90 in you know, 60 miles an hour in the right lane of the highway, avoiding any sudden braking stopping going, you know, this is you can’t make these category errors. And this is the this is what we see all over the place. You know, this misapplication of Moore’s Law laws to renewables, you know, solar is going to get infinitely cheaper, essentially, obeying things like Moore’s law or storage is going to get infinitely better. You know, it’s going to double every year and its effectiveness. You know, it’s personal for me, the the wind industry here in Ontario, right? We’re going to have spent again, $60 billion in subsidies, we have to poke holes in this idea that wind and solar are cheap. They provide incredibly low value energy, again, in Ontario completely out of phase with demand when it comes to wind and listen $10 billion to refurbish Pickering, we should have done it in 2010, or been planning for it better late than ever. That is 1/6 of the cost of all of this wind and solar, which has provided very little value for that investment. And let’s face it, where are those solar panels getting made? Where those wind turbines turbines getting made? I mean, not really in Europe anymore. It’s all gone to China now. So, you know, it’s it. It frustrates me in a multitude of ways, Robert?
Robert Bryce 36:00
Yeah, no, agreed. And the other part of this that I think for me is personal is just how how it’s negatively affecting consumers. I’m pro natural gas. But in the US, and in particularly here in Texas, we made the grid to relied on gas. And now I just checked Henry Hub gas is today’s at $7. Will, you know two years ago was it $2? Well, but it’s not $2 anymore. And now because we’ve made the grid so heavily reliant on gas, and we’ve retired a lot of coal in Texas in the US, we don’t have that that lower price BTUs in the form of molecules going into the plant, so we get higher cost electrons coming out because we’re burning more expensive fuel. But I want to talk for just a second because not only did this Pickering provide 14% of the provinces electricity, but I wanted to I know we’ve talked about this before, but I want to hit it again. The issue of cobalt 60 This is a critical medical isotope and Ontario Power Generation talks about this in on their website opg.com. I believe that Pickering alone provides 20% of the North American supply of cobalt 60. Tell me what, that’s a medical isotope. You’re a doctor tell me what that does. What is cobalt 60
Chris Keefer 37:12
cobalt 60 is a very strong gamma emitter, glows bright blue at the trunk of effect when they take it out of the reactor. In Canada, we can produce it in enormous volumes, because we can put, you know, basically a rod of cobalt 59. Into this neutron rich environment, it soaks up all those neutrons turns into the isotope, cobalt 60. And then it’s used to sterilize many different things around the world. But I’ll focus on the medical side, the cobalt 60 that we make at Pickering. And at Bruce Power sterilizes 40% of the world’s single use medical devices of the world’s single use medical devices. That’s everything from you know, the IV cannula that goes in your arm, if you end up in the ICU, the endo treat the breathing tube that might get placed joint replacements, you know, anything that you need to be absolutely sterile. And let me tell you, we want everything to be sterile that we’re putting inside people’s bodies. So you know, Candu reactor technology enables modern healthcare around the world. And that’s yet another reason why closing Pickering was such a dumb idea. You know, and frankly, it is frustrating that it took such an effort to bring the industry around on this, to bring the trade association around on this, you know, again, better late than never, I am so glad to not be, you know, in low level friction. With such a large section of the nuclear industry. It’s wonderful that we’re all pulling in the same direction. Now. There is work to be done still, we do need to get that refurbishment, happening, that’s going to take a mixture of the brilliant people working at OPG, the engineers, the project managers, looking at, you know, the feasibility, how we can do this economically how we can take those lessons we’ve learned from refurbishment at other sites where we’re coming in, you know, before time and under budget, right. But we’re all pulling in the same direction now. And, you know, that is an enormous source of pride for me and my organization. You know, I’m exhausted. But I’m just absolutely thrilled.
Robert Bryce 39:23
Now, that’s great. It really is. You know, was it? Who was Jane Goodall or I forgot to the people who say that only, you know, one person can’t change the world? Well, it’s something like well, it takes one person without that. I don’t know what that quote is. But you know what I’m talking about. That there’s, there’s commitment, there’s a possibility right, and you were committed and so good on you. So but I’m just curious about that technique that you said that the neutron rich environment about the American reactors the regular Pressurized Water Reactors can’t produce isotopes or cobalt 60 Or can they be trained Do it or they need different technology? What are the what is the? What is the difference about the CANDU that allows it to produce these isotopes?
Chris Keefer 40:06
I’m gonna be going on a slight limb here, but I think I got it. Right gonna, like keep blending. And I want to call you Roger for some reason. So he, I think,
Robert Bryce 40:15
some sleep what are the other Oh
Chris Keefer 40:17
my God give me the the Calandra area, which is, you know, the it’s not a pressure vessel, but it’s what contains all of those horizontally oriented pressure tubes is a relatively low pressure environment, the pressure is more sort of within the pressure tubes, hence, pressure tubes, which is incidentally, why candies are an incredibly safe design, you don’t have all the fuel able to melt at once. If you have a cracked pressure tube, there’s a leak into a low pressure heavy water moderator. That’s there in huge volume you have, like it’s such a tolerance environment for the worst things you can throw at this reactor. In any case, because it’s a low pressure environment. In that case, Andrea, you can drop down these cobalt 60 I think they look like control rods, essentially. But you can drop those down very easily into that relatively low pressure heavy water moderator where neutrons are zipping around. And basically, you know, the way that the experts have explained it to me, you’re essentially putting energy into, you know, a radioactively inert substance and turning it into something that’s incredibly energetic. And then we harness that energy to sterilize 40% of the world’s single use medical devices. You know, also Food irradiation in the amount of I don’t know, I just to get I think it’s really important to illustrate the big numbers, you know, with a narrative, but that’s enough to sterilize 20 billion pieces of PPE. You know, at the height of the pandemic, my God, we were going through a lot of gear. So you can’t understate the value. And you know, one of one of the missions of my group is really to elevate and celebrate the candy reactor. There’s so many reasons why we should be not only refurbishing, but building new candies, phenomenal design, incredibly safe, produces the medical isotopes, you know, and critically, you know, the supply chain readiness and human factors Trump’s design, you know, we had a lot of promises with AP 1000. You know, it was supposed to be built in three or four years snap together like Lego, you know, the EPR, maybe a little harder to build. But you know, these were beautiful designs, the engineers, you just were so excited to take their blueprints out, you know, they didn’t have them fully finished when they started building. But, you know, but the supply chain wasn’t there. It wasn’t equipped. It wasn’t skilled, you know, some of the big modular components delivered at Vogel didn’t fit together. Right. So we have that advantage. And I’m so excited. You know, the next portion, I think is, you know, we need to get that SMR SMR is built, exciting to be an exporter of that technology that’s highly sought after around the world. But listen, let’s face it, the Ontario grid is huge. We’re forecasting increased demand. Those refurb workers are going to be done in the late 2020s. I guess with the Pickering refurbishment the 2030s. We need to plan now to be building new candies. We have a licensed site at Darlington for 4800 megawatts, from what I understand the current plan is to build 1200 megawatts of SMRs. And, Robert, let me tell you, Well, it isn’t in march
Robert Bryce 43:19
right by OPG, that they were going to work with GE Hitachi on that on that first grid scale. SMR. Right. But that was the now that’s progress, right? That’s what’s
Chris Keefer 43:28
been announced from what I understand from my sources. The plan is to just put four SMRs there on a state licensed for 4800 megawatts, and we need those megawatts. And we have workers and a supply chain that’s teed up to build new can do that know the technology inside out. So you know, that’s a another minor source of friction, you know, and it’s so exciting, you know, a Canadian renewable energy to be this outsider, you know, little David in the David and Goliath sort of struggle group to win these victories, but also, I think, to really influence the whole sector. You know, people are so excited. They were excited, like a huge chunk of people in nuclear one of the refurbishment, but the way the nuclear industry works is it’s very, you know, this is the party line, everybody tow it, we can’t take any risks. We can’t have any disagreements, right. And similarly, on the SMR front, this is what we’ve chosen, you know, no objections. You have 76,000 people. You know, this is a diverse group of people that were very smart with a diverse group of opinions. Sure. And so Canadian renewable energy is able to, you know, be a little bit insurgent and say, you know, what, again, my obsession is the nuclear secret sauce. How do we do this hard thing? How do we build nuclear plants on budget and on time in order to do everything that nuclear can do, and get the lessons come back to supply chain and human factors trumped design, but can do is a brilliant design. So I’m kind of showing my cards but, you know, that’s, that’s the next sort of struggle that we see on the horizon. And I think again, there’s so many people within the Canadian union industry who were I’m on board with that, but they haven’t had, like a champion to get behind. But you know, we’ve shown that we can completely up end and change the narrative. You know, again, OPG is they sound incredibly enthusiastic about this refurbishment. And that’s a change in tune. I’m so excited for it, you know, the Canadian Nuclear Association, as well as now, very enthusiastic about this
Robert Bryce 45:23
for a second, because I think, you know, as your and I know, I can tell you’re excited, and you’re gonna keep going if I don’t stop you. But I’ll quote Alex Epstein, who, you know, has had success pushing his his ideas, but he has his line. I’m not for all of the above and for all of the best. And I think that that is a really important thing to say, right? No, I’m not for all of the above. And I’m in the same camp. No, I am not for carpeting. More large swaths of America with when wind turbines and solar panels, I am absolutely opposed. 100% rural America has a voice here and you’re spreading all your your, your your renewable crap all over their counties in there. They don’t want it and they and they’ve told they’ve made that clear. And yet, of course, there’s just a lot of money behind those those industries. And they’re, you know, congratulations to them. They got massive new subsidies with the inflation Reduction Act. So Chris, we’ve been talking for a while and I, you know, I like to keep my podcasts at less than an hour or less. But I think we covered a lot of the things around Pickering and I, that was what I wanted to do this special podcast with you because of this news that came out on Wednesday, September 28. Today’s the 30th So we’ve talked about how the nuclear conversation has changed. We talked about isotopes, but I’m going to ask you the same questions I always ask what so what are you reading or if you had any time to read lately, what’s what’s at the top of your list?
Chris Keefer 46:43
Yeah, you know what Robert said it’s an apt question decouple just launched decoupled reads, which is a book club and we’re just building a community around that on our Patreon so we are we reading bus labs smells how the world really works, right? I’ve read Peters I hands book, most recent book, I’m gonna butcher the title, but you remember it world is just the beginning. Yeah, yeah. I’m really into Jonathan Haidt, right now. The coddling of the American mind. And his again, sorry, I’m sleepless here. But the the book about, you know, moral tastebuds. Killing me, I can’t remember the name off the top of my head right now. But you know, that one is just so critically important. You know, and again, I’m I come from a background on the political left, and the modus operandi of the political left is that we just have to convince all the stupid people that they’re wrong. And I guess if if you know, the hard left ever gets, you know, full power, they might just kind of eliminate people that disagree with them. But ultimately, you know, I am, I’m a, I’m a Democrat, not in the sense of your, your political party, but we need to all pull together in society, what Jonathan hates is that they think is the most fascinating is that there’s kind of a collective moral evolution. You know, starting as we did, in an evolutionary perspective, in the small hunter gatherer communities, we needed people with a variety of different moral tastebuds and biases and ways of seeing the world. And Isn’t it remarkable that in every society around the world, you kind of have a political left and a political right, you have people that are conservative people that are liberal people that are hippie freaks, etc. There’s a need for all of those folks in the human family to steer society. And, you know, that’s been very influential. And in terms of, you know, my, my theory of change now, you know, initially when I was doing this pronuclear stuff, you argue with the people that argue back with you the most loudly, I was trying to convince environmentalists and Green Party people, waste of time. Right. And so, you know, I’ve been working pragmatically across the political spectrum. And what’s beautiful, I’ll just maybe close with this. What’s beautiful about this, this Pickering thing is there’s a strong argument on the left, you know, these are publicly owned assets, you know, with, you know, huge workforces with the highest union density of any sector. Right, these are just transition jobs, the left should be all over this, the political rights all over it, you know, thankfully now because it creates a healthy business environment. And you know, the center Well, you know, there’s lots of reasons they can jump on as well, I won’t I won’t go into detail there. But, you know, I’m excited about a kind of pragmatic politics that can that can win on this. Is it perfect? Does everyone get what they want? No, but there you go. Those are those are my books and a little tangent on top of that for you.
Robert Bryce 49:28
Well see, I was going to ask you about what gives you hope. But I think you’ve already answered that question. Every OG view really addressed that the coming together of different political factions around nuclear energy as a as a platform that stands on its own that crosses the political divide and deserves broad public support because of the massive benefits it provides to society. And I think that that absolutely is the case. So I am I’m right on that same page with you. Well, let’s stop there. Then since we’re in complete agreement here and we are you I have been stunned silence there for a moment. So, which I’ve never seen before kefir, but that’s okay. So my guest has been my friend. I’m quite proud of Chris kefir. He’s the president of Canadians for nuclear energy. You can find them at sea for n e.ca. You can follow his decouple podcast on all the find podcast outlets and on YouTube. Chris, congratulations again. Thanks for coming on this episode of power hungry podcast.
Chris Keefer 50:25
One last shameless plug, Robert. Oh, there’s more. For any. For any.ca There is a great big donate button. We really do thrive on on those donations. We’ve achieved an incredible amount. We just saved a nuclear plant. You know, I know your podcast audience is quite International. But we are in Ontario real beacon of hope for energy, reality and sensibility. So if anyone’s able to support us, that is how we are able to operate and hire the great people we do like Dylan Moon who produce this report. You can also check out that report if you’d like there. My shameless plug is now over.
Robert Bryce 51:05
Okay. All right. Well in there, Chris. Thanks again for coming on the podcast and all you in podcast land. Thanks for tuning in this time. See you next time.