A version of the following article appeared in the Hill Times
The Commons Report: Why Martin government should just say 'no'
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
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
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
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.