Will Ontario look away from CANDU?
In recent months there has been a growing awareness that Ontario, Canada needs new power sources, both to supply a growing demands and to replace old, coal-fired power plants. The provincial government has committed to retiring the coal plants because of their contributions to global climate change, acid rain, and other environmental problems.
Nuclear power plants at the Bruce station have been refurbished and more are undergoing the process, but the fact remains that there will still be a need for additional new supplies. Atomic Energy of Canada, Limited (AECL) has been quietly preparing for possible new orders for their ACR-700 or ACR-1000, the latest versions of the reactors that are currently the only kind of nuclear power plants in the country.
On December 14, 2005, the Ontario Power Authority published a report calling for an investment of up to $40 Billion (Canadian – $34.8 USD) in new nuclear power projects during the next 20 years, with the goal of maintaining the current nuclear portion of the electrical power supply. Gas fired and unspecified renewable energy sources will provide the replacement power for the retired coal plants, since those are supposed to be shut down by 2009.
Nuclear Engineering International talked about that report in their article titled Ontario energy report calls for replacement nuclear. AECL welcomed the report’s conclusions, obviously assuming that any new projects would use their proven design, which has many features that are familiar to all Canadian nuclear trained workers.
In the past week, however, “unnamed officials” have indicated that there is no guarantee that new reactors will be CANDU’s. This might be a negotiating tactic; if AECL has a lock on the projects before they start, there is a greater opportunity for cost increases and schedule lapses. After all, what builder of a custom home would start the conversation with a prospective contractor by saying – you have the project, now tell me how much it is going to cost and how long it is going to take to build it?
CANDU’s have certain advantages over light water reactors – they use natural uranium that does not require enrichment, they can be fueled without shutting down the reactor and they are a known technology for Canada. They also have somewhat higher initial costs, a history of problems with the pressure tubes.
There is a very interesting article on the topic of the next generation Canadian power reactors published by the Globe and Mail under the headline Fallout predicted if Ontario shuns Candus.
It will certainly be an interesting story to watch unfold.