In his fifth appearance on the podcast, Chris Keefer. a Toronto-based medical doctor and president of Canadians for Nuclear Energy, talks about the historic announcements made last week by Ontario Power Generation that will expand the province’s nuclear capacity by some 6,000 megawatts. He talks about the reasons behind the move, the advantages of the CANDU reactor, and why Ontario has a “track record of kicking butt.” (Recorded July 7, 2023.)
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the power hungry podcast on this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics and I’m pleased to welcome back for I don’t know how many times he’s been on before my friend, Dr. Chris Keefer, who has much to celebrate today, Dr. Kiefer, welcome back to the power hungry podcast.
Chris Keefer 0:22
Robert, my friend it’s a pleasure to be back. Okay, so
Robert Bryce 0:25
I’ve said there’s a lot to celebrate I you know, guests introduce themselves. You’ve introduced your, your an emergency room doctor in Toronto. I’m gonna just leave it there. What Why do we care about you today? Tell me about what is happening in Canada because there’s big news out of your home country tell us?
Chris Keefer 0:43
Yeah, no, it’s it’s fast and furious here in Ontario. There’s been a big build up. Over the last three years, we’ve been building a lot of momentum towards what has happened just in the last three days really understand there’s even more announcements coming. But to cut to the chase. We have an announcement this Wednesday of 4800 megawatts of new large nuclear being announced at the Bruce Power Station that will get that site close to 12 gigawatts of nuclear. And then just today, there was an announcement that we will build not just one VW 300 GE Hitachi boiling water reactor, but indeed four of them at the Darlington besides so that’s going to basically add 6000 megawatts between the two projects of nuclear to Ontario, and the cherry on top for myself and Canadians for nuclear energy, who really coalesced around the fight to save the Pickering nuclear station. The minister did say it is the government’s intent to refurbish, Pickering. We have a feasibility study that’s ongoing that has to wind its way through the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. But it’s looking like all systems are go for that as well. So not taking a step back here by just losing Pickering, which is what was going to happen. But actually getting ahead here with a lot of new nuclear. And I think I’ve said it many times, Ontario is the best suited jurisdiction in the western world to deliver on new nuclear. And I think we’re gonna see it happen in the near future. So it’s exciting to be advocating and see, see, one’s dreams start to coalesce into reality. And that’s what we’ve seen in the last week here.
Robert Bryce 2:25
Well, I didn’t I saw I introduced you as an ER doc and you are that but you’re also the presidents of Canadians for nuclear energy, which is C for the letter for in e.ca. So I’m just doing the pencil here for the writing these down 4800 megawatts at Bruce. Four times 300 megawatts at Darlington is 1200 megawatts. So that’s 6000 megawatts of new nuclear capacity that had been announced this week in Ontario alone, which I’ve been watching this space for a long time. And this is the biggest, I mean, the biggest two or three days announcement of nuclear capacity anywhere in the world in my memory, and I’m not here to blow smoke up your skirt or your doctor gown or anything else. But you’ve been advocating for this for a long time. There’s some got to be some feeling of payoff here. Is that the right word? Or some grant just gratefulness for that you? You persisted, you advocated you are a pain in the ass for a lot of people to really push for this, but it’s got to feel good. No.
Chris Keefer 3:28
Yeah, I continue to be a bit of a pain in the ass. And we’ll get into the weeds on on my feelings about these announcements. Also to clarify, I’m not paid off by by the nuclear industry, either. But yeah, no, it feels it feels pretty, pretty amazing. You know, certainly looking back just in the Western Hemisphere. I mean, we had summer and vocal, which were announced what in the early 2000s. This is more more megawatts than that. I’m just trying to fact check you, Robert. I mean, I think China’s you know, on a pretty massive build out. Yeah. But this, this is kind of China level stuff. And again, we’re talking about a province of 14 point 7 million people embarking on seven certain 6000 megawatts of 6000 megawatts of new nuclear. So Ontario has punched far above its weight. I think a lot of people reference France is kind of the country with the ultimate nuclear build out. I haven’t done this analysis. It’s just coming to me right now. But in terms of, you know, nuclear megawatts added per capita, I think Ontario is well ahead of France. The province was a lot smaller when we commissioned 20 large candy reactors in just 22 years. So we have a track record of kicking butt, building these large multi unit stations, up to eight reactors per site, and getting not just economies of scale, but economies of multiples happening. And I think we may be returning to the glory days. I’m very excited about that. There’s still a lot more work to be done. But yeah, very gratifying to see. To see this, this ball start rolling.
Robert Bryce 4:58
Well, so You know, not to spend too much time on this. But, you know, looking back I know, we’ve been talking now for a couple years. But if you looked at this nine months ago, could you ever predicted this? I mean, you know, this turnaround that has happened has been i Well, I think it’s gobsmacking. Myself, you know, looking at it from a distance. I mean, could you have, could you have envisioned this just, you know, six 810 12 months ago?
Chris Keefer 5:25
No, the vision was there going back, you know, three, four years. It’s what we’ve been advocating for, and I do feel very gratified. But, you know, the group of analysts that make up the core membership of Canadians renewable energy, have really had their finger on the pulse of, of, you know, the ideal energy policies. We were fighting for. The refurbishment of Pickering. As early as 2020. When that was, we were told there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that you’re beating a dead horse, that decision has been made give up. And we persevered. We develop the rhetoric, the arguments, did the original research and analysis, released our CV Pickering report last July, and the government announced life extension and now commitments, refurbishment, you know, just just 12 months later. So we had also kept the torch alive on large nuclear, I think we have to remember that in the West, there’s been this massive pivot towards small modular reactors, right? This is in a pretty understandable reaction to the stagnant growth in electricity demand, or the lack of growth really in electricity demand that we’ve seen for the last 20 or 30 years. You know, I think that is, there’s many reasons why, you know, new nuclear has not been happening in the West. But I think that’s the number one driver, if you don’t have customers for the kilowatt hours, then you ain’t going to spend billions of dollars on a capital intensive project with a long lead time like this. So, you know, I think the nuclear industry got humble and said, well, we’ll go real small here and just not take too much risk and see if we can find some way to build something. But those conditions have changed dramatically. And and I’m sorry, we’re forecasting 60 terawatt hours of organic, this is not climate related demand. This is things like population growth, you know, reindustrialization, new manufacturing, etc. organic growth of 60 terawatt hours. And that’s enough to fit 10 New, large CANDU reactors. And I do expect and I’m very excited about the announcement similarly of Bruce Power for new large nuclear, because I think I think that’s back on the scene. Again, we kept the candle burning on that one, and it’s gratifying to see, you know, our, our efforts and our analysis, be trying to stay here and
Robert Bryce 7:39
then vindicated. I think that was the word. Yeah, I think that’s a good word. Yeah. Well, 60 terawatt hours. So remind me though, so these CANDU reactors, they’re eight, eight megawatts, 800 megawatts of capacity. Is that right? What is the size of these each one?
Chris Keefer 7:52
So I mean, the candidate has evolved. From the early days, we had Douglas point, which was about 240 megawatts, moved on to the Pickering station, which is just over 500. And then our larger units of Bruce and Darlington are between about 800. And they’re with upgrades, we’re getting up to 880, maybe 900 megawatts. The thing about the CANDU, of course, is it has a you know, fully modular core, you can we’ve got 380 pressure tubes, in our Pickering reactors, 480 and the larger ones, you know, there were designs for a candidate SMR 300 megawatt design, but there’s no reason you can’t do that. And what’s what’s really interesting about all that is, you know, there’s a lot of standardized parts between these plants, the pressure tubes are the same size, for instance. So in terms of the manufacturing, that that lends itself to a lot of flexibility. Right?
Robert Bryce 8:41
Well, so I’m just looking at the BP statistical or I’m sorry, it’s not the BP statistical review anymore. It’s the energy Institute’s just where you rolled energy. Last year 2% growth in electricity demand in Canada, which is pretty good. I mean, given that it’s been flat or declining now for for a while. Your demand in 2016 was greater than last year, but nevertheless, US had growth 3.3% Last year, but 60 terawatt hours. So last year, it grew by 12, or almost 13 terawatt hour. So that’s substantial demand growth, and is that I’m assuming most of that because Ontario is such a populous province, most of that demand is going to be in Ontario then.
Chris Keefer 9:19
Yeah, and that’s over the next 15 years. I believe it’s not going to be you know, next year or anything like that. But yeah, no, absolutely. We’re looking at adding another 1.5 million homes to accommodate population growth of over 2 million new Ontarians. We have a lot of immigration in this province. Right. But again, also the reindustrialization of that province. You know, this was really sweet news to me. There’s actually a meeting between Justin Trudeau and the German President Steinmeier, I believe is his name, where they talked about Trudeau actually first said that he’s serious about a big return to nuclear. And this was of course, in the context of the great German car company. Volkswagen, deciding to relocate to a heavily nuclearized province because of its low emissions and affordable rates. So there’s kind of no capital or industrial flight from Germany to a nuclear jurisdiction like Ontario in the midst of their nuclear phase. It was a it was kind of precious. But we do have the very real risk here in Ontario of suffering brownouts or even blackouts, we’re a summer peaking grid. It’s it’s boiling hot right now. And our demand in the summer is very, very high. And so that’s I think, what’s led to the pragmatic decision making around life extending and refurbishing the Pickering nuclear station. And for you know, this, this growing of the nuclear baseload,
Robert Bryce 10:44
right, well, you mentioned China and Okay, fair enough, I just don’t know, you know, I’m closer to Canada, obviously, than China. And I don’t know if China, the Chinese government has announced 6000 megawatts within the span of two or three days. And they are they are building more now reactors than any other country in the world. And there’s a big distance between them and everyone else. But I would say, okay, without fear of contradiction in the West in the Western Hemisphere, absolutely. This is the biggest deal. Again, a lot of interest in in in Europe. Of course, I was talking to our mutual friend, Mark Nelson earlier, and he was talking about what’s going on in Belgium, there is a pivot ongoing throughout the western world, particularly in the wake of the Ukrainian invasion. Maybe it would have happened anyway. But, but talk about and I mentioned before we started, I haven’t written any questions down. I didn’t, you know, I pride myself on being prepared. But I thought, Okay, well, I’m gonna wing it here. But at this one it could have taught Robert Yeah, man, I’ve been, I did a tic toc on this. I’ve, you know, did a so I’m pretty familiar with these issues. But what happened when he how you diagnose what happened within Ontario Power Generation within the halls of the provincial government that would lead them to make this? I mean, it’s not a full about face. Right. They were embracing nuclear before. But this is a these are series of big announcements. What do you have any read on why now? Why this? What were the things that precipitated this?
Chris Keefer 12:12
Well, we have an interesting situation in Ontario, where Ontario Power Generation, which, you know, Bruce Power is a private operator of publicly owned facilities of OPG facilities. But you know, that the province is the sole shareholder of Ontario Power Generation. And that’s one of the reasons we’re able to phase out coal in Ontario, so rapidly and decisively is because the government simply said that coal burning will be illegal beyond a certain date. Let’s get busy. And of course, the reason we were able to phase out coal was because we had a number of laid up candle units that we reactivated and indeed, nuclear provided 90% of the energy to replace coal. And you know, you you know, as well as I do, and I think Mark Nelson’s made this point, you got to love coal, if you want to replace it, you have to understand the services that it provides. And in Europe, we’ve seen some reduction of coal burning up until the Russian invasion, of course, but it was because of a substitution largely of coal by natural gas. And I think we’ve seen some similar trends happening in the in the US, but I think it’s a really fairly unique story of a coal phase out, accomplished with essentially carbon free energy in the form of nuclear. All that being said, you know, the the revised projections of the Independent Electricity systems operator, every year we’re revising those, those projections and demand is has been skyrocketing. This This government is, you know, their slogan is open for business. They’re their long term electricity planning is called powering Ontario’s growth. They’re there to kind of get her done build stuff, sort of government. So they pride themselves on attracting big business, attracting factories, back building highways, building housing, and all of that, of course, demands a lot of electricity. And so, as the sole shareholder of OPG, I think, you know, especially in regards to the Pickering decision, there was certainly some reluctance within OPG itself, as I understand, to to engage in even considering life extension and refurbishment, but it became very clear that without without that power, we did really face the risk of brownouts and blackouts, you got to remember, again, these are big stations pickerings, an eight unit station, it puts more power than all of the Canadian generation at Niagara Falls, for instance, I was doing some more calculations, because when you talk to the general public, you know, and you say 3000 megawatts, it doesn’t mean much to them. But when you say okay, I mean, let me try and break this down for you. If we were to electrify the entire light duty vehicle fleet of Ontario, 7 million vehicles, they could be charged by the Pickering nuclear station. Now you sure you want to be sure you want to turn that off in the midst of all of this Evie hype? And I think you and I share some similar skepticisms about the panacea of electric vehicles. But that being said, I think that that makes it intelligible for the lay public.
Robert Bryce 14:53
And that’s the key really, I mean, you know, in terms of one of the best pieces of advice I’ve had in my career was a Edward Tufte, who wrote this great book called the visual display of quantitative information, he said, Whenever you give people a number, given them something to compare it to, right, so they give them a metric that they know. So that comparison with Niagara Falls, I think would be a good one, right? And something similar to that. But if I’m gonna read back what you just said about the provincial government and OPG is this is if I boil it down is this just pragmatism that comes to the rescue here, this is pragmatism, just as Gavin Newsom in California was looking at the closure of Diablo Canyon, and he thought, wait a minute, it’s not just that it’s nuclear and zero carbon, it’s 9% of our generation capacity. If we shut that down, we’re gonna have blackouts and I want to run for president and blackouts are bad for candidates. Is it? Is it that pragmatic and pragmatic level of politics that they suddenly added kind of a, so they sobered up and said, We gotta get Yes.
Chris Keefer 15:55
Yes, yes, yes. And yes. And God bless pragmatism, honestly, you know, we’ve been, we’ve been, I’m in favor, Hell, yes, we’ve been living through some pretty easy, soft times. And, you know, it was gearing and rolls and swag that brought this to my attention. When referring to the, the years 2010 to 2020. You know, we saw interest rates that, you know, had had basically never been seen before in human history. And we saw, you know, all four forms of, of primary energy drop from peak to trough by 90%, whether that was you know, oil, which was up at, I don’t know, it was $120 a barrel and bottomed out and COVID went next, whether that was uranium, which had a big peak, pre Fukushima and dive, whether that was coal, or natural gas with the fracking revolution, we had cheap energy and cheap credit. It was kind of easy street, and we had legacy infrastructure, right, that is now reaching its end of life. And now, you know, we kind of, we’re off of the cocaine binge of the easy times, and we’re going, oh, man, we’ve got a bunch of infrastructure that’s wearing out, maybe this whole kind of Francis Fukuyama, end of history, and everywhere becoming a liberal democracy is not not really going to happen. Maybe there’s some real geopolitical tensions, and we shouldn’t have offshored. Lots of critical industry, you know, to China and overseas. And I think that’s leading to real sobriety now in decision making. And ultimately, that’s, that’s a very good thing. And these decisions in Ontario, I think, reflect that.
Robert Bryce 17:20
Well, so then step back, so were you just Right Place Right Time, was this inevitable that I mean, I’ve given you some credit, you know, for your role in this, and I’m sincere about that. I mean, you’ve been a force and you came at it from kind of this. I’m not gonna say privilege standpoint, but almost unassailable standpoint, like you’re an ER doc, it’s not like you’re a lawyer, you know, you’re representing some special interest group. And, you know, you’re tall guy, and you know, you’ve got this deep voice and you kind of, you know, you, you’re the persona that you have the history that you have is compelling. But how much of it was you being right time, right place saying, you know, I’m a doctor, I’m concerned about human health. I’m concerned about labor these other things. And that, well, I’ll ask it this way, would OPG have come to this decision without you or would have taken them longer? And I’m not saying that this flatter you? But was this inevitable that they would do that? I guess I put it another put the question a different way. I
Chris Keefer 18:16
mean, I’m not a fan of the so called Great man theory of history. Yeah. What I’ve what I’ve quoted, and I’m going to misquote him again, god dammit, I say it enough, I should really have drilled these lines in But Milton Friedman, not my favorite economist, but has some great quotes under his belt, one of them was only a crisis, real or imagined results in actual change. And the change that occurs depends on the ideas that are lying around when that when that crisis hits, yeah, and essentially, you know, our job is to steward and develop the best ideas when the crisis strikes, they’re there to be picked up and turned into policy. This is a big paraphrasing, his words are much more eloquent than mine there. But I really do see that as the role that that we have played and this really is a team effort. You know, as you mentioned, you mentioned everything but the moustache, Robert, but you know, I do, I think make a compelling spokesperson for our group. But Canadians for nuclear energy is composed of an absolute dream team of analysts, who have an absolute incredible depth and breadth of knowledge in energy economics, you know, in transmission and the grid and generation in engineering. It’s it’s truly extraordinary. And,
Robert Bryce 19:26
well, let’s start with so you get your Dylan Moon who’s an American guy, right? He’s here in the US. You got Jesse.
Chris Keefer 19:32
This you’re talking about the decouple right now but in terms of the Canadian Nuclear energy bill, and certainly helped with a lot of the writing and research for our reports, Christopher Adam, who’s, if you’re interested what’s going on in Ontario, you should really check out our last episode. The Case for candy with him. He’s just got an encyclopedic mind and has really laid out a great history of the province. Great context if you want to go further than this episode. You know, Tom has his former ISO control room shift supervisor literally kind of flicking switches to keep the lights on at the control center, you know, there’s too many names to mention. But just suffice it to say that’s, you know, behind this charismatic, you know, and I’ve spent my time studying, but, you know, I am, after all an emergency physician with a deep interest in this, but I’m informed by a really incredible team of analysts and advocates, you know, who have who have not only helped shape the analysis, but also the editorial line. Because again, we have taken a heterodox position as an organization. You know, the candy reactor technology has really fallen by the wayside, not as a technology but in terms of its merits. You know, this is really a Gen three plus reactor well, before its time, didn’t require all the tweaks that the gen two designs have. It’s has been built incredibly quickly. And economically, the last two units in China came in under $4 billion, and were built shovel to grid connection in under four years. top performing reactor according to the first data, data set around the world from 2011 to 2021. That’s about a unit two, but also in China and Korea, also topping out their fleets. But no one has been there. Sir Nevada and Romania. That’s, that’s the world’s top performing reactor by capacity factor. You know, and, you know, I’ve been accused of cherry picking on this, but it’s not to say that, you know, can do is the gold standard, and that no one should build anything but can do is, but there’s a really compelling case, for the technology, it’s certainly not outdated. And it presents some very significant advantages, which I’m sure we’ll get into. But you’ve written and had an episode on this, I believe, with Matt Wald, this incredible uranium enrichment crunch that’s coming as we sanction Russia, and as the other, you know, that’s 46% of the world enrichment capacity. And then China’s got another 10, or 11%. And the doors are for the doors. And the Chinese or the Chinese, as you mentioned, they’ve got a massive and growing reactor fleet, I don’t think they’re going to be sparing or enriched uranium for further Western adversaries. So, you know, just on the basis of fuel security, and its use of natural uranium CANDU has some strong points, but also, it can be manufactured without heavy fortune capabilities. And indeed, you know, Ontario of the 1960s was able to build these things. And we continue to be able to build them. And that’s why our supply chain is 96% here, and every dollar we invest in Canada, we get $1.40, back and local economic activity. So I think there’s an amazing case for say the Australians, for instance, to take advantage of that they’re a huge uranium producer, they can lock in the ultimate form of energy security in that way. And, you know, many others.
Robert Bryce 22:42
And there’s some movement there, I think, as well and Australia. And let me come back to that because I’m going to come back to this uranium supply issue because this is the part that I have written about it on my substack that Pisco was called No you on my substack, but that it appears the Chinese and the Russians are even vying now for access to Kazakh uranium, right. So this, this resurgence of nuclear is real, and there is a lot of money and a lot of momentum behind it and a lot of media support. But there this issue of fuel availability is one that has not gotten the kind of attention that it should and, and that to me is I look at the Candu reactor, in addition to the issue of, well, what are the channels? Well, you gotta have heavy water deuterium, right? That is the other key ingredient. But Canada has some of the best uranium deposits in the world, right. So you’re taking, I mean, you’ve called it burning dirt, right. But you don’t have to, you don’t have to upgrade the uranium before you put it in the reactor is that I have that right. How does that? Can you explain how that works? Because I certainly can’t.
Chris Keefer 23:45
I’m not a nuclear physicist. But you know, you mentioned we have the richest uranium deposits in the world. And it’s true. I mean, I’ve talked with prospectors up in the Athabaskan region. And there are, you know, it’s not the whole deposit, but there’s parts of the deposit that are as rich as 60%. Uranium within within that, or global averages are less than 1%. Like 1% is considered good, a good or grade, you know, chemicals sitting on I think it’s a cigar lake a deposit that’s about 20% On average uranium and so that I mean, you know, if you want to kind of score some ESG points, that means that our mining footprint is just so minimal, so insignificant, little postage stamps on the on the landscape that produce just an enormous amount of not only Canada’s energy but we’re a decent size exporter, we’ve run the calculations, fully 1/3 of Canada’s total all sector emissions are offset by the uranium that we use domestically and export internationally, which is pretty staggering number we talk a lot about clean energy exports. And you know, some of the more energy blind deluded politicians are chasing this idea of a candidate Germany hydrogen alliance that we will supply a clean energy instead of you know, LNG will send the Germans hopium we already are in hell
Robert Bryce 25:00
The hopium by boat Yeah, that’s right you’re gonna put the hydrogen on a boat I’m don’t start me on that we’re this is a stupid free zone today, Chris, we’re gonna leave that alone. But let’s talk about that mining part of it because I’ve had Simon me show on the podcast, I don’t know if you’ve had him on decouple as well. But this is the other part that frankly just leaves me gobsmacked. And more than a little pissed, in fact, in talking with these anti nuclear activists and I have episode coming up soon with one of them, right and the mining thing just gets ignored, right this mining footprint the mining, that is going to be required if we pursue this low power density pathway, versus what you were talking about with, you know, that the relatively small footprint of uranium compared to the copper, nickel, you know, everything else that’s going to be needed cobalt needed for these other all weather dependent renewables. I mean, it’s pretty staggering. And especially if you’re working from a high from a high highly will an ore body that has very high quality and high grade that makes that mining intensity, the energy intensity at mining even lower, which is I think, in the big picture of things gets kind of lost in the in the broader discussion about damage, our our, our wealth depends on digging stuff out of the ground, and a lot of it and of the blessed we have to dig the better it is.
Chris Keefer 26:19
Right. I mean, so Robert, you are your mentor figure of mine. And I’ve learned a lot from you and what you just shared earlier about the need to contextualize large figures but making comparisons. Let me do that for you right now. Sure. I’m all about hydroelectricity as well, I think it’s a great resource, but everything. It’s all trade offs, right? There’s no There’s no panacea.
Robert Bryce 26:36
Not a big player here in Texas. Chris. Just to be clear here
Chris Keefer 26:40
in Canada. Sure. Is. We’re saying hydro
Robert Bryce 26:42
across the country, Quebec and Newfoundland? Yeah, good for you.
Chris Keefer 26:46
So let me let me make some comparisons in terms of footprint. The largest hydroelectric project that we have is in Quebec, it’s called the James Bay hydro project. I should have the numbers right in front of me, but it’s at least 16 gigawatts there’s there’s other sort of derivative rivers that feed into I think, more than 20 gigawatts it rivals the Three Gorges Dam when you look at kind of the entire Quebec hydro system. But this this James Bay hydro project, it flooded, it flooded. Jesus sorry, 17,000 square kilometers of land, that’s a land area the size of Florida, or for your European listeners a lander the size of Belgium, right. And this is trying to clean emissions free hydro, except for the methane released by the decomposing. Sure, organic products, you know, hydro is actually higher higher emissions than nuclear. But all that aside, 17,000 square kilometers, or the state of Florida, the entire CANDU supply chain mining, you know, fuel fabrication and power plants sits on a land footprint of less than 20 square kilometers. Or for to give that some context of the size of the Pearson International Airport right here in Toronto. Right. So again, this is just such an illustration of the power density of nuclear energy and why it is a should be an environmentalist dream. And we still have work to do. There’s old biases that play I mean, this is such an aesthetic and psychological debate, it really does cut into, like, deep into the onion brain. This is not something happening out in the in the gray matter where we’re actually I think, logically reasoning, reasoning through things and using our sort of systems to thinking as Daniel Kahneman calls it. So much of this debate is an aesthetic debate. And I think that’s something that we really need to land. With, with this with this technology.
Robert Bryce 28:29
What do you what do you mean by that? What do you mean by an aesthetic debate?
Chris Keefer 28:34
It’s the small is beautiful, it’s the decentralized, it’s the community control
Robert Bryce 28:38
lies the crazy town, right? That is smallest beautiful is betrayed by this energy, sprawl craziness of the wind and solar crowd, you know,
Chris Keefer 28:47
but Robert, don’t, don’t let reality get in the way of your imagination, right, and we want to be prosumers I want a solar panel on my roof and a little wind, not a big wind turbine, it’s gonna, it’s gonna melt it into the background, and that’s going to meet my energy needs. And I’ve got, I’ve taken care of mine, and maybe I can collaborate with a few of my neighbors, and we’ll get a little coop together. Like it’s a nice story. It’s a nice narrative. Of course, that’s not what renewable energy looks like, at scale, it looks like these, you know, we were driving through California, Dylan and I were down for the breakthrough dialogues. And I forget which wind farm we drove past but I mean, it’s it was an absolute scar and monstrosity upon the land. I mean, it just looked like a garbage heap just littered. You know, these, these things turn into these land hungry mega projects. And that’s not at all what the what the kind of psychological yearning is. But that’s still a powerful driver and force. And you know, for those, particularly those living in, in urban America, they’re not confronted with these utility scale renewables infrastructure. It’s just a nice idea for them.
Robert Bryce 29:42
Yeah. So let’s talk about, you know, we talked a couple of weeks ago, and we said, Okay, well, I need to have you on the podcast. We’ll talk about the report you did on can dues. And we’re going to combine that with this one with the I’m going to call it a victory lap. I’m going to call it a celebration of the recent announce estimates which six gigawatts of new nuclear capacity that’s been announced in Ontario just in the last couple of days. But tell me the CANDU report that was published by Canadians for nuclear energy. Is that right? That’s right. Yeah. And so that’s available on your website, C for n e.ca. So, well, I’ll ask you, do you think that report had any role in LPGs decision or and tell me about the report? And then tell me whether you think it might have had an effect?
Chris Keefer 30:25
For sure. I mean, just to clarify that from the get go, what, so there’s two utilities, there’s OPG. And they’re building SMRs. They’re building the GE Hitachi BW 2x 300 small modular reactor. And at the brucite, they’ve committed to building large nuclear, they have not specified the technology. But I think, you know, all signals point towards that being large candy reactors, which is, which is very, very good news. So yeah,
Robert Bryce 30:51
just I just want to make sure I’m understanding you correctly, but it’s OPG owns Darlington and Bruce, and Bruce Power,
Chris Keefer 30:57
they own all the sites, but Bruce Power is a private public partnership. They they operate the Bruce site, which is the largest operating nuclear plant in the world, unless Japan’s got its crap together and restarted a cowash. I can’t pronounce it. It’ll be unpronounceable. Okay. So,
Robert Bryce 31:12
Darlington is the SMR is that’s the GE Hitachi design, but it’s likely going to be candies at Bruce Power, but OPG is the is the owner of both projects.
Chris Keefer 31:23
Both sites, yeah. Okay. Yeah, it’s complicated. It’s complicated. No. Okay. So, so So yes, LPG. I think they are also looking at other sites as well, because this is just the beginning. I mean, we forecast, you know, increased demand growth beyond what they’re what they’re planning here. We have a decarbonisation pathways report that was commissioned by the government, the IEA. So independent electricity systems operator has forecasted will need as much as 18 gigawatts of nuclear by 2050. So OPG is looking at other sites, and they have said they’re looking at large nuclear as well. And we hope that our report is convincing. I was certainly hoping and what we advocated for in the report is that the Darlington site which is the most precious nuclear real estate, or maybe just energy real estate in the Western Hemisphere, we were hoping that it would include some some new candles as well as the VTX 300. And the reason why it’s the most precious site is it’s licensed for 1400 megawatts, the environmental impact assessment has been grandfathered in. It’s a ready to build site. And the problem with other sites, including Bruce, where the large nuclear is being planned is that our federal government, the Liberal government, has developed a very, very thorough environmental impact assessment process, which will take an estimated six to 10 years to work through Bruce powers, optimistically anticipating six years. And, you know, this is this is pretty laughable, because, you know, they’re talking about building a nuclear station on an existing nuclear site that’s got some of the most intensive environmental monitoring anywhere in the world. You know, the inflation Reduction Act in the US is trying to fast track clean energy projects, particularly on brownfield sites, like old coal sites. And so we’re hoping that the Canadian government will will see the light on this and not be the stumbling block in in their own relay race or their own sprint to net zero. They’ve promised us Net Zero electricity by 2035. And yet, it’s going to take us until the early 2030s, to actually start building it, Bruce Power because of the environmental impact assessment process. So today, today, the announcement at Darlington is a great day again, just like Bruce, but it was it was a little bit bittersweet for me, because, as I was saying, the rationale for SMRs, I think, is quite dated, I think 1520 years ago, if you told people in the nuclear industry that the future of nuclear was to go small, they probably would have laughed at you. You know, nuclear has consistently scaled where the grids are large enough towards a 700 to one gigawatt, I think we’ve seen it go too big, frankly, in the form of the 1600 megawatts EPR. But it’s scaled to take advantage of economies of scale. But all of a sudden, we did we did sort of a U turn and started opining that it’d be good to go back to small for some reason and the economies of multiples came into this the modularity as if modularity is unique to small nuclear only. And you know, the whole the whole term kind of drives me nuts because just as renewables is a very imprecise term, small modular reactors are an imprecise term this range from micro reactors have a megawatt to five megawatts up until you know, utility, so called utility scale, which are stick built projects, you may do some construction in factories, but you’re still going to be assembling them on site as a major construction project. And you know, you’ll hear less than foreign politicians saying well, we’re going to just build these things in factories and drive them to cite and just drop them off almost like you know, Henry Henry Ford’s Model T factory. And so I really, you know, language is so so important and it particularly when communicating with policy because that maybe aren’t as informed as they should be, we need to be very, very careful with the language we use. So suffice it to say, I mean, this this announcement at Darlington, it’s an amazing announcement. I know, my friends in Eastern Europe are delighted. You know, they’re looking seriously at the beat of x 300. And the Estonia and Poland for an energy security play. Having Putin as their neighbor, has made them very enthusiastic about nuclear and the extra 100 is a fantastic reactor design, it’s based upon tried and tested, advanced boiling water reactor technology. You know, my hat’s off to them? Is it the best fit for Ontario? Absolutely not, you know, just based upon the demand growth that we have, and the established candle industry that we have, you know, we’re, we’re sort of doing charity for for the rest of the world. And that’s a nice thing to do. But I do think that we should have, we should have put some candles on that Darlington site, because the longer that we we delay, the more that we’ll use natural gas to fill in these gaps in our grid. And, you know, no one’s going to retire an asset prematurely. So, you know, well, mixed feelings today, for me anyway.
Robert Bryce 36:07
Yeah, and fair enough. And I take your point there, and I take your point on the SMR, as well, you know, but some countries aren’t going to be able to support a gigawatt scale reactor, he’s gonna need something smaller. But as we just talked about with the fuel part of this, why would Canada really, you know, be building a reactor that requires enriched fuel, if they’ve got a technology that doesn’t require enrichment, and the BW RX requires traditional, as I understand it, low enriched uranium doesn’t require Hey, Lou, which is more problematic, because Russia is the only supplier of Halo, but but I think that’s a that’s a valid point. And if you’re gonna build four of them, well, that’s 1200 megawatts, well, why not build two candies? Or, you know, so? I think that’s, that’s, that’s
Chris Keefer 36:49
the, the answer to that question is, is interesting, and it goes into the weeds a little bit here. But, you know, I’m incredibly proud that we designed one of the three, you know, ongoingly, commercially viable and widely deployed reactor technologies in the world, you know, obviously, the RBMK, that that one’s going out of style pretty fast, the gas graphite reactor fleet in the UK, no longer building those anymore. So we’re left with PW RB WR, and in Canada’s heavy Pressurized Water Reactors. And it’s extraordinary that a nation at the time of I think 14 million, developed one of those three survivors. And again, not just something that’s, you know, dragging behind the other to something that’s outperforming and actually in terms of that first data set, or at least absolutely competitive with the existing technologies. And there’s, there’s just something very, very powerful about both having your own reactor technology, there’s certainly export ambitions that OPG has for the beaver x 300. That being said, there’s not really any precedent for a nuclear nation exporting a reactor design, that’s not its own. Right. And I would really like to see what the guarantees are in terms of supply chain localization. You know, I think the plan would be to build more of these BeautyRx units, as you’re saying, in smaller grids, like Saskatchewan and Alberta, what’s the total number gonna be 1015. The TVA is talking about building 20 minutes talking about deploying hundreds of these things around the world. And this is fundamentally still a you know, it’s gi attached, it’s a US Japanese company. I’m not confident that Canada is going to have a long and sustained role in in the periodic supply chain. In particular, as this reactor takes off around the world, I think we’ll have some early involvement. It’s going to be more on the level of engineering and project management consultation, but we have something very precious with the candy, which is that that supply chain localization, so why why it wasn’t can do more prominent really until, until we came along and started promoting it, which is an odd story. Well, you know, this was the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited a state owned enterprise that was responsible for a reactor technology, and it experienced some real difficulties in the early 2000s. Probably some poor management. There was a big issue with its the research reactors that it ran that produced a lot of the world’s medical isotopes underperforming and became a big headache after Fukushima when everyone thought nuclear was dead. And so CANDU energy Inc was sold off to a major engineering company called s&c Lavell. N. And unfortunately, they didn’t run with it at the time. And I think there was insufficient marketing of the reactor and just, you know, we haven’t been building much recently. So you know, at conferences and where people are discussing and promoting reactor technology, it’s sort of who’s got the best comms budget who’s actually spending the money to talk about the the, the, the characteristics of their design, and there’s just not been anyone promoting can do and it’s, it’s worthy of a lot of accolades. So but that’s the game here.
Robert Bryce 39:44
But that’s changed, though. Isn’t I mean, you mentioned the Chinese deploying can do and now the Romanians are announcing they’re planning to build new candy, right? Or do I have that right? Are they refurbishing their existing ones? Tell me bring me up to date. Yeah.
Chris Keefer 39:55
So So you know, again, extraordinary that not only did we did All of this reactor technology we deployed, you know, 22 units and 22 years in Canada, but we also did export to Argentina, so Argentina to Romania, to Korea and China. That was, again when ACL was healthy and sort of part of the Canadian state as a state owned enterprise. And so yes, we have that legacy and Cernavoda. They’re supposed to be for Canada units. They finished to, again, top performing unit in the world is there. But there are two sites that are sort of partially built, which there’s an intent to finish, which is great. The last candies built believe was 2013, and Kinshasa and China. And again, these units went up, like clockwork, under four years from from shovel on the ground to grid connection, and 3.8 billion for four to 700 megawatt reactor. So, you know, clearly Fukushima had a pretty dampening impact on on the nuclear industry worldwide. It’s understandable why s&c focus more just on the refurbishments. And certainly they are very intent on on getting back in and promoting the technology. Some I’m very happy about that. But you know, we did, we did miss out, I think, in the last 10 years, you know, this technology, underrepresented and underappreciated?
Robert Bryce 41:13
Well, so fair enough. And I think that’s, you know, that’s a valid point. But it was also a period, as you pointed out that Adam Rosensweig, has talked about, you know, cheap, cheap, cheap credit and cheap energy. And so it was difficult to justify building new nuclear if you’re, you know, net gases at two or three bucks or no, so it’s a difficult, more difficult proposition. So well, now what I mean, you know, you had some indication, this is I would say it’s a major win for Canadians for nuclear energy. What’s next? Or have you even been able to think about that, given how busy this week has been already?
Chris Keefer 41:50
Oh, I’ve always got a Plan C and Plan D, and E
Robert Bryce 41:53
will give me c and c, c, point one D point one, give
Chris Keefer 41:58
me first off that, you know, the struggle is never over. There are election cycles. These are announcements they’re not reactors, pumping out megawatts onto the grid. So we do need to safeguard these announcements. And, you know, for instance, the Pickering announcement, that’s that’s still got to happen. And there will be pushback. It’s, it’s diminishing, and it’s becoming very gray and white haired. But we need to make sure that we are connecting well with with the Ontario populace. And, you know, what was really heartening, particularly at the Bruce Power announcement is the presence of so many trade unionists. You know, this is a station I met a union steward there said Kansas fed my family for 45 years. And like these new units better began dues, because, you know, very conscious and just saying about, you know, when you drive out of Kincardine and Davidson, where the plants are near and you start driving out, you just see the economic prosperity start to drop off. Because, you know, nuclear is ultra cheap fuel and slightly pricey labor, right? But what does that translate into that translates into a kind of the golden era of blue collar jobs? These are most people making around six figures are spending that money in their local economy. You know, every nuclear worker supports three or four other workers in the area. It’s, it’s a really humanistic story. So there is this real sort of democratic drive there. I mean, there’s, there’s unions representing half a million workers in this province. Not all of them work in nuclear, but certainly the refurbishment is all of the building trades have have had their finger in the pie. And they’ve seen that this is the nicest tasting pie around the best jobs, the safest working conditions, the best wages. So there is, you know, strong sort of democratic tug towards nuclear which I think is going to you know, outlast you know, the the whimsical tides of politics, but there’s work to do there. And certainly, you know, the struggles not over in terms of more large can do there’s other sites, we have growing demand, we shouldn’t we should fill that with candy nuclear, as much as possible. You know, internationally. We there’s a lot of interest in what’s happening in Ontario. And I do hope that this this sparks little rivalry with the US, I hope that this, this influences decision makers in the US to up their game, we sort of responded to the inflation Reduction Act feeling like we’re getting left behind with our clean energy tax credits, which, you know, due to our our strong advocating included large nuclear as well as refurbishments, not just SMRs but hopefully south of the border, you guys you guys are wake up from your slumber on nuclear and get serious seeing what the neighbors to the north are doing.
Robert Bryce 44:35
So from from, from your lips to God’s ears, as my friend Richard Grant told me a while back, but let me just ask you about this. And maybe we’ll wrap up here in just a minute, Chris, because, you know, I know it’s Friday and you’ve earned a break. But I want you talked about the democratic tug toward nuclear. I think this is a really interesting concept, and it’s one that I think about a lot about the role of government and You know, your your Canadian colleague Lee Phillips talks about this about the role of government and the idea of electricity as a central duty of government to supply electricity cheaply and reliably. And over decadal kind of timeframes that, and it’s one of the things that I think is the, you know, I agree with you, I want the US to get full square, the full, full, full bore behind nuclear, but it’s one of the problems is that you’ve got such a strong government involvement in nuclear in Canada, and here in the US, it’s like, oh, we’re gonna let the market take care of this. And the market is not, I don’t know that that is, it makes me less optimistic that the US can follow the Canadian lead because of this idea that one electricity is a commodity instead of a critical service. And second, that it’s going to require more robust governmental and, you know, invest involvement in the in the power sector. And that’s difficult challenge in a marketplace with like the US, which is so diffused. So I’m just riffing a little bit back at you, because I, you know, it’s a great win for you. It’s great win for Canada, great win for, you know, for unions and for and for good jobs, but we are fighting in the USA, a this, this meme that, oh, we’re gonna create jobs with these solar and wind installers, which are crap jobs, they’re non union jobs or temporary jobs. And but it will ask it this way instead of just rattling on here. But is it essential that how essential is that government involvement to make this happen? Because OPG is a singular case here. And it can I’ll put it this way, can the US make it happen without more more robust government involvement?
Chris Keefer 46:49
I think it’s hypothetically possible. I mean, my understanding of the early nuclear builds in the US was that they were quite, I think Eisenhower, helped engineer this, they were quite driven by the private sector, clearly, there was, you know, government, regulatory cooperation. I’m not an expert in this field, you have to have a penny back on to expand on this. I think it’s possible. One thing my friend Christopher Adeline pointed out to me recently, which I was grateful for was just the kind of scale and the difference between the Canadian and US plants. Again, we’re talking about probably the most efficient nuclear construction, because we would build four packs and double them and make eight packs, we have massive sites, multiple units on one site, that’s only really possible, I think, where they were they stayed on enterprise, who’s got just massive assets that can weigh their liabilities and can take on debt and take on risk. And we see that, you know, the largest nuclear stations in Japan, zap regions in the news, that’s a big multi unit site. Whereas most of the plants in the US, as I understand, you know, having been financed privately, are usually, you know, two units sites. So that was just an interesting anecdote, I just, if you’ll permit me, I wanted to riff on this whole idea of electricity as a as a service, not a commodity, and how that relates to renewables. So I’ve come up with this great healthcare analogy. And precisely that it’s not that, you know, we go to a wind farm and with a little bag and say, Could you fill this up with 1000 electrons to run my my toaster and my air air conditioner today? No, it’s, it’s something where we need it to be available to us at all times. And that really was for me reminiscent of health care. And when I started thinking about it, I was thinking that, you know, renewables based system is a lot like having doctors and nurses that will almost work for free for you. But in the middle of an operation, the surgeon just drop a scalpel and say, I gotta run. And so the reason why the reason why Cal California electricity is so expensive, the reason why German electricity is so expensive, is because you need this whole system of backup on call physicians and nurses that can, you know, scram and get into the hospital, and pick up the scalpel and keep the surgery going. Right. And it really does look like that from a sort of systems efficiency level. I just thought, you know, this is something that kind of came to me in the last few days as I try and work through these these ship moderators. It serves
Robert Bryce 49:07
two shifts of people, right, but to serve one job.
Chris Keefer 49:11
Exactly, exactly. And you pay a premium for people to show up when it’s not convenient. And let me tell you, a solar nurse will not work a night shift. You’ve been working
Robert Bryce 49:20
on that one. Yeah. Attaboy. Well, so to your point, the Palo Verde plant is in the US has the biggest nuclear plant in the US. It’s right at 4000 megawatts. Its 314 100 megawatt electric power plants. And that’s the biggest one we have three reactors in one spot. And many of these others the ones that have been closing are one reactor, one reactor plants. And instead, I think that that’s key that did some really good insight that we’re going to put, not just gonna put one or two we’re gonna put three or four maybe 5678 And that there isn’t a clear economy of scale when you are able to do that, that you have a workforce that you can switch one guy from another one In one operating room to the air one control room to the next control room, you have the operating room, I use a year line there. But that’s a critical part of that efficiency. This the the scale that comes with those multi reactor sites is really a key insight, I think as well. Well, Chris, we’ve been chatting for a good while and I want to congratulate you. It’s a big win and you know, a sincere congratulations that you for you and all the people that you’ve been working with there that, you know, was it, it wasn’t just you that maybe this was inevitable, but you know, you also did your part. So attaboy on that.
Chris Keefer 50:40
But appreciate that, Robert,
Robert Bryce 50:41
welcome. Credit where credit is due, I always ask the same questions you introduce yourself. What are you reading now? Or have you had any time to read anything besides your own candy reports? You got any novels, any Tom Clancy novels? What are you reading?
Chris Keefer 50:52
You may you may have seen some of the videos that Dylan and I made in Yosemite where, you know, he’s sitting on top of Half Dome, with a copy of the candidate report open in front of him and I asked him what he’s reading. So I do have a good one prepared for you. It’s been a while I read this as some time ago, but I truly it’s one of my favorite all time books. It’s called the alchemy of air. I’m blanking on the name of the author. But it’s both hoburne Bosch. And the very interesting situation that Germany found itself in not quite as a landlocked country, but certainly penned in by the British Navy, and heavily dependent upon nitrates first in the form of guano and then Chilean nitrates for those two vital elements of civilization, growing food and blowing things up. And this incredible story of you know, a Jewish and a German scientist, collaborating and developing the haber bosch process, which of course, feeds the world. 40 million people wouldn’t be able to be alive today without it. And also, you know, fueled the the war effort in World War One. So it’s just a very nuanced and complex story, Greek character development. And of course, they also go into what the that that program evolved into into the German effort around synth fuels, being fairly isolated from significant petroleum reserves as World War Two is really a war fueled by oil. So just fantastic connected.
Robert Bryce 52:12
And I can’t haber bosch and Fischer tropsch, then I didn’t really
Chris Keefer 52:16
Exactly, yeah, interesting stuff. And it helps you really understand Germany on a deeper level. I found it to be fabulous book. So yeah, that’s a good topic. But
Robert Bryce 52:25
yeah, well, no, that’s I’ve had that book recommended. I think I haven’t even on my shelf here. But my shelves are kind of a mystery. I’ve been reading the will I my last one was I finished the biography of Leon Russell by one of my favorite musicians. It’s called this. Well, I’m gonna forget it. I’m gonna have to look it up here in a minute. Oh, well, while I’m looking it up, you’re going to tell me what gives you hope?
Chris Keefer 52:49
Well, I mean, this week gives me hope, quite frankly, you know, the the the folks that came together these announcements, pretty extraordinary coalition. And I have to say, I mean, I do feel a strong draw to, to the unions and the labor folks. And that really just compelling narrative, seeing that that union steward who just looked me in the eye and said, you know, this technology is fed my family for three generations. And the fact that it’s going to carry on forward for another three, God willing for many, many more generations. I was I was talking to the Minister of Energy. And after, you know, explaining the report, I said, you know, this is gonna come across as a bit cheesy, but you know, as Peter Parker said, and spider man with great power comes great responsibility. And, you know, as a policymaker, if you if you make a mistake that ripples out across your entire electorate, and that can that can cause misery to 10s or hundreds of 1000s or millions of people if you make a lasting impactful decision, if you build the kind of infrastructure that will will sustain this province provide the kind of excellent jobs manufacturing sector, the high technology that will lead to very high levels of education and excellence lead to that human flourishing that I think we’re all driven and motivated by seeing happening in the world. That’s an extraordinary thing. And you know, it’s just this moment of cutting through the not the BS right not just the kind of the the political side but I mean, no one thinks of politics these days as being really inspiring in that way but the kind of decisions that are being made in the ramifications truly do give me hope and I think truly are inspirational and I think lead to us building a better world so I’m very hopeful to see this development that can you continue fighting for it?
Robert Bryce 54:31
Well, that’s a good place to stop. And those are i like i like that sentiment because we need more energy realism and energy humanism as my friend Pat McCormack put it and I’m still in his line energy realism is energy humanism. So and the biography which I read almost the whole thing, Leon Russell’s, the master of space and times journey through rock and roll history which Tolson Leon’s from Tulsa, so he’s kind of my homeboy, but in any case, Chris, it’s great. Great to have you back on the podcast. It’s been almost a year I looked it up. It’s real fun to have you back on and again, congratulations to you so Adeboye you can find out more about Chris Canadians for nuclear energy. See for the letter, the numeral four C numeral four n e.ca. Chris, thanks again for coming on the power hungry podcast.
Chris Keefer 55:21
Don’t Don’t forget to hit the Pay Pal button on when you’re on visiting that beautiful website. We can use all the support that we can get. So we’ve achieved a lot, but we can achieve a lot more with your support. So Smash that Like Subscribe and that Pay Pal button.
Robert Bryce 55:35
Oh, right. And the decouple podcast I forget I failed to mention the decouple podcasts. You have the Patreon thing happened in there as well. All right, Chris, enough plugs you shameless shameless. So
Chris Keefer 55:45
I learned I learned from the best Robert. Robert prices substack.com.
Robert Bryce 55:51
All right. Thanks, Chris. Thanks to all of you for tuning into this episode of the power hungry podcast. Until next time, see ya.