by Anthony D. Lafratta
September 25, 2007
As the Liberal government pumps another $40 billion into nuclear power, prevailing evidence continues to suggest that investment in nuclear energy is neither financially nor environmentally sound.
The truth about nuclear energy, particularly in practice in Ontario, is that—aside from being environmentally unsustainable—it simply does not make economic sense.
The history of Ontario’s nuclear generating stations reveals a pattern of cost overruns and low performance rates. Not only have the actual construction costs of all five of Ontario's nuclear generating stations significantly exceeded their original cost estimates, but each facility was also completed well behind schedule.
Pickering A generating station ran 40% over estimated cost, while Bruce B overran costs by 50%, Bruce A by 90%, Pickering B by a whopping 140%, and Darlington by a staggering 270%. The Liberal plan, meanwhile, calls for the construction of two or more new reactors.
In addition to concerns over cost overruns is the fact that nuclear facilities require, at minimum, 7-11 years before construction can be completed and revenue can actually begin to be generated. Most other electricity generating technologies have construction times of just 2-4 years.
Aside from the massive cost overruns and significant delays in constructing nuclear generating stations, Ontario’s nuclear facilities have also been plagued by poor performance.
In terms of the actual production, that is, what a generating station could have produced had it operated at full capacity, Ontario’s nuclear generating stations have collectively operated at about 62% between 1990 and 2003.
Ontario’s nuclear generating stations performed particularly poorly between 1990 and 1996. The Pickering A station performed at only 55% capacity while the Bruce A station performed at just 52% over this period.
Facility shutdowns, repairs, refurbishment, and massive reinvestment (much of it by means of tax payer dollars) were deemed necessary due to the poor performance of Ontario’s nuclear generating stations. These inefficiencies have cost Ontarians billions of dollars.
Furthermore, to replace the unexpected loss of power supplies which resulted from taking the nuclear generating units out of service for repair, Ontario has been forced to rely on its coal fired generating facilities. Accordingly, the Liberal government had to rescind its promise to close coal fired facilities by 2007. There have been major collateral environmental and health related consequences as a result.
Meanwhile, the non-renewable and now quickly declining natural resource upon which nuclear power generation relies—uranium—has increased in cost more than tenfold since 2001. As the price of uranium continues to soar, the cost of producing nuclear energy will likewise increase.
If anything is clear about nuclear, it is that the current path Ontario is following, one which overstates the reliability and efficiency with which nuclear power can be delivered, is misguided.


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