Vu Weekly describes itself as “Edmonton’s independent arts and entertainment weekly magazine”. A quickly look at the current issue reveals that it is a rather open minded and liberal publication that dislikes “corporate media”, has a special “Sex and Love Issue” planned (complete with a rather provocative Flash based column ad on all pages), and tends towards leftist causes.
Shannon Phillips, one of the publication’s more prolific contributors, wrote an article for the most recent issue titled Alberta Company Looks To Go Nuclear To Power Oil Sands. Though the article has some balance, Alberta Energy, the company mentioned in the title, did not return Ms. Phillips phone call in time to respond for her article. That is a shame, since that allowed quotes from Stephen Hazell, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, to dominate the article.
My advice to people trying to explain nuclear power is to return journalist phone calls, even if they come from writers that you may assume are somewhat opposed to your way of thinking. You might be surprised, but even if you are not, it is important to provide some useful quotes that may get used in the article.
I wrote a note to Ms. Phillips to try to help her understand the logic behind Alberta Energy’s interest in using nuclear power instead of natural gas as the heat source for oil sands production.
It is too bad that Alberta Energy did not return your calls. Their information could have added some valuable balance to the Sierra Club’s opinions in your story about the reasons why nuclear power is being considered for providing a cost effective source of heat that can be used to extract oil from the sands in Alberta.
I presume that the artist who created the illustration for your article (the one showing a “KABOOM!”) is depicting the current situation where the source of heat is volatile, often explosive natural gas. Where is the illustration that shows the “after” situation when the heat is supplied by a safe, emissions free, nuclear power plant that has and (Oops, that should have been “an”, but I goofed in the original letter as well.) extremely low probability of any accident?
Using any currently available reactor design other than one that includes a combination of graphite as a moderator AND water as a coolant (like Chernobyl did) it is essentially impossible for reactors to actually explode with a “kaboom”. Other reactor designs can have steam leaks, perhaps melt their core, and maybe experience leakage of radioactive fluids, but there is nothing in the plant that can react quickly enough to actually explode.
Alberta residents should listen very closely in the coming months as people try to explain how today’s situation cannot continue – the gas that is being burned to heat steam so that oil can be extracted is too valuable to make that an economically viable solution. In addition, though gas is cleaner than other fossil fuels, burning it still releases 2/3 as much carbon dioxide as burning oil and about half as much as burning coal.
In contrast, nuclear fission does not release ANY atmospheric pollution products at all. Nuclear heat is also much less expensive than gas heat; the average cost per BTU of a currently operating US nuclear plant would be about $1.60 per million BTU. I am not sure what gas costs in Alberta, but here in the States a reasonable estimate for today’s price is $7.50 per million BTU without delivery charges.
Editor, Atomic Insights
What do you think? Should nuclear power be used to create steam and power in the oil sands production fields in Alberta?
Correction: (posted August 29, 2006) In the above article, I confused Energy Alberta, the small marketing start up company that is trying to interest people in the concept of using CANDU reactors as the heat source for oil sands production, with Alberta Energy a department of the government of Alberta. From the “About Us” section of their web site:
The Department manages the development of provincially owned energy and mineral resources by industry and the assessment and collection of non-renewable resource revenues in the form of royalties, freehold mineral taxes, rentals and bonuses. The Department promotes development of Alberta’s energy and mineral resources, recommends and implements energy and mineral related policy, grants rights for exploration and development to industry and establishes and administers fiscal regimes and royalty systems. The Department’s resource portfolio includes natural gas, conventional oil, oil sands, petrochemicals, electricity, coal and minerals.
Thank you, Shannon, for pointing out the error of my ways in a comment to this post.