Tag Archives: Renewables

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Ontario Writes the Playbook for its Nuclear Refurbishment

Editorial - principlesOntario is preparing to refurbish 10 of its 18 nuclear reactors, beginning at the end of this year. This investment will extend the lives of the reactors, keeping their operation safe and effective for decades to come. It will also create thousands of jobs and inject much-needed  dollars into Ontario’s economy. The project comes in at half the cost of building new reactors – and is considerably cheaper over the long term than investing in solar, wind, or gas for a similar amount of power.

As Ontario Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli said in an interview with Global News, “The best cost deal in replacing the existing nuclear is to refurbish what we have.”

That said, refurbishment still comes at a cost: about $25 billion for the 15-year project. So, Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan for 2013, which announced the government’s decision for refurbishment, set out seven principles for the refurbishment – and everyone involved in it.

“Minimize commercial risk on the part of ratepayers and government”

The people and government of Ontario are making a large investment in nuclear power. They should receive the expected return on that investment without a great risk of having to invest further. The other six principles follow from this one.

“Mitigate reliability risks by developing contingency plans that include alternative supply options if contract and other objects are at risk of non-fulfillment”

Ontario has a diverse power mix. Electricity comes mainly from nuclear power, but hydro, renewables, and gas also play important roles. The province can also buy power from other provinces or states. So, while the Long-Term Energy Plan recognizes the refurbishment of nuclear power plants as the best long-term option, the province will also look at investing in these alternatives. Ontario’s recent agreement to share electricity with Quebec at certain times of the year may create more flexibility for the province.

“Entrench appropriate and realistic off-ramps and scoping”

One way of holding the operators and contractors to account involves “off-ramps” – contract terms that allow the province to limit or stop the project if it goes over budget.

Hold private sector operator accountable to the nuclear refurbishment schedule and price”

As the private-sector operator involved in the refurbishment project of the Bruce power plant, Bruce Power must ensure that the refurbishments stay on schedule and within budget; the company will not be in a position to simply pass additional expenses on to ratepayers.

“Require OPG to hold its contractors accountable to the nuclear refurbishment schedule and price”

Likewise, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is contracting much of the refurbishment at the Darlington station to more specialized companies. A slowdown or cost overrun for any one of them could affect the overall timeline and budget. So, these companies are being held accountable as well.

“Make site, project management, regulatory requirements, and supply chain considerations and cost and risk containment, the primary factors in developing the implementation plan”

Robust project management is at the core of the refurbishment project. For example, at Darlington, OPG did an environmental assessment, which showed that the refurbishment would not have any significant adverse environmental effects. A safety review also demonstrated that the Darlington plant meets modern codes and standards and follows sound industry practices. Safety improvements recommended by both these assessments are now part of the Darlington Integrated Implementation Plan. Finally, an overall risk assessment demonstrated that Darlington is a safe and reliable power plant, and will continue to be after planned safety improvements. Similar measures are underway at the Bruce facility.

“Take smaller initial steps to ensure there is an opportunity to incorporate lessons learned from refurbishment including collaboration by operators”

The refurbishment project will begin with two reactors – one each at the Bruce and Darlington facilities. Through the 15 years of the project, no more than three reactors are planned to be under refurbishment at any one time. This will provide opportunities to assess each refurbishment, learn from it, and apply those lessons to the next ones.

Even the first refurbishments will benefit from experience – such as refurbishments at Bruce Power, at Point Lepreau in New Brunswick, and at the Wolsong 1 reactor in South Korea. OPG has also created a full-scale replica of the Darlington reactor vault for testing tools, training, and ensuring that the teams can coordinate in real time.

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The Challenge of Renewable Energy

What would happen if Ontario flipped the switch and powered the grid only with renewable energy?

windandsolar

For starters, says Paul Acchione, a consultant and engineer who has worked with nuclear energy and fossil fuels for more than 40 years, it couldn’t be done.

“Because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, (they) can only have 40-55 per cent capacity factor and the grid operates at closer to 70 per cent,” according to Acchione.

Ontario needs power around the clock, with a minimum demand around 4 am (“base-load power”) and a peak demand around 4 pm or 5 pm.  Solar power can help meet demand as it rises during the day, but shuts down toward sunset. And wind power varies with the weather. Neither wind nor solar power can meet base-load demand on their own, and need back-up from a reliable, ready-when-needed energy source like natural gas.

Some renewable energy advocates look forward to the day that electricity can be stored on a scale large enough to power Ontario’s grid. Storage innovators like Tesla are making progress, and storage prices are coming down. But Acchione points out that they’re still not economically viable. He says that storage for renewable energy is about 2,000 times more costly than using gas as a backup, which means nuclear energy still has a role to play. “Current storage rates are expensive and simply not available which means renewable energy must be backed up with nuclear, gas or coal. Of the three, nuclear is the cleanest.”

Acchione predicts storage will become more affordable in 40 or 50 years. Until then, he says, Ontario’s power puzzle is easily solved:

“Take all the hydroelectric we can get economically and then fill in the base with as much nuclear as we can. The incremental, we can do with renewables, but you will need to invest a little bit in storage 6-8 hours so that they can fill in the peak load (times when power demands are greatest).”

In other words, the goal of all-renewable energy for Ontario won’t be met for decades, and nuclear energy will remain the foundation of the province’s electrical system.

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Why Ontario Needs Nuclear

The following infographic shows the rationale for using nuclear energy in Ontario. Simply put, Ontario is the second largest energy polluter in Canada, and nuclear is the only reason the province isn’t worse off. Among the clean energy options, nuclear is one of the most affordable, and it’s readily available.

The seven points below make it clear why Ontario needs nuclear.

Why Ontario Needs Nuclear - Infographic

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Uranium: A Sustainable Resource

By Erin Polka
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

One of my projects at the CNA has been to organize screenings of the movie Pandora’s Promise at universities across Canada.

At each university, there are a number of departments in which the movie could potentially resonate, including science, engineering, political science and environmental studies. Some universities have a department dedicated to the study of sustainable resources, where I would have expected to find nuclear energy advocates.

On the contrary.

The term “sustainable” has become synonymous with “renewable” among a significant number of students studying sustainable resources. For the most part, they are focused on water, wind and solar power, and have the tendency to neglect or even attack nuclear energy.

To set the record straight, it should be noted that sustainable energy has a much broader umbrella as it includes renewables such as water, wind, and solar, as well as non-renewables such as nuclear, which can be used as an energy source for many years to come.

By definition, sustainable energy provides the energy needs of today without compromising the energy needs of future generations.

Canada is a country so rich in uranium that it can continue to provide the fuel for nuclear energy for hundreds, if not thousands of years. With known resources of 572,000 tonnes of U3O8, Canada has approximately 10% of the world’s uranium, less only than Australia (31%) and Kazakhstan (12%).

In addition, Canada has the option to reprocess used fuel, as is being done already in many European countries, Russia and Japan. Moreover, Canada’s nuclear plants have the ability to breed Thorium, which is even more abundant in Canada than uranium.

Clearly, nuclear energy is sustainable. Why, then, does it continue to be omitted from consideration in the sustainable energy mix at Canadian universities?

A number of factors are likely at play, including general misinformation regarding the benefits (and risks) of nuclear energy, the trendy nature of renewables, and the fact that nuclear forces a division among those who consider themselves environmentalists and they choose to avoid this division rather than confront it.

Moving forward, we will continue to reach out to students studying sustainable resources, as I believe that while many of them will only ever endorse renewables, there is an opportunity to educate and engage those who simply haven’t considered nuclear.

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What Kind of Environmentalist Endorses Nuclear? An Informed and Realistic One.

There’s an interesting article on Slate.com today called The Pro-Nukes Environmental Movement: After Fukushima, is nuclear energy still the best way to fight climate change?

The article says what we’ve been saying for a while: that while renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are part of a clean energy mix, they simply can’t meet the world’s growing energy demands in the next few decades without some unforeseen leap forward in grid-scale energy storage. When the wind isn’t blowing, when the sun isn’t shining, and when you don’t have a way to efficiently store huge amounts of power, where does the power come from? Unfortunately in many circumstances, that need is filled by burning fossil fuels like coal and gas.

Nuclear’s reliable base load power, combined with advances in electrifying our transportation systems, is the cleanest way to get off fossil fuels that are, as this article says, cooking the planet.

But the article does raise some concerns – the same concerns that are always raised when talking about nuclear power: capital cost and waste. It also mentions the nuclear renaissance, which, before Fukushima, was underway as the world was recognizing the opportunity for nuclear to help us quit coal and reduce emissions.

The article concludes by talking about “next generation” technology: reactors that are able to efficiently burn the used-fuel and include even more redundant safe guards (our backups have backups).

I asked our policy director, John Stewart, to touch on the cost issue and explain a bit about next generation technology: How far away is it and what’s the hold up?

Well, first, let’s point out that “current generation” nuclear power is already very good – especially when you’re looking at the carbon issue.  A technology with zero carbon emissions in today’s operation is still going to be at zero in its next generation.  If it’s carbon you’re concerned about, today’s nuclear technology is unbeatable. I’m abstracting, of course, from marginal improvements in the way we build or refuel the plants – we can use cleaner trucks to deliver the uranium fuel to the plant, or lower-carbon concrete technologies when we pour the foundation, but that’s about it.

The reactor “generations” you’re talking about is a classification system developed by the US Department of Energy and described in detail at www.energy.gov.  Reactor technology has been advancing just like technology in many other areas over the past three decades.  In cars or phones or computers, we’ve all been aware of those advances because everyone buys the results.  In nuclear, reactors are advancing but virtually nobody in North America has been buying the results.  The reactors we see are mostly older technology, dating back often to the seventies and eighties.  They work just fine, they’re safe, they’re clean, they’re very economical, but they do not reflect the state of the art, which is mostly being bought and built in places like China and India – or will be over the coming decade or two.

So the short answer about next generation technology is it’s not far away, and the hold up is just demand.  Regulatory processes aside, advanced reactor technology is available – it’s largely a matter of building it.

DOE_ReactorGenerations
Source: http://nuclear.energy.gov/genIV/documents/gen_iv_roadmap.pdf

Conversations about cost have to be clear – are we talking about up-front capital investment, that is the plant construction cost, or are we talking about the average cost of generating a unit of power?  Nuclear’s record is very clear – it is one of the most affordable ways to get a unit of power in the long run.   It’s now selling for about six cents a kilowatt hour in Ontario, a real bargain especially considering how clean it is.  One of the main reasons is that the plants are so durable, lasting for fifty to sixty years.  When a capital asset is amortized over a period that long, capital costs can be very large and they still shrink in importance.  The unit cost of power over that six decades is very low. 

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The Nuclear Debate – Monbiot and Others Discuss the Pros and Cons

Yesterday, the Royal Society of Chemistry hosted a debate on nuclear. The issue at hand was whether it was possible for the UK to reach its 2030 emission reduction targets without the use of nuclear power. Arguing in favour of nuclear power was freelance journalist George Monbiot, and Malcolm Grimston, Research Fellow at Imperial College London. Arguing against was Greenpeace’s Doug Parr, and Roger Levett, an energy consultant.

We at the CNA encourage healthy debate on energy issues, one that weighs both the risks and benefits of all types of energy generation. We believe that nuclear power’s pros outweigh the cons. It is an integral part of Canada’s clean energy portfolio and must be a part of a national energy strategy.

Click to watch The Nuclear Debate on TheReaction.net

Each speaker made seven-minute opening statements. Here are some highlight points on each:

George Monbiot (pro):

  • On onshore wind: turbine construction is enough of a challenge as it is, but the lines required to connect them are worse and have not been commented on by Greenpeace
  • Solar: unbelievably expensive, poorly matched to time of electricity demand
  • If the UK maximizes its penetration for green energy, we can hit 45% by 2030 which is fantastic, but what do we do about the rest?
  • Given the public backlash against every energy option, maybe we should suggest rolling blackouts instead as a less controversial option

Roger Levett (con):

  • To defeat this motion, we can simply stop producing and start importing energy, or if we travelled abroad more rather than locally (because then carbon is attributed to the receiving country)
  • The problem is in overindulgence – we’d be better off with cars that don’t do 0-60 quickly without the safety features required for those speeds and the entertainment features to keep your kids entertained during those trips.
  • Local economies means less energy is required for transportation, so we can eliminate huge portions of our current energy use
  • Use a behavior-based approach rather than new energy supply (people should use less energy)

Malcolm Grimston (pro):

  • Believes it’s impossible to meet our target with or without nuclear, but nuclear is going to get us close.
  • There’s a fallacy that puts nuclear and renewable against each other
  • If I could reinvent the world I would leave out the 2nd law of thermodynamics
  • If we end up in a position of playing a game with millions of participants acting for their own situation, we’re in trouble. See John Nash.

Doug Parr (con):

  • Opening comment: disappointing to be on the opposite side of George Monbiot
  • Nuclear waste: we still don’t know what to do with it
  • Proliferation: if nuclear is the answer in the UK, it needs to be the answer everywhere. If you’re comfortable with nuclear power, you need to be comfortable with nuclear power in Africa & the middle east and other politically unstable territories
  • Nuclear unduly competes with renewables for share of investment capital

Each speaker then had the opportunity to reply to the others’ opening statements.  (See Monbiot and Grimston rebuttals!) Finally there was a Q&A with the audience.

A winner was called at the end with a house vote. The result of the vote was 63-9. Watch the debate to find out which side won.