The Canadian media is today mildly abuzz with reports that the new Parti-Quebecois government in Quebec will not go ahead with the refurbishment of Gentilly-2, a 635-MW CANDU power plant that came into service in 1983. The PQ has for some reason adopted an anti-nuclear position over the years. Apparently the PQ thought leaders are influenced more by Germans, who lead the world in talking the talk on global warming and greenhouse gases while dumping obscene amounts of GHGs into our air, than the French, who actually walk the walk and power almost their whole country with nuclear energy, putting comparatively tiny amounts of GHGs into the air.
Why would PQ thought leaders consciously choose a path different from France’s? France, after all, is their original homeland, and the country to which they look to draw moral support for their separatist project.
Even more bizarre is that the PQ, in a province with a long and proud environmentalist tradition, would consciously abandon a proven carbon-free source of export revenue. Gentilly-2 can generate over 5 billion kilowatt-hours of clean, cheap electricity every year. The new PQ premier has vowed to cut GHGs from fossil fuel. Well, if G-2’s output were replaced with natural gas—which is exactly what will happen in Quebec’s biggest export market in New England—then that would mean that upwards of 2.7 million tons of GHGs would get dumped into the atmosphere the PQ says it cares about.
Odd that the new premier’s first move would be to throw away not only Quebec’s single biggest carbon-free energy source, but a huge source of export revenue to boot. New England has paid good money, for decades, for G-2’s output.
But this is Canada. Is it possible that the news reports on the demise of G-2 are the first salvo in a federal-provincial negotiation scenario that has played out numerous times in the past? The refurbishment will cost money. Quebec loves to get federal money to pay for these kinds of things. And in this case, why shouldn’t the province get federal support for a clean energy project? After all, as recently as 2011 the feds promised loan guarantees to Newfoundland-Labrador for a major hydro project, which for the first time in the history of electricity dealings between Newfoundland and Quebec will not involve Quebec. The new PQ government could legitimately demand similar treatment in the case of the G-2 refurbishment. G-2, just like the Newfoundland-Labrador hydro project, is also clean energy. Cleaner, actually.
Those who support closing G-2 are trotting out the familiar nag. Physicians for Global Survival, yet another group of quack doctors who don’t mind parading their inability to interpret public health data in front of the world, are citing an equally cockamamie documentary which alleges the existence of cancer clusters around G-2. The same group successfully campaigned against a uranium mine near Sept-Iles a few years ago; apparently they have never heard of Ramsar, Iran, where average background radiation dose is thirteen times as high as it is in Canada and the residents are hale and healthy. Ramsar is in fact a spa resort, a destination for tourists who want to return home healthier than when they left.
Other anti-nuclear lobbyists claim the need for mid-life refurbishment proves the CANDU is inferior to light water reactors. (Are they advocating G-2’s replacement with an LWR?) This line of argumentation neglects to consider the fact that CANDUs refuel while at power, while LWRs are batch-refueled and require shut down for one or two months. During that time, the utility has to buy replacement power.
Over 25 years, the LWR will have been shut down for 25 to 30 months. How long does a CANDU require for refurbishment? G-2 is a CANDU 6, a hugely successful model that was built en masse in Canada, South Korea, Argentina, and Rumania. There have been two CANDU 6 refurbishments: Point Lepreau in New Brunswick, and Wolsong 1 in South Korea. The first went over schedule and budget; the second took just under 28 months.
There is now a crack refurbishment team capable of turning around CANDU 6 refurb projects in ever-shorter periods. I will wager a bet that they can turn around a CANDU 6 refurbishment in less than 25 months.