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The Canadian Nuclear Energy Technology

Nuclear energy technology is a hallmark of the world’s leading industrial nations. Canada has developed a successful nuclear program based on the unique heavy water natural uranium reactor system (known as CANDU), which uses pressurized fuel channels instead of a pressure vessel, natural instead of enriched uranium and heavy water as coolant/moderator instead of light water found in pressurized water reactor designs. The refueling system is also unique compared to pressurized water reactors because CANDU reactors can be refueled at full power.

The Federal government has funded nuclear research and development for over 50 years. The Government’s support has enabled Canada to develop its own nuclear power technology and other related technologies.

As a result, Canada has developed a world-class indigenous technology and various spin-off nuclear technologies which have made a major contribution to our economy and society over and above energy benefits. The main achievement of the Government’s R&D efforts is the CANDU reactor system.

In addition to providing energy, nuclear technology produces benefits through other applications, including medical isotopes which are used in health diagnostics and treatment. Canadian companies are important global suppliers of medical isotopes. Canada also supplies 75% of the world’s cobalt-60 used to sterilize 45% of the world’s single-use medical supplies.

Canada’s nuclear R&D program has and continues to yield significant social, economic and industrial returns through the production of environmentally friendly and cost-effective electricity and through important contributions in medicine, agriculture, manufacturing and resource utilization. It has also made possible world-class contributions over the years by Canadian scientists to fundamental science, particularly in the fields of physics and material science.

The Canadian nuclear industry and its economic contributions

The Canadian nuclear industry consists of a mixture of private sector firms and public sector organizations at both the federal and provincial levels and covers the entire nuclear energy fuel cycle from R&D, uranium mining, and fuel fabrication to nuclear reactor design, nuclear plant construction, maintenance, waste management and decommissioning. The Canadian nuclear energy industry is mainly concentrated in Ontario, but has a presence in Saskatchewan, Quebec and New Brunswick.

Of the 22 reactors nuclear power built in Canada, 19 reactors are currently in full commercial operation. Eighteen of Canada’s 19 operating nuclear power reactors are in Ontario, one is in New Brunswick.  Quebec decided to shut down their nuclear power plant in December 2012.

Canada’s CANDU reactors
Nuclear Station Province MWe In service date Operator
Pickering A Ontario 4 x 515 1971-73 OPG
Pickering B Ontario 4 x 516 1983-86 OPG
Darlington Ontario 4 x 881 1990-93 OPG
Bruce A Ontario 4 x 750 1977-79 Bruce Power
Bruce B Ontario 4 x 860 1984-87 Bruce Power
Gentilly 2 Québec 1 x 635 1983 Hydro Québec
Point Lepreau New Brunswick 1 x 635 1983 NB Power

Source: NRCan

Nuclear energy is the second largest contributor of non-emitting electricity in Canada. In 2014, nuclear energy provided approximately 16% of Canada’s total electricity needs (close to 60% in Ontario) contributing meaningfully to climate change and other atmospheric emissions objectives. Ontario is investing $25 billion over 2016-2031 to extend the life of 10 nuclear reactors to maintain nuclear power capacity at 9.9 gigawatt electric (GWe). The continued use of nuclear energy in Ontario will displace approximately 30 million tonnes per year of carbon dioxide or 3.8% of expected emissions in 2030 (as compared with natural gas).

The Canadian nuclear industry is a significant contributor to the Canadian economy in terms of GDP, government revenue, and employment.  There are close to 200 companies that supply products and/or services to the utilities and broader nuclear industry. While the industry is concentrated in Ontario, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Quebec, nuclear research and development has been undertaken in nine provinces and 37 institutions across the country.  The most recent data indicated that the nuclear industry in Canada provides over 30,000 direct jobs.

The Canadian nuclear energy program makes a major contribution to our economy and society over and above energy benefits. It results in:

  • an industry that generates revenues of over $6 billion per annum (this includes value of nuclear electricity produced which represents about $5 billion per annum and over $1 billion in uranium exports per annum). These figures do not take into account the health and environmental benefits of nuclear technology;
  • Canada’s annual uranium exports contain energy equivalent to approximately 1 billion barrels of oil, comparable to Canada’s oil exports in 2015;
  • Federal and provincial revenues through taxes of about $1.5 billion;
  • Canadian companies are important global suppliers of medical isotopes. Canada normally supplies approximately 75% of the world’s supply of Cobalt-60 used to sterilize 45% of the world’s single-use medical supplies.

International perspective

The Government of Canada is responsible for Canada’s foreign nuclear policy, which encompasses our non-proliferation principles, and which in turn has important implications on our nuclear industry and our values as a peaceful country.

The CANDU technology has been a Canadian success story with a track record of excellent performance in export markets, most recently in Romania with the construction of the second unit on schedule and on budget. The lifetime capacity factors of the CANDU reactors abroad average over 90% compared to around 80 percent in Canada. The prospects for new nuclear power reactors abroad are quite promising according to recent outlooks. Canada, as one of the few countries in the world offering reactor technology and related services, is well positioned to benefit from the renewed global interest in nuclear energy. Currently, there are nine CANDU reactors in operation outside of Canada. There are four CANDU reactors in operation in South Korea, two in China and Romania, and one reactor in Argentina.

CANDU Reactors outside Canada
Nuclear Station Country MWe In service date
Wolsong 1 South Korea 1 x 629 1983
Wolsong 2 South Korea 1 x 629 1997
Wolsong 3 South Korea 1 x 629 1998
Wolsong 4 South Korea 1 x 629 1999
Embalse Argentina 1 x 600 1984
Qinshan 1 China 1 x 665 2002
Qinshan 2 China 1 x 665 2003
Cernavoda 1 Romania 1 x 629 1996
Cernavoda 2 Romania 1 x 629 2007

Source: NRCan

Canada is a member country of both the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the two foremost international organizations that deal with the safe use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes. It is also a member of the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) and International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation (IFNEC).

Nuclear Energy Agency

The NEA is a specialized agency within the OECD. The 28 member countries of the NEA are from Europe, North America and the Asian Pacific region accounting for approximately 85% of the world’s installed nuclear capacity. The main role if the NEA is to assist member countries in maintaining and further developing, through international cooperation, the scientific, technological and legal bases required for the safe, environmentally friendly and economic use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. It is an excellent forum for sharing information and experience, and promoting international cooperation. The NEA represents an important forum for mutual exchange of information, ideas and experience with respect to nuclear energy and nuclear waste policies.

International Atomic Energy Agency

The IAEA is an independent intergovernmental organization within the United Nations and has 144 member countries. It serves as the world’s intergovernmental forum for scientific and technical cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear technology. It was created to promote peaceful applications of atomic energy worldwide for humanity’s benefit while guarding against the spread of its destructive use.

Both the NEA and the IAEA work closely together. The mandate of the IAEA is broader and more politically sensitive due to its focus on nuclear non-proliferation matters.

Generation IV International Forum (GIF)

Canada is also a member of GIF. With the signing of the Generation IV Framework Agreement in February 2005, Canada became a partner in the development of the next generation of nuclear power reactors. Nuclear experts from GIF countries have identified the six most promising Generation IV technologies that GIF members will work on. Together they will share resources, expertise and facilities to undertake the R&D necessary to establish the viability of Generation IV nuclear technologies. These advanced nuclear systems are expected to be deployed between 2020 and 2030, and to be safer, more reliable, more economic and more proliferation resistant than current technologies. For more information, please visit

International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation (IFNEC)

The International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation provides a forum for cooperation among participating states to explore mutually beneficial approaches to ensure the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes proceeds in a manner that is efficient and meets the highest standards of safety, security and non-proliferation. Canada joined IFNEC in November 2007 when it was known as the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). For more information, please visit

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