In Ontario, the Liberal government's controversial electricity plan, tabled last June, calls for two new reactors and the refurbishing of old ones, projects expected to cost up to $40 billion over two decades. John Tory, the provincial Conservative leader, is calling for more new nuclear plants faster, accusing Premier Dalton McGuinty of downplaying the need out of fear of the anti-nukes backlash. Ontario's program is central to federal plans. Although the provincial Liberals have expressed a preference for sticking with Canadian technology, they haven't ruled out going to one of AECL's French or U.S. rivals if the price was better. Lunn has declared it "imperative" that the province buy its new reactors from AECL.
The nuclear power plants for Alberta's oilsands:
Henuset's optimum timeline: secure regulatory approval within four years, start construction in 2011, throw the switch to begin using nuclear power to separate sand from up to 500,000 barrels of oil a day in 2016. "We've got the federal government onside, the provincial government onside, and two local communities that want us," he says. Lunn has predicted it's only a matter of time before nuclear reactors begin playing "a very significant role in the oil sands."
AECL executives created "Team CANDU," an alliance with big private companies, which Lunn duly applauded, saying the participation of players like Hitachi and SNC-Lavalin boosts his confidence that any future Canadian reactors projects will be completed without any risk that taxpayers would be on the hook for cost overruns. Second, last fall, AECL struck its deal with Energy Alberta to push the oil sands concept that carries such obvious appeal for Harper and his Alberta base.
It remains unclear how aggressive the Conservatives will be about openly touting nuclear power as a core element of their climate-change strategy.
I would note that the IPCC report indicating a pro-nuclear position could help countries like Canada to shift to a more openly pro-nuclear position.
"More than two-thirds of Canada's coal-fired generating capacity will need to be replaced by 2020 and more new generating capacity will be required," says the draft. "Some $150 billion in capital investments will need to be made." Options for investing in new generating capacity that won't spew CO2 are, to say the least, limited.
Environmental groups call for unprecedented investments in renewable sources like solar and wind. But the Conservatives make little or no distinction between nuclear power and those so-called "soft" renewables.
It would be fantastic if Canada were to replace coal power with nuclear power.
Foreign markets also beckon. Some observers expect China to build as many as 40 reactors in the next two decades. Westinghouse has locked down the first piece of that huge expansion, and there was fear AECL might be frozen out. But Lunn said he and other cabinet ministers worked during visits to China to persuade the Chinese to put AECL back in their plans. "They have now said they are open to CANDU technology," he said. AECL is trying to build on a track record, having delivered two reactors in China in 2002 and 2003, both on budget and ahead of schedule.
Britain might buy up to four of its reactors as it adds up to 12,000 megawatts of generating capacity in the next 20 years.
Polling by Ipsos Reid for the Canadian Nuclear Association found that support for nuclear power has risen over two years to 44 per cent from 35 per cent nationally, and jumped to 63 per cent from 48 per cent in the key battleground of Ontario.
Expanding renewables is also part of the energy which is good too.
Ontario is banking on doubling the electricity it draws from renewables by 2025 to 15,700 megawatts. That would outstrip nuclear power's projected 14,000-megawatt contribution under the McGuinty plan, up from about 11,400 megawatts - or half the province's electricity - today. Ottawa has no say in how the provinces plan for supplying their power needs, and Lunn is careful not to impose. "It is absolutely essential," he says, "that provinces make their own choices about energy mix."
But he also expresses informed admiration for a perhaps unexpected model - France, where 58 reactors supply 80 per cent of the country's electricity. "They have the cleanest air shed of all the industrialized countries," Lunn notes. "They made this decision 20 years ago, ahead of their time, and it has proven to be very successful."