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[cdn-nucl-l] ITER in the Toronto Star
From the Toronto Star, Feb 22, 2001
Clarington plan could mean stake in cheap electricity
THE CITIES - David Lewis Stein
NEVER MIND what the Olympics might do for Toronto. Look at what Iter might
do for Clarington - and the world.
Iter stands for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor.
Clarington, on the eastern reaches of Greater Toronto, is an amalgamation of
small towns that look as though they haven't changed since the 1940s. But
Clarington could become home to this 21st century experiment.
The Olympics would last three weeks. Iter could blast way for 28 years. The
Olympics would give us a handsome new Toronto waterfront. Iter could give us
a stake in producing cheap, pollution-free electricity.
The Olympics are the game of old Toronto power brokers, creating wealth
through public investments in infrastructure that raises the value of land.
Iter is the future, creating wealth through public investment in brains.
But, please, I don't want to badmouth the Olympics. I remember being in
Atlanta when that city boomed with preparations for the '96 Games and
Toronto was caught in in a grinding recession. So good luck to the Olympics.
But I think in the long run, Iter could to more for us.
``This is where it would go,'' Clarington Mayor John Mutton says proudly.
``We think we've to an ideal site.'' It's hard to believe this patch of
slush we are driving over is being valued at $1 billion.
But it lies between the massive grey blocks of the Darlington Nuclear
Generating plant and the massive grey silos of a cement company. The cement
company has docks that can handle ships bringing equipment down the St.
Lawrence Seaway; Darlington supplies electrical power.
Darlington is an old-style nuclear reactor - providing heat when atoms
coming apart. Iter provides heat when fusing atoms together.
Fission reactors like Darlington leave a dangerous residue. Fusion reactors
produce only harmless helium - if they work.
Fusion is the holy grail of energy production. Scientists have spent 50
years and billions of dollars trying to make fusion practical for commercial
use - to provide a virtually perpetual source of electricity. The Clarington
reactor would be the latest attempt.
The project would cost $6 billion to build and another $6 billion to operate
for the 20 years that experiments are expected to last. It's an
international partnership between Russia, Japan and Europe, with Canada
counted as part of the European contingent. The three partners have to agree
on a site.
For us, this Iter bid is one of those strange hybrid beasties, a
public-private partnership. These deals usually make me nervous. It always
seems private partners get their money up front while the public partners,
us, have to wait a long time.
Indeed, the waterfront/Olympics gravy train has already left the station.
Toronto is contributing $2.1 billion (matching contributions from Ottawa and
Queen's Park) for waterfront studies. Included in that - never mind the
budget crunch - Toronto is contributing to a $300,000 ``three-dimensional
tool for planning and displaying plans for the waterfront build out'' and a
$30,000 study on ``the impact of casinos,'' though voters turned down
casinos in a 1997 referendum.
For Iter, a Canadian underwriter would market $1 billion worth of bonds to
be guaranteed by the three partners; Canada would be credited with $1
billion for providing the site.
It would take eight years to build and a staff of 800 to operate, with
scientists coming from around the world to work there.
If the experiment works, the next step will be commercial fusion reactors.
We will be in at the beginning of this new technology.
And - this is really neat - Iter requires large amounts of tritium, which is
essentially radioactive water. We just happen to have large amounts of
tritium left over from Darlington and other plants.
So we get to sell them the tritium - and we get to sell them electricity to
run the place.
The logistics are mind boggling. Iter uses a tokamak reactor developed in
Russia. It has to get up temperatures of 100 million degrees C. to get
fusion going. But magnetic coils that hold particles in place have to be
cooled down to within a couple of degrees of absolute zero.
A big problem with fusion reactors is that they tend to eat up more
electricity than they produce. Iter would require enough power to meet the
needs of the city of Barrie - and we get to sell all that power to Iter.
So what will it cost us to gain all these goodies? About $303 million up
front. Ottawa and Queen's Park have already thrown in $3 million to get
things going and Peter Barnard, the president of Iter Canada, says he may
need as much as $300 million ``seed money'' from Ontario.
Would it be worth it? As with the Olympics, there are many rivers to cross.
Japan and France are also offering sites.
But Iter is catching on. Barnard will address the Empire Club next week and
tickets have already sold out.
The Olympics start to look like a lavish kissoff to the 20th century. Iter
looks like the 21st century.