Positive Energy

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Comments about the Supply Mix Advice Report

Submission Date: 2006 Jan 31
Coordinator, Energy Economics
Office of Energy Supply and Competition
880 Bay Street, 3rd Floor
Toronto, Ontario, M7A2C1
PHONE: (416) 325-6972 FAX: (416) 325-6972

Randal Leavitt
[TBD - address]
[TBD - telephone]
[TBD - email]

Supply Mix Advice Report
December 2005
EBR Registry Number: PO05E0001

Position Statement

Ontario needs more nuclear fission.

Nuclear fission offers all the required environmental benefits:
  • clean - minimal pollution, minimal climate changing emissions
  • reliable - always available if we have many reactors
  • safe - no fatalities, no health problems
  • inexpensive - minimizes new grid development
  • feasible - expertise available in Ontario if we act now
  • sustainable - today's technology can operate for centuries.
The "Supply Mix" report does not recommend a plan that yields the greatest benefit to Ontario, namely the maximum use of nuclear fission. Instead, the report advises the Government to construct windmills, basing this on idealism. This approach will not work and the Ontario economy will be seriously damaged as a result. Better advice is required, advice that does not bet our future on unproven technology. A more prudent plan would start with the rapid construction of many new fission reactors using Canadian resources - something that we know will work. As this development proceeds other technologies could be incorporated if they ever prove to be sound. Candidates are fusion, and perhaps wind. This better approach avoids the disruptions that will occur if we try to build a huge energy system using technologies that we do not understand.


Ontario requires a very high level of energy to maintain its standard of living. Ontario workers are productive today because they use powerful automated tools to augment their skills. Without this energy advantage industries will relocate to other jurisdictions such as Alberta where operating costs are low. The collapse of the fishery in Newfoundland is an example that Ontarians should study - where the loss of a resource due to mismanagement removed jobs and impoverished a province. If Ontario squanders its energy advantage it will have a similar story to tell.

Ontario citizens are healthy today because they have reliable automated services that prevent disease. Our highly available electricity pumps and cleans our water, refrigerates our food to eliminate bacteria, and keeps the lights on in our hospitals. Life in Ontario will be shorter, sicker, and a lot less pleasant if our reliable electricity service is jeopardized.

The proven solution that Ontario has available to preserve its electrical wealth is the CANDU reactor. Coal could be used to produce the power needed, but it exacts a price in human health and climate change that is fatal. Oil and gas are becoming more expensive, and may not be readily available, as we move out of the cheap oil era. If Ontario wants to retain its industrial strength (i.e. its standard of living) it has to take full advantage of its key asset - namely, Ontario designed and built fission reactors.

The "Supply Mix" report did not analyze a scenario involving the maximum use of fission. That scenario should have been used as a baseline. The cost of adding unproven technology such as windmills could then be assessed. This would allow us to adjust the rate at which windmills are built so that the risks associated with their use is minimized. Instead, the report optimistically assumes that all the integration problems that have stymied windmill development elsewhere will be solved, and commits the province to an adventurous path, depending on systems that today do not work and still require research. We have seen this kind of optimism punctured often, most recently in the high tech bubble of the late 1990s. Surely the lesson has been learned. We should always plan to use proven technologies for our critical systems and only change these plans cautiously when better alternatives are completely understood.

The "Supply Mix" report underestimates the amount of conventional generation (i.e. nuclear) capacity required. The error is apparent in the equation used in the report:

Conventional Resources = Total Demand + Required Reserves
- CDM Resources
- Renewable Resources

The correct equation is

Conventional Resources = Total Demand + Required Reserves

This correction greatly increases the conventional resource requirements. The correction is needed because renewable resources are not reliable. They are intermittent. Windmills only produce power one day out of five when the wind blows at the right speed. On a hot summer day when the air is calm across the entire province and the hydro reservoirs are low, the refrigerators still have to work. This means that every renewable resource has to be backed up by a conventional resource. Therefore, adding renewable resources into the mix does not decrease the conventional need as the incorrect equation claims.

The Conservation and Demand Management (CDM) factor also has to be dropped, since it will essentially be zero anyway. The important point here is that energy costs will have to be very low to be globally competitive. At the cost level required, energy use will not be a significant concern compared to the other issues such as wages and deadlines affecting day to day operations. CDM policies will not register as important factors and will not have much influence in lowering demand. Or, stated in another way, CDM requirements that are complex, onerous, and expensive enough to be effective will also drive out workers and jobs. The effort presently being invested in CDM would be better spent in initiatives that shift large energy requirements in transportation and building heating away from carbon combustion and over to electricity.

Consequently, many more reactors are needed.

The CANDU reactor available today from AECL is not the last word in reactor development. It uses a once through fuel cycle that extracts less than one percent of the energy in the fuel. The resulting slightly used and highly reusable fission fuel then has to be stored. This problem can be solved by building reactors that work on different principles than the CANDU - namely fast reactors. The characteristics of such reactors are well known - one has been operating in Russia for more than twenty years. But to get AECL to a position where they can deliver this technology with Canadian expertise will require some planning. Ontario should initiate a long term arrangement that begins with the delivery of several improved CANDU 6 reactors, going off shore for both the heavy water and for an existing as-built design of a better CANDU. Such systems could be set on a site in Ontario with minimal effort and delay. This will give AECL the time and incentive to complete the Advanced CANDU Reactor design, which should be used for the second wave of new reactors. Following this we should expect to have an integrated system of thermal and fast reactors that make full use of our uranium and thorium fuel. One advantage of this scheme will be the development of engineering skills in leading edge nuclear fission technology that will have global market potential. This will also help Ontario maintain its industrial base.

The "Supply Mix" report did not adequately analyze modern capabilities for locating new reactors. Consequently the report advises the Government to construct renewable systems that are heavily dependent on long distribution lines. Windmills, hydroelectric dams, and the purchase of externally produced power all exhibit this weakness. A nuclear fission revitalization of the province could minimize difficult and expensive grid development. For example, coal plants could be replaced by reactors built at the same location. This preserves the local tax base, employment, and existing grid use. As another example, remote communities and factories could be powered by local reactors. There is no need to construct thousands of kilometers of difficult to maintain grid. Darlington is the best place to begin our fission revitalization for just this reason.

The "Supply Mix" report does acknowledge that fission is the most economical means for new electricity generation. However it then erroneously assigns a higher score to windmills for environmental factors in order to shore up the pre-ordained decision that wind is the solution. For example, for "Resource Availability" windmills were given the most favourable score possible even though they only produce power one day out of five, and we know that we are moving into a period of climate change where weather extremes will be more pronounced. Wind mills do not do well in ice storms. On the other hand, the score given to nuclear reactors was very low, even though Canada is one of the world's major suppliers of uranium, we have a well established infrastructure for its delivery, and we have the expertise needed do this work safely. CANDU reactors can also run on thorium which is three times as plentiful as uranium. And if we want to imagine a world where environmental concerns outweigh political boundaries, CANDU reactors could run on the spent fuel from American reactors. Canada has the most reliable fission fuel supply of all the world's nations, yet the report counted all these advantages as detriments. A more objective analysis would have shown that fission is economically and environmentally the best choice for Ontario's new energy.

The "Supply Mix" report did not compare the safety records of the technologies recommended for inclusion in the mix. Such a comparison would have made the case for nuclear fission overwhelming. The safety of the nuclear power industry in Ontario is exemplary - no deaths among workers or the general public in over forty years. All the other technologies should be assessed on this basis. Safety is expensive. If coal was delivered in a similarly safe manner it would not be cost competitive. Hydroelectric power has caused more deaths in Ontario than the nuclear power industry. That should have some weight if we are thinking about using more water power. Windmill statistics are just beginning to accumulate. Building and maintaining these huge machines in remote locations and in bad weather without accidents will require expensive safety procedures and equipment. So an adjustment for safety would significantly increase the advantage that nuclear power has as an inexpensive option, and it would favour it as an environmentally positive choice as well. Safety is important and should be factored in when decisions about nuclear energy are made.

The "Supply Mix" report does not consider new uses for electricity. The most obvious new use is for transportation. Automobiles with electric motors and batteries are being sold today. These vehicles are plugged in overnight to power them up for the next day's use. This transportation change will dramatically reduce pollution, and increase electricity demand. 15,000 MW of additional electricity will be needed - which adds up to twenty new reactors. Ontario could promote this advance by favouring the use of cleaner cars. And if Ontario is really serious about reducing carbon dioxide and methane air pollution then a major shift to electrical heating for buildings must take place. Also, air conditioning, computers, entertainment, and robotics are all poised to require much larger electricity budgets. If Ontario wants to attract new businesses to its clean, electrified cities it has to move in this direction. The "Supply Mix" report seriously underestimates the new need for electricity. This underestimate may be self-fulfilling: if we don't provide convenient energy the jobs will go elsewhere and the poor people left behind will not be able to afford very much power.

The cost of nuclear fission systems can be reduced by establishing a steady requirement for new sites with a business volume that allows mass production techniques to be used. The first generation reactors were expensive because they were being designed while they were being built. Every solution was unique and required both new tools as well as testing of the tool products. The Government can avoid this expense by setting up long term acquisition arrangements where improvements and research are blended in without major disruption. The small amount of new build activity and the emphasis on refurbishment in the "Supply Mix" report will not achieve the savings that could be realized with mass production.

The "Supply Mix" report assumes that new reactors can be built whenever scheduled. This assumption is optimistic. Ontario at present has a world class nuclear industry employing twenty-five thousand highly skilled experts. This industrial force can deliver optimized CANDU reactors today and it can grow into a revitalized source for new systems. But this situation is changing. Older workers are retiring, and the negative atmosphere resulting from a low business volume is not attracting enough young recruits. Canada ended its production of heavy water due to this negative business climate, and now has to depend on foreign suppliers - a constraint that will affect the delivery of new systems. Ontario could preserve its nuclear industry by ordering a sufficient number of new builds. Failing to do so could lead to a declining nuclear work force that is challenged to maintain the current plants, let alone construct new ones. And placing orders outside the province may not be the answer since the nuclear industry is facing similar pressures throughout the world. Jurisdictions that have not established their own nuclear work force will end up on waiting lists for new systems. Very few countries have a nuclear development capability - Canada is exceptional in this regard. Ontario should not take this special source of wealth for granted and just assume that it will always be there. It can be nourished and preserved, or it can be written up in history as a missed opportunity.

The general tone of the "Supply Mix" report is reluctant, at best, in its advocacy for nuclear fission. There should have been a key finding that the nuclear industry has been undervalued as a source of wealth for Ontario, and recommendations made to extend and take greater advantage of this asset. Instead the report recommends the minimal amount of nuclear power possible. Second, we know that we are moving into a period of climate change where weather phenomena will be more variable and more extreme. Depending on windmills maximizes the influence of this changing weather on our electricity supply, while depending on nuclear power minimizes it. The report does not bring this concern forward. Third, the report assumes that a mix of sources is needed when it is clear that nuclear fission can do the whole job. The only reason for enduring the complexity of mixed sources is the time needed to phase out older systems that have been surpassed by better ones. If we could change it all overnight then we would. But we can't. So we have to live with a mixed supply approach, but we do not have to like it or try to preserve it.

I recommend that Ontario maximize the advantages that can be gained from its excellent nuclear power industry. It should do this immediately if it wants to retain its industrial capability. Nuclear fission should be utilized on a large scale if Ontario wants to compete globally for a living standard that is attractive. The "Supply Mix" report has not fully recognized the advantages and the necessity of nuclear fission for this province.

Information Sources:

Positive Energy

Nuclear Folksonomy