Monthly Archives: March 2015


CNA Visits the Canada Science and Technology Museum

By Erin Polka
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

On January 28, 2015, CNA staff had the opportunity to view the nuclear material currently in storage at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Like any museum, only a small percentage of their collection is on display at any given time. So we were very pleased when they invited us to take in the entire collection.

Below are some of the museum’s nuclear-related artifacts, which few people have ever seen.

Original electronic tower from the ZEEP nuclear reactor at Chalk River, c. 1945.
Original electronic tower from the ZEEP nuclear reactor at Chalk River, c. 1945.
The triple axis spectrometer (c. 1956) designed and used by Nobel Prize Winner, Betrum Brockhouse.
Triple axis spectrometer (c. 1956) designed and used by Nobel Prize winner, Bertram Brockhouse.
1920s Dental X-ray machine.
1920s dental x-ray machine.
1950s X-ray shoe fitter.
1950s x-ray shoe fitter.
(Front)  ZEEP fuel rod prototype designed by George Klein c. 1945 (Back) The 100,00th CANDU Fuel Bundle presented to Prime Minister Trudeau in 1975.
(Front) ZEEP fuel rod prototype designed by George Klein c. 1945. (Back) The 100,000th CANDU fuel bundle presented to Prime Minister Trudeau in 1975.
The "Advanced CANDU Reactor (ACR) Model" on loan to CSTMC from A‎ECL at Chalk River.
The “Advanced CANDU Reactor (ACR) model” on loan from CNL at Chalk River.

Nuclear Cheaper than Solar Now and in the Future

Solar panel

By Romeo St-Martin
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

Nuclear power is clean. The UN sees it as one of the energy sources needed to fight climate change. This is something critics in green groups cannot deny.

But a new green trend is to focus criticism on the costs of nuclear power plants.

The Guardian recently reported on how Friends of the Earth in the UK have shifted in this direction.

“The biggest risk of nuclear power is that it takes far too long to build, it’s far too costly, and distorts the national grid by creating an old model of centralized power generation,” says Friends of the Earth’s campaigns director Craig Bennett.

But is this correct? Is nuclear more expensive than the renewables preferred by most green groups?

In a recent column for The Energy Collective website, Tracey Durning, co-founder of Energy Options Network, wrote about the current divide between the nuclear and renewable camps.

Durning said she found that the economics of nuclear was “one of the biggest wedges” between the two sides.

She decided to ask two of her peers at the Energy Options Network – Eric Ingersoll, Senior Advisor at Lucid Strategy and CEO of Energy Options Network, and Ashley Finan, Energy Innovation Project Manager at the Clean Air Task Force, Energy Options Network Practice Leader – to shed light on the debate.

They found that while solar appears cheaper than nuclear, intermittency (the sun doesn’t shine 24 hours a day) means solar plants operate at 20 to 30 per cent of capacity. This is lower than the 90 per cent average for a nuclear plant.

They estimated a 1 GW nuclear plant could produce 7,889 gigawatt-hours of electricity annually. But you would need a 3.6 GW solar plant to produce the same amount of power.

“By that measure, nuclear is more than competitive,” Durning wrote.

“In 2014, one of the cheapest utility scale solar plants in the US had an expected installed price of $2,000 per kilowatt. But since US solar plants operate at only about 25 per cent capacity factor, the cost per capacity-adjusted kilowatt is $8,000.”

This doesn’t include the cost of providing backup energy for solar. Most jurisdictions use fossil fuel generation to provide this backup, thereby driving up greenhouse gas emissions.

She looked at the cost of the four US nuclear reactors under construction today in Georgia and South Carolina.

Their initial capital costs are $6,700 per kilowatt and $4,900 per kilowatt respectively for an average of $6,500 per capacity-adjusted kilowatt factoring 90 per cent operation capacity.  That’s 20 per cent less than solar.

Durning’s conclusion: “When you take into consideration the amount of electricity produced, it’s just not true that nuclear is more expensive than solar or that it is likely to be more expensive than solar in the future.”


Myth Busted! Nuclear is Actually Second-Cheapest Source of Electricity.

By Romeo St-Martin
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

The next time you look at your electricity bill, keep in mind that electricity from nuclear plants is the second least expensive form of power in Ontario. Water power is slightly cheaper but almost all of Ontario’s commercially viable water generation capability is already developed.

There is a perception that nuclear power is expensive. This is largely due to the high upfront costs in building or refurbishing nuclear reactors.

But because these costs can be amortized over several decades, the end result is a low-cost reliable baseload source of electricity. Nuclear doesn’t increase your power bill. In fact, it helps keep it down.

2013 electricity price per KWh

The average price for electricity in Ontario in 2013 was 8.5 cents per KWh.

Nuclear was six cents per KWh in 2013. The only thing that was not more expensive was hydro, which was 4.5 cents per KWh.

“With rates paid for nuclear today at 30 per cent below the average price of electricity in Ontario, nuclear refurbishment will ensure price stability for decades to come from sites with existing transmission infrastructure,” Robert Hattin, chair of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, recently wrote in an op/ed for the Toronto Sun.

Ontario Electricity Mix

Both baseload nuclear and hydro are far less expensive than the peaking sources of electricity, with solar at 50 cents, gas at 15 cents and wind at 11 cents per KWh.

Nuclear supplied 59 per cent of the power to the electricity grid in 2013 in Ontario. One can wonder how much electricity bills would be if, say, solar represented 59 per cent of the electricity grid at nearly 10 times the price per KWh.


Why Get Rid of a Good Thing?

Old carBy John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

I once had a beloved old car – a 1984 Volvo – that didn’t look great, and needed regular work, but ran beautifully. I only scrapped it because my girlfriend hated it. That decision, I figure, cost me several thousand dollars over the next two years as I paid for a pricey lease on a new car.

The two most basic ways to get value out of equipment are to make sure you use it, and to keep it a long time.

Cars are getting more expensive and complex, but this doesn’t stop us from buying them. It does lead us to keep them 50% longer than we did a decade ago.

These days, my wife and I share our old car with my brother and his wife. We spread the fixed costs of ownership across two families’ driving needs, cutting the fixed costs per family in half.

Equipment that’s expensive can still be highly economic. Up-front cost isn’t an obstacle if the equipment runs efficiently, gets used a lot, and lasts a long time.

A nuclear reactor is a big piece of equipment, and the business of owning one is like owning a vehicle, only more so.

Nuclear power plants are designed to run extremely well for a long time, and they do it. They typically produce electricity at 80% or more of their designed capacity, and they last – with refits – for fifty or sixty years. That’s a lot of use over a very long time.

How many products do you – or even your employer – own that you know will have five to six decades of life? The result is cheap, reliable power, as this chart from the Ontario Power Authority shows, nuclear refurbishment is the lowest cost option for generation and ranks very close to the cost of energy efficiency:


Quebec recently decided to decommission its only nuclear plant, rather than give it a mid-life refit.

The decision came one week after the election of a new provincial government – before it had even been sworn into office. The government then asked for an economic analysis. In other words, they made their decision – it was written into their election platform – and then asked for backup.

The province’s electrical utility, which had planned to refit the plant, came back with re-worked numbers that raised the refit cost by 126%, and the cost of shutting it down by only 12%. Surprise, surprise:  the new numbers justified the announced decision.

The utility’s new estimate for refit cost was $4.3 billion. But a refit of a similar reactor came in at $2.4 billion in neighbouring New Brunswick. There, Energy Minister Craig Leonard was quoted saying, “If you look at the market today and try to obtain 700 megawatts of baseload emission-free power for $2.4 billion, you’re probably going to be searching for quite a while.” (, July 16, 2013, item by K. Bissett).

This story isn’t unusual. We often get rid of good things for poor reasons and many, like Quebec’s, are political.

Greenhouse gas emissions, clean air, long-term fossil fuel pricing and long-term carbon pricing are sometimes overlooked in political decisions. Some jurisdictions are closing good nuclear plants in favour of currently cheap fossil fuels. This is like scrapping our cars because the local taxi service is giving us a month’s worth of free rides. The problem, of course, is what happens at the end of the month. We’re caught without cars, we’re hostages to the taxi business, and we’re paying taxi fares two to four times a day. Our cost of getting around has quintupled! This is why so many countries continue to choose nuclear.

According to the WNA, nearly twice as many reactors will start up as shut down by 2030. India has six new units under construction, Russia has ten and China has twenty-eight. A long list of other countries are as well, including Turkey to Saudi Arabia to Argentina.

Yes, nuclear power generating capacity has a large capital cost and it takes time to build. But as we have seen, high capital cost is compatible with good economics. Good efficient equipment, used well and maintained well throughout its optimal operational life, pays off.


Nuclear Refurbishment: The Best Deal for Ontario


By Romeo St-Martin
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

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.”