Nuclear tennis match
Jun 30, 2009 04:30 AM
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Nuclear power is not dead in Ontario. Rather, it has become a
political tennis ball volleyed between two governments, Conservative
Ottawa and Liberal Queen's Park.
Provincial Energy Minister George Smitherman made that clear yesterday
in announcing the suspension of Ontario's pursuit of new reactors to
replace its aging nuclear fleet. "The ball, in a certain sense, is in
the court of the government of Canada," he said.
How so? There are three companies bidding for the contract to build
new reactors at the Darlington nuclear site: Areva (French),
Westinghouse (Japanese/American), and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., or
AECL, which is owned by the government of Canada.
Smitherman said that AECL's was the only bid that was "compliant" with
Ontario's requirements. That is not surprising, given that AECL's
CANDU reactors are already running at three Ontario locations
(Darlington, Pickering and Bruce) and the company employs, directly
and indirectly, thousands of skilled people in the province.
According to Smitherman, however, AECL's price was too high (by "many
billions") and the company's future is too uncertain, given the
federal government's announced intention to privatize it.
Translation: It is up to Ottawa to bring down the price and to clarify
AECL's future. Otherwise, the loss of the deal – and of our domestic
nuclear industry – will be on Ottawa's hands, not Ontario's. And
Ontario will have to look elsewhere for new reactors.
The alternative – phasing out nuclear power, which supplies one-half
of Ontario's electricity – is a non-starter. Renewable sources like
wind and solar power won't fill the gap because, as Smitherman pointed
out yesterday, the wind doesn't always blow and sun doesn't always
shine. Coal is a major greenhouse gas emitter. And natural gas is too
volatile in price and uncertain in supply.
As for nuclear power, Ontario's preference, of course, would be to
stick with our home-grown technology. But the risks at present are too
high for the province alone to bear. If Ottawa wants to maintain
Canada's foothold in the nuclear sector – and it should – it will have
to play ball with Ontario by sharing those risks and securing AECL's
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