Will first post-Fukushima election happen in Canada?

Yesterday the Canadian minority federal government took a step toward its own demise when it tabled a budget that none of the opposition parties said they would support. We will know soon whether the government can or will work out a deal with another of the federal parties. If it cannot or will not get a deal, then there will be an election probably in May. From the viewpoint of this blog, what role will energy issues play in the election?

Ontario, Canada’s biggest province, will have its own election in October. Energy issues appear to already be playing a big role—the temperature in the media conversation has gone through the roof, if you go by the number and frequency of media stories and the vehemence of reader feedback.

As reported extensively in this blog, the Ontario and federal governments have not yet figured out how to work together to advance their common interests when it comes to nuclear energy. The feds own AECL, one of whose reactor designs will likely be chosen to be built at the Darlington generating station east of Oshawa. Naturally, the feds would want AECL CANDUs to play the leading role in ensuring that 90 percent of Canada’s electricity in 2020 comes from non-emitting sources—one of their 2008 Throne Speech goals.

They want this so much that they included another $405 million for AECL in the budget. While this has received only note and little (if any) commentary, it is significant, and raises the question of how much the opposition parties think should go to AECL.

And Ontario is not only North America’s most nuclearized sub-jurisdiction—as I write this, Ontario nuclear plants are cranking out 10,227 megawatts of electricity—it is also the home base of most of the CANDU supply chain. There has been much talk of the decline of Ontario’s manufacturing sector and the accompanying job losses. The Darlington project will reverse that.

For an idea of the size of the jobs and other economic spinoffs this project would contribute, consider that the Darlington new build project would rival the Bruce A restart, another major nuclear power project, as Canada’s biggest infrastructure project. There are 3,300 well-paid contractors at Bruce right now, helping to bring a major source of clean, cheap much-needed power into the Ontario grid. The Darlington new build would involve at least two reactors. The 3,300 on the Bruce right now are refurbishing two existing reactors. Therefore we can assume the new build at Darlington would employ more than that number. Remember that EDF’s Flamanville EPR construction project in Normandy (see article) currently employs 2,700 people. That is for one reactor, albeit a big one.

Speaking of the EPR, it is one of the designs submitted in the 2009 Ontario vendor competition. There are four EPRs currently under construction: Olkiluoto (Finland), Flamanville, and two at Taishan (China). Olkiluoto was the first, and has taken the longest. It began in 2005 and the reactor is expected in service by 2012. By contrast, construction of the first Taishan unit began in April 2010; it is expected to be in service by 2013.

How will the Fukushima emergency play in the discussions on the Darlington new-build project? Media stories are one early indication; another is the Environmental Assessment hearings which are a necessary precursor of obtaining a CNSC license to build the plant. Those hearings are happening right now, and you can follow the by webcast here. (Note: the webcast is best viewed in Internet Explorer for Windows or Macintosh.)

And how will “the industry” respond to the fast-developing trends on this issue? The second annual Canadian Institute Nuclear Symposium is on April 28 and 29 in Toronto. Even without a federal election is in May, this will be an interesting event.

Between now and then, how will the industry respond? The better question is how should it respond. By repeatedly emphasizing that this crisis has so far produced no fatalities. Yes, the plant workers face risks every minute they are on site. The mainstream media (MSM) cares about that; that is how I know that two plant workers received a high dose of radiation and had to go to the hospital. And yet the MSM has provided zero information about the fate of the workers at the Cosmo Oil refinery east of Tokyo, which exploded immediately following the March 11 earthquake. Why such lack of interest in the fate of those refinery workers?

Watch and learn.

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12 years ago

I’ll hold off on opining on our election, but I did just stumble across an interesting reporter from Vermont Public Radio – http://www.vpr.net/people/npr/2100771/
He has an interesting post just up with a claim from the head of Radiation Effects Research Foundation, the entity responsible for a 6 decade long study on the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that a study would not be worthwhile for this because of some difficulties from a data point, and that the expected health impacts are very low.
Your readers capable of estimating the dangers without the press (which doesn’t necessarily include me), can find some raw data being release at http://www.mext.go.jp/english/radioactivity_level/detail/1303962.htm