Quebec anti-nukes go down in flames: EXCELLENT news for the environment

Yesterday I wrote about why I am sanguine about mankind’s prospects of reducing emissions of man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) on the scale necessary to curb anthropogenic climate change. There is a solution, an obvious and easy one; that solution is nuclear energy. I know it doesn’t seem easy. But that is because the world has been for too long bombarded with off-base prescriptions about cutting energy use as a solution to climate change, as if there is a direct and automatic relationship between energy use and CO2.

There is a direct line to increased CO2, if the energy comes from burning fossil fuels. But you can increase energy from nuclear plants all you want, and you won’t see an increase in CO2. That’s because fission releases no CO2; it’s a nuclear process, not a chemical one.

This false assumption—that increased energy use automatically means increased CO2—is the offspring of the anti-nuclear lobby. In some jurisdictions this lobby punches, politically, far above its actual intellectual weight. Anti-nuke policy recommendations are built on such a flimsy basis that it would be comical if it hadn’t led to the dumping of such obscene amounts of CO2 into our air. Some politicians have not clued into this. Some of these are in the elected government of Quebec. But not for long. The Parti Québecois government that canned the refurbishment of the Gentilly-2 CANDU nuclear plant in favour of natural gas was trounced in yesterday’s general provincial election.

Silly anti-nuclear fearmongering pranks by groups like Greenpeace were actually taken seriously by Quebec’s soon-to-be-former Parti Québecois government, which spent a lot of its time pandering to that portion of the voting public. Unfortunately for the PQ, they should have pandered to bigger, more important, and better informed constituencies.

Silly anti-nuclear fearmongering pranks by groups like Greenpeace were actually taken seriously by Quebec’s soon-to-be-former Parti Québecois government, which spent a lot of its time pandering to that portion of the voting public. Unfortunately for the PQ, that precious time was utterly wasted. They should have pandered to bigger, more important, and better informed constituencies.

Of course, Gentilly-2 did not play that prominent a role in the election campaign. In fact it probably played no role at all, other than in the riding in which the reactor is located and where a lot of the (lost) jobs are. Nevertheless, both the Liberals, who won a huge majority tonight, and the Coalition Avenir Québec, which came third after the Liberals and PQ, protested against the permanent closure of Quebec’s biggest CO2-free generator.

Does that mean G-2 will be refurbished instead of permanently shut? I don’t know. But the chances are suddenly much improved.

And that is good news for the planet.

15 comments for “Quebec anti-nukes go down in flames: EXCELLENT news for the environment

  1. April 8, 2014 at 08:03

    I calculated that Gentilly is only sufficient to produce about 3% of Quebec’s electricity demand.  Perhaps it’s NOT needed at current levels of demand… unless HQ intends to increase exports.

    A “Clean Up Quebec” campaign, replacing fossil fuels with electricity (in cars, in heating air and water, in everything) might be a way to boost demand and cut CO2 emissions.

    • April 8, 2014 at 08:10

      Poet, exactly — and in at least one election debate the PQ and Liberals were touting exactly that.

      Quebec would love to export power, and really hated that period December through March where a big portion of provincial power went to space heating. New England would have bought a lot of that.

      Either way, I see a future for G2.

      • chris
        April 8, 2014 at 16:58

        They did sell lots of power to NE. Check out the ISO NE website.

        • jmdesp
          April 14, 2014 at 06:25

          Given the price that NE power reached during the cold wave, a little bit more would have been a lot of money.

          • April 14, 2014 at 08:34

            Sadly, you can’t build a reliable business on rare spot-market events, and anything that alleviated the power shortage would have eliminated the cause of the high prices.

    • April 8, 2014 at 13:55

      not such huge room for growth in heating… Quebec’s CO2e in that department in 2009 was 7.7 million tons for Commercial/Institutional and 3.9 million for residential.

      This is what happens when you write cheap electricity into your domestic policy? People use it.

      Ontario has to rethink its disincentives for electricity use.

  2. Johhny M.
    April 8, 2014 at 15:08

    Anyone know if anything has yet been done to Gentilly that would make a refurb. impractical?

  3. Jaro Franta
    April 8, 2014 at 15:23

    Actually Steve, as shown in this cartoon, the Parti Québecois government canned the refurbishment of the Gentilly-2 CANDU nuclear plant in favour of windmills: Note the “AUX VERTS! XX” ticket dangling from the tip of the wind turbine. The “XX” by the way signifies “kisses.” It’s a reference to her gratitude for the greens’ support of the PQ in the 2012 election.

    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/11686324/1001910_612103058834148_1946117633_n.jpg

    A quote from a recent article in the Montreal Gazette:
    “Three former environmental activists were appointed as provincial ministers, the government shut down the Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant, extended a …”

    http://www.montrealgazette.com/technology/words+environment/9665161/story.html

    Regarding your comment that “Gentilly-2 … probably played no role at all, other than in the riding in which the reactor is located and where a lot of the (lost) jobs are.”
    In fact there were at least four ridings where Gentilly-2 was an important political issue.
    Pro-G2 LIB candidates won in all of them, including Trois-Rivieres and Champlain (CAQ, also pro-G2, won in Niclolet-Becancour).

    Just for interest, the very popular pro-G2 LIB politician Danielle St-Amand resigned for health reasons last February, and was replaced by equally pro-G2 candidate Jean-Denis Girard (see linked pic).

    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/11686324/Danielle_St-Amand–Jean-Denis_Girard_8-IV-2014.JPG

    Both were very actively supporting the G2 refurb project and participated in demonstrations and other popular events.

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=489976894353295&set=a.391378354213150.98879.108833445800977&type=1

    It will be interesting what Girard and other elected candidates will say on the issue in the coming months.

    However, I disagree that “the chances are suddenly much improved” for a refurb of G2: For the leadership of the Liberal party, they are probably grateful to the PQ for having made the decision to shut the reactor permanently – they now have an excuse (“It’s too far down the decommissioning road”) and someone to blame (the PQ).

  4. Morgan Brown
    April 9, 2014 at 09:10

    Several people I’ve talked to (all nuclear industry employees) have wondered about the effect (if any) that the election will have on G-2. Essentially, we have no data (i.e., nothing from Hydro Quebec or the Liberal party to hint at any possible change). I agree with Jaro’s view that the deed is done with little or no prospect of any other outcome.

    However, I was completely wrong about Bruce A (I thought it would never rise again) – I would be delighted to be proved wrong respecting G-2!

    • Michael
      April 11, 2014 at 08:59

      What would be really cool would be if the reactor was refurbished and used to test advanced fuel concepts…e.g. thorium.

      You could use conventional fuel in most of the channels and reserve a few channels for test fuel.

      Sell some electricity to recover some of the costs…

  5. crf
    April 12, 2014 at 20:20

    I don’t think G2 will be refurbished. But you never know. I think it is a casualty of low economic growth.

    It may depend on what the Federal government does with regards to its climate and nuclear policy.

    It’s really sad that very few governments in western world now bother to plan for any potential crises. Climate change and energy policy are not the only casualties of poor planning: Unemployment, low growth, inequality, conflict, population growth and resource use.

    Maybe they’ll start to take these problems seriously, especially since the Ukraine crisis shows how dangerously sour things can get, quickly, even in relatively advanced countries.

    • April 13, 2014 at 11:45

      What’s worse, the IPCC just lent its considerable intellectual clout to underlining the notion that the world needs more solar and wind power, and that nuclear is not a solution to climate change. To me, this is an almost inexcusable failure of imagination and simple critical thinking, and on the part of professional scientists no less.

      So instead of urging world governments to follow France’s (or Ontario’s) example and decarbonize their power systems using a proven solution, the IPCC apparently agrees that Germany — with electric-power GHGs five times those of France (and prices that are twice as much) — is the way to go.

      That is an astounding, and egregious, failure of leadership on the part of the IPCC. Do they want less carbon dioxide, or more wind turbines? Apparently the latter.

      • April 15, 2014 at 08:48

        Actually, the executive summary of the IPCC report says this (p. 15, emphasis added):

        a tripling to nearly a quadrupling of the share of zero? and low?carbon energy supply from renewables, nuclear energy and fossil energy with carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS), or bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) by the year 2050

        So it’s there, it’s just not emphasized nearly as much as it should be compared to its demonstrated capability.

        • April 16, 2014 at 07:46

          Okay, so you’re a glass-half-full type. I should admit that that is better than glass-half-empty. But here’s the passage (p. 23) that has stuck in my craw:

          Nuclear energy is a mature low?GHG emission source of baseload power, but its share of global electricity generation has been declining (since 1993). Nuclear energy could make an increasing contribution to low?carbon energy supply, but a variety of barriers and risks exist (robust evidence, high agreement). Those include: operational risks, and the associated concerns, uranium mining risks, financial and regulatory risks, unresolved waste management issues, nuclear weapon proliferation concerns, and adverse public opinion (robust evidence, high agreement). New fuel cycles and reactor technologies addressing some of these issues are being investigated and progress in research and development has been made concerning safety and waste disposal.

          “Robust evidence” of risks? They have trotted out every cockamamie anti-nuke objection as if it were valid, and even cited adverse public opinion as an excuse to dismiss the technology. There was lots of adverse public opinion against the very concept of AGW, especially after the East Anglia episode. I didn’t cite that as an excuse to not to anything about it.

          As scientists, they need to consider evidence as they go about their public advocacy. i.e., they should have at least some dead bodies to back their claim of “robust evidence” of risks. And if they have to track back to Chernobyl and 1986 to find those dead bodies, they should at least give some consideration as to why nuclear still has the lowest dead-body-count of all the major generation technologies.

          • April 17, 2014 at 10:57

            Sadly, the people who write the IPCC consensus report aren’t acting as scientists.  They’re acting as representatives of their governments, and “consensus” means one clown can cast a veto.

            It would be good to have a process which determines which governments are responsible for these anti-scientific elements, and remove them from participation.

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