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[cdn-nucl-l] Toronto Star: New reactors vital for hydro system
It's about time Ontario media woke up to the impending crises.
The blackouts will affect also their printing presses and their journalists
and their editorial writers.
Hopefully, the Ontario government will make some important decisions on this
Toronto Star, Oct. 10, 2005. 01:00 AM
New reactors vital for hydro system
Ontario residents used a record amount of hydro power this summer. In fact,
they used far more than the province could actually produce. Even so,
pressures on the province's electrical system are expected to grow rapidly
in coming years. And that's despite a new emphasis on conservation.
The reason for the continuing growth is the steady increase in population in
the province, which is projected to rise by 3.1 million to 15.7 million by
2025, and an expanding economy. To meet that demand, Ontario must create
additional generating capacity and more transmission lines.
But that is not the province's main challenge. In the next 15 to 20 years,
Ontario must also replace more than two-thirds of its existing generating
capacity as our aging nuclear plants reach the end of their useful lives and
the government acts on its promise to close dirty coal-fired plants.
Thus the key question is: What kind of generators will the province choose
to replace such a huge loss of power?
To be sure, there will be greater reliance on wind, solar and other types of
clean, renewable power. Queen's Park has already set a target for renewable
energy to make up 5 per cent of the mix by 2007. It hopes for a 75-fold
increase in wind capacity alone. While that sounds like a lot of power, wind
turbines currently account for less than five-one-hundredths of 1 per cent
of Ontario's total generating capacity. Against the need to replace more
than 150,000 times that amount of capacity, renewables can be expected to
make only a modest, albeit a rising, contribution to supply.
Queen's Park is also looking to privately built gas-fired plants to help
close the gap. Accounting for just 8 per cent of existing capacity, natural
gas has the advantage of burning far cleaner than coal. Moreover, because
gas-fired plants can operate efficiently on a wide range of scales, they can
be situated close to the markets they will serve. The government has already
contracted with suppliers to build five small- to medium-size plants ranging
from 117 megawatts to 1,000 megawatts.
But that size advantage is also one of their major drawbacks. As the Star's
Peter Gorrie reported recently, there is widespread opposition in the
affected communities to both the plants and transmission lines they would
need. To the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) syndrome, add the very high cost of
natural gas and gas-fired plants lose much of their appeal.
As a result, natural gas can be counted on, at best, to replace only the 25
per cent of the province's generating capacity that now relies on coal.
But even if that were to happen, Ontario would still have a huge gap to
fill. That's because the largest single source of power in the generating
mix comes from the province's three massive nuclear sites.
Imports of clean hydropower from Manitoba and/or Quebec could close a part
of the gap if Queen's Park struck a long-term deal with one or both of our
neighbours. And a large federal contribution to the huge cost of building
the transmission lines needed to carry the electricity over such long
distances would make such an arrangement all the more feasible.
But even if we do tap in to our power-rich neighbours, Ontario still won't
have enough electricity to close the entire nuclear gap.
Unless ways can be found to burn coal cleanly, like it or not, nuclear power
will inevitably remain an essential part of the mix. It is clean, emissions
free, and despite the breakdowns and recurring problems at the Pickering,
Darlington and Bruce facilities, it has proven to be an affordable and, by
and large, a reliable energy source. Even with their problems, nuclear
plants generate about 50 per cent of all the province's electricity.
Opponents of the nuclear option point with considerable justification to the
still unresolved issues surrounding storage of nuclear waste; the
decommissioning costs that remain to be addressed; and to the huge cost
overruns during construction and repairs.
At the same time, though, critics have failed to identify a suitable
replacement for nuclear's big contribution that would preserve the essential
balance that Ontarians need in terms of the costs, risks and reliability of
the province's overall generating mix.
That's why nuclear power will remain a part of the mix for the foreseeable
future. The faster the Ontario government comes to that unavoidable
conclusion, the more assured our future electricity supplies will be.
Given the long lead times involved in planning and constructing new nuclear
reactors, the province cannot afford any further delays.