One of the biggest criticisms about nuclear power is that renovations are expensive.
But even with a big price tag up front, the refurbishment of nuclear reactors is still cheaper than the alternatives for reliable baseload power (the minimum amount of electric power delivered or required over a given period of time at a steady rate).
In Ontario, refurbishments are planned for both Bruce Power and Ontario Power Generation. Bruce Power is estimating it may spend up to $15 billion to refurbish six reactors at its Kincardine station beginning in 2016. And OPG’s Darlington refurbishment is estimated at $10 billion.
Combined, the two plants represent about 10,000 MWs of generation capacity. They produce about half of Ontario’s electricity. They have provided clean, cheap and reliable electricity to Ontarians for almost 25 years. As they come to the end of the first phase of their initial life cycle, the Ontario government concluded that refurbishment is a lot less expensive and cleaner than replacing that power.
“We needed to determine how that power is going to be replaced,” Ontario Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli said in a recent television interview with Global News.
“We made a determination that refurbishment is the least-cost type of generation. It’s 50 per cent less than the cost of new nuclear and less the cost of replacing those megawatts with gas. So we’re moving ahead because of the cost factor.
“The best cost deal in replacing the existing nuclear is to refurbish what we have.”
Chiarelli went on to explain that he is not expecting either refurbishment to go over budget.
“We built off ramps,” he said. “If OPG cannot deliver on budget and on time then there’s a real likelihood that cabinet will not proceed with the additional refurbishment.
“Building refurbishment is the best cost deal for the province by a large, large margin. The estimates we have now are reliable estimates.”
As for the other options, wind power is intermittent and cannot be relied upon as a base load power source. If you back up wind with natural gas, the price goes up and there is no price certainty over long periods of time for gas, which is currently cheap, but is prone to price changes.
While the price tag for refurbishment can be large, rates are affordable because it can be amortized over a 30 year period.
That was the case in New Brunswick with the refurbishment of the Point Lepreau Generating Station.
Even though refurbishment there went over budget, New Brunswickers will not see their power rates increase as the cost overruns will be paid back over 27 years.
“The costs related to Lepreau have been fully accounted for in our projections, and we intend to recover these costs through equal payments – similar to a home mortgage – made monthly during the 27-year life of the plant,” according to Gaetan Thomas, president of NB Power.
Former New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord, whose government approved the refurbishment project in 2005, told Global News recently that when compared with the alternatives, refurbishment was “actually better than any alternatives.”