Sometimes, to hear the stark projections, you might think that nuclear power plants are the only energy systems that will require large amounts of construction materials, or that have limited numbers of suppliers. Since most of us focus more on one technology than on another, we may not be aware that other technologies have real needs, too.
I attended a very interesting presentation at the Canadian Embassy recently by Jason Tolland, Counsellor for Environment and Energy at the Embassy. The audience was a group of MIT alumna/ae and the topic was the Canadian-US energy relationship. Naturally, there was considerable discussion of Canada as a significant source of uranium, particularly for the US. But the majority of the discussion covered Canada’s role as a source of oil and gas. Since this was an area that was less familiar to me, I learned a number of interesting facts from his talk. The facts emphasized to me that the supply issues associated with nuclear power also exist for other technologies.
Perhaps the two most important takeaway points were the following:
• Liquified natural gas (LNG), considered an attractive source of energy for some applications, requires storage in large tanks. To my surprise, I learned that there are only two companies in the world that can supply the tanks. That sounds an awful lot like the case for large reactor pressure vessels, doesn’t it?
• Even more surprisingly, to me, is what he told us about the planned 1220 kilometer MacKenzie natural gas pipeline from the Northwest Territories. He noted that the total steel requirement for that pipeline would exceed the annual world production of steel. Of course, it wouldn't be built in one year, but that's still a staggering amount of steel, and is bound to have an impact on availability and prices of steel for other purposes.
Although natural gas is a fossil fuel, its greenhouse gas emissions are considerably less than those of coal or oil, so natural gas and LNG can be expected to be used in the future at least as much as they are at present, and most likely, more, as we transition to lower-emitting fuels. Therefore, the demands of these options should be of interest to all of us. Of course, as I expect to be the case for reactor pressure vessels, one would hope that rising demand would spur an increase in supply. Nevertheless, there is certainly a potential, both for the growth of these energy sources to be slowed, and, more importantly, for them to have impacts on other energy supply technologies—and indeed, on any large construction needs.
One further comment from Jason Tolland is of interest, particularly for the nuclear community. When he showed graphs of the energy sources for electricity supply, he noted that Canada considered that most of its electricity was produced using renewable resources. He commented that, unlike the United States, when Canada uses the term renewables, they include nuclear power and hydroelectricity.
Dr. Gail H. Marcus is an independent consultant on nuclear power technology and policy. She previously worked as Deputy Director-General of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) in Paris; Principal Deputy Director of the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology; in various positions at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC); and as Assistant Chief of the Science Policy Research Division at the Congressional Research Service (1980-1985). Dr. Marcus spent a year in Japan as Visiting Professor in the Research Laboratory for Nuclear Reactors, Tokyo Institute of Technology, and five months at Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry. Dr. Marcus has served as President of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) and as Chair of the Engineering Section of AAAS. She also served on the National Research Council Committee on the Future Needs of Nuclear Engineering Education. She is a Fellow of the ANS and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Dr. Marcus has an S.B. and S.M. in Physics, and an Sc.D. in Nuclear Engineering from MIT. She is the first woman to earn a doctorate in nuclear engineering in the United States.