Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bruce Power: CIC knew key findings of nuclear feasibility study two months before it was released; gov’t withholding vital information from public

When Bruce Power announced the launch of its feasibility study into bringing nuclear power to Saskatchewan on June 17, 2008, the company said it would issue a report by the end of the year. The short time frame to complete the work immediately raised questions.

Ann Coxworth, program co-coordinator with the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, told The StarPhoenix the timeline of the feasibility study may not be long enough for Bruce Power to do a complete evaluation.

“Five months is not a very long time for doing a study of that scope. It makes me wonder how thorough it’s going to be,” she said. [Bruce Power eyes nuclear feasibility (StarPhoenix, June 18, 2008)]

If five months wasn’t enough then try 15 weeks because that’s all it took before officials at Crown Investments Corporation of Saskatchewan (CIC) were advised of the study’s key findings.

According to an undated briefing note released under freedom of information legislation “CIC staff held a preliminary meeting with Bruce Power officials on September 29 during which the following information was provided:

“The study will conclude that it is feasible to build a two unit, 2,000 MW nuclear power plant in Saskatchewan under certain conditions.

“The study will also identify as many as four potential locations (near Lloydminster, near North Battleford, near Prince Albert and near Boundary Dam south of Estevan).” The rest of the page was redacted.

(Estevan was ultimately excluded from consideration. The feasibility study said this was “because the role that region will play in terms of future clean coal generation will be considerable in the future. To locate a nuclear facility, in addition to such a significant amount of coal, would have concentrated too much electricity in the province in a single location.”)

The briefing note also revealed that a summary of the feasibility study was “scheduled to be publicly released by Bruce Power at a news conference in Saskatoon on November 3, 2009 [sic]. Ministers Stewart and Cheveldayoff will participate in the news conference to provide an initial response from government.” The news conference never took place.

Page two of document then serves up this revelation: “Assuming Bruce announces on November 3 that its study shows construction of a nuclear power plant in Saskatchewan is feasible, the decision of the Bruce Power Board about whether to move onto the next step – an full site specific EA – would likely take place in February 2009.”

The feasibility study was presented just over three weeks later at news conference in Saskatoon on Nov. 27. Given the briefing note’s contents it seems reasonable to think that Bruce Power may have a site selected but just hasn’t revealed it yet. The company’s board meetings appear to be closed to the public. No agendas or minutes from the meetings are posted on Bruce Power website so how could the public know what has or hasn’t been decided?

It’s interesting to note that the Bruce Power board includes president and CEO Duncan Hawthorne, Cameco CEO Jerry Grandey and TransCanada Corporation executive vice-president of power operations Alex Pourbaix. These gentlemen also happen to be members of the pro-nuclear Uranium Development Partnership that the province established on Oct. 20 to advise the government on further development of Saskatchewan’s uranium resources. On Feb. 15, in response to an access to information request, CIC refused to disclose a copy of the panel’s work plan and timeline.

A second briefing note, which appears to be dated either Oct. 23 or Nov. 6, indicates that the feasibility study was scheduled to be considered by the Bruce Power board on Nov. 4-5.

“The next step in the process would be a site specific environmental assessment (EA) as required by federal regulators. The EA would be conducted and fully funded by Bruce Power and would take approximately 36 months,” the document states. The section immediately following this statement has been blacked out.

Page two of the briefing note discusses the GHG emissions impact study that was conducted: “While Bruce has not provided a summary of the GHG impact study, officials have indicated the study concludes that operation of a 2,000 MW nuclear power station in Saskatchewan has the potential to reduce GHG emissions by 12.5 million tonnes per year, the equivalent of 85% of SaskPower’s total annul GHG emissions.”

A search of Bruce Power’s feasibility study, however, found that SaskPower is not mentioned at all and that the GHG figures presented in the briefing note do not seem to appear either. No explanation is given why.

The briefing note makes reference to a speech given by Mr. Hawthorne at a North Saskatoon Business Association luncheon on Nov. 14 that was attended by Enterprise Minister Lyle Stewart.

StarPhoenix business editor Joanne Paulson reported that the luncheon was held in the Delta Bessborough Hotel, “attracting an audience of more than 230 including Saskatchewan mayors, members of the provincial cabinet and heavy-hitters in the local business community.” Stewart’s name is not in the article.

According to Paulson, Hawthorne told the business crowd “the plant would cost $8 billion to $10 billion in total to build, and would ultimately employ 1,000 people full-time, many of those university graduates.” [Nuclear plant report due soon (StarPhoenix, Nov. 15, 2008)]

It’s unclear how many non-university graduates or local residents of the host city will be employed at the plant. An online presentation recently posted to the Bruce Power website states that “some relocation and training of workers would be needed.” The feasibility study mentions neither.

The access to information request submitted to CIC in January asked for copies of any briefing notes and memorandums from Aug. 1, 2008 to Jan. 15, 2009 regarding or relating to Bruce Power.

On Mar. 9 the CIC released 11 pages of information, half of which are blacked out. The CIC listed the following reasons under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act as justification for withholding the information from the public:

– The records contain consultation among members of Executive Council on matters that relate to the making of government decisions or the formulation of government policy.

– The records contain briefings to members of Executive Council in relation to matters that are before or are proposed to be brought before the Executive Council or any of its committees.

– The records could reasonably be expected to disclose advice, proposals, recommendations, analyses or policy options developed by or for CIC or a member of Executive Council.

– The records could reasonably be expected to disclose positions, plans, procedures, criteria or instructions developed for the purpose of contractual or other negotiations by or on behalf of the Government of Saskatchewan or a government institution, or considerations that relate to those negotiations.

– The records could reasonably be expected to disclose information, including the proposed plans, policies or projects of a government institution, the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to result in disclosure of a pending policy or budgetary decision of a pending policy decision or budgetary item.

– The records could reasonably be expected to disclose information, the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to interfere with contractual or other negotiations of the Government of Saskatchewan or a government institution.

– The records contain financial, commercial, scientific, technical or labour relations information that is supplied in confidence, implicitly or explicitly, to a government institution by a third party.

The reasons given for denying access to certain information are itself revealing. Two of them say it is because of “contractual or other negotiations.” What possible contracts or negotiations could be taking place that relate to Bruce Power? The public are repeatedly told that no decisions have been made but obviously some kind of deal making appears to be going on. The other thing to keep in mind is that the briefing notes are five or six months old so who knows what has transpired since then. As usual the public will be the last to know.

Another reason cited for denying access is “pending policy or budgetary items.” Again, what could possibly be in the works if no decision has been made? Or has the public been misled all these months?

Meanwhile, in Alberta, Bruce Power seems to be pulling out all the stops trying to sell its nuclear dream in that province.

Jim Macdonald of The Canadian Press reported on Mar. 15 that the company “has started ramping up a public relations campaign in four Alberta cities as the government prepares to gauge how people feel.

“Billboards were recently erected in Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie and Peace River trumpeting Bruce Power Alberta as a green energy provider.

“Exploring opportunities for growth in Alberta,” say the billboards. “Next-generation nuclear, hydrogen, wind, solar.”

The article notes that “Bruce Power has no wind, solar or hydrogen generation in Alberta.”

Macdonald spoke with Enterprise Minister Lyle Stewart who said Saskatchewan’s large deposits of uranium make nuclear power a good fit.

“I think we can pull it off if we have a willing builder and if the public endorses the idea,” said Stewart, who explained that surplus power would probably be sold to the United States.

“There is such a demand for power in Western Canada and the western half of the United States,” he said. “I don’t think we can produce too much power between our two provinces to saturate that demand.”

Macdonald also talked to Bruce Power CEO Duncan Hawthorne who apparently said there’s “enough demand on the horizon to justify two reactors in each province.”

The price tag would be huge - up to $24 billion in total. [Bruce Power using billboards to win support for nuclear energy on the Prairies (The Canadian Press, Mar. 15, 2009)]

Bruce Power’s feasibility study, however, does not say anything about exporting surplus electricity to the United States or who will pay for the infrastructure upgrades required to carry out that work.

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall say that the public will be consulted before any decisions are made. But in the meantime we have Bruce Power spending tens of thousands of dollars advertising its plans in each province, and it seems every mayor or conservative MLA and MP within earshot of a microphone or reporter is voicing support for nuclear power. Clearly any credibility or legitimacy the upcoming public consultation process may have had is now gone.


At 8:43 AM, Blogger JimBobby said...

Whooee! Par fer the course, Joe.

Down here in the Nanticoke area, Bruce managed to get two county councils to pass unanimous resolutions of endorsement for a new nuke plant. There was no local consultation but now Bruce is able to declare that there exists a "willing host community" eager to have a radioactive time bomb built nearby on the shores of Lake Erie.

If yer expecting a fair fight, yer in fer some disillusionment. They got the bucks. They got the ear of gummint. They got the public relations expertise to steamroll over commonsense and public safety. They got 50 years experience bulldozin' their way into unsuspecting communities with pie in the sky promises.



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