Ontario Officials Plan 2 New Nuclear Plants

Canada has 18 operating nuclear power plants, including this one in Pickering, Ontario. Some could be updated, even as new ones are built.
Canada has 18 operating nuclear power plants, including this one in Pickering, Ontario. Some could be updated, even as new ones are built. (By Norm Betts -- Associated Press)
By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 18, 2006

TORONTO -- Ontario officials have announced plans to build two nuclear reactors, in what would be the first new nuclear plant construction in North America in three decades, and refurbish several old ones.

The decision made last week puts Canada at the leading edge of what the nuclear industry calls a "renaissance" of support for nuclear power by governments caught between soaring demand for electricity and commitments to lowering the greenhouse gasses given off by coal and gas-driven power plants.

Canada's new prime minister, Stephen Harper, favors nuclear power. President Bush is pushing for the resumption of construction of nuclear power plants in the United States. The leaders of Britain, France, Australia and Finland have expressed support for building new plants.

But while China, India and other Asian countries have forged ahead with nuclear construction, projects in the West have largely stalled because of cost overruns and accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

"We will not duck this issue," Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty told reporters last week.

Ontario's plan would postpone closure of four coal-fired plants, as promised by McGuinty, that generate one-fifth of the province's electricity. It also calls for increased conservation and the use of alternative fuels.

But new nuclear plants here -- as in the United States -- must overcome years of political, regulatory and financial obstacles. Critics of the nuclear industry say safety questions and a record of large cost overruns on nuclear construction will snuff out any revival of nuclear power.

"The PR campaign makes it sound like new nukes are on the way. But not a single utility has applied for a construction license yet," said Michele Boyd, legislative director of the energy program for Public Citizen, an advocacy group in Washington. "History has taught us the lesson that these plants cannot be built on time. And we don't have a solution for the waste."

Advocates of nuclear power disagree.

"Absolutely there is a resurgence going on," said Mitch Singer, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington, which represents the industry. "If we are going to meet the demand for electricity as well as our commitment to air quality, we need nuclear energy to be a component."

Of the 441 operating nuclear plants in the world, 103 are in the United States and 18 are in Canada. But the last new operating nuclear plant to be built in North America was begun at Palo Verde, Ariz., in 1976, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Many of the plants in North America were built in the 1970s and 1980s and are nearing their originally planned obsolescence dates. Twenty-year extensions have been requested for most of the U.S. plants still in operation. About half of Ontario's power is provided by nuclear plants, and McGuinty said the province has little alternative but to try to replace the aging facilities.

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