CNL aims for carbon-neutrality of Chalk River site

27 March 2024

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) has announced a target of achieving carbon-neutral operations at the Chalk River Laboratories site in Ontario by 2040. It said connecting to the small modular reactor proposed for the site could contribute to meeting this target.

The Chalk River Laboratories campus (Image: CNL)

The target is outlined in CNL's newly-released 2023 ESG Report, A CNL Sustainability Performance Update, an annual document that tracks the company's progress towards sustainable operations, and among other goals, was established to support the Canadian government in its commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

The new carbon emission reduction plan was put in place to fulfill environmental objectives set out by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) in its environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy. CNL operates Chalk River Laboratories on behalf of AECL, who owns the site, under a government-owned, company-operated management model. Together, the organisations will work together over the next two decades to reduce emissions by approximately 90% to near-zero, and then balance out any remaining emissions with strategic carbon offsets.

Among the organisational changes identified in its Carbon Neutral Strategy are: updated engineering standards and climate resilience planning requirements for all new construction projects and retrofits; energy performance improvements through the adoption of electric heating and conservation measures; the decommissioning and removal of outdated, inefficient buildings; and the electrification of CNL's vehicle fleet.

"CNL is even exploring the potential to connect to a small modular reactor (SMR) proposed for construction at the Chalk River site, leveraging the clean energy from the reactor to further offset the carbon footprint of CNL's operations," the company said.

Global First Power Ltd - a joint venture launched in 2020 by Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) and Ontario Power Generation - aims to build, own and operate a proposed Micro Modular Reactor (MMR) at the Chalk River Laboratories site by 2030. The 10 MWt (3.3 MWe) to 45 MWt (15 MWe) MMR high temperature gas-cooled reactor would provide process heat to an adjacent plant via a molten salt heat exchange system, and would serve as a model for future SMR deployments. It is based on UNSC's proprietary Fully Ceramic Micro-encapsulated fuel technology, which is a tristructural-isotropic - or TRISO - fuel.

"At CNL, we understand that the actions we take today will have an impact on future generations, so we must make responsible decisions in the modernisation and operation of the Chalk River Laboratories site," said CNL President and CEO Joe McBrearty. "And that starts with reducing our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. CNL has already reduced our GHG emissions by approximately 30% relative to 2005 levels, and we are poised to achieve a 40% reduction by 2025. To meet our net-zero by 2040 targets, we have developed a Consolidated Carbon Neutral Strategy which will guide our ongoing business activities, ensuring that GHG emissions are factored into all our operational decisions, big and small."

"As a federal Crown corporation and the owner of the Chalk River Laboratories, AECL has set ambitious targets within our ESG strategy to meet the Government of Canada's net-zero goals by 2050," said AECL President and CEO Fred Dermarkar. "With the unique opportunity to leverage our nuclear science and technology capabilities, AECL has accelerated the target to meet carbon neutrality at the Chalk River site by 2040. We are encouraged by CNL's work in Chalk River to implement their carbon neutral strategy."

"Sustainability is far more than sound environmental stewardship," CNL said. "The ambitious emissions target is part of a much broader, comprehensive plan to fulfill the delivery of sustainability-related objectives at Canada's national nuclear laboratory.

"As part of this plan, CNL completed an ESG materiality assessment in 2023 that will guide improvement efforts across seven major focus areas, including waste management, climate resilience, ecosystem services, community relationships, employee engagement and well-being, effective leadership and responsible supply chain. This assessment was the product of a thorough stakeholder engagement exercise, which included a survey of over 700 stakeholders and in-depth interviews to gather feedback and refine the company's ESG priorities."

"Whether it was the development of our new forest management plan, the creation of an Indigenous procurement strategy, or the launch of our new education programming, CNL has had an exceptional year in our pursuit of more sustainable operations," McBrearty added. "However, I think the completion of our ESG materiality assessment will have the greatest impact on our operations, because it allows CNL to look inward at our operations through the eyes of our stakeholders and identify the issues and opportunities that we must prioritise as a company."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News