Lunn’s 4,000 megawatts: is nuclear renewable?

The media are busy trying to interpret the ream of Conservative environmental announcements this week. As I have mentioned, it looks like Harper and company finally learned how to talk the green talk. That should worry professional green groups and the opposition—their exclusive copyright on feel-good buzzwords like “renewable” and “conservation” just expired.

The Conservative announcements included a promise to increase Canada’s supply of renewable electricity by 4,000 megawatts. Someone should ask: are the Conservatives particular about where those 4,000 megawatts of electricity generating capacity will come from? Surely they’re not expecting them to come from wind or tidal or a combination of the two. If they are, they won’t reach the 4,000 megawatt target without a lot of parallel investment in fossil generation, which, unlike most renewables, is dispatchable to a real-world power grid. At the end of the day, we still need reliable electricity.

The government’s press releases have been short on these critical details. But comments by Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn, during his media blitz on Sunday, might give a clue. Lunn is by far the most overtly pro-nuclear federal minister in recent memory. It could be that the bulk of the government’s investment will go to nuclear. It certainly would be the only way Lunn can make good on his 4,000 megawatt promise.

Unless there is a further announcement down the road (don’t forget about the $538 million Martin–McGuinty deal of May 2005), this would require re-classifying nuclear so that it qualifies as “renewable.” I support nuclear, but calling it renewable would require some interesting taxonomical gymnastics. We might credibly pull this off if Canada were to begin recycling spent reactor fuel, à la George Bush’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). Help me out, nuclear experts: what would be Canada’s role under the GNEP?

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16 years ago

Calling nuclear power renewable is a stretch, absent some big technical advance that would allow fuel to be extracted from diffuse sources such as seawater. A better term would be “carbon-free”.