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.


3 Responses to “The Western Nuclear Reports: II Hiding the Warts”

  1. Dr Singh Says:

    I’ve already made dozens of comments on the whole Sask/Alberta nuclear ordeal at

    But to quickly summarize: Sask is tiny ~3000MW power island with virtually no interconnects, and old CANDU3 proposal fell through for good reasons – stick to mining. Alberta good for power to replace the dirt cheap coal, if there are carbon credits/tax. For tar sands, I dont think ACR1000 is good choice.

    Click to access ACR1000-Tech-Summary.pdf

    outlet temp ~300C

    And for hydrogen production:
    Commercial bulk hydrogen is usually produced by the steam reforming of fossil fuels such asnatural gas, gasoline, … At high temperatures (700–1100 °C), steam (H2O) reacts with methane (CH4) to yield syngas.

    CH4 + H2O → CO + 3 H2 + 191.7 kJ/mol[1]

    thus, only Gen4 reactors like VHTR, GCR like ITR, and MSR are suitable (each with outlet temp in 800C-1000C range). And although pebble bed reactors can be small modular and cheap, its difficult to remove and reprocess the fuel which like current designs, only fraction of energy is extracted.

    I personally like the MSR and Lead fast reactor designs because of closed (or nearly) fuel cycle.

  2. Steve Aplin Says:

    Exactly, referring to de facto decommissioned reactors as “laid up” and laid up reactors as “operating” leaves the industry open to charges that they’re glossing over important subjects. I’m not sure that’s the industry’s fault though. Either the panel members don’t keep track of the Ontario fleet or the actual writing of the report was a committee effort in which these little details got lost—maybe both.

    Either way, as you point out the upshot is that anybody who is against nuclear power in Alberta can now accuse the government of being less than up front about issues that have characterized the debate in other provinces.

    And meanwhile Ontario is a textbook, real-world, real-time example of the carbon reductions that are possible when nuclear is added into a power system that already contains significant fossil generation.

    In addition to getting the facts straight about nuclear power in the rest of Canada, the Alberta report could also have benefited from at least a sentence about the carbon reductions in Ontario since the Pickering and Bruce units started coming back after 2003. After all, Alberta is almost entirely fossil powered, and that is the reason there was a report on this in the first place.

  3. Dr Singh Says:

    in ’97 about half of Ontario reactors were “voluntarily” shutdown, in Hydro plan to correct safety complacency and poor performance. Few years later, 2 of the 4 Pickering A reactors were refurbished at cost of about $1billion each – their operating life extended to about 2025. It was decided, it would not be economical to refurbish units 2 and 3.

    Worthwhile? I wont go into gory details of Pickering LOC (pipe burst) incidents in the 80’s, or the pipe spacer problem. Lets let the capability factors decide:
    PickA PickB Darl
    ’08 71.8 71.4 94.5
    ’07 41.3 75.0 89.5
    ’06 72.0 75.2 88.7
    ’05 69.9 77.7 90.6
    ’04 75.7 69.8 88.2
    ’03 70.3 69.0 82.9 *one A reactor

    Now, I’m quite sure Ontario was reassured in 60’s, when it went ahead with CANDU construction, that “mid”-life refurbishment would be relatively simple and that the capital costs are spread over some 50+ years (ie operating life including refurbishment). Thus, those capability factors are misleading and would really be half that for Pickering A.

    Whats my point? Whether Alberta or Ontario go with ACR-1000, will it be worthwhile investment? And the limited post refurb performance of Pickering A is not encouraging.
    What reassurance do we have that ACR-1000 slightly thicker pipes and higher pressure will result in better reliability – 90%+ capability factor and full 60+ year operating life.

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