Saturday, August 20, 2005

Ontario needs nuclear power - Ontario needs nuclear power

Few people noticed, but Ontario's antiquated power system was strained more than 50 times this hot summer. On July 13, consumers burned up more than 26,000 megawatts of power to keep cool, a dangerous new record. We were lucky to make it through the worst heat without outages.

The hot weather also gave Energy Minister Dwight Duncan a few sleepless nights to ponder the inevitable.

"We have to look seriously at nuclear," he told the Star's editorial board this week. Ontario in all likelihood will have to build more nuclear facilities to meet its electricity needs, as polluting-spewing coal-fired plants are taken out of commission.

Plans are afoot to create other sources of clean energy, to be sure.

Duncan outlined one deal between Ontario Power Generation and an Austrian company to build the world's largest mechanical earthworm to increase generating capacity at Niagara Falls. The giant tunnelling machine will chew up 1.7 million cubic metres of dirt from just above Niagara Falls to the Sir Adam Beck Generating Station 10.4 kilometres downstream. The $1 billion tunnel will be able to carry enough water through the Beck generators to power 160,000 homes.

The colossal engineering feat serves as a reminder of just how difficult and costly it is to create new sources of clean power. And we need all we can get as demand outstrips supply.

But neither the tunnel nor the many other initiatives Premier Dalton McGuinty's government has taken to boost supply will solve that problem. New projects will barely make up for the 7,500 megawatts that will be lost when our coal-fired plants are shut down by 2009.

So, to ease even the short-term demand-supply imbalance, the province is going to have to find ways to produce more energy in the next few years, even as it makes a concerted effort to curb the inexorable rise in demand through conservation.

And that doesn't begin to address the province's longer-term needs.

The pressures become even more severe by 2020, as Ontario is forced to replace 80 per cent of current generating capacity.

Almost half comes from nuclear plants that are fast approaching the end of their useful lives.

It will be impossible to generate as much as 15,000 megawatts of reasonably priced power from expensive gas-fired plants, or from small-scale wind farms and hydro stations. As Duncan suggests, we simply have to accept that we are going to need new nuclear power.

Considering that it takes a decade or more to build a new nuclear facility, Ontario is running short on time. We shouldn't waste overmuch of it debating the inevitable, controversial though nuclear power is.

Rather, we should be discussing where new plants should be located.

And where the billions of dollars needed to construct the new facilities will come from. Do we want the private sector or government owning and operating these plants?

The Niagara Falls worm will help. But we can't tunnel our way to energy sufficiency. We will have to rely on the atom as well.


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