February 24, 2007
The year 2016 may seem far off.
But as a key date in New Brunswick’s plan to possibly expand its nuclear energy program, it is a looming deadline that must be acted on quickly, say those in the industry.
In the latter months of 2016, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., Canada’s nuclear crown corporation, hopes to place its first Advanced Candu Reactor (ACR) in a Canadian nuclear facility.
The opportunity to house the massive reactor, nearly twice the size of the current 680MW Candu version at the Point Lepreau generating station, is an opportunity many think the province should seize upon.
It would mark a chance to boost the economy and profit heavily from feeding excess energy to the lucrative New England market, they say.
Take the co-chairs of the province’s much-hyped self-sufficiency task force. Their second report claims the outcome of landing the next-generation reactor would be growth in the industrial and nuclear sectors, particularly in the University of New Brunswick’s engineering department. As well, many high-paying jobs would be created.
In the end, the report contends, New Brunswick could be a global centre of excellence for AECL technology. Future dollars for refitting and refurbishing other reactors will pour into the province.
Just this week it was announced that New Brunswick engineers in Saint John will help train their counterparts from Argentina to re-tube that country’s Candu 6 power facility, a sister station to Lepreau.
“There’s no doubt,” says Ken Petrunik, AECL’s Chief Operating Officer. “There’s really a good base to develop an energy sector of excellence in New Brunswick.
“Now is the time to start making those assessments and decisions. We’re ready to go.”
Petrunik portrays at least a slight sense of urgency. That’s because New Brunswick would not be alone in its quest to nab the first ACR.
In fact, the province is already behind both Ontario and Bruce Power, a private nuclear power company based in Ontario, which produces a fifth of that province’s power.
Both Ontario and Bruce have already had discussions with AECL about housing the reactor.
That fact doesn’t appear to worry the province’s energy minister.
“I don’t know how far behind we are, frankly,” said Jack Keir.
According to Keir, New Brunswick’s future in the nuclear field hinges mainly on the feasibility study into a second reactor at Lepreau. The results of that study, now in its infancy, are expected months from now.
One of the key points to be decided, other than whether a second reactor makes economic sense, is what type of reactor the province could use.
Continue with AECL’s Candu brand – used from China to Argentina – or shop elsewhere?
“We’re kicking the tires on all technology in the world to see what is the best fit for New Brunswick,” said Keir.
“I’d love to see that (partnership with AECL) continue, but we’re also going to take a look at all the other technology.”
As with most issues surrounding nuclear power, this one is not without contention.
Tom Adams, president of Energy Probe, an energy think tank based in Toronto, says pursuing ACR technology would be a mistake.
He claims the technology is 10 years behind schedule, not fully designed yet and largely without potential customers.
“The ACR is an old idea,” he said. “It appears New Brunswick is hitching itself to a wagon without a horse.”
Adams points to New Brunswick’s reliance on smog-producing coal plants for much of its power and says a cleaner solution is needed quickly.
“The province needs solutions now,” he said. “The province needs to move on and the ACR is just not a practical solution for that.
“AECL has a credibility gap. There’s a high likelihood that if New Brunswick goes down this road it will be a centre of excellence for a technology that is only used in New Brunswick.”
According to Adams, the future is in conservation and renewables, meaning the province should have its eye to energy sources based on wind and emerging clean coal.
“The record of the nuclear industry has been one where they have never been able to keep their promises of both cost and reliability,” he said. “This is an industry with big, practical problems as an economic source of electricity supply. And there are important unanswered environmental questions around safety and the long-term security of the waste.”
Yet, if additional nuclear technology is pursued – a move that seems consistent with Premier Shawn Graham’s vision of New Brunswick as a hub of energy production – the province could see more company’s like Precision Nuclear.
The Mactaquac-based firm currently has a $10-million contract to help with the refurbishment of Lepreau and is already working with AECL on the ACR development.
Company president David Rioux says the move would greatly expand the local industry, and more importantly, help create of a large pool of highly-skilled labour.
“It will help us keep our workers here,” he said.