Candus can’t do it, nuke critics say

John Spears
Toronto Star
January 2, 2004

Critics of nuclear power said a $12 billion proposal by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to build eight new nuclear reactors in Ontario to generate electricity has little credibility, given the nuclear industry’s track record.

But Energy Minister Dwight Duncan says he’ll look at the nuclear option, along with all other solutions to the province’s electricity issues.

“For $12 billion, a lot of people have solutions to our problems,” Duncan said in an interview.

AECL, owned by the federal government, says its first choice would be to build four pairs of its “advanced Candu reactor” or ACR, which is still being developed.

Duncan said he won’t make up his mind whether to pursue the nuclear option until after he sees two reports. One, due within two weeks, is from a task force on electricity conservation and supply.

The second, from a panel headed by former federal finance minister John Manley on the future of publicly owned Ontario Power Generation, is due in March.

Duncan said he already has a meeting with AECL scheduled for January, but also wants to hear from the public before making decisions.

While Duncan kept his options open, the AECL proposal drew scathing criticism yesterday from critics of the nuclear industry .

David Martin of the Sierra Club of Canada said the advanced Candu doesn’t yet exist.

“The ACR is a pig in a poke. The design work isn’t even done, and they’re claiming cost reductions as if it were a fact,” he said. “It’s dishonest.”

AECL estimates the new plants will produce power at a cost of 4.4 cents a kilowatt hour, but Martin said that’s yet to be tested.

“Until there’s a demonstration plant, their claims of cost reduction are meaningless,” he said.

Tom Adams, executive director of Energy Probe, called the proposal a “very, very tired sales pitch.”

Adams said that AECL has no bright sales prospects in overseas markets now that it has recently completed a project in Qinshan, China.

The company has not been able to persuade regulators in the U.S. to approve the design of the ACR, he noted, so Ontario is one of the few options the company has left.

Martin agreed that AECL’s export prospects are dim.

“This is an act of desperation from AECL because they know they have no sales prospects offshore,” he said.

Martin speculated that the company is trying to get big public subsidies for the venture.

“I think they’re trying to float a public-private partnership in which the federal and provincial governments would take a large part of the risk,” he said.

“There’s no way the private sector would get into building a demonstration plant like the ACR without extremely generous public support.”

Martin said the focus on building more generating capacity to meet Ontario’s electricity needs is a mistake.

“The big contribution has to come from conservation,” he said.

A very large portion of Ontario’s electricity is used to heat buildings and hot water, he said, and there are more efficient alternatives to both that could reduce electricity consumption in Ontario.

Adams said the track record of AECL’s Candu technology has been poor.

He pointed to the refit of the Pickering A nuclear plant, which is years behind schedule and billions over budget. Pickering A, completed in the early 1970s, had already had an extensive refit in the mid-80s, which also went over budget, Adams said.

“It’s going to discourage anybody else with any brains from retooling their Candus,” he said.

In New Brunswick, the province’s public utilities commission has recommended against overhauling the province’s AECL-designed reactor at Point Lepreau, he noted.

 

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