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Is Nuclear Power Really Affordable?


The Ontario nuclear corporation Bruce Power (BP) is running a high-profile PR campaign along the North Saskatchewan River from Lloydminster to North Battleford to Prince Albert. It's circulating a 24- page flier "Saskatchewan 2020: Clean Energy. New Opportunity" saying it wants to provide us with "clean, reliable and affordable electricity". In past pieces I've shown why nuclear isn't clean. But is it reliable and affordable? The answer will not be found in BP's fliers but in how it runs its operations elsewhere.

In Ontario, BP is behind schedule and over budget refurbishing two reactors. The promise to have one reactor online by 2009 won't be met. Ontario's lucky electrical consumers get to pay half of the first $300 million cost overrun, which is already at $237 million. After that they pay one-quarter. What a deal: a private corporation gets to profit using the public grid while being guaranteed public backing for going over budget. BP has already raised the possibility of a partnership with the Sask Party government and/or SaskPower for its guestimated $10 billion dollar project, and there's no reason to believe similar economic risks wouldn't be borne by us.

But there's more. BP's plan of two large, expensive reactors on our small grid has been criticized for making the grid vulnerable and requiring costly back-up power. BP showcases New Brunswick as a workable example of having a large nuclear plant on a small grid. But it fails to mention that the Point Lepreau plant is shut down to undergo a $1.4 billion refurbishing, and that this is behind schedule and already costing the taxpayers an extra $90 million. Nor does BP mention that when it tried to get the refurbishing contract its proposal was $450 million higher that the AECL's, the one accepted, and that BP wanted to run and profit from the plant for 20 years.

What might be in store for us? BP says it's considering three reactor designs here. One, AECL's ARC- 1000 exists only on paper and yet has already cost us hundreds of millions in Harper government subsidies. Westinghouse's reactor also exists only on paper. The French company Areva's EPR reactor is the only one being built, and it is three years behind schedule, $1.6 billion over budget and the Finnish government is presently seeking $3.8 billion in damages.

I hope you get the picture. Taxpayers pay front-end subsidies. We pay again for cost overruns. We pay for other sources of electricity when nuclear projects don't start on time or shut down for costly refurbishing. And then our kids will pay again for costly decommissioning and futuristic nuclear waste management. All the while there are cheaper and safer renewable options. BP's track record elsewhere suggests we should be very skeptical about becoming another guinea pig for the costly nuclear industry.