October 30, 2003
To the Editor,
I wish to clarify an item in your coverage of my recent debate with David Martin in Deep River (“Sierra Club advisor calls for public review of nuclear power”, October 29).
Mr. Martin rightly claimed that AECL’s new reactor, the Advanced CANDU Reactor (ACR), is intended to be cost-competitive with new natural gas plants. This does not mean, however, that current CANDU-generated electricity is non-competitive.
This distinction is somewhat like the cost of a new car versus the cost of driving the car.
CANDU reactors are expensive machines to build, but dirt-cheap to run. Natural gas plants are dirt-cheap to build, but expensive to run.
If you were a utility shopping for new generating supply in the last century you probably based your decision heavily upon “total lifetime unit energy cost”, which lumped construction and operating costs together, along with related costs such as decommissioning and waste management.
Based on this comparison, nuclear power, because of its singularly low fuel cost, is the cheapest large-scale, baseload source of electricity available in jurisdictions like Ontario. Fortunately it is also the cleanest and safest. (For details, please see www.nuclearfaq.ca)
In the current market-driven environment, however, the “sticker price” rules: overnight capital cost sells new generating capacity. Shareholders want to know their return over the next three years, and care less about the next thirty years.
In this reality, natural gas wins, regardless of a higher operating cost and environmental burden, plus a rapidly dwindling natural fuel supply with consequent price instability.
This is why the nuclear renaissance in North America must be driven by a new breed of nuclear technology that competes up front with the “sticker price” of fossil technology, while maintaining all the traditional advantages of nuclear power, and Canada’s ACR is at the head of the pack.