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By Charles Rhodes, P.Eng., Ph.D.

The following is a text excerpt from a letter dated November 29, 2019 to Mr. Scott Davidson, MP for York Simcoe:

Re: Energy, climate change, Conservative Party policy

Dear Mr. Davidson:
I attach below a summary of energy and climate change related policies that the federal Conservative Party should adopt.

The major issue on which the fate of political parties and governments depends is global climate change. Preventing further global climate change requires three major political decisions, which are dictated by physics:
a) Leaving fossil fuels in the ground;
b) Deploying small modular fast neutron nuclear reactors to replace the dependable electricity and heat presently supplied by fossil fuels;
c) Repricing electricity so that surplus non-fossil electricity generation capacity can be used for economic displacement of liquid fuels by Canadians whenever that surplus non-fossil electricity is available.

Currently no political party in Canada is seriously facing these three issues.
a) Instead of leaving fossil fuels in the ground the Liberals are promoting additional fossil fuel extraction;
b) The Liberal climate plan lacks the essential small modular fast neutron reactor component necessary for fossil fuel displacement. The Liberals currently spend about $70 million / year via the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) to prevent essential reprocessing of used CANDU fuel into the Fast Neutron Reactor (FNR) fuel required for small modular FNRs.
c) The Liberal carbon tax is too small to be effective;
d) The carbon tax revenue should be used to finance construction of small modular FNRs to enable substantial reduction in CO2 emissions;
e) Electricity pricing is a provincial responsibility and is at the center of corruption in provincial governments. At this time no province allows Canadians economic access to the surplus zero marginal cost non-fossil electricity for fossil fuel displacement. The federal government should outlaw this practice. I believe that this practice is a result of ongoing fossil fuel industry bribes to key provincial politicians.

In Ontario alone lack of an optional interruptible electricity rate gives the fossil fuel industry windfall sales of over $1 billion per year. Approximately 15 TWh / year of zero marginal cost non-fossil electrical energy are either discarded or are exported at about $0.01 / kWh so that fossil fuel suppliers can simultaneously sell equivalent fossil fuel energy (oil and propane) to rural Ontario consumers at about $0.12 / kWh. Stopping this corruption will require honest federal politicians. History has shown that Mr. Trudeau fires his honest cabinet ministers and Mr. Scheer is a pawn of the fossil fuel industry.

Global climate change has three major components:
a) An elevated Green House Gas (GHG) concentration in the atmosphere which is presently responsible for over 1 degree C of average warming.
b) A decrease in average solar reflectivity (albedo) in circumpolar countries due to melting of ice and snow caused by (a) above. In northern Canada this effect approximately triples the warming due to (a) above.
c) Cumulative net ocean heat absorption due to (a) and (b) above. This effect is currently causing about a 4 mm / year rise in average sea level.

If present trends continue Earth's average surface temperature will eventually rise by about 17 degrees C and sea level will rise by as much as 80 m. A similar GHG triggered temperature rise occurred about 56 million years ago and caused extinction of all land animals larger than a mole.

Reversing climate change requires reversing each of components (a), (b) and (c) above.
a) Fossil fuels must be left in the ground to allow the atmospheric GHG concentration to gradually decrease over time;
b) The decrease in temperature caused by the decrease in atmospheric GHG concentration will enable an increase the average solar reflectivity which will reduce the rate of net heat accumulation by planet Earth;
c) However, if the increase in solar reflectivity of (b) above is not sufficient to cancel the annual net heat absorption, then Earth will keep on warming. In time this continuous net heat absorption will end all large animal life on Earth. This issue makes immediate ceasing of fossil fuel use a life or death matter for young people alive today.

Today, among those who are scientifically informed, there is general agreement that failure to reduce fossil CO2 emissions by about 50% by 2030 and failure to cease the remaining CO2 emissions by 2050 to 2070 will enable atmospheric thermal runaway and hence large animal extinction on planet Earth.

There are two practical methods of keeping fossil fuels in the ground:
a) Legislation which prevents fossil fuels being transported;
b) Taxation which makes fossil fuel use uneconomic.
Successful implementation of either of these methods requires that consumers first have alternative economic and dependable non-fossil sources of electricity and heat.

Currently fossil fuels provide dependable electricity and heat when and where required. Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and run-of-river hydro provide energy but are intermittent and seasonal and do not provide dependable power. The only dependable sources of non-fossil power are nuclear power and hydro-electric dams with very large storage reservoirs. However, the available hydro-electric capacity can only displace fossil fuels for a small fraction of the Canadian population.

Most existing nuclear power reactors operate by fission of the relatively rare uranium isotope U-235. However, reliance on U-235 has two major problems.
a) U-235 based nuclear reactors are not sustainable because U-235 is a relatively rare isotope reliant on natural reserves that are quickly being depleted;
b) Reactors operating with U-235 generally operate with slow neutrons. A problem with slow neutrons is production of long lived nuclear waste.
Avoiding both of these problems requires the use of fast neutron reactors (FNRs).

Fast neutron reactors (FNRs) operate by converting the abundant uranium isotope U-238 into the plutonium isotopes Pu-239 and Pu-240 and then fissioning the plutonium. FNR fuel can be made by reprocessing used CANDU fuel. From this FNR fuel FNRs can supply about 100X the energy previously supplied by the CANDU reactors. By addition of a supplementary thorium (Th-232) to uranium (U-233) fuel cycle there is sufficient fuel to meet all of mankind's energy needs for thousands of years into the future. The problem is that the complexity of this technology makes its prudent management beyond the intellectual capacity of most elected politicians, who then become afraid of it.

There is no simple solution to this issue other than public education. An elementary understanding of this technology should be a core curriculum requirement for high school graduation in Canada. A high priority for the government of Canada should be funding training of young engineers in Fast Neutron Reactor (FNR) related matters.

During the 1960s Canada was the world leader in fast neutron technology. However, that lead was squandered by Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Today only a small number of engineers in Canada are knowledgeable in fast neutron reactor matters. Anyone who worked on fast neutron issues during the 1960s is today far past retirement age. Successive governments have sacrificed Canada's nuclear expertise to appease the fossil fuel lobby.

Justin Trudeau has repeatedly committed to spending over $12 billion of tax payers money on the TMX pipeline expansion which has no future and which may easily cause a further $20 billion dollar lawsuit when there is a bitumen tanker accident in the Straights of Juan de Fuca. Members of my extended family have spent their careers working in those straights where marine shipping accidents are the rule rather than the exception. In an ocean environment bitumen is impossible to clean up because it is denser than sea water. It persists for decades and kills all marine life it contacts. It destroys beaches for decades and is a continuing danger to swimmers and divers. It threatens multiple major BC industries including fishing, marine mammals, tourism, marine recreation and ocean facing real estate. British Columbia and the coastal aboriginal groups want sufficient marine liability insurance to fully protect all the threatened parties. Alberta and the federal government are unwilling to fund that insurance which requires multi-billion dollar annual premiums. No party, including governments, has sufficient resources to self insure. The proponents of the TMX pipeline expansion are unwilling to face the reality that the combined costs of bitumen extraction, bitumen processing, pipeline expansion, marine liability insurance and upstream fossil carbon tax simply make bitumen ocean export uneconomic. For many years the government of BC has been crystal clear with the government of Alberta that BC requires a major fraction of the bitumen revenue to fund the liability insurance risk. The federal government has yet to face this reality. This issue may yet bring down the government of Justin Trudeau.

Natural gas has the advantage over bitumen that in every category costs are much less. The marine shipping risk is much less. The fossil carbon tax exposure is much less. The pipeline depreciation cost is much less. Even so the profitability of liquified natural gas (LNG) exports is uncertain. A possible future benefit of a natural gas export capability is that it might be converted into a hydrogen export capability by chemically combining hydrogen with liquid toluene to make liquid methyl hexane and then reversing the reaction at the delivery point to recover the hydrogen.

To meet the physical constraints the Conservative Party must completely reverse the policy positions expressed by Mr. Scheer relating to climate change and the TMX pipeline. I believe that TC Energy (formerly Trans Canada Pipelines) through its approximately 50% ownership of Bruce Power, which operates 8 large nuclear reactors in Ontario, is ready, willing and able to immediately build more CANDU 6E reactors in Alberta to provide much of the non-fossil energy required for prompt fossil fuel displacement in that province. Making a federal Conservative Party policy U turn on this matter would put the Conservatives far ahead of the Liberals on climate change policy, which will likely determine the outcome of future federal elections.

The $12 billion committed by Justin Trudeau to TMX should be repurposed to lever another $12 billion from Alberta and then yet another $24 billion in matching funding from the private sector for nuclear power related construction. That capital commitment of about $48 billion would be sufficient to ensure full employment in Alberta and Saskatchewan for many years to come. However, Alberta might have to implement a provincial sales tax to raise its $12 billion share. The federal government as a 25% owner in the project would then have reactor electricity and heat revenue for about 60 years to offset its loss bitumen export related equalization revenue. Funding of the necessary CANDU used fuel reprocessing can be achieved simply by closing the NWMO, which is presently a $70 million / year waste of taxpayer and ratepayer resources.

I hope that this document provides parliamentarians a guide as to what must be done to meet climate change constraints as well as an implementation plan. The climate change issues are set by physics. Politicians ignore those issues at their peril.

In summary:
a) Sustained bitumen ocean export is impossible if the export value of the bitumen is insufficient to fund the costs to all parties including the full costs of marine liability insurance. If the federal government persists with the TMX pipeline expansion BC and the aboriginal groups will likely take this marine insurance matter to the supreme court;
b) It is impossible to reduce CO2 emissions by extracting yet more fossil carbon from the ground as contemplated by Justin Trudeau;
c) To prevent further climate change fossil carbon must stay in the ground and Alberta must adopt nuclear energy;
d) A fossil carbon tax will not provide a climate benefit until consumers have available to them a sufficient alternate source of dependable non-fossil energy from either hydro power or nuclear power;
e) The only significant dependable source of additional new non-fossil energy is nuclear power;
f) The fossil carbon tax revenue must be used to build more nuclear power capacity.

Failure of the Conservative Party to frankly address these six simple facts cost the Conservatives the recent federal election. The voters were fed up with Justin Trudeau's dishonesty but Andrew Scheer failed to reasonably address the gaping holes in Liberal climate change policies.

Details of a costed engineering plan for converting total Canadian energy production from fossil fuels to non-fossil fuels are available at http://www.xylenepower.com/INZEM%20Energy.htm

Best Regards,
Charles Rhodes, P.Eng., Ph.D.

This web page last updated December 2, 2019.

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