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:
The Saskatchewan report is at:
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.