NEA WebChat with Shawn Tupper

NEA WebChat with Shawn Tupper, 25 November 2020

The NEA is engaging with leading figures in the energy sector to explore new ways to address today's challenges. The latest in‑depth conversation was with Shawn Tupper, Associate Deputy Minister of Natural Resources Canada, and NEA Director‑General William D. Magwood, IV on 25 November 2020.

Canada has a full-spectrum industry and nuclear energy is an important component of the country's electricity supply. As such, Associate Deputy Minister Tupper and Director-General Magwood discussed Canada’s role in nuclear technology development and exchanged perspectives on the clean energy transition. The conversation also covered:

Carbon neutrality

The first subject Tupper and Magwood examined was carbon neutrality and how it could be achieved by 2050. Magwood noted that Canada has committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and has made a lot of progress in terms of its plans to exceed Paris Agreement commitments by 2030. He asked Tupper how carbon neutrality could be achieved by 2050. “We have got to stop talking about utopia, we have got to stop just talking about what our targets are, but actually articulate the plans starting tomorrow,” Tupper responded. “In Canada, the energy sector makes up almost 20% of our GDP. It is not an easy thing to say ‘we will be carbon neutral in 2050’ without articulating a plan for a fifth of our economy.”

Tupper added that there has been a fundamental shift in the conversation on climate change and energy policy in Canada, which has ended the competition of different energy sources such as nuclear, petroleum and gas. “Now we are talking about how to bring them all together for a comprehensive plan and how to understand the energy system and each of those component parts that make up that system,” he said. “So now we can talk about complementing our strategy around renewables and can look at nuclear as a baseload supply upon which we can build our renewables strategy.”

“Canada has already been very clear that renewables are a big part of the solution, but I think it’s also clear from a Canadian standpoint that renewables is not the only part of the answer,” Magwood added. He then asked Tupper about the importance of achieving energy security and energy equity. Tupper explained that energy equity is primarily about preventing energy poverty. “It’s not just enough to talk about how we generate electricity,” he noted. “We have to talk about if a Canadian comes home and has to think about flicking the lights on because of the affordability of their electricity bill.” He added that equity also matters in terms of having a diverse and inclusive energy sector.

Future of nuclear power

Canada’s clean energy transition plans include the development and deployment of small modular reactors (SMRs). In 2018, NRCan initiated a stakeholder-driven process to develop a Canadian roadmap for the potential development and deployment of SMRs in Canada, bringing together provincial and territorial governments, utilities, industry and other interested stakeholders.

Tupper affirmed his enthusiasm for SMRs and underlined the various benefits that SMR technologies would bring to Canada in terms of reducing GHG emissions and contributing climate goals, as well as providing power to and promoting economic development in remote areas. “We can look at SMRs as a way to provide power in remote communities, particularly indigenous communities that currently rely on diesel,” he noted. “SMRs can offer them a clean alternative source of energy in a remote space in Canada.” Tupper also outlined additional benefits of SMRs in mining, desalinisation and heat generation.

Magwood commented that Canada is a big country in the SMR conversation and “taking a real global leadership role here.” Canada has been engaged in conversations with Japan, United Kingdom and the United States, as well as in dialogues with global laboratories, regulators and operators. According to Tupper, this international collaboration has been central to Canada’s success. “One of the things we’ve been trying to do is to look at all the pillars that make up that roadmap and make sure they’re advancing,” he said. “That’s what Canada has led, it’s our ability to look at all the component pieces and advance them. We I think have built a pretty good environment here.”

Stakeholder engagement

Tupper and Magwood agreed that continuous stakeholder engagement is key to advance further in the development of SMRs and allow investments in advanced nuclear technologies. “There are people who have legitimate concerns about the future of nuclear and the safety of nuclear, and we hear that,” noted Tupper. He also highlighted the role of social media today in facilitating the ability to communicate with stakeholders more effectively and said that social media “made it so that everybody can speak up, many more voices are heard than certainly was the case 30 years ago.”

Magwood also pointed out the special efforts made by the Canadian government to engage with the indigenous peoples regarding SMR strategies and other activities, such as the Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan. “In my experience in the different jobs I had in the government, whenever issues related to nuclear came up, particularly uranium mining, there has always been a lot of concern and scepticism in indigenous communities,” he said.

According to Tupper, direct engagement with indigenous leadership and communities is critical in this respect. “I think key to success is making sure that we acknowledge the importance of that indigenous voice in what we’re doing,” he explained. “They’re not just stakeholders; they are an important piece of the fabric of Canada. We need to make sure Indigenous people are included and they have a voice. And they have got power, Indigenous communities have got to have an ability to influence decisions.” Tupper added that it is equally necessary to distribute the economic benefit of new and advanced nuclear technologies to all Canadians including the indigenous communities.

The new normal

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is having a major impact on the workforce around the world, from how people carry out their work under necessary social distancing rules to the unavailability of workers due to sickness or having to take care of others. As such, the impacts of the pandemic was also addressed in the discussion.

Tupper noted that the health and well-being of employees has been the top priority during this difficult period. “People’s circumstances are different and there are vulnerable populations in our world that have had a much bigger impact,” he elaborated on considerations about employees. “As employers, we have had to think about not just work productivity, but also the safety and well-being of our employees,” Tupper said. Magwood added that the pandemic changed the employee/employer relations and said “Employers are now much more involved in the personal aspect of the reality the people live in, because they are asking employees to do more form home.”

Read more about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nuclear workforce

Tupper and Magwood also discussed the impacts of the pandemic on international and multilateral co-operation. They agreed that while the pandemic has been disruptive, it has also led to an increase in the frequency and number of virtual international interactions. “It is fascinating to think what’s possible now,” Tupper said. “International collaboration, our ability to work together, our ability to find those allegiances that we look for in terms of advancing the issues we share, I actually think the future looks brighter in that sense, in so far as we can do more.”

See also