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Nuclear plants needed: Duncan

Buying CANDU not a certainty
Energy report set for December

Toronto Star - August 20, 2005
by Richard Brennan — Queen's Park Bureau


Ontario needs more nuclear power plants and will soon have to decide how many and where new reactors should be built, Ontario Energy Minister Dwight Duncan says.

"I think the people of Ontario need to know that that decision is coming quickly ... clearly we have to look seriously at nuclear. There is no doubt it," he told the Toronto Star yesterday.

Duncan said the existing nuclear reactors, which produce about 50 per cent of the province's power, will reach the end of their life expectancy by 2020, putting Ontario's energy future even further into question.

And since it takes 12 to 15 years to complete a nuclear facility, costing billions of dollars, time is of the essence, the minister said.

Ontario Power Generation owns 15 operating reactors in the province, with the newest being Darlington, completed in 1993.Duncan said the province needs to have a larger base of generating power to meet its needs, "and nuclear is an important component of that."

It was Duncan's strongest statement yet on the need for nuclear power. Before he would say only that Ontario is looking at a mix of power that could include nuclear.

Duncan said he realizes nuclear power is "very controversial" given the history of huge cost overruns and the obvious environmental concerns. However, an Ipsos-Reid national opinion poll commissioned last year by the Canadian Nuclear Association, a non-profit industry organization, found support in Ontario for atomic power to be 64 per cent of 800 people surveyed, the highest in the country.

Duncan did stress the province must first make the best of hydro electricity, renewable forms of energy generation as well as conservation, "but there are clear limitations about what we can do (in these areas)."

The Ontario Power Authority, which has been directed to come up with an integrated system plan to ensure long-term supply, is to report to the government this December. The OPA is to hold public consultation throughout the fall. "Should the province decide to go ahead with new nuclear, the bigger and tougher questions are where do they go, how many, who owns them, who operates them ... and the final question — what technology do we used," the energy minister said.

Other sources have said there is no guarantee that Ontario will go for the Canadian-made CANDU reactors, and privately OPG says it would rather go for anything but. The CANDU nuclear reactor is Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.'s flagship product.

"We really look forward to being part of the process in Ontario as the province looks at its mix of generating types. We obviously supported the concept of nuclear being part of that," said Pat Tighe, AECL's vice-president of marketing and business development, adding the company is ready to take on the competition.

Duncan has hinted many times, as has Premier Dalton McGuinty, that more nuclear plants are a possibility, but Duncan said it's more like a probability if the province is going to be able to meet its energy needs.

Recently speaking to reporters in Banff, Alberta., McGuinty said: "We are not ruling out new nuclear, but we are ruling out uneconomical old nuclear wherever we find it."

While this notion will not sit sell well with a lot of environmentalists, NDP Leader Howard Hampton said the Liberal government is at least finally coming clean on nuclear power.

"This is where they have been headed all along. They deliberately avoided an energy efficiency strategy," Hampton said, accusing the government of making a "token" effort on conservation and developing renewable forms of energy.

Hampton said it would cost about "$8 billion a pop" to build a nuclear power plant big enough to produce significant amounts of electricity.

"What we need is a province-wide energy efficiency strategy, something the government could have started two years ago."

Dave Martin, energy co-ordinator for Greenpeace Canada, said nuclear power in Ontario has been an "unmitigated disaster" because he says the plants are costly and unreliable, noting that at one point seven of Ontario's 20 reactors were shut down. "It was the largest shutdown of nuclear plants in world history," he said.

Martin said throwing more money into nuclear power will inevitably mean less money spent on conservation and renewable forms of energy.

When the Darlington nuclear complex was completed in 1993, it was about 10 years overdue and $12 billion over budget. It would take two 3,500 megawatt facilities the size of Darlington to replace the power now being generated by coal-fired plants slated to close by 2009.

Martin accused the government, OPG and Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) of being part of a conspiracy to overstate Ontario's energy crunch in order to justify building more nuclear reactors.

Ontario has been struggling at times to keep the lights on this summer. On high demand days, the province needs 25,000 megawatts of power, of which 3,000 megawatts are likely to be imported, mostly from the U.S.

And because of the strain on the system several times this summer, supplies have been so tight power system operators imposed brownouts to avert the need for rolling blackouts.

The situation took a turn for the worse when OPG recently announced that two nuclear reactors at the Pickering A generating station — mothballed in the 1990s — weren't worth fixing, scratching more than 1,000 megawatts of generating capacity off its list of potential power sources.

OPG has already spent $2.6 billion restoring Units One and Four to service at Pickering; Unit Four is operating, and Unit One is expected back in service by October. OPG's board originally thought it would cost $1.3 billion to return all four reactors to service.

OPG is also set to enter into a contract of more than $2 billion to restart two idle reactors with a combined capacity of more than 1,500 megawatts at the Bruce nuclear station near Kincardine, operated by privately owned Bruce Power.

Tom Adams, of Energy Probe, an industry watchdog, accused the Liberal government of being "detached from reality." "This (nuclear) is not a solution to their problem ... it's not the way to go," he said.

Conservative MPP John Baird (Nepean-Carleton) said the government seems to have forgotten about the "culture of conservation they talked about ... they have been dithering for two years.

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