Nuclear's changing fortunes
Barry Artiste, Now Public Contributor
Certainly now with the price of oil skyrocketing, Nuclear seems to be the way to go. Past Rabid Naysayers seem to be changing their tune now versus when Oil was plentiful realise how much their comfort depends on energy. Perhaps the Protests over Nuclear Energy will be silenced when Greenhouse gases are more important than clean energy that Nuclear technology provides.
Nuclear may not be perfect as it has it's dangers, but a damn sight cleaner than coal burning plants.
Along-promised, never-quite-delivered revival of nuclear energy may finally be underway in Canada and one of the key reasons is, at first glance, counterintuitive -- the environment.
Unlike coal, nuclear power plants produce negligible greenhouse gases, meaning the once-unpopular energy option is gaining currency in a post-Kyoto world.
Another factor that was once considered a negative for nuclear energy has also become a benefit: cost. Unlike plants fired by natural gas, nuclear ones are relatively unaffected by the rising price of fuel.
And in comparison to 30 years ago, when local protestors fought plans to build nuclear facilities, communities now woo the projects. Ontario will soon announce the sites for two new nuclear plants, possibly as soon as today. New Brunswick, Alberta and Saskatchewan are flirting with their own projects. Everything finally seems to be in nuclear power's favour but, as one environmentalist put it, "never underestimate the sector's ability to fall on its own sword."
Canada's nuclear industry does have success stories, but they mostly occur overseas.
Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's construction of two of its Candu reactors in China took less time or money than expected when completed five years ago, while three Candu reactors operating in South Korea regularly rate among the world's most productive.
These triumphs are partly responsible for Canada's renewed interest in nuclear power, but more important are upswings in concern about global warming and fossil fuel prices.
"It boils down to a very simple calculus," said Steve Alpin, an Ottawa-based energy consultant. "Our major fuel sources are coal, nuclear and natural gas. Coal is politically incorrect, because of the greenhouse gas issue and air pollution. Up until three years ago, natural gas was a realistic alternative, but prices went up and people realized it is in very short supply [in North America]. That leaves nuclear. It's really that simple."
Recent moves toward putting a price on carbon emissions has only heightened the interest, Mr. Alpin said. Nuclear power emits one-twentieth of the greenhouse gases of gas-fired plants, a statistic that looks good for both the environment and the economy.
"When you look at options for baseload electricity generation that's environmentally friendly -- while being reliable and economic -- nuclear seems to come out on the top," Hugh MacDiarmid, AECL's president, said in an interview.