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The fork stuck: nuclear power in Canada is dead December 21, 2009

Posted by Maury Markowitz in AECL, nuclear.
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I guess Mr. Harper reads this blog after all… on Thrusday the government stated that AECL’s reactor business is officially on the block. Here’s a pithy quote that puts it all in perspective:

“The Government of Canada is open to a range of options up to, and including, (an outside investment of) 100 per cent,” said Jocelyne Turner, spokeswoman for Natural Resources Canada, which oversees the federal nuclear file.

Well that’s that

We knew they were thinking about a sell-off as far back as May, but at that time there were still a few hail-mary possibilities out there. All of the outside proposals for ACR, which really boiled down to England, were already dead, so everyone was waiting to see what would happen locally.

And this is what happened: Ontario canceled Darlington B in June, Energy Alberta/Bruce Power’s proposal for the tar sands went nowhere, and on December 17, SaskPower canceled their plans as well. The For Sale sign went up within moments.

So that’s basically that. Our 50-year $30 billion experiment with nuclear is going the way of the dodo. What’s surprising is the total lack of public interest one way or the other. Barely a snarky letter to the papers, let alone any editorial caterwauling.

No one cares, not even the bidders – the current price is apparently on the order of $300 million. Considering they received well over a billion in funding this year to keep the lights on, it doesn’t seem like much of a bargain.

Now what?

The nuclear supporters out there who read this far have probably already dismissed me as some granola-crunching anti-nuclear long-hair, so I’ll state again that I fully support nuclear power as an energy source. What I don’t support is uneconomical power, and nuclear energy is uneconomical by any measure.

Darlington B was going to cost over $8 a watt ($26 billion, 3.2 GW). We can build a dam on any one of James Bay’s underdeveloped routes for $2 a watt or less, and the wire to get it to Toronto is a rounding error. There’s more undeveloped power in James Bay than all of the coal and nuclear power in Ontario – we’re near peak power right now at about 19 GW draw, and there’s 16 GW undeveloped on James Bay. And that’s ignoring the 10 GW in Manitoba and Labrador, and about 25 GW in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

If  we tap out all of these abundant and cheap sources, well then sure, bring on the nukes! But that’s a long time in the future. And that gives us lots of time to figure out other solutions too. Heck, fully installed building-integrated PV is around $7 a watt and doesn’t have nasty isotopes. The capital costs of nuclear plants are so high that they have to pay off over decades, and given the amount of money being dumped into new energy sources as we speak, do you really think that we’re not going to be able to beat $8 a watt in the next 50 years?

I don’t. And in the meantime we already have plenty of power to draw on. This just isn’t the time to be dumping billions of dollars of my money into reactor design. End of story – and so the story ends.

NOTE: Years after writing this I noticed a problem. The AECL bid for Darlington B was for a total of 2.4 GWe, not 3.2. That made the price over $10 a Watt, three times the limit the Ministry had set for starting construction.

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Comments»

1. Tom Andersen - December 23, 2009

It seems that this will actually open the doors for more nuclear power in Canada, as it is now going to be easier to buy from American companies. The price and its uncertainty for nuclear is going down as they get more modern installs under their belt. The hydro sounds better, but we may not be able to get a deal worked out with natives/environmental issues. Whatever the solution, it needs to be started soon.

Then again – the environment seems like its on the back burner now – “we need to save the environment no matter what”. Example: – they want to shut down a coal plant in Ontario and start ripping up wetlands to burn peat!. These are the sort of plans that can only be dreamt up by politicians. Large multi GW hydro projects are hard on the environment too.

My prediction is that the current Ontario nuclear sites will be refurbished in about 10 – 20 years with new units. There will also be more hydro. Much of North America needs no additional GW over the next 20 years, as efficiency still has a ways to go. But then there is the electric car thing – if they take off we will need more power.

–Tom


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