Alberta faces nuclear test case
Privately held company files regulatory application for province’s 1st reactor; expects 10 years of public, regulatory hearings
For Petroleum News
Privately held Energy Alberta has brought the nuclear debate in Alberta to a head by filing an application to build twin reactors in northwestern Alberta at an estimated cost of C$6.2 billion to generate 2,200 megawatts, the equivalent of an 18 percent addition to the province’s current power generating capacity.
Energy Alberta President and Co-chairman Wayne Henuset described the application as a “historic moment” for Alberta and a chance to bring “the benefits of clean, safe, reliable nuclear power to Alberta.”
But he also indirectly acknowledged the likelihood of strong opposition, noting that building a nuclear facility will be a “long and rigorous process.”
“This is the beginning of a public and regulatory process that will include environmental, health and safety assessments,” Henuset said in an Aug. 27 statement.
The long timeline ahead of the proponents is reflected in their estimated in-service date of 2017 for the twin, 1,100-megawatt reactors.
Henuset told an Aug. 28 news conference that confidentiality agreements have been signed with a potential large oil sands customer that is ready to buy 70 percent of the facility’s power.
Royal Dutch Shell and Penn West Energy Trust, the major oil sands players in the Peace River region, said they have held no talks with Energy Alberta.
France’s Total and Husky Energy, both of whom have indicated they are open to exploring the nuclear option, also insisted they are not the unidentified customer.
Energy Alberta has chosen a site 300 miles northwest of Edmonton and 20 miles west of the town of Peace River.
The units will be built by Atomic Energy of Canada, a federal government corporation that is charged with commercializing Canadian nuclear technology and over the past 40 years has marketed and built Candu facilities in Canada, China, India, South Korea, Argentina and Romania.
The province of Ontario currently operates five reactors, which Atomic Energy of Canada claims have greater than 95 percent capacity factor ratings.
Environmentalists oppose planBut environmentalists are already gearing up to oppose the Energy Alberta proposal.
Marlo Reynolds, executive director of the Pembina Institute, told reporters the nuclear industry has a “long history of over-promising and under-delivering, so I’m skeptical.”
She said there is no convincing proof that nuclear power is needed “given all of the other resources we have here in Alberta.”
Neither is there a clear plan for handling nuclear waste or detailed information on how much water will be needed to cool the reactors.
Reynolds said the business case is in doubt once the full environmental cost — including the extraction of uranium — is disclosed.
Henuset said nuclear power could lower Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions, notably carbon dioxide, which are seen as one of the greatest challenges facing expansion of the oil sands industry.
“There is a real problem with CO2 emissions and what’s happening to our environment,” he said. “This is the way to green up that growth plan.”
Henuset – a former car dealer, wine merchant and oil services entrepreneur – said that while fossil fuels will remain the cornerstone of Alberta’s economy for the foreseeable future, the province is “running out of conventional oil and natural gas. We need to develop new energy sources.”
David Schindler, a professor of ecology at the University of Alberta, said “huge issues” have to be overcome, including reactor safety and waste storage.
The application will face scrutiny by Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
Peace River Mayor Lorne Mann said nuclear power could be an “important part” of a sustainable energy future.
He welcomed the chance to “become more informed on nuclear energy.”
Peace River: local support, infrastructure, support servicesThe Peace River region, which holds one of three major bitumen deposits in Alberta, was chosen because of demonstrated support from the community, the existence of essential infrastructure and support services and technical feasibility, Henuset said.
Energy Alberta’s Web site, noting that nuclear power is an alternative to burning costly and precious natural gas to fuel the oil sands sector, said the company hopes to sell power from the reactors to oil sands operations.
However, the prospect of introducing nuclear power has received a lukewarm response in the well-established Athabasca region, which holds all of the major mining and in-situ projects.
Operators have argued they need on-site power plants because the long distances between their facilities would make the delivery of nuclear power from a single plant inefficient.
The Alberta government has previously rated nuclear power as a last resort, although former premier Ralph Klein said last year the option might be worth evaluating.
However, Energy Minister Mel Knight said the province is “completely-open-minded on the issue,” while noting it has no fixed policy on the use of nuclear power.
“The day is approaching,” he said. “We do have to make a decision. Albertans want clarity around the issue and that’s exactly what we’ll do.”
Earlier this year, Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn announced the government was earmarking C$230 million over the next five years to research clean-coal technology, carbon capture and storage and “next-generation” nuclear power.
He has been an open advocate of the nuclear alternative to consumption of natural gas in the oil sands, arguing it is a matter of when not if the use of nuclear energy will be introduced.