A real gem that’s being ignored

September 24, 2014   ·   0 Comments

IT’S NOT OFTEN these days that you’ll encounter “good news” and “nuclear power” in the same story. But that’s what happened last week in a press release from Bruce Power, long-time operator of the Bruce A and B power plants near Port Elgin.

The release announced that as of Wednesday of last week (the 17th) Bruce B’s Unit 5 had reached 500 days of uninterrupted service.

“The Bruce B unit, which is one of the world’s top-rated pressurized heavy water reactors, surpassed the 500-day mark, which is one of the longest runs of continuous operation in company history,” the release said.

“Unit 5 has been an absolute all-star for the people of Ontario since its last planned maintenance outage,” said Brian O’Grady, Senior Vice President, Bruce B. “The reliability of the unit has been second-to-none, which is a testament to our employees who work hard to maintain and operate these reactors to such high standards. By providing a reliable source of cost-effective and carbon-free nuclear electricity, the people of Ontario benefit from Unit 5’s long run as well.”

The release noted that three of Bruce B’s four units have surpassed 500 days of continuous operation since Bruce Power was formed in 2001. Unit 8 currently holds the Bruce site record of 580 days of continuous operation.

The announcement comes at a time when, for different reasons, both the federal and provincial governments have effectively abandoned a made-in-Canada technology that ought to have become world-famous as by far the safest and most economical means of producing electricity from the atom.

At Ottawa, the Harper Conservatives have distanced themselves from any involvement by selling off Atomic Energy of Canada (AECL) and doing nothing in the way of assisting in the promotion of the CANDU technology at a time when it would offer a way out for Iran by allowing it to have nuclear power without needing weapons-grade uranium.

In Ontario’s case, the Liberals have done their part by cancelling plans to add units to the Darlington Generating Station to replace capacity lost with the closing of coal-fired power plants and the mothballing of trouble-plagued nuclear units at Pickering.

In their case, the provincial government’s rationale seems to be that nuclear power is too expensive – a belief likely founded on the huge cost overruns at Darlington, which were really attributable to long construction delays triggered by unexpected slow growth in the demand for electricity.

Gone, seemingly forever, is the all-party support at both Ottawa and Queen’s Park that saw the construction of the 200-megawatt Douglas Point Generating Station in the 1960s and the first four 500-MW units at Pickering commenced even before the Douglas Point plant began operating. (It produced first power in September, 1968 and continued in service until May 1984.)

As an illustration of the close co-operation between the two levels of government, Douglas Point was built and owned by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) but operated by Ontario Hydro.

Similar close co-operation was involved at Pickering, where Ottawa agreed to foot any difference in the cost of power from the first two nuclear units compared with that from the coal-fired Lambton Generating Station.

In the circumstances, what we’d like to see happen is an up-to-date comparison between the cost of power from Bruce B (the last nuclear project done on a timely basis) and the cost from all other non-hydraulic Ontario sources of electricity and that of importing from Quebec and Manitoba.

And wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Ottawa and Queen’s Park agree to let Bruce Power build a 1,200-MW Bruce C plant at Douglas Point using the as-yet-unproven CANDU 2 technology? Don’t hold your breath.

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