Blog Archive

Thursday, March 26, 2020
By Vanessa Howard

Canada’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has involved all orders of government from health, public safety, border Work from Homesecurity and finance sectors. As social isolation continues it is clear that the private sector and voluntary sector will also play key roles in addressing the challenge. Collaboration between government and the private sector is essential during this crisis to focus national manufacturing efforts, focus the surge of private services, and work toward a common objective. The voluntary sector also has a key role in providing personnel, coordinating community-based relief, and assisting people who are most vulnerable to illness or those who are socially marginalized and not well supported by other programs.
Integration is important right now, even as we enhance social distancing. Those responding need to continue responding for the health and safety of all of us. The seemingly paradoxical nature of the problem – people working to maintaining supply chains and emergency service expose themselves to risk by doing so – qualifies as what Horst Rittel called a ‘wicked problem’: something that is hard to solve because of the contradictions and connections contained in it.
Government and the private sector cannot address this challenge separately, as each have prominent roles the other cannot fulfill. An emergency Cabinet committee was activated by the federal government, along with a Federal-Provincial-Territorial committee that integrates collaboration across orders of government. The Minister of Public Services and Procurement emphasized the need for whole-of-government approach to this crisis that combines health and science-based advice, with government streamlining procurement regulations to meet the needs of that advice. This national level leadership is essential, but it is only one part of the challenge. The private sector has the manufacturing and logistics capability to provide predictable support and is responding accordingly to get through this crisis. Whether manufacturing, supply chain, or health and pharmaceutical research, we are seeing strategic level collaboration between government and the private sector to respond.
City StreetFor managing local response, there are existing frameworks like the Incident Command System (ICS) that serve as a valuable baseline for organizing the response along functional lines. Operations, planning, logistics, finance, administrative, and communications functions are all integrated under a common structure that reduces uncertainty and provides a more effective basis for emergency management than ‘going it alone’. The ICS structure is organized by function, meaning private or public sector organizations – or voluntary sector organizations – can be integrated into this model to maintain cohesion in response. This is precisely the kind of unity of effort is needed during a pandemic. A common structure is very important when integrating diverse groups into large response.
The voluntary sector also plays a vital role in response, especially in small communities. Provincial and Municipal governments across Canada are seeking assistance from volunteers to provide much-needed surge capacity to support the response. We are fortunate in Canada to have a robust level of volunteerism. Statistics Canada figures show that 41 % of the population aged 55-64 volunteer in some capacity, providing an average of 233 hours a year to their communities. Canadian seniors volunteer at a slightly lower rate, with 36 % of these Canadian seniors volunteering their time in their communities. The challenge for addressing COVID-19 is that seniors are more vulnerable than others, meaning some seniors may put themselves – and therefore others – at greater risk by volunteering than by staying home.
Mobilizing the volunteer base will be vital for remote and rural communities that have fewer resources available for normal operations and little surge capacity. The surge in those communities is likely to come from the volunteers. Volunteers can provide much needed capacity for emergency response functions and provide a vital link of familiarity and credibility to the rest of the community. Public warning messaging and risk communications is likely to carry more credibility in communities where the sender of the message is known to the recipient. The social bonds between volunteers and those in the community speaks to a shared sense of crisis and working together that can absent in cities and larger communities where there is more social distance in normal times. This means volunteers in community have a detailed understanding of the landscape, the social landscape (Who needs additional support? What support do they need?), and social connections to provide effective, compassionate response.
While this provides much needed capacity, health and safety concerns remain during this time. COVID-19 will Man Sitting on Benchnot distinguish between those managing the response and those not. Mobilizing volunteers is vital, but new ways should be explored to managing virtual emergency operations support for all participants. This can mean call centres or e-portals for people in the community to request support or report an incident. Social distancing is important for anyone involved in the response, including volunteers. The is another example of the paradox of response and protection – all responders face an increased risk if they are responding in person, so we must limit this interaction where possible.
The COVID-19 crisis is testing all countries’ ability to sustain normal activities, testing and treating the sick, and keeping the healthy in isolation to prevent further spread. Achieving this requires an all-hands-on-deck approach between government, industry, and the voluntary sector. Each organization brings something valuable to the response. Government has the mandate, authority and resources to drive response; industry has the material and manufacturing capability to provide goods and people to sustain supply chains; and the voluntary sector bring a trusted, community-based surge capacity to provide direct support. No single organization or sector can address this crisis. Collaboration and cooperation between organizations is essential, while ensuring the safety of responders in the process.
Vanessa Howard  is an Emergency Management Representative with Calian Group. Vanessa has 14 years of experience achieving public safety solutions in emergency management and response fields.  Her academic background includes exercise program development, the four pillars of emergency management, critical infrastructure protections, advanced business continuity planning, and risk management. She serves on the Professional Development Committee of the International Association of Emergency Managers.

Friday, March 20, 2020
By Vanessa Howard
Flooding seasonal hazardThe response to COVID-19 has escalated very quickly in Canada and globally. The measures being taken align with the risk assessments and impact assessments developed by public health experts, emergency managers, senior leaders at all levels of government, and the experiences captured from lessons learned and after-action reviews from previous crises. Risk assessment is the cornerstone of all emergency management planning – defining it, describing it, identifying how it can manifest, the impacts it can have – in order to inform plans and measure to mitigate risk.
The strategic thinking of emergency managers and public health officials allows for adequate planning and preparation for crises. The challenge with COVID-19 is the scope and scale of this crisis, and the resources, personnel and focus that it consumes. The decisions taken to manage the crisis have been the right ones; the point is that this an all-consuming activity for the Government of Canada, Provincial Governments, Municipal Governments, and many civil society organizations. What this means in practical terms is that emergency operations centres (EOCs) of every organization large enough to have one are activated and will be for the foreseeable future. Continuity for essential staff has been implemented; everyone is running at, or near, maximum capacity. Current COVID-19 spread models show that this crisis is going to last many more weeks, if not months.
Seasonal risks will soon be upon us, in the middle of the COVID-19 response. Spring is coming. In many regions in Canada this means increased risk of flooding and wildfires. There is no second force available to manage seasonal hazards and no second set of facilities available to support the response.
This has the potential to be highly impactful on local authority responses, with specific focus on remote and rural communities that may have fewer resources to respond. This is especially concerning for areas that typically experience seasonal risks. On 17 March 2020 the Quebec government warned that there will be no emergency shelters available for people that need to evacuate from flooding. The primary concern is that opening evacuation centres would spread COVID-19 making the health crisis worse. Officials are being urged to use hotels or university dorms as evacuation facilities. The Premier rightly pointed out that there will be available hotel capacity due to the travel and tourism limitations as part of the COVID-19 response.
Local authorities contribute to and depend on provincial guides and documentation that supports local decision making during evacuations. This presents a serious challenge to emergency managers – the standard guides they rely on may not meet the physical distancing recommendations issued by our public health officers.
Seasonal FloodingJust as public health officials demonstrated proactive early warning for global transmission of COVID-19, we now need to proactively consider our emergency plans with the consideration of physical distancing measures. Preplanning methods to ensure appropriate distance between people through either design or by managing the timing of intakes at reception centres or group lodging facilities is critical. This can be supported by technological solutions that divert some of the reception centre tasks to online or remote solutions for those who are able, thus reducing the number of people who need to access centres in person. Additionally, offering alternatives for those who are high risk and utilizing the templates provided by Indigenous Services Canada to support public service announcements of COVID-19 in the Indigenous language appropriate for your region could all be considered as possible proactive planning.
COVID-19 response is the clear national priority. However, we are also exposed to seasonal hazards. A proactive assessment of local emergency plans with a consideration of COVID-19 will help local authorities address this challenge.
Vanessa Howard is an Emergency Management Representative with Calian Group in Ottawa. She has 13 years of emergency response experience as a first responder, educator and facilitator. Her academic background includes exercise program development, the four pillars of emergency management, critical infrastructure protection, and risk management. She serves on the Professional Development Committee of the International Association of Emergency Managers. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020
By Dr. Adrienne Ethier, Christine McNally and Jordan Miller


Open door to natureChange is inevitable. It could manifest itself through shifting motivations and trends or advances in technology. But... it isn’t often that we are faced with or can envision a shift, a change of such magnitude, that it could trigger a paradigm shift (see SMRs – a Quick Primer). Our collective perspective and attitudes are not necessarily fixed, but they don’t adapt easily or quickly, and take time to change at the society level. Unlocking the potential of SMRs for energy production is one case in point. 

As stated in the first SMR blog posted late last year, there are roughly 50 SMR designs in various stages of development worldwide. In Canada, there are currently 9 SMR designs with 3-to-300MW electrical capacity in various stages of the CNSC pre-licensing vendor design review (as of February 11, 2020). These SMR technologies will require substantial financial support (business case blog) to turn the concept into reality. On top of the design and material costs, there are substantial obstacles related to our limited knowledge of new technologies, public support (perceptions and misconceptions blog) and experience.

SMRs a quick primerIn 2017, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) gathered responses from a range of stakeholders on specific issues related to the successful deployment of SMRs as part of a Request for Expression of Interest on its SMR program, then issued a summary report. The CNL SMR Summary report was comprehensive with responses from a variety of industry stakeholders, but the field of view may have inherently been somewhat narrowed due to respondent bias towards the ultimate success of the CNL SMR program. As such, I’ve selected three key themes mentioned in the CNL SMR Summary report to do with safe-by-design technologies; government and regulatory support; and the economics of SMRs, and then searched literatures for alternative viewpoints to delve into and discuss within the final blog in this SMR series on obstacles to development and deployment.

Safe-by-Design Technologies

SMR technologies must be safe-by-design, given their standalone nature and their application for remote locations. Passive and/or inherent safety features to enable “walk away” safety is an absolute key requirement, as stressed by many respondents in the CNL SMR Summary report. The security, safety, and environmental impact of multiple SMR designs need to be tested and verified. The proposed path forward is to use existing licensed sites for demonstration SMRs and then to use those “tested” SMRs to power a host community and / or an energy intensive project. Will these measures be enough to build public confidence needed? Our safety record and experience in Canada has been limited mostly to CANDU and some research reactors, so dedicated effort to prove and communicate the safe-by-design nature of SMRs is essential.

But what about the small Pressure Water Reactors (PWRs) used by militaries to power aircraft carriers and submarines that for decades have been in operation in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France? These small PWRs are akin to some of the proposed SMR technologies. The past safety records and practices used in NATO navies for small PWRs could be instructive for developing safety practices for the deployment of SMRs on land.

Government and Regulatory Support

The CNL SMR Summary report noted a need for consistent long-term political support. This includes political support and leadership, financial support, policy tools, and effective communications with the public on the benefits and safety of SMRs. Strong evidence of this much-needed political support was recently demonstrated with the announcement that Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have signed a memorandum of understanding on the development of SMRs.

In Canada, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is well-recognized as a predictable and reputable regulator. The CNSC has successfully implemented a robust and flexible regulatory regime that is accepting of new technologies and could be a major enabler for the potential deployment of SMRs in Canada. The costs and timeline for getting approval for SMRs presents something of an obstacle to rollout, despite the inherently safe nature of SMR design. The existing regulatory regime should be examined to determine what baseline elements should apply to SMR regulation, and where new regulation more suitable to the specific nature of SMRs could be developed.

New growth plantEconomics

The discussion on SMR deployment has been largely focused on political support and regulatory requirements, which are clearly success factors. But also raises the question of whether they are relevant if the commercial issues associated with the successful development and deployment of SMRs are not addressed.

From the CNL SMR summary report, if the SMR vendors are not able to demonstrate the economic benefit of their reactor technology design, or if the capital or lifecycle costs are too high, there is no room for success. What might be the potential market share? Low gas prices and emission reductions from coal plants could end up leaving little room for SMRs, except in niche markets such as projects requiring large energy resources and remote communities. 

How will these SMR technologies gain the competitive economics needed? The SMRs are smaller and less expensive to build than the current larger CANDU reactors, though economies of scale are larger for CANDU reactors on a per-megawatt basis. 

Some of these savings can be realized through large-scale production of identical or very similar reactors, with additional efficiencies generated through learning on the production line; the same thing that happens with any manufacturing process. But… I have seen arguments that production of SMRs would “need to be in the thousands” to realize this level of savings and economies-of-scale. Is it possible for the potential market share for SMRs to be large enough to accomplish this? If so, how many vendor designs can the market support? The cost argument is a powerful one, though this should not exclude the possibility of moving forward to enable remote communities to gain independence, for energy intensive industries to reduce emissions, or to combat our contribution to climate change.

Some of the biggest questions that remain are: How do we get from where we are to where we should be going? How do we define the “should” for SMRs, with our mixed perspectives on energy issues? How do we collectively embrace a new energy paradigm for Canada?


Dr. Adrienne Ethier is a Senior Nuclear Analyst for Calian Group in Ottawa.
Christine McNally is a Senior Nuclear Analyst for Calian Group in Ottawa
Jordan Miller is Program Manager - Strategic Initiatives & Public Affairs for Calian Group in Ottawa

Tuesday, February 25, 2020
By Jordan Miller and Dr. Adrienne Ethier

Open Door to NatureThis blog follows our previous entries on the topic of Small Modular Reactors (SMR). Our first blog was about the obstacles this new technology faces to commercialization, and the second was about misconceptions and perceptions that limit the potential for a more broad use of nuclear power. This installment will focus on one aspect of building the SMR business case: the potential for SMRs to reduce emissions for large, energy intensive projects including oil and gas production. The final installment of this SMR blog series next month will then focus on SMR development and deployment.
The public discussion in Canada around oil and gas production is very topical. Canada faces tough choices about resource development projects and how the emissions from those projects affect federal emissions targets. There are many stakeholders in these discussions, including provincial governments, environmental advocates, energy companies and advocates, the people living near resource projects, and Indigenous communities. All are passionate on the subject and are trying to convince Canadians of their perspective. Multiple legal actions have been filed, some successful and others not. This issue is, to say the least, contentious.
A recent project garnering public attention is the Teck Resources’ Frontier Project. The proposed project is for oil production on a site 110 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, built on roughly 24,000 acres of boreal forest. The project leader expects the project to produce about 4.1 million tonnes of GHG emissions annually, with environmental groups estimating the total is closer to 6.0 million tonnes annually. The $20-billion project is expected to generate $70 billion in royalties and taxes for all orders of government over its lifetime and produce about 260,000 barrels of oil per day.
Plant in EarthDifferent opinions on the issue are fundamentally about the costs and benefits of these projects, with emissions as a central consideration. Supporters of resource projects point to economic benefits and a reduction of emissions over time, while detractors point to the increased emissions now and how that will impact Canada’s climate targets. With strong, polarized opinions on the issue, there is little common ground. What if we could reduce the emissions from the project? What if we could switch to electricity to power energy projects? Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) offer the potential to supply local, sustainable nuclear power for energy projects.
SMRs offer the possibility of generating power locally to sustain any energy intensive project with zero-emission electricity. This could be a game-changer for determining the emissions output of resource projects. When we say “small,” SMRs can range from approximately the size of an SUV to the size of a school bus. SMRs take up much less space and offer much more versatility than what we traditionally think of when we talk about nuclear power reactors. SMRs can be transported and installed as stand-alone units wherever needed. In all cases SMRs provide, clean, reliable electricity locally. This means reducing the need for a costly network of maintenance-intensive, high-tension lines to transmit power. An SMR can be set up close to where the power is used, meaning fewer transmission lines and associated loss.
Using SMRs as the source of power for energy intensive resource projects has the potential to be a game-changer in the cost-benefit conversation regarding emissions. If the Frontier project only emitted a quarter, or a tenth, of the emissions that are projected, what does that do for the conversation about costs and benefits? What does that mean for planning and sustainability? SMRs are hardly a panacea that puts to rest any disagreement on resource projects. However, they do offer a major shift in the calculus for costs and benefits. The potential to shift the conversation from emissions means talking about broader issues about economic sustainability, benefits to communities, land usage, and remediation. The promise of significant reductions in emissions from energy projects through clean power at the point of production could fundamentally shift the conversation about the costs and benefits of these projects. The potential benefits are not restricted to energy intensive resource projects alone. SMRs could provide reliable power to remote communities reliant on diesel power.
Adrienne EthierSMR roll-out would require both regulatory and environmental approvals following the same stringent practices and protocols used for our current nuclear power generating stations. From the initial evaluation on the site for an SMR through to construction and operation, regulatory and environmental compliance, stakeholder communication, safety and environmental sustainability are key. This is essential to maintaining public trust in the viability and safety of SMRs located near or in their community.
Jordan Miller is Program Manager - Strategic Initiatives & Public Affairs for Calian Group in Ottawa
Dr. Adrienne Ethier is a Senior Nuclear Analyst for Calian Group in Ottawa. 

Thursday, January 23, 2020
By Dr. Adrienne Ethier


Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) hold the promise of being a 21st-century miracle of electric power production – a source of safe, clean, abundant, economical, reliable and, not least, carbon-neutral electricity. 

But what of the challenges confronting this next-generation nuclear technology? 

In my first SMR blog late last year I highlighted three obstacles, in particular:

  •  Perceptions and misconceptions of nuclear power
  •  Building the business case
  •  Development and deployment

This blog will be the first of a three-part follow-up series on SMRs.  Over the next three months I’ll be delving into the above obstacles in greater depth, beginning this month with perception and misconceptions.

Perception is Everything

Nuclear power has a long history of public relations challenges. Commercial SMRs will be no exception.

For decades, the general public has had grave concerns over the potential for a nuclear accident to poison our air, water and land.  Fears of cancer-causing, DNA-corrupting nuclear radiation spreading through the environment have been fueled by high-profile disasters such as the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in 1979, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986 and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011.

SMRs face similar challenges in the court of public opinion. Prospective manufacturers and owners / operators of this technology – as promising as it is – will need to do more than furnish good evidence that these units are safe to operate. They will need to work relentlessly to address public safety concerns. 

Public discourse on nuclear power is hardly ruled by reason and rationality. Few people have carefully, thoughtfully and impartially weighed the evidence for and against. Individual perceptions may be based on fragments of evidence – something read or heard on the topic – or on a person’s education or background. Some will associate the word “nuclear” with nuclear weapons, waste and cancer; others with reliable, carbon-neutral electricity; or with the life-saving medical isotopes used in nuclear medicine to cure cancer. 

Perceptions aside, the safety requirements for the nuclear industry are, in point of fact, much, much more stringent than most people realize. For non-nuclear industries, the thresholds for acceptable environmental emissions are set at or just below levels at which there is the potential for negative health effects. The acceptable threshold of emissions for nuclear facilities is at least 100 times below the level at which there is the potential to cause negative health effects, even in the immediate vicinity of a nuclear generating station (ICRP, 2007).  

Dispelling the myths 

For SMRs to be successful, popular myths must be dispelled and public understanding improved. That’s exactly what Dr. Doug Chambers and I set out to do in 2018 when we peer-reviewed a paper comparing Fukushima to the Ontario Power Generation Pickering station. This paper included incomplete or incorrect information, with the potential to create and perpetuate false perceptions of the safety of nuclear power in Ontario.

Consider these points about nuclear energy included in our peer review:

  • Contrary to perceptions that radiation at any level is a threat, medical scientists have found an improvement to life expectancy of some patients due to the immune boosting and cancer preventative effects of low-dose radiation. There is also evidence that low-dose radiation may be effective in the control of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (update in Cuttler, 2018).
  • Nuclear energy production has a very strong safety record. The estimated number of fatalities due to radiation exposure at nuclear power plants since 1969 is in the range of 30 to 45 (i.e., Chernobyl accident), depending on whether potential stochastic effects from thyroid cancer (15 fatalities) are accounted for (The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), 2017). This is at least an order of magnitude (> 35 times) less than any other long-term source of energy production (Hirschberg et al., 1998).  
  • Several studies have shown that ill-informed views or misconceptions of the potential harm caused by nuclear radiation have resulted in more fatalities than those resulting from the radiation itself. Pervasive myths and misperceptions about the threat of radiation, for example, have been linked to heightened anxiety, suicides, paralyzing fatalism, and increased smoking and alcohol dependency. Recent case in point, there is no evidence of fatalities or health effects owing to radiation exposure for the Fukushima accident and yet more than 1,000 people died within two years following the accident owing to various evacuation-related, largely psychosomatic, problems (Socol, 2015).


Misinformation and paranoia have created a pervasive misunderstanding of the nuclear industry.  Negative and incorrect risk perceptions are gaining more public credibility than sound scientific evidence.  It behooves all of us to commit ourselves to making sure the evidence for clean, safe nuclear power is clearly communicated and understood. SMRs have the potential to serve as an excellent baseload energy source and one direly needed to support CO2 reductions in Canada and globally. In the age of social media particularly, the potential for the continued spread of myths and falsehoods is greater than ever.  It is time for us to use these same social media channels to perpetuate sound science.  

Dr. Adrienne Ethier is a Senior Nuclear Analyst for Calian Group in Ottawa. 

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