Nice article ....
Thursday, September 27, 2007
OTTAWA -In years past officials from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. had to hop on planes and knock on doors to sell the virtues of the Crown agency's CANDU reactor, and persuade nations that nuclear power was the way to go to ensure a reliable source of electricity.
That's how Ken Petrunik, AECL's chief operating officer and a 40-year veteran of the nuclear industry, remembers it. "Today, it is the reverse," Mr. Petrunik said.
"We are now getting queries from countries and parties weekly. It really is a change in market dynamics. It is a bellwether," he said.
Once scorned, nuclear is experiencing a global renaissance, adored by public-policy makers and business leaders as a solution that ensures the lights stay on while carbon emissions go down.
"We simply cannot reduce greenhouse-gas emissions without some form of non-fossil fuel energy. Clearly, nuclear, more so than any other alternative energy source, is about the only viable option to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and keep the lights on," says Jayson Myers, president of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.
Yet longtime critics of nuclear power express caution about this latest love affair with atomic energy. "This renaissance is a completely political and public relations phenomenon," Tom Adams, a Toronto-based independent energy analyst said.
He says the public ends up financing nuclear mega-projects that often run awry, as was the case in Ontario.
"The nuclear industry is filled with multiple layers of subsidies. It is shielded from third-party liability, relies heavily on government-guaranteed loans and, in most cases, government guarantees captive customers to pay for the plant.
"All of that," he adds, "has the effect of concealing the investment risk."
Despite naysayers, nuclear appears to have hit the mainstream globally, and Canada is no exception. Currently, 18 reactors provide about 15% of Canada's power supply. And there's the potential for more.
A private consortium, which includes General Electric Corp. and AECL, is looking at building a second nuclear reactor in Point Lepreau, N.B. In Ontario, the Progressive Conservative party has pledged to accelerate the buildup of nuclear plants as part of its election campaign platform.
Even though energy is an area of provincial jurisdiction, it hasn't stopped Gary Lunn, the Natural Resources Minister, from talking up the nuclear power option and the environmental benefits it delivers.
But perhaps the biggest shot in the arm for the nuclear power industry is an application before federal regulators to build a reactor near Peace River, Alta. -- which, if approved, would mark the first time a nuclear plant is located west of the Ontario border.
Murray Elston, president of the Canadian Nuclear Association, says the Alberta application, by privately owned Energy Alberta Corp., indicates that nuclear power "has been accepted as a viable commercial proponent" in a province known for its endless supply of black gold.
Nuclear has emerged as a favoured energy option among policy makers for three main reasons: it has minimal greenhouse gas emissions, a top concern among western governments, including Canada; high energy prices, the result of China and India soaking up much of the world's fossil fuel supply in their industrial surge; and security of supply, given much of the world's oil and gas is located in high-risk geopolitical zones.
The global pull toward nuclear comes after nearly two decades of decline, largely due to the fallout from the 1986 accident in Chernobyl. In this age of environmental concern, the stats accompanying nuclear power are eyeopening: it is estimated a 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant cuts carbon output on an annual basis by up to seven million tonnes compared with a similar-sized coal plant. (One megawatt is enough power for a community of 1,000 people.)
In another stunning example of how nuclear has cleaned up its act, Patrick Moore, the man who cofounded Greenpeace to oppose nuclear testing, is now a spokesman for the industry.
Despite all these advantages, hurdles abound regarding nuclear power.
For the most part, environmentalists -- among the loudest voices calling on government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by amounts outlined in the Kyoto climate-change protocol -- reject nuclear as an option. This is in large part because of the radioactive waste generated and where that waste will be stored.
But of equal concern is the cost of building nuclear reactors, the time such construction takes and the bill taxpayers are eventually stuck with. In Ontario, nuclear projects gone awry, namely Darlington and Pickering, have in large part left that province's taxpayers on the hook for nearly $19-billion of electricity-related debt that they are paying down through a special charge on their local utility bills.
Moreover, critics such as Mr. Adams claim nuclear projects are often overbudget and delivered way behind schedule -- something the International Energy Agency acknowledges.
"We have little or no experience of nuclear power paying for itself," Mr. Adams said, noting that the only nuclear reactor currently being built in the western world, in Finland, is already over budget by a third and is 18 months behind schedule.
The IEA says that even under best-case scenarios, such as capital recovery in 25 years and an annual return on equity of 10% to 15%, the cost of producing nuclear energy remains more expensive than coal-fired plants.
"The market has spoken," Mr. Adams said, "and it has clearly indicated nuclear without subsidies can't cut it."
Mr. Elston of the nuclear association said cost overruns are indeed a concern. "The real issue is, 'Who is left holding the risk?' That's why the new policy is to share the risk among the proponents," he said, citing the public-private partnership at Ontario's Bruce nuclear complex as an example.
© National Post 2007