1) Nuclear power has a future

Morgan Brown
National Post
December 28, 2000

Anti-nuclear activist Larry Solomon needs to update, correct and clarify his statements (Nuclear Power No Defence Against a New Oil Crisis, Dec. 19).

Contrary to Mr. Solomon’s claim that only the Third World and Eastern Bloc countries are pursuing nuclear power, Japan and South Korea have ambitious reactor programs. South Africa is designing and preparing to build a new, higher-efficiency reactor. In France, where 75% of the electricity is nuclear-generated, the market is saturated so no more reactors are being built. But France is exporting a lot of electricity to the rest of Europe. Finland, the top- ranked nuclear operating nation, is seriously considering building a fifth reactor, having significantly upgraded its present ones. It is often stated that Sweden and Germany are abandoning nuclear power, but Sweden has halted the process, and Germany has developed a program that will allow the current reactors to operate to the end of their planned lives (more than 20 years from now).

Nuclear-generated electricity now supplies about 12% of Canada’s electrical generation requirements. Electricity production supplies only about 17% of our total annual primary energy needs, the rest being used for transportation, heating and industrial applications. Canadian nuclear plants have delivered enough electricity to our grids to supply Canadian electrical needs for three years at present consumption rates. That amount of electricity would have a value, at present wholesale rates, of approximately $47-billion.

Mr. Solomon claims Ontario’s electricity supply is vulnerable because of its use of nuclear-generated electricity; more than 40% comes from reactors. He said nine of Ontario’s 21 power reactors have produced no power for at least 21 months. There are only 20 power reactors in Ontario, and eight have been shut for periods of 32 to 64 months. The four shut reactors at Pickering are slated for restart over the next few years, after substantial upgrades are complete. Two of the shut Bruce reactors are being assessed with a view to refurbishment and restart. It is because of nuclear reactors that Ontario has a diverse, and hence strong, electrical supply. Mr. Solomon’s empty statement that “some or all of the remaining 12 [reactors] could be permanently shut down should a common design problem surface” is worth as much as saying “natural gas prices may be higher or lower tomorrow.”

Ontario consumed 22% more primary energy in 1997 than in 1987, although its electricity consumption has increased only slightly. While conservation and efficiency initiatives have reduced demand somewhat, it was a change in economy and a switch to natural gas heating that had the biggest impacts on electricity consumption.

Mr. Solomon should update his figures on the time it takes for reactors to be built. Darlington’s four reactors were ordered in 1973, but construction was only started in the years 1981 through 1985, and the reactors were completed in 1990 through 1993. The construction time included years lost to government reviews and strikes. Certainly, Darlington’s construction time was long, but not the “10 to 14 years typical of nuclear plants” that Mr. Solomon claims. Recently, reactor construction times have been decreased significantly. Three CANDU reactors built in South Korea in the 1990s took 6.5, 5.75 and 7 years to complete from signing the contract. One of those reactors took only 4.9 years from ground-breaking to commercial operation.

In the U.K., the deregulated electrical system did close some coal plants. The U.K. did not “shut down many existing nuclear plants” as Mr. Solomon said. Nine years ago, there were 31 power reactors in operation. Since then, one reactor has been completed and five small ones were shut down, giving a net system capacity decrease of 0.3%. Despite this decrease, the U.K. reactors generated 22% more electricity in 1999 than they did in 1992 — hardly the phase-out Mr. Solomon claims. The U.K. has come close to meeting its Kyoto greenhouse gas emission targets only thanks to improved reactor performance.

The oldest U.K. reactor is 44, and received a licence extension to 50 years. Some American reactors have already had their operating licences extended to 60 years, from the planned 40-year lives — hardly the premature shutdowns Mr. Solomon claims. There is also a great deal of effort being spent here and abroad in plant life extension.

Mr. Solomon is concerned with our reliance on foreign energy sources, particularly oil. Yet he refuses to acknowledge that nuclear technology should — nay, must — be part of the solution to energy supply, energy security and environmental concerns. He claims, incredibly, that reactors take a long time to build and are “the most vulnerable of technologies,” and that somehow using nuclear technology will “only make us more dependent on Arab oil.” When will Mr. Solomon and his business — Energy Probe — get their collective head out of the sand and move into the new century?

Morgan Brown, PEng, is a research engineer at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. in Pinawa, Man.

Read Mr.Solomon’s Response.

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