Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Nukes for Saskatchewan Tar Sands?

Hot issue = cool debate
A report that suggests Lake Diefenbaker might be a good location for a nuclear power plant does not mean such a facility will ever be built. It does, however, kickstart a welcome debate.
The Leader-Post
Published: Friday, May 09, 2008

Nuclear energy, we hope, is finally on the table for discussion in Saskatchewan.

For too long, Saskatchewanians have taken a strange attitude toward this subject. We've been willing to accept the mining of uranium -- and, especially, economic benefits like jobs and royalties -- since the early 1950s. But a nuclear power generating plant? It was raised periodically in the 1960s and '70s, but never seriously. A private consortium called

Western Power Associates briefly floated the idea in the late 1980s, but to no avail. And the subject was most definitely "off the table" while the NDP was in power.

But given the attention being paid elsewhere to nuclear energy as a way of creating electricity without burning fossil fuels, Saskatchewan simply cannot avoid this topic any more.

Two events -- quite possibly linked -- put it onto the public agenda this week.

First, the new provincial Energy Minister, Bill Boyd, indicated he'd had a chat -- not much more than that -- with an executive of Bruce Power, which operates a nuclear power plant in southern Ontario and is "feeling out" the possibility of building a plant in the West, then selling the electricity.

And in what was either a remarkable coincidence or a well-crafted "leak", a copy of a modest report prepared for SaskPower on the pros and cons of a nuclear power generating plant in Saskatchewan just happened to be sent to the CBC.

The $60,000 report was prepared for SaskPower by Stantec Engineering, which delivered it in early 2007. That means it was commissioned when the NDP -- a firm opponent of nuclear power plants -- was in power. Some in the Saskatchewan Party wonder aloud if it was somehow leaked by the NDP to embarrass the new government by giving the mistaken impression to the public that we are on the very verge of constructing a nuclear power generation plant. We're not.

The proposal floated by Bruce Power (in which Saskatoon-based uranium miner Cameco is a shareholder) would involve building a generating plant on its own, then selling electricity to SaskPower -- or perhaps to an Alberta distributor of electricity.

Meanwhile, the SaskPower/Stantec report said possible locations for a SaskPower plant might be near the town of Elbow on Lake Diefenbaker (midway between the major power markets of Regina and Saskatoon and on a major body of water, which any generating plant needs for cooling). Another possible location might be in northwest Saskatchewan, across the interprovincial border from Alberta's oil sands projects, with their tremendous appetite for energy.

Neither of these are detailed plans, it must be noted. They fall more into the category of basic research.

Given that Saskatchewan's electricity demands are slowly, but continuously, increasing, there are several alternatives to the nuclear energy option, such as exploitation of unused hydroelectric dam sites, more work on "clean coal" technology and a renewed emphasis on energy conservation. Windpower is interesting, though its proponents are strangely silent on what happens if the wind refuses to blow.

Nuclear generation of electricity should not be "taboo". It's time for a cool, calm discussion of the science and economics of this technology.

© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008

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