Senate committee considers Bruce Power as part of Canadian energy future study


By Barb McKay


The big questions on the minds of Canadian senators who visited Bruce Power Friday was: what are the nuclear energy giant’s future expansion plans and what will they cost?


Members of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources (SCEENR) paid a visit to Bruce Power as part of a tour of Ontario Power Generation facilities. The committee – made up of eight Conservative senators and four Liberal senators - is conducting a long-term study on the future of Canada’s energy sources.


Canada is the biggest consumer of energy in the world,” said Senator William David Angus, chair of SCEENR. “Many energy sources aren’t sustainable and many aren’t clean. We are blessed – Canada is 73 per cent clean in its production of electricity.”


Angus said that it is necessary to look strategically at where energy usage is heading in Canada.

“We found there is a tremendous appetite for this,” he said, but noted that energy sources that are environmentally-friendly aren’t always economically-friendly.


Angus said that similar studies are being conducted by 14 different organizations across the country and the senate felt it was time it became involved.


“We said, ‘why don’t we do the message, because we’re credible.”


The committee has spent the past year learning the lingo associated with the various energy sectors and has recently started touring the country on a fact-finding mission.  In terms of wind power, Angus said he is impressed with the industry. The senators met with Sean Whittaker, vice president of policy for the Canadian Wind Energy Association, prior to visiting the Darlington, Pickering and Bruce nuclear power facilities.


“I think it’s great,” Angus said. “We didn’t know much about it – we heard it’s expensive. But in fact, it’s very synergistic in that it works with hydro.”


He said that the committee questioned Whittaker about reported health effects from the wind turbines, and were told that the claims were unfounded. But Angus said the wind companies need to be cognizant of people’s concerns.


“The wind companies need to move into communities and work with communities to dispel fears,” he said. “You don’t just come in and put these things up and get people angry with you. You need to work with people.”


In regards to Bruce Power, Angus said that nuclear power is portrayed as being very complicated and the committee felt it was important to go to the source.


At Bruce Power, president and CEO Duncan Hawthorne spent Friday morning orienting the senators with the history of the nuclear power company and its role in power generation. He stressed that Bruce Power is the largest nuclear facility in the western hemisphere and that the company provides 25 per cent of Ontario’s power. Hawthorne said the fact that Bruce Power uses CANDU reactors with natural uranium for fuel is an advantage.


“There’s no other reactor design in the world that can refuel at full power,” he said. Other companies have to stop production for as many as 45 days to refuel reactors.


The conversation quickly became about dollars and cents as senators inquired about how much power the reactors produce, what the greatest expenses are and how the cost of nuclear power compares to other energy sources.


Hawthorne said that roughly half of Bruce Power’s cost is for labour – the facility employs more than 4,000 full-time people and another 3,500 construction workers who are in the process of getting Units 1 and 2 reactors into production. Four reactors on the site currently produce 4,700 megawatts of power. Units 1 and 2 – expected to be operational by 2012 – will add another 1,500 megawatts of power.


Hawthorne said the price of nuclear energy is low compared to other “clean” energy sources. The current price of nuclear power is about 5.2 cents per kilowatt hour, while wind power is roughly 11.5 cents per kilowatt hour. The cost of solar power is much higher.


Senator Grant Mitchell, deputy chair of SCEENR, said the world is on the edge of a “nuclear renaissance” – indicating that nuclear power could play a more dominant role in worldwide energy production than it previously has, with countries slowly moving away from the use of coal, and only recently pursuing large scale wind and solar projects.


“You’ll find we’re in support of it,” Mitchell said. “But it seems to me that there is a powerful statement to be made that the nuclear industry doesn’t seem to be making.”


“It’s not about public sentiment,” Hawthorne answered, “it’s what is the commercial case?


“People don’t want coal anywhere, but they just haven’t been educated on the cost consequences.”


Hawthorne told the senators that he was to leave Friday night for the Middle East to discuss business on the future of nuclear energy there.


“It’s not about world domination,” Hawthorne said on the possibility of selling nuclear energy to countries in the Middle East. “My units aren’t suitable for all areas, but there are some markets they are suitable for. The Arab world is very concerned about what the rest of the world thinks of them. They want to meet International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines.”


Mitchell questioned the future of nuclear energy in Canada and asked Hawthorne point blank if Bruce Power is bidding to purchase Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL), a federal government-owned nuclear power technology company that has run aground financially and is now for sale. Hawthorne did not confirm or deny a plan to pursue AECL, but noted that Bruce Power has a vested interest in AECL because it produces the CANDU reactors used by the company and would closely follow what unfolds.


Hawthorne said that there is a lot of talent within AECL which does a lot of valuable research, but the company should have stayed out of the fuel business.


“Sell what you are good at and stay within your area of expertise,” he said.


Mitchell asked how dire the financial picture is for AECL. Hawthorne said that he believes the company is currently surviving on government funding.


“The liabilities are big numbers,” he said.


The SCEENR study will continue on into 2011 with plans for public consultation. Hawthorne said he is pleased to have been able to speak with the committee.


“It’s great to have them here physically,” he said Friday, “so they can see first hand how it’s done. It can only help discussions in Ottawa.”


For more information on the study visit