Nuclear discussion

By Andrew Sedor

Since 2001, Alberta’s demand for power has grown at the same rate as it would adding two cities the size of Red Deer every year.

As gas and oil prices rise along with greenhouse gases, electricity companies are trying to find ways to provide Alberta clean energy that doesn’t restrain economic growth.

This summer Energy Alberta president Wayne Henuset proposed to open the first nuclear power plant in western Canada by 2017. The purposed twin-unit CANDU reactors would be located thirty kilometers west of Peace River, Alberta to support the expansion of oilsands development. The reactors would produce 2,200 megawatts of energy.

Alberta Energy’s website states, “our mission is to provide clean, emission-free energy, utilizing advanced and proven nuclear technology to supply oilsands operators and the province of Alberta with a reliable flow of electricity at a competitive cost.”

University of Calgary’s chair in business ethics Gregory Daneke explained that although nuclear energy does give off the least amount of carbon dioxide, it still poses a threat to the environment because of its by-product of toxic waste.

“No country on the planet has figured out a long-term solution for nuclear waste,” he said.

Spent fuel from CANDU reactors contains over 200 deadly radioactive elements including uranium, plutonium, cesium and strontium, according to the Sierra Club of Canada’s website. The by-products can have half-lives of up to 15.8 million years.

“Passing that nuclear waste onto future generations is not responsible,” explained Pembina Institute executive director Marlo Raynolds.

Henuset disagreed, stating that 95 per cent of the fuel can be refurbished for future use, claiming the amount of waste produced after 30 years would only be the size of a two-car garage and would contain a minimal amount of radiation.

“The nuclear waste goes in cooling pools and, after 10 years, the radiation drops out of it,” said Henuset. “After 10 years you can handle it and you won’t die.”

Henuset also mentioned the CANDU reactor has not caused a single death in its history.

“1,400 hundred were killed in Chinese coal mines last year, and that’s a lot worse than all nuclear accidents that have ever occurred,” said Daneke.

Emissions from the Alberta oilsands projects are expected to increase to 135-165 million tonnes per year by 2018, compared with less than 30 million tonnes in 2001, according to a study by an energy research group at Uppsala University in Sweden.

“It’s a bit of a catch-22 because we are trying to emit less carbon dioxide by building nuclear power plants, but we’re building the nuclear power plant to increase extraction oil and gas,” said Daneke.

Besides being environmentally friendly, Henuset suggested nuclear power is also the economical choice for Albertans, providing a stable source of energy, noting that one fuel bundle is equivalent to 400 tonnes of coal.

The nuclear industry generates $700 million each year in federal income and sales tax, and contributes almost $6 billion annually to the GDP, according to Alberta Energy’s website.

Although nuclear power is cheap to generate once you have everything in place, the government has to subsidize the waste disposal and the building of the plant. Daneke explained it may seem cheaper on your utility bill, but if the plant is subsidized, taxpayers will end up paying for it.

“The industry is not going to charge you for waste disposal in your bill, but what this means is that they are not going to pay for it either,” said Daneke. “It’s up to the government to subsidize waste disposal programs.”

In the July issue of Oilweek magazine, U of C professor Michal Moore suggested that it wouldn’t be possible to privately finance a nuclear power plant without government subsidies.

“The insurance risk is too high,” said Moore in the interview. “The variable costs are too high. We don’t have the engineering product down pat enough in North America. There are too many competing designs and too many design changes mid-stream. Private financing looks for something that is high-risk with immediate payoff or something where the risk is diminished but growth is assured. Most existing designs don’t lend themselves to this, if only because they encounter unexpected turns in the regulatory process.”

Although nuclear power would be new to western Canada, according to Henuset it makes up 56 per cent of the electricity generated in Ontario.

“It costs Ontario billions and billions of dollars and taxpayers billions and billions of dollars,” said Raynolds.

Raynolds explained researching carbon capture and sequestration CCS could cut emissions from coal power plants by 60-70 per cent by 2020, and suggested more research should be done into solar energy.

“If we were to invest the money we have spent on nuclear research into solar energy research, we would be much further ahead,” said Raynolds.

Daneke said he believes nuclear energy probably will be implemented into the oilsands due to high demand for oil and gas.

“If nuclear power is safe, reliable, efficient and we have a plan for disposing the waste, then why don’t we already have it?” he asked.

Henuset claimed the province public dissidence rate is only 24 per cent against local nuclear power.

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