TransCanada, Canada's largest pipeline company, is the latest to consider the use of nuclear energy in order to meet Alberta's increasing energy requirements.
"We think Alberta is in an interesting situation just because the long-term supply/demand fundamentals are good in Alberta, there is certainly demand for power," TransCanada's CEO Hal Kvisle said during a conference call to discuss the company's results for the third quarter of 2007.
Alberta currently consumes some 9000 MW of electricity, but increased demand, particularly within the oilsands sector, is expected to push demand up to around 14,000 MWe by 2016.
TransCanada, in addition to owning a fleet of gas-fired power plants, holds a stake in the Bruce nuclear power plant in Ontario. In December 2003, TransCanada, together with Cameco and BPC Generation Infrastructure Trust, agreed to buy 79.8% of Bruce Power, the owner of the Bruce plant, from British Energy.
Facing an impending power shortage, the Ontario government in October 2005 agreed with Bruce Power to refurbish its four oldest reactors - collectively known as Bruce A, each 769 MWe - rather than the longer process of building new ones to replace them. TransCanada is now investing C$2.6 billion ($2.7 billion) in the ongoing refurbishment of units 3 and 4 at the plant. The company said it could use the experienced gained from the project in constructing a new nuclear power plant in Alberta.
"We've got an exceptionally competent team at Bruce Power that has done a very good job of guiding the refurbishment of the Bruce A plant, which in many ways is a complete new build," Kvisle said. "We have confidence that team would do a very good job of pursuing nuclear projects in Alberta if they make sense."
However, Kvisle pointed out that a major obstacle to constructing a nuclear power plant in Alberta is the lack of transmission infrastructure within the province and between the province and other North American markets.
In addition, Kvisle said, "We don't yet know if nuclear would be competitive with exotic forms of coal generation. We don't think simple coal-fired generation makes sense in Alberta going forward for CO2 reasons, but there are coal-gasification and other projects that might make sense and that is what nuclear has to compete with. We're doing our detailed homework as always."
Various proposals have been made to use nuclear power to produce steam for extraction of oil from Alberta's northern oilsands deposits and electricity also for the major infrastructure involved.
In the most advanced proposal, Energy Alberta has selected Peace River as the potential site for its nuclear power plant in the province and has filed an application for a site preparation licence with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). The application is for the siting of up to two twin-unit plants, using AECL's ACR-1000 Advanced Candu reactors. Energy Alberta plans initially to build one 2200 MWe twin-unit plant, with a start-up target of 2017.
Areva Canada, a subsidiary of France's Areva, has also been considering construction of a nuclear power plant in the province.
In March 2007, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources recommended that no decision should be taken on the use of nuclear energy for Canada's oil sands until the "repercussions of this process are fully known and understood". Their report estimated that a reactor of some 600 MW capacity could supply a processing plant producing 60,000 barrels of synthetic crude oil per day. Hence almost 20 such reactors would be needed to meet the production growth planned to 2015, when Canadian output from oil sands is forecast to reach three million barrels per day. Smaller reactors, with capacities of some 100 MW, could be more suitable for individual projects, given the limitations of supplying steam over more than 25 km.
WNA's Canada's Uranium Production & Nuclear Power information paper
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