Nuclear power seen as a boon to oil and gas

ALBERTA - Nuclear power could help wean Alberta's oilsands from its natural gas habit and give a boost to the electrical grid, but its true potential may best be realized when it works in partnership with the oil and gas industry, suggested the head of nuclear power giant Areva Canada Inc.

Speaking at the Energy Roundtable recently, Areva president Armand Laferrere said he envisions the emergence of combined industrial projects, where nuclear plants will sit next to hydrogen manufacturing plants.

The setup would allow operators to ship all or part of the power generated by the reactor, as needed, to specific industrial customers "which will have bought pre-allocated amounts of power," he said.

"Nuclear can provide power but you also need hydrogen for the purpose of upgrading the bitumen from northern Alberta, so nuclear can provide both," Laferrere said.

In his pitch, Laferrere — who earlier this year said Areva was in discussions with several local players about building a nuclear generating facility — reiterated why nuclear should be part of the everyday fuel mix that will feed Alberta's growing need for power.

The Alberta Electric System Operator has forecast a demand of 5,000 MW by 2017 and 11,500 MW by 2027, while ongoing oilsands development would require nearly of Canada's current natural gas supply by 2030.

While Areva is one of four potential vendors to the proposed Bruce Power plant in Peace River, Laferrere has declined to name the remaining firms. He again refused to name names but added should a deal be struck and approvals be in-hand, it would take a minimum of nine years to have a nuclear facility built.

In March, Ontario's Bruce Power LP announced plans for a 4,000-MW facility near Peace River that could cost $10 billion or more.

Steve Cannon, spokesman for Bruce, said the company is a long way from any decision.

"We haven't even reached the point where we've had an environmental assessment," he said. That alone is a 30-month process — once launched.

Bruce Power is still awaiting the Alberta government panel review on what policy steps it wants to take regarding nuclear energy, he said.

"Once we get a clearer picture on that we'll decide which way we want to go," Cannon said.

In April, the province appointed an expert panel to examine a number of issues on nuclear energy, including the feasibility of integrating nuclear into Alberta's electricity system.

The fact-finding report is expected before the end of the year.

Alberta Energy spokesman Jason Chance said the province remains open-minded on the issue.

"The panel's report and the views of Albertans, because there will be some public consultation at a later date, will be essential in determining whether nuclear energy is an appropriate fit for Alberta," Chance said.


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