Saturday, August 1, 2020

Time Has Come Today

The 25 land-locked Inuit communities of Nunavut have a number of problems in common including, high food costs, a shortage of housing, and a reliance on diesel generators for power. Solving these problems would greatly improve their living conditions. If we could do it with a made-in-Canada solution that would be even better because it would allow us to demonstrate technological expertise that could be exported elsewhere. Fortunately we have this opportunity.

The first thing lacking in these northern communities is a way of growing fresh vegetables and, as a result, they have to pay exorbitant prices to have everything flown in. One obvious solution would be to build greenhouses and take advantage of the latest in hydroponic technology. With 24 hour sunlight in the summer months the crops could be growing day and night and in winter grow lights could be used instead. Mastering the challenges of operating a greenhouse in the north would also offer employment to its residents. A greenhouse in every community should be a priority.

A greenhouse also requires heat to operate and here is where reverse refrigeration/heat pumps come in. Instead of using warm air to cool a room you use cool air to heat it. These air-source heat pumps are already in use throughout Canadian homes and now there are also geothermal heat pumps that operate on the same principle by drawing heat from the ground. The extra cold air of these northern communities will put a strain on conventional heat pumps but refining this technology is where the opportunity lies for Canada. Refined heat pump technology could also be used to provide better heating for the homes of these residents who are suffering from poor ventilation and the effects of fuel oil and propane heating issues.

Even more serious than a lack of fresh produce is the lack of housing in the north where 36% of the population is waiting for housing, 34% of the housing is in need of major repairs, and more than 50% are living in overcrowded conditions which are contributing to shocking levels of tuberculosis. Yes it costs more to build in the north and there may be a lack of skilled trades so the most obvious solution would be to use pre-fabricated homes that could be constructed elsewhere and simply shipped to these communities for installation. Any time a mining company wants to set up an operation that's exactly what they do so why can't the government simply coordinate things? Each of these communities is accessible by ship during the summer when the ice breaks up so it isn't that difficult to deliver these pre-fab homes and there are numerous Canadian companies who already have the experience of building them. 

Energy use in the north is very different from the rest of the country in that it is completely dependent on refined oil that has to be imported from provinces in the south. 100% of the communities in Nunavut have to use diesel powered plants to generate their electricity. While some renewable options are being reviewed the biggest breakthrough for meeting its energy needs could come from nuclear power, specifically the new technology referred to as Small Modular Reactors or SMRs. Small enough to fit on the back of a truck or in a shipping container, and using new technologies that incorporate liquid salt or helium for cooling and passive built-in safety features, these nuclear reactors produce between 5 - 100 megawatts of electricity which is easily enough to power any of these communities that average only 2,000 inhabitants. 

Micro Modular Reactor Energy System

A partnership between Global First Power, an energy provider specializing in the project development of small nuclear power plants, Ultra Safe Nuclear, a company that has developed the Micro Modular Reactor technology, and Ontario Power Generation, a Crown corporation which produces half the power Ontario uses and operates both the Pickering and Darlington nuclear generating stations, is preparing to build a demonstration plant at an Atomic Energy Canada site. Nuclear energy is a clean, reliable, energy source and a key component to reducing greenhouse gas, something the environmental movement is finally starting to realize. Canada has long been a leader in this field and, with all the challenges in the North that SMRs could solve, this could be our opportunity to demonstrate leadership in an exciting new technology.

With the railway to Churchill now repaired and operating again and the Port re-opened, this strategically positioned city is perfectly positioned to be the delivery gateway to all these northern communities. Pre-fab housing, greenhouses, and SMRs could all be assembled and stored in Churchill during the winter and spring months and then loaded onto ships for delivery during the summer break-up. With global warming adding to the number of ice-free days in Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean it becomes even more cost effective. Solving the critical issues of the North offers so much potential for the people living there and the rest of Canada. The time has come today, let's seize the opportunity.