This Letter to the editor was submitted to the Financial Post in response to this op-ed on December 10.
Lawrence Solomon makes the claim that “the Ontario government’s decision to go nuclear — based on the ideology of the 1960s and 1970s — had nothing to do with economics and everything to do with the politics of the day.” Ontario was out of suitable large hydroelectric sites by the 1950s and nuclear was the economic, low-emissions option that was emerging.
Choosing nuclear power greatly facilitated Ontario’s economic growth over the past five decades, it has helped Canada avoid about 90 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually, and still supports tens of thousands of high-wage, highly-skilled jobs in Ontario. If that decision “had nothing to do with economics” then it has been a remarkably lucky one for Ontarians’ quality of life.
Because nuclear power plants are highly reliable, competitive, predictable in costs, and low in emissions, they have been chosen as a source of base load power in most of the world’s large, developed economies. Most of these countries are planning new investments in nuclear, as are many emerging economies.
What Solomon calls “nuclear power cost overruns” were in large measure a combination of high interest rates, unexpected delays due to stops and starts of projects by different governments, and unanticipated design changes by regulators. None of the cost challenges that have affected nuclear power plant construction are inherent in nuclear technology. New nuclear plants in Asia are being built at a very low cost compared with North America and Europe, in part due to the cost benefits of getting beyond the slower “first of a kind” projects and moving on to second, third and fourth plants of the same design.
The costs and timeliness of plant construction have become more accurate as more plants are built. And while nuclear plants have high capital costs and take a long time to come into service, once they are built they have low and stable operating costs, and those operating costs are much less sensitive to fuel price increases than either gas or coal plants. That is why nuclear is becoming the global choice for base load electric power.
In Canada, three provinces – Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick – are benefitting from this available, reliable, clean and affordable source of energy. And, for almost 50 years, Canada’s nuclear industry has achieved an unparalleled record of safe power generation in these provinces. Nuclear energy is responsible for 15% of Canada’s electricity production and for 55% of Ontario’s alone. Furthermore, nuclear energy is not subject to unreliable weather or climate conditions, unpredictable cost fluctuations, or dependence on foreign suppliers. Fortunately, Canada is a uranium-rich country, making the supply of this key ingredient stable over time.
Canada has a number of challenges ahead with respect to electricity demand. We believe that when the real costs and benefits are considered, nuclear will play a significant role in Canada’s energy portfolio going forward. It is a vital component for a sustainable energy future.
President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association