The Canadian nuclear lobby – under the name of Team Candu – is holding a press conference this morning at Queen’s Park in Toronto “to confirm CANDU as the best choice for Ontario's next nuclear power plants.”
You could say that this is Team Candu’s attempt at being on the offensive after months of being on the defensive due to the radio-isotope shortage, which has left the reputation of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), the designer of the Candu reactor design, tarnished.
While putting on a happy face today, Team Candu must be worried. As an article in today’s Globe and Mail discusses, the Harper government is studying how it could privatize AECL, and has commissioned to National Bank to recommend options for restructuring the company.
All this comes at a bad time for AECL and Team Candu. Today’s press conference is all about making the case for Ontario to risk its energy future on an untested, prototype reactor design known as the Advanced Candu Reactor 1000 or ACR-1000.
AECL admits that a sale of the ACR to Ontario is “critical for AECL’s future as a reactor vendor, and thus for Canada’s unique technology.” Otherwise put, AECL and Team Candu are desperate for a sale.
Buying an untested Candu design with the high probability of unforeseen delays, could widen Ontario’s coming electricity crunch. Government officials have already admitted that their initial schedules for new nuclear construction were unrealistic. The target date for new reactors coming online has slipped from 2014 to 2018 before a reactor design has even been chosen or construction begun.
Ontario would most likely widen this electricity supply gap by buying an ACR. In spite of already spending over $400 million AECL has yet to finish the ACR’s design and acquire design approval from the regulator. Many opportunities lie ahead for delay.
What Team Candu won’t talk about today is how Ontario’s commitment to nuclear – whether it buys Candu or a foreign design - is standing in the way of the development of other clean energy sources that could actually fill our supply gap and thousands of jobs.
Renewables, conservation and local generation sources can all be deployed quickly unlike nuclear stations.
The McGuinty government’s current electricity plan caps the growth of new low-impact renewable energy to about 5,000 MW in 2025 to ensure there is demand the power from nuclear plants when they come online around 2020.
There is another path Ontario province could take. Germany, which shutting down its nuclear stations at the end of their operational lives, is a world leader in developing renewable energy.
According to the government’s website, 235,000 people were employed in the renewable sector in 2006 – almost 50 percent more than in 2004.
In Ontario, however, renewable developers are being developers are being denied access to the electricity grid because priority has been given to nuclear generators, stunting the growth on employment in the sector.
In a November press statement by the Ontario Rural Council, Russ Christianson stated the problem facing renewable developers:
“The province has already designated a large percentage of their budget and the electricity grid for nuclear power. That’s why we’re having the kind of access issues we’re having for renewable energy. These are political barriers…not technical barriers.”
Team Candu will proclaim today buying Candu will be a good for employment in Ontario. They’re proposing a 1970s-esque job strategy built on heavily subsidized nuclear mega-projects fraught with delays and risks.
Ontario could be taking a different path and developing the renewable energy sector – such a path would address our coming energy crunch, make jobs and help lower greenhouse gas emissions.
But don’t count on Team Candu to telling you about it.