Nuclear’s Role Gets Reconsidered in the Clean Energy Equation

With global electricity demand on pace to double by 2030, the race is on for the world’s key energy players to find clean sources that will fuel their economies but also allow them to meet more aggressive carbon emissions targets. That race is inspiring a global rethink on nuclear power that is producing a variety of interesting results.

A growing sentiment that renewables can’t do it alone

Many nuclear energy supporters are raising awareness of their belief that while renewable energy sources like wind and solar can play an important role in the clean energy equation, Mother Nature’s unpredictability creates the need for backup energy sources. Today, that back up often comes from natural gas, which can detract from the carbon emissions advantages initially driven by wind and solar. Nuclear advocates point to Germany’s recent carbon emissions performance to illustrate their point. In 2016, despite a four per cent decrease in coal use and expansion of renewable energy sources, the country’s carbon emissions actually rose. The CO₂ emissions saved through the drop of coal use were offset by an increase in consumption of mineral oil and a 10 percent jump in the use of natural gas.

An opinion shift amongst environmentalists

The release of Robert Stone’s documentary, Pandora’s Promise, in 2013 was an important milestone in the nuclear power debate. The film positions nuclear energy as a key component in the fight to slow climate change. It was a stark contrast to Stone’s Oscar-nominated anti-nuclear documentary, Radioactive Bikini, that was released in 1987.

That same year, four of the world’s leading climate change scientists published an open letter encouraging anti-nuclear environmentalist groups to reconsider their views. The experts claimed that “Renewables like wind and solar and biomass will certainly play roles in a future energy economy, but those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires.” The letter went on to ask environmental organizations to demonstrate their real concern about risks from climate damage by calling for the development and deployment of advanced nuclear energy.

Tech Billionaires Set Their Sights on Nuclear’s Potential

While Bill Gates gets the most media attention for his support of nuclear energy, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft’s Paul Allen, and PayPal’s Peter Thiel are also on board. These high-profile tech investors believe that nuclear power is a wise choice for both the planet and their investment portfolio. Gates has put his money where his mouth is with his incubator TerraPower, which is working on a number of clean energy solutions including an approach to nuclear power that addresses real and perceived concerns about nuclear power due to cost, safety and waste. Gates has signed a joint venture agreement between TerraPower and China to create Global Innovation Nuclear Energy Technology, a company that will build and commercialize the Travelling Wave Reactor. This fourth-generation reactor will use waste uranium to generate energy and could operate without refueling for up to 40 years. This is just one example of how China is betting big on nuclear. It has set a goal of boosting its nuclear power capacity by about 70 percent to 58 gigawatts by 2020. Canada’s SNC–Lavalin also announced a joint venture with the China National Nuclear Corporation and Shanghai Electric Company in 2016 to build Advanced Fuel CANDU Reactors in China and internationally.

The UK gets it first new nuclear plant in over 20 years

In the United Kingdom, all eyes are on the Somerset Coast’s Hinkley Point C. The new nuclear power station being built there will be home to two European Pressurized Reactors (EPRs), which have been designed to generate more electricity from less fuel, require less downtime for maintenance, and reduce the risk of major accidents. The project, which is currently one of Europe’s largest building sites, is expected to be completed in 2025.

The Middle East hedges against oil dependence

The world’s big oil nations are also investing in nuclear as they diversify their energy strategies to keep up with increased demand for electricity. When it comes online in 2020, the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant will provide a quarter of the UAE’s energy and save 12 million tons in carbon emissions each year. Saudi Arabia also has plans for 16 nuclear reactors over the next two decades that will supply 15 per cent of its power.

Canada stays the course

Nuclear energy isn’t a new path for Canada, where the $6 billion sector employs approximately 60,000 people. Canada has been a world leader in nuclear energy since the development of the first CANDU reactor in 1952. Canada is home to 19 of the world’s 446 operable nuclear reactors, which generate 16.6 per cent of the country’s electricity. The Bruce Power Nuclear Generating Station in Ontario is the largest operating nuclear power facility in the world, and has been delivering energy since 1977. Canada is also the world’s leading supplier of uranium and is home to the highest-grade uranium deposits in the world.

At The Ian Martin Group, we’re fortunate to have a team of nuclear energy sector staffing experts as we’ve been helping companies source nuclear talent for over 60 years. If you are a company looking for short- or long-term nuclear talent, connect with one of our Hiring Consultants today for a no-obligation discussion about your search strategy. If you are a job seeker interested in exploring new opportunities in the nuclear sector, explore our current listings.

Cobalt: A Blast from the Past for Canadian Mining

The rise of the electric car seems to be creating a run on a rare mineral with ties to one of Ontario’s original mining towns. While the last time you heard about cobalt may have been when you were memorizing the periodic table in chemistry class, this uncommon metal is generating quite a bit of buzz these days.

Cobalt is a key component in lithium-ion batteries. As automakers eager to reduce their fleet’s carbon footprint introduce more and more electric models, the demand for cobalt for those batteries is expected to quadruple by 2020 and grow eleven-fold by 2025. That demand, coupled with a short supply of the mineral, has resulted in cobalt prices jumping by over 80 per cent.

Currently, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the world’s major producer of cobalt. China and Canada come in at a tie for a very distant second place, with each country providing only six per cent of global supply. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, are warning that there is a significant risk that cobalt from the DRC is being mined in extremely dangerous conditions by children as young as seven. This, coupled with political instability, has automakers on the lookout for supply chain alternatives.

This is where the small Ontario town of Cobalt enters the picture. Cobalt, located in northern Ontario close to the Quebec border, was a major mining centre for silver over 100 years ago. In the first six decades of mining there, the town’s silver mining camps shipped almost 1.2 million tons of rich silver ore and concentrates. Between 1904 and the beginning of WWII, 70 different mining operations were located there, making it the biggest silver camp in the world at that time. While it was known that cobalt was present there too, there wasn’t enough demand for the product to justify extracting it. That thinking changed in the spring of 2016 and since then over a dozen mining companies have staked claims in the area.

First Cobalt is company with the largest land holdings in the camp there. It controls over 10,000 hectares of prospective land, 50 historic mines, a mill, and is currently the only permitted cobalt refinery in North America capable of producing battery materials. First Cobalt initiated drilling in 2017 and has confirmed the presence of three cobalt bearing veins.

Ontario isn’t the only province or territory with high hopes for cobalt mining. Deposits have also been found in the Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan. In addition to the direct mining jobs that these projects could drive, the mining industry typically generates many indirect employment opportunities in fields like environmental and technical consulting, shipping, rail, and transportation. One 2011 study found that for British Columbia’s 21,112 people directly employed in mining there were an additional 16,590 jobs indirectly created.

As one of Canada’s leading contract engineering and project staffing firms, the Ian Martin Group has decades of experience assisting mining companies to find the technical talent required to keep their projects moving forward. Whether you’re a technical professional interested in exploring exciting new opportunities in the mining industry, or you work for a mining company and are in need of some additional talent for your project, our experienced recruiters are always available to discuss how Ian Martin can help you achieve your goals.

Connect with an Ian Martin Hiring Consultant now.

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Focus on Clean Energy: Big Batteries = Big Business

The tricky part about relying on Mother Nature for clean energy is that the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. There’s also the opposite end of that problem, when weather conditions create a “perfect storm” of energy production that creates more power than the grid actually needs. Without a solution to store that excess power, electrical utilities must release it to avoid power surges that can damage appliances and lead to power outages. While selling that power to other utilities is an option, on a day with ideal conditions for renewable power generation the demand for the power may be quite low. There have been times in Ontario, for example, when an electrical utility has actually had to pay another province or state to take their excess power.

Those types of situations have global energy stakeholders feeling very hopeful about the opportunities that rapidly advancing lithium ion battery technology are creating for energy storage. Large-scale battery “farms” allow power from clean energy sources to be stored when it’s available and saved for distribution when it is needed most.

In the fall of 2017, all eyes were on Tesla when Elon Musk committed to build a 100-megawatt lithium ion battery facility in South Australia in 100 days or provide it free of charge. Musk and his team delivered and the project, which pairs the world’s largest lithium ion battery with a nearby wind farm, has made South Australia a world leader in dispatchable renewable energy. The project can power 30,000 homes for up to an hour in the event of a blackout, but will probably be used more often to even out electricity supplies.

Being hailed by some as the energy sector’s next disruptive technology, the rapidly decreasing costs of battery storage could radically transform the power industry. Battery-pack costs decreased to less than $230 per kilowatt-hour in 2016, compared with almost $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010, thanks in part to the growing market for batteries in the consumer goods and electric vehicle market.

Smaller scale energy storage is also driving growth in the battery industry. Home-based energy storage solutions, such as Tesla’s Powerwall, store solar energy collected through solar panels on the home and make it available on demand to power the home independently of the electrical grid.

Batteries aren’t the only way to store renewable energy. Other solutions include flywheels, fuel cells running on renewable hydrogen, and systems based on compressed air or pumped water. With more and more countries committing to phasing out coal-fired power, the global energy storage market is predicted to double six times between 2016 and 2030.

As the battery and energy storage market continues to grow, so too will the competition to secure the technical talent needed by the companies in this space. Electrical engineers, systems design engineers, software engineers, product managers, and field service technicians are just some of the positions these companies will require.

If you’re a job seeker interested in a career in clean tech, take a look at our current opportunities in the automotive, manufacturing,  power and nuclear sectorsIf you’d like to learn more about finding the right talent to help your organization reduce its carbon footprint, connect with an Ian Martin recruiter or download our Insider’s Guide to Technical Recruitment.


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Think Small: Could SMRs Be Nuclear Power’s Next Big Thing?

SMRs, or small modular reactors, have been creating buzz in the nuclear industry for some time now.  That buzz got noticeably louder in 2017 when Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), Canada’s premier nuclear science and technology organization, set the ambitious goal of establishing an SMR on its Chalk River site by 2026.

What is an SMR?

SMR stands for small modular reactor. An SMR is significantly smaller than a conventional nuclear reactor, with output ranging up to 300 megawatts. As a comparison, Canada’s largest nuclear power plant, Ontario’s Bruce Power plant, produces 6,400 megawatts of energy at its peak. SMRs can be manufactured off-site and shipped to the reactor site fully constructed.

There are a variety of different types of SMRs under development. The main differentiator is the type of fuel or coolant they use. The Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ recent Request for Expressions of Interest drew submissions from across the globe for a variety of proposed technologies, including:

  • Pressurized Water-cooled Reactors
  • High-temperature Gas-cooled Reactors
  • Sodium-cooled Fast Reactors
  • Gas-cooled Fast Reactors
  • Molten Salt Reactors
  • Fusion Reactors

One example of SMR technology is Terrestrial Energy’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR). The company expects its first IMSR power plants to be operational at some point in the 2020s and capable of providing 190 MW of power and 400 MW of heat that is virtually free of carbon emissions. Terrestrial Energy’s reactor has successfully completed the first phase of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s pre-licensing vendor design review, marking the first time an advanced reactor has achieved this milestone.

“Small modular reactors have great potential as an emerging technology that could supply low-carbon energy for a range of users, including remote communities, mining operations and the oil and gas industry.”

Jim Carr, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources

Canada is not alone in its belief that SMRs could be a key strategy in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The United States, Russia, France, and China are also very interested in the technology.

What are the benefits of SMRs over traditional nuclear reactors?

Many of the advantages that SMRs could offer over large-scale nuclear reactors are related to the fact that they can be purchased and constructed in a modular fashion. This reduces up-front capital costs, makes for simpler plants, and can reduce labour requirements. It also makes it easier and more affordable to scale up a site with additional modules over time as energy demand increases.

The fact that SMRs have a smaller energy output also makes them a more suitable solution for locations with lower power requirements. This could be particularly promising for northern and remote communities and large mines where SMRs could replace dirty and expensive diesel generators.

SMR developers also suggest that the technology is safer than its larger counterparts, as the modular units house less radioactive material in their core, meaning less energy is potentially released in the event of an accident. SMRs can also be installed beneath the ground, making them less vulnerable to hazards such as extreme weather or sabotage.

Another advantage of SMRs is the fact that their capability extends beyond energy production. SMRs could also be used in applications for district heating, co-generation, energy storage, desalination, and hydrogen production.

Adoption of SMR technology could create an exciting next chapter for nuclear energy in Canada and across the globe. Even at moderate deployment levels, research suggests that the economic impact could be significant. One 2010 U.S. study estimated that a prototypical 100 MW SMR costing $500 million to manufacture and install would create nearly 7,000 jobs, including high-paying factory, construction, and operating jobs.

If you are job seeker interested in opportunities within the nuclear sector, review our current power and nuclear opportunities. If you are currently looking for technical talent with specific nuclear experience, connect with one of our experienced recruiting experts.

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