Thursday, November 29, 2007

Prominent Canadian environmentalist admits nuclear power is emission-free: green is really blue
John Bennett of has acknowledged in a letter to the Ottawa Citizen that nuclear power is emission-free. This is a major departure from the mainstream green position on nuclear, which is to remain silent about the millions of tonnes of emissions it has offset while howling for punitive measures against emitters.

I’m paraphrasing Bennett, of course. Here’s what he actually said in his letter: “the failure of the nuclear plants in Ontario forced the province to use coal plants 24 hours a day instead of a few hours during peak demand.”

This one sentence neatly encapsulates the sheer limpness of anti-nuclear arguments. Everybody knows that during the period to which Bennett refers, 1995 to 2003, Ontario’s nuclear fleet, though mauled by politically motivated layups, still powered more than half the province. With a few more reactors, Ontario could chop power-sector greenhouse gases more than in half. Nuclear’s record in Ontario has been a success, not a failure.

Bennett also claims in his letter that “had the U.S. ratified Kyoto ... Ontario could have afforded to switch to natural gas.” Unbelievable. This shows that the true colours of mainstream greens in Ontario are gas-industry blue. Just about every organized mainstream environmentalist in Ontario touts natural gas as the solution to our climate change problems.

Where have the greens been since 2002? The price of natural gas has gone through the roof many times in the past five years. This is precisely why George Bush never ratified Kyoto. He knew that a large-scale shift from coal to gas in the electricity generating sector was the only way America could meet its Kyoto targets, and that this would bankrupt ratepayers across the country. Bush saw through the self-interested gas industry propaganda urging him to sign. But not Canadian greens. They call for caps on emissions while touting gas-fired generation—which would produce not only massive emissions but also long-term markets for the fossil-fuel companies they pretend to hate. Go figure.

It’s a shame, because most of Bennett’s other environmental ideas are pretty solid.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Two down, one to go: can Harper withstand Kyoto Konformism?
Australian PM John Howard just got murdered in his country’s general election, losing both his seat and his job. His opponent and PM-elect, Kevin Rudd (any relation to AC/DC’s Phil?), has announced his first act will be to bring Australia into the Kyoto Klub.

Where does that leave Canada’s prime minister? Stephen Harper’s only remaining anti-Kyoto counterpart, U.S. president George Bush, won’t be president after January 20 2009 (and will be a lame duck starting next summer).

Canadian Kyotophiles have had a bad five months. P-Rod’s Parliamentary success—P-Rod (Pablo Rodriguez, a Liberal MP) wrote a pro-Kyoto bill that passed the House in June; see article—has translated into zero Parliamentary advantage. Harper et al have touted the Asia-Pacific partnership—an alternative to Kyoto that has, in my opinion, far more potential of actually reducing emissions than Kyoto ever did or ever will—with impunity.

But a new wave of pious pro-Kyoto platitudes from world leaders, together with Howard’s demise and the imminent beginning of Bush’s long, slow exit, have given Kyotophiles new hope. I said it a year ago, and it is worth repeating: nothing is more important to Kyotophiles than talking the talk (see article).

What’s the half-life of the current round of lip service? Rich countries have promised poor countries more than $1 billion to fight climate change. As I have pointed out, the only investments that will actually reduce emissions in the third world are those that develop emission-free power systems (see article). This means nuclear power must go to the third world. If history is any guide, those who most ardently support Kyoto will also remain ardently opposed to the spread of civilian nuclear technology.

So, even if that $1 billion materializes—and the Guardian’s David Adam is sure it won’t; see article—it is doubtful the money
will be well spent.

In Canada, the big near-term political question is: can Stephen Harper, sitting atop a precarious minority government, hold out against the current round of Kyoto lip service?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Nuclear fuel reprocessing in the U.S.: it’s a guessing game
One of the central components of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) is the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. How much would that cost? According to the Boston Consulting Group, six percent more than it would cost to store spent fuel directly in Yucca Mountain. The Kennedy School of Government says it would be twice as much as direct storage.

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) looked at the question in detail and told the U.S. Senate committee on energy and natural resources that it cannot see any scenarios in which the cost of reprocessing would ever be less than that of storage. So did Matthew Bunn of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He too told the committee that reprocessing would be much more expensive. “No policy-maker should make decisions about reprocessing based on an expectation that the costs will be similar to those projected in the Boston Consulting Group report.”

Fair enough. But as far as I can see, none of these studies considered carbon or emission abatement costs. Emission costs exist in the U.S. only in the area covered by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. These haven’t yet been quantified, so we don’t know how they would affect nuclear energy in a competitive market. But they would certainly affect general cost and price scenarios of power generation if emission limits were imposed across the U.S. Half America’s power comes from burning coal.

Environmental policy entrepreneurs have been launching legal challenges against U.S. coal-fired power generators, because of greenhouse gas emissions. Some of these challenges are based the tort doctrine of public nuisance. The Boston College Environmental Law Review warned in 2006 that there is more substance to these challenges than is indicated in the innocuous phrase “public nuisance.” Should one of them succeed, an important precedent will have been set, to put it mildly. This would change all the cost scenarios mentioned.

Reservations toward GNEP aren’t limited to cost, of course. Matthew Bunn’s testimony focused more on the proliferation implications of reprocessing. He suggested that directly storing spent reactor fuel poses far lower proliferation risks than reprocessing it.

This makes me wonder two things. First, does all public policy advice come from Massachusetts? And second, has anyone considered DUPIC, which could prove to be an excellent alternative to the fast burner reactors currently envisioned under GNEP? Unlike the GNEP’s high capacity fast burner, CANDU operating costs are well known. Some might even argue that they are relatively low. As a ratepayer and consumer of CANDU power, I can personally vouch for that.

DUPIC is a direct solution to spent fuel pile-up at reactor sites. Its own spent fuel could go into a permanent repository (after a cooling period: the heat load would be higher than that of spent fuel from light water reactors). And because it doesn’t involve UREX + or pyroprocessing or any of the separation entailed in other GNEP reprocessing alternatives, wouldn’t it pose the same level of proliferation risk as Yucca Mountain? As Matthew Bunn points out, if this were the only proliferation risk facing the world, we should all celebrate.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Honda’s new ultra low emission Accord: how to build credibility
I’m watching the Sunday U.S. political talk shows. I notice a Honda ad, plugging the “ultra low emission Accord.” You know that whoever advertises on these shows wants to curry favour among those-in-the-know. Go to, the ad says.

So I go to This is about ten seconds after watching the ad. There’s nothing, repeat nothing, on the site about an ultra low emission Accord, or any other ultra low emission vehicle.

Way to build credibility among critical stakeholders, Honda. Who was it who said “half my advertising money is wasted but I don’t know which half”? After today’s howler, I hope someone at Honda knows which half.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Ontario power rate debate: what should the rate increase pay for?
Ontario’s regulated power generator, OPG, has asked the provincial regulator for permission to increase rates by 14 percent. OPG says it needs to raise money to build new nuclear and hydro facilities. It appears that green groups, or at least those who talked to the Toronto Star’s Ian Urquhart the other day, approve of the rate hike.

This is a bit of a switch. Have the greens accepted nuclear’s predominant role in our energy mix? Either they missed the part about the proposed rate hike paying for new nukes or they’re finally prepared to admit that conservation and renewables cannot play a significant role in our power system.

I have no problem with a utility raising rates to cover costs and maintain reasonable return on investment. I have been calling for new nuclear plants, and this is at least part of the way we’ll pay for them. I also suggested a way to make this palatable to electricity consumers, by rewording the Debt Retirement Charge portion of the bi-monthly power bill (see article).

But that’s how OPG can pay for its regulated assets (assuming Pickering 2 and 3—and the entire Pickering B station—stay regulated if and when they’re replaced with new reactors). How will the operator of OPG’s non-regulated nuclear assets, Bruce Power, raise the money to replace the reactors at Bruce B? Should government provide the same kind of financial assistance—loan guarantees, construction delay insurance, tax credits on zero-emission power production—that the U.S. EPAct does? To me that’s not a bad idea. Ontarians and Canadians have indicated they approve of money being spent to reduce emissions, and nuclear has a proven track record of doing that on a grand scale (see article).

And with the greens’ uncharacteristic mildness on OPG’s overt nuclear-related rate hike, maybe this is not as much of a political non-starter as it seems at first blush.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Ontario’s new power plan: somebody wants to know what somebody else thinks
The Ontario Energy Board wants to know what you think of the Ontario Power Authority’s
Integrated Power System Plan (IPSP). And the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) wants to know if you think the IPSP reflects the government’s wish to reduce peak electricity demand, increase the contribution of renewables, and cap nuclear capacity.

The reason this all sounds convoluted is because it is. But it really comes down to whether Ontario can—or should—replace coal-fired power generation without increasing nuclear generation.

And so begins a new version of the debate that has raged since before the McGuinty Liberals came to power in 2003. What role can conservation and renewables play in picking up after coal’s departure? In my most recent appearance on The Agenda with Steve Paikin, I said that their role is way overblown.

The advent of smart meters will prove me right. Smart meters won’t reduce our overall energy use. If they bring about the desired change in Ontarians’ electricity demand patterns—i.e., if electricity consumers, en masse, shift their current peak use to off-peak periods—the effect will merely be to flatten the provincial load curve. If peak demand drops, baseload demand must rise.

That won’t happen if there is not enough baseload. And there won’t be enough baseload without nuclear. Nuclear is essential if smart meters are to play any role in reducing our peak demand.