Providing an Alternative to Carbon-Based Energy in Trying Times
With all of the economic challenges the world is facing, one of the most important revolves around the production of energy. It not only helps drive our economy but also provides the lights for our schools where our future leaders are being educated.
Even with the downturn in our economy, electricity demand is expected to double by 2030. It is predicted that the increase will be the greatest in developing economies.
These demands leave all of us with a serious challenge. Energy must be found and delivered but it has to be safe, reliable, affordable and environmentally sustainable. The environmental challenge is particularly vexing.
Our continued reliance on fossil fuels comes with myriad of costs, many of them measurable. Those costs include the exhaustion of natural resources and the reliance on countries for resources that have governments with political positions that are anathema to the West. There are also the challenges that fossil fuels bring, related to air pollution and the warming of the Earth. These problems are particularly acute in China and Russia.
No single energy source offers the perfect solution to these economic and environmental costs, many of which are rising. Renewable options such as wind, water and solar are increasing in their popularity, in part because they are “cleaner” alternatives. However, their intermittent nature cannot today provide the necessary energy to meet all industrial and residential demands.
One re-emerging and viable solution to this problem is nuclear power, which has lost favor in the United States over the last two decades. President Obama discussed the need for nuclear power while campaigning for the presidency.
The issue of plant safety, including the fear of radioactivity, especially as a terrorist threat, is on many people’s minds. However, most of the alternatives used to generate electricity carry similar but different risks.
There can be little question that nuclear power delivers large amounts of electricity without generating greenhouse gas emissions or toxic air pollutants. That is one of the reasons it is being used as an alternative for generating power, domestically and abroad.
The status of nuclear power as a reliable, cost-effective and environmentally appropriate technology for electricity production is growing and these benefits are becoming even more compelling as the Earth continues to warm.
In part because of safety concerns, the nuclear industry is one of the most highly regulated industries in the world. It has strict licensing requirements for construction, operation and decommissioning of all operations. The industry also holds itself accountable through international organizations such as the World Association of Nuclear Operators and the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations.
Since 2001, the Nuclear Energy Institute reports that U.S. nuclear power plants have achieved the lowest production costs amongst coal, natural gas and petroleum.
Taking the lead in the production of nuclear power is Cameco Corporation, headquartered in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. The company, whose president and chief operating officer is Gerald Grandey, celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2008.
Cameco is “committed to improving our performance and demonstrating environmental leadership — an objective that causes us to look at our impact on the environment and strive for continued improvement,” said Grandey, who joined the company as a senior vice president for marketing and development in the early 1990s. “We do this, even though we have complied with regulatory standards for many years.” He became President and CEO in 2003.
On a global scale, it is estimated that in comparison with coal-fired generation, nuclear reduces carbon dioxide emissions by about 2.5 billion tons per year.
Cameco is one of the world’s largest uranium producers accounting for nearly 20 percent of world production from its mines in Canada and the U.S., and operations in Kazakhstan. Its philosophy is that “no job is so important that we cannot take the time to do it safely.”
Grandey, a California native who graduated from the Colorado School of Mines with a degree in geophysical engineering stressed, “in advancing our nuclear energy business, we help create opportunities and wealth that allow future generations to advance and prosper as our generation has.” A former lawyer who practiced in Denver after graduating from Northwestern University Law School, he added, “as we pursue our current activities, we preserve choices so that those future generations are able to address the challenges and opportunities that they will face in a sustainable way.”
One opportunity that Grandey helped negotiate was an agreement with Russia to market highly enriched uranium (HEU) from dismantled Soviet-era weapons. The equivalent of 13,000 warheads have been recycled into fuel for electricity generation under a “megatons to megawatts” program.
Cameco has controlling ownership of the world’s largest high-grade reserves and low-cost operations in northern Saskatchewan with ore grades up to 100 times the world average. Cameco has uranium refining, conversion and fuel manufacturing operations, as well as a partnership in Bruce Power, North America’s largest nuclear generating station located 150 miles northwest of Toronto.
As we conduct ourselves in accordance with these principles and our values, we will maintain our social license to operate and will deliver, in a sustainable manner, the significant benefits of nuclear energy to people around the world.”
The company stresses that sustainability drives its decisions as it expands its involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle. It is developing uranium mines in Canada and Central Asia, and pursuing exploration opportunities throughout the world.
According to Cameco, sustainable development is simply “meeting the needs of our stakeholders today, while preserving choices for future generations to meet their needs.” The company lists four key measurers of success concerning its governance and management practices.
Cameco believes that sustainable development requires economic, environmental and social responsibility, as well as a strong commitment to governance and management. The company organizes its sustainable development indicators around its governance practices as well as its measures of success. “We will only pursue those investment opportunities that can meet all four of our measures of success,” stated Grandey, “a safe healthy and rewarding workplace, a clean environment, supportive communities and outstanding financial performance.” Cameco sees such development as an integral component to the way it does business.
The company’s sustainable development report, plays an important role in helping the company communicate with its key stakeholders, monitor and measure its performance, and ensure accountability in all areas of its business. The 2008 Report documented how well the company did in regards to its governance and management practices and four key measures of success.
In an effort to address the information needs of Cameco’s key stakeholder groups, the company hired Canadian Business for Social Responsibility to gather and collate feedback from company stakeholders through interviews and focus groups. Cameco plans to use the results and recommendations to improve reporting in the future.
“We look to sustainable development as a means of aligning, communicating and measuring our priorities,” said Victor Zaleschuk, Cameco chair. “But the test of sustainability does not stop there. Cameco sees sustainable development as a means for holding ourselves accountable for the long-term consequences of our operations.”
The company chose 23 key performance indicators to build on for sustainable development reporting. The company’s leadership, including Zaleschuk who joined Cameco’s board of directors in 2001, feels that these are the appropriate parameters at this stage in its sustainable development program.
Cameco increased the amount spent on corporate donations and sponsorships from $1.98 million in 2005 to more than $5.5 million in 2008. “We want to increase employment and business opportunities, but also support programs that enhance health and social infrastructure,” said Grandey. Cameco is supporting “the Northumberland Hospital in Ontario, St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation in Saskatoon, the Ile-a-la-Crosse Health Centre and High School in northern Saskatchewan and Cameco’s annual employee giving campaign.”
The continued increase in net earnings has made it possible to increase the corporate investment budget annually with major investments in education and literacy, health and wellness, youth and community development. Each year Cameco targets one percent of forecasted net earnings to go toward community investment initiatives.
Cameco strives to provide significant employment and economic benefits that come from its activities for communities near its operating sites. The company’s community investment program encompasses relationships with dozens of communities in Canada, Australia, the U.S. and Central Asia.
It is the company’s fundamental belief that supportive communities are a key measure of its long-term success. Cameco and its employees support hundreds of community projects. The company believes that taken together, these acts of community investment - large and small - make a difference.
Cameco focuses on education and literacy as a priority of community investment. This is demonstrated across a spectrum of learning, supporting projects from preschool to high school and throughout the community.
The company assisting post-secondary education with a $3 million contribution to the University of Saskatchewan (U of S), the largest single donation that the company ever has made. In 1995, the company invested $1.5 million to establish a Cameco chair in aqueous and environmental geochemistry at the U of S.
Cameco research chair Jim Hendry is studying the long-term behavior of elements such as arsenic and radium within mine tailings facilities. While the company benefits from the research, Hendry’s findings are important to other mining companies as well. Canada’s only synchrotron machine is located at the U of S and Hendry has been able to use the facility to study how elements bind together with other minerals at the molecular level.
Cameco feels that these contributions reflect its belief that the university’s success is an integral component of community success. This success is not just local, but provincial and national.
The company also supports a range of scholarships, amateur sports events, arts and cultural pursuits, community festivals and training programs. In Saskatoon, for example, Cameco took the lead in the Royal University Hospital Foundation’s Royal Care campaign with a $1.5 million contribution which will fund several initiatives, including the first Chair in Aboriginal Medicine.
In Port Hope, Ontario, company donations helped expand the Public Library’s Local History Room and created the Cameco Room as part of the Capital Arts Centre restoration project.
Strengthening local economies is also part of community development. When an economic development summit was planned for the Athabasca region, Cameco was a co-sponsor. When Pinehouse was recognized as a leading northern community committed to sustainable economic development, part of the celebrations involved the recognition of 31 Cameco employees for their leadership in community achievement.
In 2004 Cameco launched its first employee giving campaign. The company matched eligible employee donations dollar-for-dollar, doubling the impact of the generosity of its staff. In five years more than $1.5 million has been raised in support of registered charities across Canada and the United States. Many Cameco employees help drive community fundraising campaigns, volunteering in a variety of capacities to help the organizations the company supports.
This dedication of company staff support combines with financial contributions to demonstrate the company’s commitment to be a good corporate citizen. Cameco strives to provide significant employment and economic benefits that come from its activities for communities near its operating sites.
Grandey sees this involvement in the community going hand-in-hand with the company’s commitment to be a strong environmental steward. “Environmental leadership is important because nuclear energy is increasingly seen as a clean source of abundant energy,” he said. “We want to make sure that our participation in the industry - from exploration to the generation of electricity - is both clean and sustainable.”
In tying this concern about protecting the environment with its commitment to communities near Cameco facilities, Grandey concluded, “our customers, communities, other stakeholders, and shareholders expect no less. Of course, we know that all human activity has impacts and our operations are no exception. The key is to constantly ask ourselves how we can do better.”