Nuclear power? We'll consider it, say Albertans

15 December 2009

Applications to build nuclear power plants should be considered individually in the same way as any other energy option, residents of the Canadian province of Alberta have told their government.

Flag - Alberta
The flag of Alberta
As a result of a public consultation process, the province's government has said it will not change its existing policy and consider all power generation options proposed to it. The consultation, which involved questionnaires, discussion groups and a telephone survey, identified the range of views held by residents of the province on the question of nuclear power. Nearly 5000 individuals and a range of stakeholder groups took part in the various consultations carried out on behalf of the government, culminating in a "statistically representative" random telephone survey of 1024 residents.    

Forty-five percent of those polled preferred that the province should consider nuclear power plants on a case-by-case basis, while a further 19% said that the province should encourage nuclear power proposals. Only 27% said the province should oppose any proposals for nuclear power, with about 8% saying they didn't know. Health, environment and safety aspects of nuclear plants, including the handling and storage of nuclear waste, should be the focus of any government review of nuclear power plant proposals, the survey found.

"Albertans have told us that we shouldn't be closed to new generation technologies that could provide clean, low-emission power,” the province's energy minister, Mel Knight, said, noting that potential future power plant applicants would need to fully address the concerns identified through the survey. Knight promised that the province would maintain its existing policy of considering private sector power plant applications on a case-by-case basis.


   "Albertans have told
   us that we shouldn't be
   closed to new 
   generation technologies
   that could provide
   clean, low-emission

    Mel Knight 
    Alberta energy minister

Approval and regulation of nuclear facilities is the responsibility of the Canadian federal government, but provincial approvals are also required for any energy project. Alberta's electricity generation policy does not direct the type of plants to be built, leaving the decision to apply to build - and to finance - any power plant to private companies. Knight reiterated that this situation would continue. "We will work with the federal government regarding any nuclear power application to ensure provincial rules and environmental standards are respected. Further, we will not invest public dollars in any nuclear power proposals," he said.

The announcement that the government of Alberta would give the same consideration to nuclear as any other power option was greeted warmly by Bruce Power, which is proposing to build up to 4000 MWe of nuclear capacity at the Whitemud site in north-west Alberta. "It's encouraging to see the door remains open for us to demonstrate we can bring value to the province and help Alberta meet its future energy needs without contributing to greenhouse gas emissions," said Bruce Power president and CEO Duncan Hawthorne. However, he noted that in the light of the changing market conditions over the past 18 months the company would need to take another look at the commercial case before making any decision to proceed further with the project.

The vast majority of Alberta's current electricity generation capacity is fossil fuelled, with a 12% share for renewables, hydro and wind and a small contribution from biomass. The north of the province is rich in oil in sandy deposits but its extraction requires a large baseload capacity. This has led to commercial interest in building a nuclear power plant, which could provide the necessary power - the capacity needed for oil sand extraction is forecast to grow from the 2003 figure of 700 MWe to 1400 MWe by 2012 and as high as 3200 MWe by 2030.