David Suzuki is a world-renowned scientist, broadcaster, activist, co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation and author of more than 30 books on ecology (written with files from senior editor Ian Hanington).
Last week, Ontario announced a plan to expand to nuclear generating station Bruce Power, near Kincardine. The expansion would add a third generating station to the plant, and would be the first new large-scale nuclear plant construction in Canada in three decades.
As the impacts of climate disruption become more frequent and intense, we need a range of solutions. One that’s getting a lot of attention is nuclear power. After 30 years without building any new reactors, Ontario is jumping onto the nuclear bandwagon. How should we react?
One of the biggest issues is that nuclear power is expensive — at least five times more than wind and solar — and takes a long time to plan and build. And because the various models are still at the prototype stage, they won’t be available soon.
We’ve stalled for so long in getting off coal, oil and gas, so we need solutions that can be scaled up quickly and affordably.
The last nuclear plant built in Ontario, Darlington, ended up costing $14.4 billion, almost four times the initial estimate. It took from 1981 to 1993 to construct and is now being refurbished at an estimated cost of close to $13 billion. In 1998, Ontario Hydro faced the equivalent of bankruptcy, in part because of Darlington.
Ontario’s experience isn’t unique. A Boston University study of 400 large-scale electricity projects over the past 80 years found “on average, nuclear plants cost more than double their original budgets and took 64 per cent longer to build than projected,” the Toronto Star reports. “Wind and solar had average cost overruns of 7.7 per cent and 1.3 per cent, respectively.”
As renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage technologies continue to rapidly improve and come down in price, costs for nuclear are rising. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment report shows that nuclear power delivers only 10 per cent of the results of wind and solar at far higher costs.
The amount it will cost to build out sufficient nuclear power — some of which must come in the form of taxpayer subsidies — could be better put to more quickly improving energy efficiency and developing renewable energy, such as wind, solar and geothermal.
David Suzuki Foundation research shows how Canada could get 100 per cent reliable, affordable, emissions-free electricity by 2035 — without resorting to expensive and potentially dangerous (and, in the case of SMRs — small modular reactors — untested) technologies like nuclear. The future is in renewables.