Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Lepreau 2?

Saw this story on CBC's PEI news page: Link.
Maritime Electric president Jim Lea says NB Power should think seriously about building a second nuclear reactor. Jim Lea told an energy conference in Saint John that Maritime Electric would even be willing to participate in the building of a second nuclear plant, a proposal that seemed to catch NB Power off guard. "I raised it primarily because I think we have to start thinking about it soon. To see a Lepreau 2 in place is a 10 to 15-year project in my view," said Lea. Lea said building a second nuclear plant is for the future, but has to be talked about immediately. It was an unexpected endorsement of an almost identical position taken recently by New Brunswick Opposition Leader Shawn Graham.
The article mentioned that NB Power's main focus for new projects was looking more towards renewable sources, like wind farms. PEI's very ambitious wind energy initiatives seem to be existing outside of the world of Maritime Electric, and now Jim Lea is wanting another nuclear plant and even pledging money to help NB Power build one and dropping hints that he thinks the PEI government should also throw some money at it, while not offering to financially help any of either PEI or New Brunswick's renewable energy projects. I'm wondering why Maritime Electric seems to be living in such a bubble.

I'm much more of a realist on the issue of nuclear power than most people, having worked at Pt. Lepreau on the control computer systems and at the same time learning as much as I could read about how CANDU plants work and walking around the grounds and seeing that the entire waste produced by the plant in the last 25 years is in containers single fenced-in area, vs. the tonnes of particles going into the air from a coal plant, I've always thought that nuclear power was the most practical solution for real-world, growing power needs.

That being said, the infrastructure needed to maintain a nuclear plant and keep it up to regulation is appallingly large. For Ontario Power Generation it's possible for them to run a simulator and have centralized administration and engineering staff, but for New Brunswick they need to replicate all of the necessary support structures for just one, and now maybe two plants. Lepreau produces about 640 megawatts of power, and requires a staff of hundreds to run. By contrast, the Grand Falls dam can produce over 700 MW in peak season, and doesn't need more than 20 people to keep the thing running.

I think Maritime Electric must have some kind of cushy cost-plus arrangement where they just buy NB Power's output and tacks on a nice profit for themselves from PEI's customers. With that kind of easy business model it's little wonder they aren't at the forefront of innovation.

It's very exciting to see islanders not being held back by such dinosaurs, though, and taking up the ideas of renewable and smaller-scale energy projects.
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