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A version of the following article appeared in the Hill Times

The Commons Report: Why Martin government should just say 'no' to Lepreau
Bernard Lord is pressuring Ottawa to give province $1.3-billion to re-tube ailing nuclear reactor

By Elizabeth May
April 25, 2005

The queue of premiers demanding special favours has only grown longer since Danny Williams pulled down the Maple Leaf across Newfoundland and Labrador. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has been loud in his efforts, but outside of New Brunswick there has been little coverage of Bernard Lord's demand for federal help.

The Premier of New Brunswick is pressuring Ottawa to give the province $1.3-billion to allow the provincial utility to re-tube the ailing nuclear reactor at Point Lepreau. Initially, Lord hoped he would get money from the government's Kyoto plan. Full marks to Environment Minister Stéphane Dion for nixing that idea. There are no dollars for nukes in the funds to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Indian Affairs Minister Andy Scott, the ranking New Brunswick Cabinet Minister, has now been tasked with finding a solution for Premier Lord.

Point Lepreau was the first CANDU 600 reactor built anywhere in the world. When it was under construction, its boosters promised low power rates, reliability and a 40-year life span. New Brunswick Power pushed electrical consumption in a big way. Homeowners were urged to install electric heat. At Christmas, the utility encouraged as many illuminated roofs and twinkling windows as possible. Electricity was to be wasted in New Brunswick. Twenty-five years later, neutron bombardment has enbrittled Point Lepreau's tubing. It is shut down for repairs and unable to provide power to New Brunswickers much of the time. To be viable it needs an $800-million re-tubing. That plus the cost of replacement power during the refurbishment make up the province's $1.3-billion ask.

There has never been a nuclear project in Canada that ran on time or on budget, so that figure is likely to balloon over time. The New Brunswick Public Utilities Board reviewed the energy situation in 2002 and concluded that re-tubing Point Lepreau was not in the public interest. The Public Utilities Board based its decision entirely on the financial risk of continuing to prop up Lepreau. The PUB recommended the reactor be shut down for good. That should have been the end of the matter, and might have been if not for the constant lobbying efforts of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the corporate welfare bum that continues to suck up federal tax dollars as though the word "restraint" did not apply to nuclear engineers.

The provincial utility had compounded its financial problems by putting many eggs into the conversion of one of its oil-fired power plants to a fuel called "oramulsion." Incredibly, N.B. Power failed to secure supplies of oramulsion before spending $750-million on the conversion. Oops.

Now Premier Lord has jazzed up his plea for federal cash with a threat: give us money or we'll build a coal-fired power plant. The cynicism of threatening huge levels of pollution if cash is not delivered is breathtaking (literally as well as figuratively.) Lord knows better. In his role in the Council of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, it was Lord who advanced a regional Kyoto-like target. The acceptance of the climate plan by New England Governors is one of the encouraging regional developments on climate in the U.S.

There are solutions for New Brunswick's energy needs. Independent analysis has shown that it is possible to produce 640 MW of power in New Brunswick, over the next eight years, at a cost of $630-million or less than half the $1.4-billion amount needed to refurbish Point Lepreau.

Topping the list of the four big energy items is a $140-million investment into energy efficiency and fuel switching to enable New Brunswickers cut their electricity consumption by an average of 12 per cent and as much as 350 MW over the next eight years. This measure alone, at one-tenth the cost of refurbishing Lepreau, would represent an energy saving equivalent to more than half the electricity produced by the 635 MW nuclear reactor. Investments in this sector would also be spread across the province to target residences, businesses and public buildings.

Next on the list is a $375-million investment to develop 220 MW of wind energy in New Brunswick (at 34 percent output) and $115-million to generate 65 MW of electricity through other renewable forms such as micro-hydro, solar and biomass.

The final item is regulatory incentives to encourage New Brunswick's industrial energy users to produce their own electric power and heating, a move that could cut electricity demand by at least 150 MW over the next 8 years. The 90 MW Irving Oil refinery co-generation project in Saint John, set to become operational next year, is a good example of industrial co-generation that shifts the burden of electric and heat power generation to industry rather than on public utilities.

Many of these efforts would legitimately find support within the Partnership Funds just announced under Kyoto. The only money the federal government should advance for Point Lepreau is money to see it permanently decommissioned. Any money for Lepreau will have to come with answers to some tough questions: why should the federal taxpayers take a risk that the province's own utilities board deemed unacceptable to provincial taxpayers? And, is the federal government prepared to bail out every provincial utility wanting millions for nuclear reactor repairs?

Elizabeth May is executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada.


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