Nuclear: Wrong AnswerA year ago today the nuclear lobby’s “affordable” power charade was exposed.  Admitting that the price tag for new reactors was “billions” of dollars too high, the Ontario government suspended its purchase of new reactors.  Canada’s nuclear industry hasn’t recovered and without a massive government bailout it never will. 
For a decade we’d been told by nuclear boosters and their friends in government that nuclear power was on a comeback.  A new generation of significantly cheaper reactor designs, the nuclear lobby claimed, would be the silver bullet solution to both climate change and our energy needs.

Ontario’s decision to indefinitely suspend buying new reactors cut through the industry’s false advertising.   In 2007, the Ontario government was told it would cost $6 billion to build a new 2000 MW nuclear station.  By 2009, this had exploded to a reported $26 billion dollars – the same amount as Ontario’s entire long-time nuclear spending plan, including the reconstruction of three nuclear stations with 12 reactors as two new reactors.

Not long after Ontario admitted new nuclear costs were out of control, Bruce Power, Canada’s only private nuclear operator, could no longer keep pretending new reactors were a profitable investment. It threw in the towel on two proposals to build new nuclear reactors in Ontario.   When the Alberta and Saskatchewan governments subsequently said they wouldn’t subsidize the construction of reactors, Bruce Power’s proposals to bring nuclear power to Western Canada also quickly disappeared.

While the nuclear industry likes to portray itself as an innovative industry, the reasons behind the collapse of the Canadian nuclear revival in 2009 shows the industry is anything but innovative. Despite decades of trying, the nuclear industry has been unable to innovate and bring down the costs of its reactors.  To the contrary, reactor costs are increasing.

A decade ago, for example, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) claimed its new Advanced CANDU reactor design would be 40% cheaper than its previous reactor design, the CANDU-6, or about $3.6 billion for a 2000 MW station.  Instead of being 40% cheaper, the Advanced Candu’s reported $ 26 billion price tag is four times more than promised.   

A truly innovative high-tech industry would bring its costs down over time – just like cell phones or blackberries.  The nuclear industry can make no such claim, but the green energy industry can.  With relatively little government support green energy technologies are bringing their costs down and attracting investment.   In 2008, for example, more money was invested globally in wind, solar and other green technologies than in new nuclear, coal or gas generation combined. 

You can be sure that the Canadian nuclear lobby will fight for its survival.   It will most likely look for ways to make you and me to pay its bills just as we did for the industry’s first generation of reactors.

We shouldn’t give into the nuclear industry’s desperation.  Instead of throwing more money to keep the nuclear industry alive, we should invest in a modern affordable green energy options that are increasing their efficiency year over year.

Ontario wasted four years planning to build new reactors based on the industry’s promise cheap new reactors.  You can bet that the revelation that their new reactors are $20 billion more than expected won’t be the last surprise.

The McGuinty government decision to not buy expensive new reactors last year was the right decision.

It’s been decades and the nuclear industry hasn’t been able innovate and lower its costs.  It’s time to admit the dream of cheap new reactors is a distraction from the green energy options we need to stop climate change and keep the lights on.