Economics and NIMBY cools U.S. to nuclear power plants

Charles Mandel
The Edmonton Journal
July 28, 2007

An American professor and publisher of an energy newsletter is arguing that Canada should take advantage of the “stupidity of Americans” by building nuclear power plants to supply a growing need south of the border.

Howard Hayden, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Connecticut and publisher of The Energy Advocate, said Friday that a large NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) contingent in the United States is preventing the construction of new nuclear power generation. “It’s the stupidity of Americans,” Hayden said.

The professor believes Canadians have an opportunity to export nuclear power south, billing it as “non-carbon producing.”

“Considering the energy climate in the United States, where you can’t build anything, if they (Canadians) can sign some long-term contracts, they might as well just go ahead and do it.” said Hayden.

Hayden’s not the only one counting on Americans to be good for business. The New Brunswick Liberal government has expressed interest in a second nuclear power plant with the intention of exporting across the border much of the power it would produce. Estimates for a new plant run between $2 billion and $3 billion.

And Areva, a French company with 98 nuclear plants worldwide, is eyeing the action. Armand Laferrere, Areva Canada’s president and CEO, said the company has told New Brunswick it would be prepared to build the second nuclear plant.

In Canada, Areva doesn’t own any plants, but it has extensive uranium mining interests in Saskatchewan and also manufactures transmission and distribution equipment.

Nor is New Brunswick the only market the firm is interested in. Laferrere said it is talking to the Alberta government, but that “it’s still very early days.”

Currently in the United States some 104 nuclear plants provide 20 per cent of that country’s power. Another 34 projects are on the books, almost all of them slated for the southern U.S.

Tom Adams, executive director of Energy Probe in Toronto, isn’t so certain the Americans are all that stupid. He said NIMBY concerns have closely lined up with those of the stock market.

“The stock market is as allergic to nuclear power as local citizens are. The problem with nuclear power is economics. This is a technology that cannot pay for itself,” Adams said.

“That is why the only markets for nuclear power are markets where politicians – not investors, not consumers – are driving the buck.”

According to Adams, because most of Canada’s utility market is government-owned, the country lacks the financial constraint the Americans have – namely convincing independent investors nuclear is economically feasible. In Canada, “all you have to do is convince some politicians and you’re off to the races.”

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