Nuclear consultation in Alberta

27 March 2009

Residents of Alberta are to be consulted on nuclear energy. Their views will inform the provincial government's position on the energy source, but any decisions remain with the private sector.


The consultation to start next month will be backed up by the "factual report" report of an expert panel, which has just been completed. The government will now "conduct extensive public consultations to gather the view of Albertans on nuclear power in the context of the province's electricity system."


At present, 88% of Albertan electricity generation capacity is in fossil fuel plant, primarily coal with 50% that works as baseload, complimented by natural gas with 35% used primarily during times of peak demand. Renewables hydro and wind make up most of the remaining 12% and there is also a contribution from biomass. Over half of the power use in the province is by industry. Nuclear power's role would also be baseload.


The report notes Alberta's need for "significant" future expansion in power production due to growth in population and economy. This will be accelerated by demand for power for the extraction of oil from sandy deposits in the north of the province. In 2003 about 700 MWe in capacity was required for this purpose and this figure is expected to grow to 1400 MWe by 2012 and as high as 3200 MWe by 2030.


This growth is a major driver towards bringing in nuclear power, which as a low-carbon source would enable the oil end product to have a far lower carbon intensity than if it had been extracted using fossil fuels.


Bruce Power Alberta has selected a site on which it would like to build a 2200 MWe nuclear power plant near Peace River in north west Alberta. The company is already working hard to engage with the local community there.


The report notes that, "The decision to build a plant - whether powered by thermal combustion, water, wind, biomass, or nuclear - is a private-sector decision taken by a company based on its assessment of the project's economic viability." Alberta's energy minister Mel Knight said: "The Alberta government has been clear that it will not take a position [on nuclear energy] until we hear from Albertans."