Saturday, December 15, 2007
Nuclear power making global comeback
With prices rising, atomic alternative is competitive
CanWest News Service
Published: Friday, November 16, 2007
TORONTO -- Tomohiro Taniguchi in Austria, Armand Laferrere, Brian Roberts and Jerry Hopwood in Ontario, and Wayne Henuset in Alberta have a common link.
They are all part of an emerging trend -- a nuclear-energy renaissance -- which is slowly but surely gaining ground globally.
There are 435 nuclear reactors in operation in 30 countries. But, according to the World Nuclear Association, 28 more reactors are under construction, another 64 are at the planning stage and 158 more have been proposed, mostly in Asia and Eastern Europe.
In Canada, there are 22 nuclear reactors, all in the East. At about 25,000 megawatts, Ontario has the biggest installed capacity, followed by Quebec and New Brunswick.
"More and more countries are either turning to nuclear or deciding to increase the size of their fleet," said Laferrere, general manager for Canada of French engineering firm Areva -- one of a number of companies looking to establish a nuclear toehold in Alberta.
"This comes from a combination of four drivers. One, growing concern for the environment; nuclear produces electricity without any carbon dioxide emissions and is thus the answer to global warming concerns.
"Second, with oil prices rising, nuclear is becoming a competitive alternative."
The huge progress made in safety designs and widespread concerns over energy security are the other drivers.
"Three Mile Island and Chernobyl were as different from the nuclear plants designed today as 1970s computers were from today's laptops," Laferrere says.
As the deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Taniguchi is optimistic about the future nuclear -- and coal -- as new additions to the global energy mix.
"Both these fuels were being increasingly put on the back burner until a few decades ago," he said. "But now we see a renewed interest in nuclear power. [Prospective] consumers are also willing to believe that nuclear energy is safer now than what it was earlier."
Interest in nuclear energy has been growing in all quarters, including the Middle East, which is home to about 40 per cent of the world's proven oil reserves.
"We had a delegation from Jordan visiting us recently," said Hopwood, vice-president of reactor development for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. "The preliminary visit was to understand how our system works."
Interest in coal is less apparent. According to a recent report issued by Dublin-based Research & Markets Ltd., some of the major developed economies have announced a closure of their coal-fired plants in reaction to environmental concerns. A case in point is in Ontario, where the McGuinty government is committed to replacing coal-fired generation with cleaner power.
Coal will be replaced by a mixture of new, cleaner energy sources such as hydroelectric, renewable, nuclear and natural-gas fired generation, says Ontario Energy Ministry spokeswoman Sylvia Kovesfalvi.
With a total installed capacity of 31,214 megawatts, combined with aging power infrastructure and peak-demand growing each year by one per cent, the step is considered bold, if not controversial.