The nuclear association released a an independent study by the engineering firm Hatch, which compared greenhouse gas (GHG) and other emissions from nuclear power plants, wind farms, natural gas plants, and wind farms backed by natural gas plants.
"Ontario wisely chose to build an electrical system that is emissions-free," said Dr. John Barrett, President of the Canadian Nuclear Association. "This study shows that nuclear energy is a better environmental choice than either wind or natural gas."
Because wind farms cannot produce electricity reliably and predictably, they typically rely on gas plants to fill in their supply gaps. The Hatch study realistically estimated that wind farms generate only 20 percent of their capacity, leaving gas-fired plants to make up the remaining 80 percent.
"Natural gas is a fossil fuel," said Dr. Barrett. "To produce the same amount of electricity, a natural gas plant typically emits about 25 to 30 times as much greenhouse gas as a nuclear power plant."
Barrett added: "The combination of wind-plus-gas generates about 20 times more greenhouse gas than does nuclear. That's why nuclear energy offers far more environmental benefit than the combination of wind and gas power."
The nuclear association commissioned Hatch Ltd., the Toronto-based global management, engineering and consulting firm, to review a wide range of studies comparing the GHG performance of wind, gas and nuclear energy.
The studies looked at the technologies' full life cycles, an approach that includes mining and gas drilling, power-plant construction and operation, waste management and decommissioning.
Read the full Hatch report here: Review of Nuclear, Wind and Natural Gas Power Generation (pdf)
The Hatch study used a realistic estimate of 20 percent as the maximum proportion of wind farms' generating capacity that actually delivers electricity to the Canadian power grid, because the wind blows intermittently.
The analysis estimated nuclear power emitted 18.5 grams of greenhouse gases per kilowatt-hour (kWh) through the entire life cycle, compared to 385 grams per kWh for wind backed by natural gas.
"When considering wind backed by natural gas power (20%/80%) to compensate for intermittency, emissions from the modified grid mix closely resemble that of natural gas production, diluted by a low-emissions power source," the study noted.
"The implications for our energy policy are very clear," said Dr. Barrett. "Nuclear energy outperforms wind as a source of clean electricity for Canadians."
Hatch based its analysis on 246 life cycle assessment studies of considerable variety. Most studies were from North America or Europe, and all studies were conducted in or after the year 2000.