When Black Friday comes: some thoughts on nuclear power and the end of the world

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), Canada’s nuclear regulator, yesterday accepted a proposed $14.2 billion guarantee by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) for decommissioning Ontario’s major nuclear facilities. In other words, CNSC says it is confident that OPG will be able to pay the costs of decommissioning these facilities.

Now, $14.2 billion sounds like a lot of money, and it is. Critics of nuclear power will say that if that is what it costs just to decommission all our nuclear reactors, then maybe we should look at other ways to make electricity. These critics need to consider economies of scale.

OPG owns all the nuclear generators in Ontario. That fleet is at this moment (0900 on Friday, December 21 2012) generating 10,434 megawatts of cheap, carbon free electricity. That’s more electricity than is currently being generated by all other sources combined. See Tables 1 and 2 in the left-hand sidebar for the Ontario grid’s sources in the last hour and so far today.

Generating and selling electricity is OPG’s business. It is also the business of Bruce Power, which leases and operates eight reactors from OPG. So, just for a second, look at those 10,434 megawatts from the business end. They are selling for an average of about 6 cents per kWh. That means that in the hour from nine to ten a.m. this morning, OPG and Bruce Power will have between them earned roughly $626,000. Over a 24-hour period, that works out to over $15 million. Over a year, it’s $5.4 billion.

Ontario’s nuclear plants have been running for decades. So you can see that, with that kind of money rolling in year after year, it is easily within OPG’s capability to make a $14.2 billion financial guarantee for decommissioning; after all, when all is said and done, the reactors will have run for upwards of 60 years.

I have no doubt the CNSC considered things like that when it accepted OPG’s proposal.

That will of course not stop nuclear critics from claiming the CNSC, a federal government organization, is simply a patsy for the industry. Such pop culture notions are commonplace, and not just in the area of nuclear energy.

But, as I enjoy my last cup of coffee ever, on this the last day of civilization, it occurs to me that nuclear power is the perfect nexus of the various apocalyptic mythologies permeating the pop culture.

The Steely Dan song “Black Friday” seems appropriate at this time: today is indeed a Friday, and it is a day on which the world is supposed to end. So enjoy:

The myth of government complicity in all things evil is why nobody believes nuclear regulators who say this or that aspect of civilian nuclear activity is safe. Didn’t the X Files clearly demonstrate government complicity in covering up evidence of aliens?

It is not that big of a stretch for those who believe in that kind of mythology to suspect anything the CNSC, a federal government organization, says.

Oh well. Happy Friday everyone, and here’s to critical thinking.

4 comments for “When Black Friday comes: some thoughts on nuclear power and the end of the world

  1. Joffan
    December 21, 2012 at 12:08

    Cheers Steve. Enjoy the end of the world – apparently the new world starts from the same place one picosecond later, so be sure not to blink today, or you’ll miss it.

  2. Tim
    December 21, 2012 at 22:10

    There have already been at three nuclear plants in the US(in New England) that have been fully decommissioned as in their is literally no sign of a nuclear plant ever existing on the site other than the spent fuel remaining in dry cask storage. The three plants that have already gone through this process are Yankee Rowe, Connecticut Yankee and Maine Yankee. The remaining site responsibilites of three plants(non existant plants at this point) have been consolidated into a single company called Three Yankees. The video below gives a pretty good insight/view into the decommissioning process at Connecticut Yankee circa 2005 as the plant was being disassembled.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcvDtuHj7o0

  3. James Greenidge
    December 23, 2012 at 19:14

    Re: “The three plants that have already gone through this process are Yankee Rowe, Connecticut Yankee and Maine Yankee.”

    And what primarily brought these down? Fear, Fact or Finances??

    If they must be, recycle decommissioned sites!

    Seasons Greetings All!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

    • PV
      December 24, 2012 at 11:02

      FACT – These were 3 of the oldest reactors in the US. They were shut down prematurely due to reactor pressure vessel embrittlement concerns, but reached 75 to 80% of expected lifespan. Newer reactors don’t have these issues.

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