Sunday, April 12, 2009

Uranium Development Partnership report addresses Wall government’s “three measures” test for nuclear support, public consultation a sham

In the Leader-Post on Apr. 7, Premier Brad Wall said ‘the government won’t rush into decisions on any of the [Uranium Development Partnership’s]recommendations, but he acknowledged the province needs to chart a course for future electrical generation “relatively quickly” due to looming power needs.

“The nuclear power piece has to make sense. There’s been three measures for us -- affordability, environmental sustainability and also the safety factor,” Wall said, maintaining the government has not already made a decision.’ [NDP believe public input is ‘token’ (Leader-Post, Apr. 7, 2009)]

The government’s “three measures” are outlined in a Jan. 28, Crown Investments Corporation (CIC) briefing note, entitled Uranium Value-Added Opportunities, that was released on Apr. 1 in response to an access to information request.

“Our government supports the addition of nuclear power to the provincial generation mix if it can be shown to be a cost competitive alternative to other clean energy options and if issues of public safety and environmental protection are fully addressed,” the note states.

The UDP, which the government established on Oct. 20 and stacked with pro-nuclear individuals and organizations, released its final report at a press conference in Saskatoon on Apr. 3. To no one’s surprise the group recommends that the province pursue nuclear power in a big way.

What’s gone unnoticed, however, is that the report also appears to address the Wall government’s “three measures” test for nuclear support. Evidence of this can be found in various passages scattered throughout the document. The information can easily be used by the government to justify moving ahead with nuclear power.

The partnership report will form the basis for public consultation that is set to begin in early May and wrap up in June. It appears that any alternative viewpoints will not be considered.

On Apr. 9, Enterprise and Innovation Minister Lyle Stewart announced the appointment of Dan Perrins as chair of the public consultation process reviewing the findings and recommendations of the UDP report. The question is, why? The exercise now seems more pointless than ever.

It’s interesting to note that the Minister’s Order establishing the UDP does not specifically mandate the group to research and report on cost-competitiveness, public safety and environmental protection issues. It’s not mentioned in the Oct. 20 news release and backgrounder announcing the formation of the panel either. But the material is in the group’s final report nonetheless. It appears as follows:

Cost competitive

Executive Summary: “And – although it has high upfront capital costs – over its full life cycle, nuclear energy has proven to be cost-competitive.” (p. 1)

Chapter 4: Power generation
Key findings: “Given consensus estimates of long-term CO2e (equivalent carbon dioxide) and natural gas pricing, nuclear is a cost-competitive and low-emission power generation option.” (p. 55)

“In Alberta’s deregulated power market, nuclear will consistently compete against other power sources, accepting a price that varies with the constantly changing market supply/demand dynamics. The market price for power in a deregulated market is set by the marginal electricity producer, which is typically natural gas. Nuclear’s low operating costs will ensure it remains a competitive source once it is built, but the average expected market price of power in Alberta will determine whether a shared power agreement is attractive.” (p. 58)

“On a pure cost basis and with realistic assumptions on future carbon pricing, nuclear power is a competitive baseload power alternative. Exhibit 4-6 depicts the relative competitiveness of the three alternatives [nuclear, natural gas and coal] under varying CO2 and natural gas prices. The competitive analysis suggests that above a carbon price of roughly $30 and a natural gas price greater than roughly $6.00/mmBTU, nuclear emerges as the most competitive option.” (p. 60)

Recommendation #12: “Saskatchewan should… Include nuclear as part of the Province’s long-range energy mix, given its cost-competitiveness as a baseload power alternative and the economic value it would generate within the Province.” (p. 68)

Small reactors: “Commercially marketed nuclear reactors are of significant scale, with capacities greater than 1,000 MW. At these unit sizes, the costs of these reactors are competitive with alternative baseload options, including large hydro, coal, and natural gas generators.” (p. 81)

Public safety

Chapter 2: Exploration and mining
Key findings: “A strong and effective licensing and environmental assessment process is paramount to ensure the safety of workers and the public, as well as to protect the environment.” (p. 37)

“The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has primary responsibility for ensuring that the public, the workers, and the environment are protected from the potential risks of nuclear activities. One aspect of the CNSC’s mandate is to review all license applications for the construction and operation of uranium mines and milling plants in Canada. If the proposed activities entail a potential risk to people or the environment, the applicant has the burden to demonstrate that proper mitigation measures will be implemented to reduce this risk below an acceptable threshold.” (p. 37)

Appendix A: Health and safety considerations of nuclear power
Key findings: “Modern nuclear power plants are widely regarded as an extremely safe means of generating electricity.

– In terms of operational safety, nuclear is 10 times safer than natural gas, the next safest form of electricity generation.

– Under normal operations, worker radiation exposure is near naturally occurring levels and presents no known health risks.

– Public exposure levels from nuclear power are significantly below naturally occurring levels and come with no known health risks.

– Mitigating the threat of accident in the reactor core has been the primary focus for the industry since Generation I reactors were first introduced in 1950. Today’s Generation III(+) reactors are designed to be even safer than those in operation.” (p. 95)

Worker safety: “The nuclear power industry has the lowest direct fatality rates among power generation technologies (e.g., hydro, coal, and natural gas). One of the most comprehensive recent studies on the comparative operational safety of energy systems was done by the Paul Scherrer Institut in Switzerland in 1998. The Institut has a database of 13,914 severe accidents across all industries – 4,290 of which are energy system related. Commissioned by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy, the study examined severe accidents for major power generating facilities, including coal, oil, natural gas, hydro, and nuclear.

“The study’s findings reveal that nuclear is the safest form of energy generation in terms of loss of human life and is 10 times safer than natural gas, the next safest form. In Canada, there have been no fatal accidents from the operation of nuclear facilities.” (p. 95-96)

“Exposure to ionizing radiation is a risk facing, nuclear power workers; however, thanks to strict worker health and safety protocols, numerous studies have shown that radiation exposure for workers in nuclear power is near naturally occurring levels and presents no health risks. The globally observed radiation exposure for workers in the uranium value chain is no more than 6 mSv per year.

“These levels are significantly below the CNSC threshold for nuclear workers set at 100 mSv in a 5-year dosimetry period, with no more than 50 mSv in any single year. No health effects from radiation have been observed in humans below about 100 mSv of exposure.” (p. 96)

Public safety: “The variation of doses over time and by geography make it difficult to summarize the average dose to the public. The UN Scientific Committee, however, suggests that the average annual dose from natural sources is 2.4 mSv. Less than 0.1 percent of radiation to the public comes from the nuclear industry.

“Despite low levels of exposure, the effects on civilians living near nuclear facilities have been the subject of extensive research. These studies, conducted in Canada and other countries, have focused on the stochastic or long-term effects of low levels of radiation. Thus far, no adverse health effects have been observed. Two important North American studies are often cited:

– A 1990 study by the US National Cancer Institute examinig 62 communities with major nuclear facilities whose overall results showed no evidence of any increase in cancer.

– In Canada, an ecologic study was conducted to determine whether the health of residents in the vicinity of Ontario-based nuclear facilities differed from the provincial average. Overall there was no evidence of excess health effects.” (p. 97)

Environmental protection

Chapter 4: Power generation
Environment: “Nuclear power is a low-carbon generation option, whereas even a newly designed 1,000 MW coal or gas plant will respectively emit 5.4 million and 2.5 million tones of CO2 annually. Using a 1,000 MW nuclear power plant instead of a coal plant has the equivalent effect of removing 700,000 cars from the road.” (p. 59)

Appendix A: Health and safety considerations of nuclear power
Key findings: “The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is an independent governing body that provides a regulatory framework to manage all nuclear activity in the country. The CNSC also co-operates closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure that international standards are followed.” (p. 95)

“In Canada, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is responsible for ensuring the public, the environment, and workers are protected from any potential effects of nuclear energy and that all international industry guidelines are followed.

“The CNSC operates as an independent agency of the Federal Government that reports to Parliament (via the Minister of Natural Resources). The agency has no role in promoting nuclear power and is split into a decision-making Commission Tribunal and a staff organization including technical experts in nuclear safety and controls.

“One of the main responsibilities of the Commission Tribunal is to run the nuclear licensing process. Before being granted a license or renewal, licensees are required to prove to the CNSC that their facility or activity is acceptably safe. The CNSC approach to safety assumes that nothing is 100 percent risk free, but that risk can be minimized through multiple layers of verifiable protection. When a facility is licensed, the staff organization supports the compliance activities (among other things) and ensures that domestic nuclear operators provide quarterly reports highlighting radioactive discharges.

“The CNSC has responsibilities outside Canada and is charged with implementing the Canada/IAEA safeguards. The IAEA, using CNSC-supplied reports, inspects and monitors nuclear activities, verifying material flows and inventories as required under Canada’s safeguards agreement. The CNSC also cooperates with the IAEA to develop new safeguards approaches for Canadian facilities.” (p. 99)

Of the three issues discussed cost-competitiveness and public safety are without question addressed in the UDP report. As for environmental protection this falls under the purview of regulatory bodies like the CNSC and IAEA, which the UDP explains in detail, and is something the Wall government knows quite well.

Now that the “three measures” test is out of the way perhaps the Wall government will finally come clean and confirm the province’s two worst kept secrets: that it is indeed going forward with nuclear power; and, that the public consultation process is a sham.

In the meantime, information continues to trickle in regarding the UDP and Bruce Power’s efforts to bring nuclear power to Saskatchewan.

A Jan. 28 briefing note with the heading Update on Nuclear Activities in Saskatchewan states: “Bruce Power is now in the process of identifying a suitable site for a proposed power station of two 1000 megawatt reactors. This will be followed by a proposed Environmental Assessment beginning in the spring of 2009. This follows its announcement in November 2008 summarizing the results of its feasibility study. The feasibility study concluded that nuclear power is viable in Saskatchewan under certain conditions. The Province will provide a response to Bruce Power in the spring of 2009 concerning these conditions after they have received the UDP Report.”

What’s not clear is whether the announcement of the environmental assessment and the government’s response to Bruce Power will come before or after the public consultation process. Given the premier’s statement that the province needs to chart a course “relatively quickly” it seems that waiting for Mr. Perrins to submit his final report, which is due by Aug. 31, is out of the question. Making any announcement prior to Perrins releasing his report would undermine the credibility of the public consultation process even further.

In other Bruce Power news, the CBC reported on Apr. 9 that the power company has signed an agreement with the union that represents workers at SaskPower.

According to the article Saskatchewan union signs pro-nuclear agreement with Bruce Power the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2067 has agreed to advocate in favour of nuclear power, documents obtained by CBC News show.

The story states: ‘Earlier this month, the union sent its members a copy of an agreement signed by Bruce Power president Duncan Hawthorne and IBEW Local 2067 business manager Neil Collins.

‘The union says the letter of agreement indicates that if Bruce Power builds a nuclear power plant in Saskatchewan, IBEW members would operate and maintain the facility. The proposed nuclear power plant would have two 1,100 megawatt units and require between 1,000 and 2,000 employees, the union said.

‘The letter between Bruce Power and IBEW said a key issue is “that current IBEW Local 2067 members employed at existing generating facilities are not negatively impacted.”

‘As part of that agreement, the union agreed to advocate for nuclear power as the primary alternative for Saskatchewan’s electrical future.

‘The union also agreed to work with Bruce Power on what it calls a “communications protocol” in order to “manage” communications around nuclear power.

‘“As part of the communications protocol, Bruce Power and IBEW Local 2067 will agree on how to best produce and distribute a regular joint communication to all IBEW Local 2067 members addressing nuclear issues,” the letter says.’

Unfortunately, the CBC neglected to mention two important facts. First, that Hawthorne and Collins were members of the UDP, and second, that the negotiations between the two seemed to be taking place during the period when the UDP was conducting its study. This is very disturbing and only helps to confirm the panel’s pro-nuclear bias.

Finally, CIC has disclosed the contract between itself (on behalf of the UDP) and McKinsey & Company Canada, the consulting firm hired to “identify, evaluate and make recommendations on potential economic development opportunities from value-added development of Saskatchewan’s uranium industry.”

According to the Dec. 1, 2008, agreement, CIC was to pay the consultant “a fee in an amount not to exceed $2,205,000.00” payable as follows:

(a) $551,250.00 on or before January 15, 2009;
(b) $551,250.00 on or before February 15, 2009;
(c) $551,250.00 on or before March 15, 2009;
(d) $551,250.00 on or before April 15, 2009.

Not bad for four months work.

Buried on page eight of the contract is this interesting sentence: “Analysis of each segment of the value chain will be completed by individual teams including industry and government support staff as required and led by the Consultant.”

Exactly what these “teams” are and who is on them is not explained. What’s known for sure is that in its report the partnership acknowledges three of its members, AREVA Canada, Bruce Power and Cameco, for supplying “information and support” during the course of the group’s work. These companies may very well some day profit from the report’s recommendations.


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