Harper’s made-in-Canada plan avoids mentioning the unmentionable

In my October 20 post, I said that Ontario is the scene of the first wave of major emission reductions in Canada. These reductions are taking place in the electric power generation sector, where the two nuclear generation companies, Ontario Power Generation and Bruce Power, are returning laid-up reactors to service.

Since 2000, OPG has brought back two 515 megawatt reactors at the Pickering nuclear station. Combined, they now displace around 8 million tonnes of emissions every year. Bruce Power plans to bring back the final two of its laid up 750-mW units. When these two reactors are producing electricity at a high capacity factor they will each year relieve Ontario of the necessity of generating over 10 billion kilowatt-hours of baseload power with coal. Hence they will prevent a further 10 million tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere every year.

The current provincial Liberal government came into power vowing to close Ontario’s coal-fired power plants in order to wipe out the emissions they produce. In view of this, you can be forgiven for wondering why the Liberals don’t make the point I just made about emission reductions from nuclear generation. After all, the Liberals are the ones who gave the green light for the second Pickering reactor rebuild. More important, they are planning a new wave of nuclear construction.

You can really be forgiven for wondering about this given the recently proposed federal Conservative Clean Air Act. Ontario environment minister Laurel Broten told Global TV’s Sean Mallen on Saturday’s Focus Ontario what she thinks of the Conservative plan. After trashing it, she told Mallen that Ontario is leading the way on Kyoto by closing the coal plants. This is a bit strange, given that none of the four targeted coal plants has actually been closed (and won’t be for the foreseeable future). Broten might have more credibly pointed to the actual, million-tonne emission reductions that have resulted from the returns of the two Pickering units.

Moreover, Broten said that the federal government owes Ontario over $500 million (from Paul Martin’s May 2005 deal with Dalton McGuinty). Why didn’t she say that money would pay for the nuclear rebuilds—since that is where government-driven electricity investment is going anyway—and say Prime Minister Harper could hasten real reductions by providing yet more support?

This is only a mystery if you don’t factor in partisan politics (see my October 3 and October 5 posts). But sooner or later someone, either in Toronto or Ottawa, will rise above this. The question is who, and when.

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15 years ago

Steve, have you given any thought to WHY nuclear output was much lower in 2003 than 2006, and what that says about nukes as a reliable CO2-abatement strategy?

Steve Aplin
15 years ago

Thanks Norman,

I have given much thought to it. It would be easy for me to whine about political decisions to mothball reactors rather than rehab them… so I’ll just get started. Kidding aside, the relatively low 2003 nuclear output says more about fleet management than about the feasibility of nuclear power. U.S. nuclear capacity factors have been phenomenal since 1990, so it’s certainly possible to achieve better performance. Should we gamble that our nuclear generating companies can get better performance in the future, or that some other form of baseload will come on the scene?