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Nuclear Not Good Provider of Electricity

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Enterprise and Innovation Minister Lyle Stewart is telling citizens that renewable energy like "Wind and solar have their place, but because they are intermittent and unpredictable, they simply can not replace big base load plants such as coal, nuclear and hydroelectric." Stewart has been listening to Bruce Power, the Ontario firm that wants to build nuclear power plants on the North Saskatchewan.

In the March 15/08 Financial Post, Lawrence Solomon, head of Ontario's Energy Probe, said what many have only thought, that nuclear power "is ill-suited for the production of electricity." This is because it is too dangerous and costly to be powered up or down quickly to meet peak load demand for electricity. As Energy Probe's energy analyst, Norm Rubin, said to the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) January 18th, nuclear plants "are both technically and financially resistant to being dispatched for the grid's convenience."

This inflexibility leaves nuclear only able to produce base-load power, however it doesn't do this costeffectively or reliably. Historically, base load power has been provided by low-cost, low-performance plants like coal. With nuclear, however, you pay high-cost to get low-performance, and with less reliability. Planned or forced shutdowns can last for years, e.g. eight Ontario nuclear plants were out of service from 1998-2004. Expensive refurbishing of aging plants makes nuclear unreliable. Meanwhile customers pay more for nuclear than other more reliable base-load power; and then they pay, again, for the huge debt and cost overruns that characterize this highly subsidized industry.

Why would Saskatchewan people want to go down this unnecessary, costly road? If Minister Stewart is held to his view that nuclear power "must be evaluated in comparison to other base load energy sources", it is game over for Bruce Power. Imagine the Saskatchewan grid depending on Bruce Power's proposed 2,000 MW nuclear complex for half its electricity. This would require publicly funded back-up plants to ensure energy security, while the public would pay for transmission upgrades to enable Bruce Power to sell off excess electricity elsewhere at a profit. This is stupid economically and ecologically.

Base-load power can be produced from a variety of sources, including wind and solar. As energy analyst Norm Rubin said to the OEB, "A grid can in fact easily operate reliably with 100 percent flexible, reliable and dispatchable capacity". Converting from polluting and radioactive big thermal plants to a "smart grid", as some call it, is not only possible but safer and cheaper. The Saskatchewan taxpayer and ratepayer will pay dearly if the government continues to take bad corporate advice.

Jim Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies who lives in the Qu‚Appelle Valley.