Who’s stopping the winds of change?

Image by Paul Stevenson via Flickr

We have now discovered, thanks to work by Toronto Star reporter Tyler Hamilton, the cost two proposed nuclear reactors at Darlington: 26 billion dollars.  This is the reported cost of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd, the only of the three bids that met the Government’s standards, though not accepted by the McGuinty-Smitherman Liberals.  Back to the drawing board for the same Government that once announced, then delayed by years the closure of Ontario coal plants.  Now it’s obvious that not accepting this bid was the only thing the Government could do. Putting it another way, by kilowatt (kw) of energy produced, this cost comes to $10,800 per kw.  The Ontario Power Authority (Ontario’s energy advisors and planners) assumed a cost of $2,900 per kilowatt, and commented that over $3,600 per kilowatt would be “uneconomical”.

The Federal Government is now being asked to cover excess costs by Deputy Premier George Smitherman.  When advocating that renewable energy’s pricetag could beat nuclear, a few working on this issue in environmental and political communities including myself took numbers from financial institutions predicting costs as high as $7,500 per kilowatt.  So at 10,000, the price tag that’s appeared for nuclear was even greater than any environmentalists’ highest expectations.

In calling for a Nuclear Cost Responsibility Act on April 22nd, the Green Party of Ontario made it certain that the we needed to know the upfront costs before we made a purchase.  Luckily McGuinty-Smitherman took this advice in calling for these full costs to be known.

The cost of course still does not include insurance, and the social and environmental impacts, now and over the next thousands of years including mining, production and the life of nuclear waste.

How could this massive mistake happen?  I find one answer from the United Kingdom.

Similar to Smitherman’s new excitement and policies for green energy, the young  Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the UK, Ed Miliband has promoted a significant new plan for wind power to meet much of the country’s energy needs.  But the wind isn’t all smooth sailing for Miliband either.  The Confederation of British Industry has called for a scale back of Milband’s plan and for a larger investment in new nukes.  Nuclear buffs in this country have done the same.  So the lobbying is one hint tot he problem.

Nuclear energy in the UK has also gone way over-budget and under-performance.  But the bureaucracy there keeps pushing it.  Journalist Geoffrey Lean speculates the reason: distributed energy, such as wind, or the opposite of nuclear, poses a threat of sorts.  It takes away planning power and control from those who enjoy it and are used to creating massive projects.  Distributed energy, we could say, is much more in the hands of the people: often smaller companies, co-operatives, municipalities, First Nations, farmers and so on.  Those who follow the Ontario Power Authority have for years, quietly and not so quietly, been making the same observations about their leanings towards big generation.  And Smitherman had to push the Authority hard to get a good plan for renewables and conservation.

Could this have been a factor in the mis-calculation of the costs of building a new nuke plant?  Hard to tell.  What we do know is that armed with this information, we have 26 billion reasons to change course.

Mini-green Smitherman’s blunder may be rooted in his Government’s blind love of nuclear.  Those in the Ontario Power Authority who endorse nukes have an ally in their political chiefs.  After a recent press conference, reporters wrote headlines saying Premier Dalton McGuinty was still on track to keep his plans to build new nuclear.  Could this be political suicide?  The Federal Government shows no interest in subsidizing Ontario’s proposed plants.  And just this week, Ontario shut down a Bruce reactor for a few days simply because we just don’t have the need to keep it running.
McGuinty doesn’t get it.  Greens do, and have been getting it right all along.  Nuclear’s not up to the task.  Let’s move on to create a truly green future for Ontario.

Darcy Higgins is the Policy Coordinator of the Green Party of Ontario.

Cross-published at darcyhiggins.blogpost.com and the Green Party of Ontario newsletter.


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