The Western Nuclear Reports: II Hiding the Warts

The nuclear industry wants to engage the public in a discussion of the controversial issue of nuclear power for Saskatchewan and Alberta. To do this effectively it has to confront the negative aspects of its pitch right out front at the beginning. That gives the industry the chance to spin the story the way they want it and with luck to set the agenda for future discussions. The worst strategy is to let the opponents of nuclear power and the media “discover” the negatives through a series of bogus sensational revelations. This is exactly what the industry proponents have set themselves up for in these reports.

 

You’d think that if the stated purpose was to provide background information on nuclear power for the people in the province, the Alberta report would have a comprehensive discussion of the experience of the other Canadian nuclear provinces. The following (with the exception of a few comments on nuclear waste disposal in Ontario) is all that is said in 60 pages.

 

“Canada has a total of 22 nuclear power reactors currently in service of which 20 are in Ontario (with 18 operating and 2 in a laid-up state and 1 in each of Quebec and New Brunswick  …”

 

I suppose one could justify this sentence by strenuous spinning around the definition of words “operating” and “laid-up” but in my opinion the net result is a misleading statement. The report implies Pickering 2 and 3 are “laid-up” Do they really believe these reactors will ever operate again? If so, the authors know something OPG doesn’t know.  As for the word “operating”, Bruce reactors 1 and 2 haven’t operated since 1997 and 1995 respectively and have been undergoing refurbishment since 2005. Bruce 3 is apparently also being retubed as an add-on to the repairs at Bruce 1 and 2. The New Brunswick reactor, Pt. Lepreau, is being refurbished (behind schedule and over budget) and Quebec’s Gentilly II reactor is about to begin the process. The semantics of this quote is not my main point rather it’s selectively excluding information that should be in any report on this subject.  This is sure to come back to bite nuclear proponents in Alberta.

 

The Saskatchewan report is slightly more forthcoming. It does acknowledge that there’s a competition in Ontario to choose a vendor for two new reactors.  (By the way was calling the Westinghouse reactor the APR-1000 deliberate confusion in that paragraph?) It doesn’t mention the CANDU 3 episode whereby AECL agreed with the Saskatchewan government during the early 1990’s to design and perhaps build a small cut rate CANDU based at an office in Saskatoon. The project was cancelled by the provincial government after a few years. One might say, so what? Leaving out Saskatchewan’s past flirtation with nuclear electricity makes the report incomplete and more importantly, the story shows that nuclear projects are vulnerable to the vagaries of Saskatchewan politics, an effect also experienced in other provinces.

 

Needless to say the words: refurbishment, retubing and repair don’t occur in either report let alone the Ontario IIPA. Much is said about Alberta in the Saskatchewan report primarily as a market for surplus nuclear electricity since Saskatchewan’s requirements are perhaps too small to justify a nuclear station. However, Saskatchewan is mentioned in the Alberta report only as a uranium source.          

 

I firmly believe nuclear technology is needed in Canada’s energy mix and that it can stand on its own merits. In fact, the government of Ontario has decided to go forward with new reactors in full knowledge of the ups and downs of nuclear power in that province. In my opinion, glossing over issues and omitting pertinent information is a disservice to the people of Alberta and Saskatchewan who I feel would be justified in assigning low credibility to both these documents. They certainly don’t help the nuclear cause.

 

The Western Nuclear Reports: Part I

 

Two reports were released this month by the panels set up in Alberta and Saskatchewan to review nuclear issues. You can download the Alberta report at:  

 

http://www.energy.alberta.ca/Electricity/pdfs/NuclearPowerReport.pdf

 

The Saskatchewan report is at:

 

http://www.gov.sk.ca/adx/aspx/adxGetMedia.aspx?mediaId=767&PN=Shared

 

The Saskatchewan document is longer, more pleasingly designed and generally slicker over all.  An AREVA representative was an author on the Saskatchewan report and an AECL board member participated in writing the Alberta report. Westinghouse, the other putative reactor vendor to Canada, was not represented on either report which doesn’t seem fair. 

 

Taken together, these reports are very interesting because of their selectivity: the issues they chose to discuss and more importantly those they chose to ignore. They also provide excellent windows into the contemporary discussion on nuclear power.

 

As expected the bottom line recommendation in each report is to build power reactors.

 

The Saskatchewan report is called “Capturing the full potential of the uranium value chain in Saskatchewan”. Other than more investment in mining, the report rejects in large part any involvement in other aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle: no new initiatives in uranium conversion or enrichment, nuclear fuel fabrication, reprocessing of used nuclear fuel and a wait-and-see attitude toward hosting a nuclear waste repository. There are a couple of suggestions such as R&D on the SILEX laser enrichment process and a medical isotope production reactor (yikes!) but in general the report concludes there isn’t much for Saskatchewan to capture in the value chain.  How precisely building power reactors in Saskatchewan, as compared to building reactors anywhere else, would enhance the provincial “uranium value chain” is not well explained.   

 

The Alberta report uses more space constructing an energy hat from which to produce its nuclear rabbit. I thought the discussion of fossil fuels was worthwhile in itself. In doing so it recognizes that the big competition to nuclear power in the west consists of fossil fuel plants with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).  The aim of CSS is to mitigate climate change by preventing the carbon dioxide resulting from fossil fuel combustion from entering the atmosphere. If eventually proved practical and reasonably economic then CSS plus air pollution controls would make it feasible to continue operating coal and natural gas power plants with relatively small environmental damage. It seems the federal R&D investment in CSS is around $750M and so  one can debate whether nuclear power is seen as the backup for fossil fuel electricity generation  with CSS or vice versa.

 

The more I look at these reports the more problems I see making it worthwhile to dissect them in detail. I intend to do exactly that in a series of forthcoming posts.