Justin Trudeau made the comments Monday at a news conference in Victoria, during which he touted new and expanded green investments in last week’s federal budget.
“As we get off oil and gas, we’re going to need more electricity and I know there are a lot of brilliant innovators here in B.C. and across the country who are leaning in on that,” he told the crowd.
“We’re there to invest in a range of pathways so that we can make sure we’re not just protecting the planet but creating a strong and growing economy for years to come.”
The 2022 budget both expands the availability of zero-emission electric vehicles and charging stations, in addition to incentives for purchasing them.
The federal government plans to extend a current program that offers electric vehicle buyers up to $5,000 to help with purchases and will introduce mandatory sales targets that require 20 per cent of all vehicles sold by 2026 to be electric.
The sales target program will expand over the coming years, said Trudeau, with 60 per cent of vehicle sales being electric by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2035.
Ottawa will also invest $400 million over five years to expand charging infrastructure.
Asked by Global News, however, whether Canada’s path to meeting its domestic and international emissions targets includes nuclear power, Trudeau said, “Nuclear is on the table, absolutely.”
While the prime minister did not elaborate, the comments are encouraging to Taco Niet, as assistant professor at Simon Fraser University’s School of Sustainable Engineering.
Climate modelling by the school’s Delta E Plus Research Group has recently suggested B.C. can’t build enough hydroelectric dams to meet both its commitment, and Ottawa’s, to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
The province currently gets about 20 per cent of its energy from electricity, Niet explained, and in order to meet the targets, just about everything would need to be electrified, including transportation, homes and industry operations. That could take the equivalent of between 20 and 30 additional Site C Dams, he added.
“It’s a massive challenge,” he told Global News. “From an engineering perspective, we don’t want to eliminate any options because it sounds bad or solar panels have runoff of bad chemicals when we build them.”
Nuclear technology has improved substantially over the years, Niet noted, and governments must consider a suite of options, and the current available technology as they chart a course toward clean energy. He said he hopes a major breakthrough in fusion energy is on the horizon, but decision-makers cannot afford to wait for one.
“One of the things with nuclear that’s interesting as well is the fact that it produces heat, and a lot of our challenges are industrial heat, so there might be a really interesting synergy there.”
As it stands, about 15 per cent of Canada’s electricity comes from nuclear energy, with 18 reactors in Ontario and one in New Brunswick, according to Natural Resources Canada.
With files from The Canadian Press