Answering Saskatchewan government talking points #12: credits for uranium production

The Saskatchewan government’s 2016 White Paper on Climate Change claims that “we are having the wrong conversation” by focussing on the need for emissions reductions in our own patch.  The authors make a number of questionable claims to back up this opinion.  Here is a response to one of them.

Saskatchewan deserves credit and recognition for GHG reductions achieved through the use of uranium mined in our province.

– Government of Saskatchewan White Paper on Climate Change

There are two major problems in the logic here.

(1) Mr Wall needs to demonstrate the extent to which nuclear power is actually replacing fossil fuels in the world’s power supply, and then demonstrate the extent to which the uranium used comes from Saskatchewan mines.  If Mr Wall were to do this, he would find that the extent of new nuclear development globally is quite small: limited to a handful of countries.  And furthermore, he would find that nearly all of these countries are doing so to expand their generating capacity, not to replace old fossil power stations.  Given that the majority of new power capacity being ordered worldwide now is in renewables, only a small fraction of those new nuclear stations are preventing more fossil fuels from being burnt: mostly they are slowing down the (much-needed) renewables revolution.  So the amount of Saskatchewan uranium actually replacing fossil fuels is in reality close to zero.

(2) In making this claim, Mr Wall is engaging in creative accounting.  The international standard for accounting for emissions is that used in Canada’s annual National Inventory Reports – counting what is emitted within a jurisdiction.  But there are two other ways of allocating emissions, and either could be considered valid if applied consistently.  We could shift to a supply-side accounting system – Saskatchewan is responsible for the emissions, wherever they occur in the world, from all the fossil fuels produced in the province (and can claim credit for reduction in emissions as a result of Saskatchewan exports which genuinely reduce fossil fuel consumption).  Or we could shift to an accounting system based on embodied emissions – we are responsible for the total emissions involved in the entire lifecycle of all the finished products which we use in the province.  Mr Wall appears to be arguing for a highly selective version of the supply-side option, considering only the Saskatchewan supply-side activities which he thinks will advance his case.  For consistency, he should also be prepared to include in Saskatchewan’s total all of the ultimate emissions produced by burning Saskatchewan oil, gas and coal, wherever in the world it is used.  This figure would dwarf any reasonable claims for offsetting by uranium.  So, if applied consistently, Mr Wall’s approach would actually increase Saskatchewan’s emissions figure, not reduce it.  We would require debits, not credits.

All this is before we even begin to look at the problems inherent in nuclear power.  But we won’t address that here.  The point is that there is no substance whatsoever in Mr Wall’s assertions.

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