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.

 

 

4 Responses to “The Western Nuclear Reports: Part I”

  1. Steve Aplin Says:

    There’s too much emphasis on large reactors in both reports, even though there’s room for probably only one 1,000 MW machine in all of western Canada.

    The Saskatchewan report does give a brief overview of small reactors, which is on the right track. Small reactors are the way to go in western Canada, and I agree that their role is synergistic with coal-fired power plants.

    The problem with CCS is the “S”—i.e., sequestration. There’s no way we can pump fifty million tonnes of CO2 (Alberta’s annual coal-generation emissions) underground, year after year.

    Rather, we should start thinking about CCR: carbon capture and recycle. i.e., use the captured CO2 as the carbon component in synthetic hydrocarbon fuel.

    The hydrogen component would come from water splitting, which is where nuclear power enters the picture.

    Nuclear hydrogen could and should take over from methane-derived hydrogen (the incumbent process). That would chop the lifecycle carbon emissions associated with oilsands petroleum, plus make coal-plant carbon from Alberta and Saskatchewan a valuable resource—in synthetic hydrocarbon fuel—rather than an expensive waste.

  2. Don Jones Says:

    AREVA and Bruce Power have far too much influence out west pushing oversize reactors. What happened to AECL’s CANDU 3 (450 MWe) design that was meant for Saskatchewan. India has state of the art 220 MWe units that it wants to export all over south east Asia so why not out west for grid generation and oil sands support. At least they are PHWRs so our equipment suppliers would be happy. According to news reports India will exchange a 220 or 540 MW unit for uranium from Kazakhstan

  3. Dr Singh Says:

    Steve, Don.
    Almost all <900MW reactors in US, France, Germany, Japan etc have been shutdown, or will soon. There are indeed economies of scale. Usually bigger plants are newer, safer, higher burnup thus less fuel and waste, and since about same num of people needed to operate as smaller plant – cheaper.

    Sask decided against nuclear, and CANDU 3 was cancelled (since little market for it). India’s PHWR are hardly “state of the art”, being derived from early CANDU like NPD and Pickering A. And, India doesn’t have “540 MW” designs, yet, having recently started twin 440MW at Tarpur uprated to 490MW.

    Finally, I doubt they are so desperate for Uranium, since they have U/Pu processing facilities and developing Thorium cycle (they have huge reserves).

  4. Randal Leavitt Says:

    Asking a panel to produce a report is so out of date. Use a moderated wiki, or create a web portal that gets updated based on submitted comments. Set up a routine to generate a printed document (dated and version numbered of course) of the content that has been accepted. Use wikipedia as a model. The nuclear industry always seems to be lost on another planet whenever public relations is involved.


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