Canadian Nuclear Focus Shifts to Saskatchewan

By Jacob Mazer, Assistant Editor, Fuel Cycle Week

Canada's Bruce Power is dropping its efforts on two projects in Ontario: the addition of a new reactor complex at the Bruce nuclear station and the construction of a new plant at Nanticoke. Bruce will now refurbish its Bruce A and B complexes, each consisting of four reactors, adding 6,300 MW of electricity to Ontario's power grid. The company cited the slowed growth in energy demand brought about by the global economic recession as the reasoning for its decision.

However, Bruce's plans are also doubtlessly influenced by a shift in thinking about nuclear in Ontario following the province's failure to secure a reasonable deal with state n-firm Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. for a new reactor at Darlington. This failure, combined with the near simultaneous malfunction of AECL's Chalk River medical isotope producing reactor, led Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to move toward a restructuring of the company. The research and development arm will be split from the commercial generation arm, with private ownership sought for the medical isotope business and major private investment desired for the commercial reactor wing.

The province's energy plan calls for the addition of 14,000 MWe of nuclear capacity to the power grid. But with work on the Darlington reactor now on indefinite hiatus and Bruce's announcement, the plan is sure to change. Where nuclear new build will stand is yet to be determined; certainly, its ground is much less solid.

As potential nuclear projects flicker out in Ontario, attention is shifting toward the neighboring province of Saskatchewan. The province is looking into the establishement of a new nuclear facility, as well as the development of a medical isotope producing research reactor. Saskatchewan's mammoth uranium resources--about a quarter of the world's known supplies--make it an intuitive choice for a nuclear plant. The province has also weathered the economic downturn better than most, even running a surplus, which makes the idea of an expensive investment like a nuclear plant less frightening.

Both AECL and Bruce Power have expressed interest in working on a Saskatchewan reactor. The emergence of this prospect provides AECL with another opportunity to create a precedent market for its next-generation ACR-1000 reactor technology, which without a high-profile project in the near future is dead in the water. The question is now whether the company can work out a deal with the province that is logisitically and economically feasible, a challenge that it has been unable to rise to in Ontario.