The government of Alberta has appointed an expert panel to prepare a report on the potential use of nuclear energy in the Canadian province. The report will form the basis for future public debate.
The provincial government does not have an official position on nuclear power. Although the Conservative party has voted in favour of exploring nuclear for use in oil sands extraction, its energy minister, Mel Knight, has said the government is staying neutral on the matter. He has assured that there would be no development within the province without open, public discussions.
The panel will be chaired by Harvie Andre, president and CEO of Wenzel Downhole Tools. The other members of the panel are: Joseph Doucet, energy policy professor at the University of Alberta; Harrie Vredenburg, competitive strategy and sustainable development chair at University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business; and John Luxat, specialist in nuclear safety analysis at McMaster University.
The panel will examine: environmental, health and safety issues; waste management; comparison of nuclear energy with other electricity generation technologies; current and future nuclear power generation being used in Canada and worldwide; and Alberta's future electricity needs. The panel has also been asked to examine social issues and concerns related to nuclear energy. The Provincial Energy Strategy, expected to be completed later this year, will also be reviewed by the expert panel to examine how nuclear power fits into an Alberta context. The panel is expected to submit its report to the government in late 2008.
In a statement, the government said: "By fully examining the environmental, safety and numerous other issues related to nuclear-generated electricity, the panel's report will provide the basis for future public discussions."
"Nuclear energy is a challenging topic because it generates strong feelings and opinions - not only in Alberta, but around the world," said Knight. He added, "That is why developing an objective and broad-based research paper is an important first step in having informed and meaningful discussions with Albertans."
Knight said, "The work of the panel will provide the government and all Albertans with an unbiased examination of the issues that will help us determine together whether or not nuclear energy is the right fit for meeting Alberta's electricity needs."
Various proposals have been made to use nuclear power to produce steam for extraction of oil from Alberta's oil sand deposits as well as electricity for other items of major infrastructure involved in those operations.
Bruce Power has filed an application with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to construct several reactors in the Peace River area of Alberta in the next decade. The first unit could be ready as early as 2017, pending the successful completion of a full environmental assessment (EA) and consultations with the local communities.
Canada's Alberta Research Council (ARC) and the USA's Idaho National Laboratory (INL) have agreed to study the energy options for Alberta, including the potential use of advanced nuclear power. The two organizations signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) at the end of March to collaborate on a series of energy and environmental research and development initiatives, among them the potential application of current and future nuclear energy technology within the context of Alberta's specific conditions and industry applications.
Alberta currently consumes some 9000 MW of electricity, but increased demand, particularly within the oil sands sector, is expected to push demand up to around 14,000 MWe by 2016.