Fire / Feu



Atomes coûteux

En 2006, selon les dires même d'Énergie NB, on s'attend à ce que le coût moyen de l'électricité provenant de Pointe-Lepreau s'élève à 10,97 cents le kilowatt heure, un coût énorme en ce domaine.

Pourquoi donc l'énergie nucléaire coûte si cher? Tout d'abord, les coûts d'investissement sont élevés parce qu'il faut s'assurer que les risques d'accidents nucléaires sont maintenus à un niveau minimal. Les coûts de la construction du réacteur CANDU 6 du Nouveau-Brunswick (Pointe-Lepreau) se sont avérés trois fois plus élevés qu'ils avaient été prévus initialement, soit 1,2 milliard de dollars. Ensuite, les frais d'exploitation et les frais d'entretien sont aussi très élevés et il faut aussi tenir compte de la gestion des déchets radioactifs. Et finalement, il ne faut pas oublier les coûts de mise hors service des centrales nucléaires.

Si l'on étudie la performance des réacteurs CANDU, l'énergie cumulative disponible de tous les réacteurs au Canada commence à diminuer après seulement une dizaine d'années d'opération pour ensuite diminuer régulièrement. On avait prévu initialement que la centrale de Pointe-Lepreau serait en fonction pour 40 années mais les études démontrent maintenant qu'elle ne réussira pas à survivre plus de 25 années.

Le 1er avril prochain, la centrale nucléaire de Pointe-Lepreau sera la propriété et sera gérée par une entreprise publique appelée Énergie nucléaire du Nouveau-Brunswick Inc. Cette société publique vendra son électricité par contrat à la nouvelle compagnie de distribution et de services à la clientèle d'Énergie N.-B.. Les coûts de cette électricité n'ont pas encore été révélés.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Author: David Coon

 

The Costly Atom

David Coon
Conservation Council of N.B.

January 2004

Too cheap to meter! Ah yes, the promise of atomic energy. Splitting the peaceful atom would unleash so much energy that it would keep electricity costs low forever. At least that was the promise in the 1950's, made by those who felt passionately about harnessing atomic energy to generate electricity. This myth has been told and retold so many times that it pervades the media in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Thanks to the evidence presented to New Brunswick's Public Utility Board (PUB) hearings in 2002, we now have the facts. The hearings were held to consider NB Power's proposal to refurbish and extend the life of its Point Lepreau nuclear power plant.

For the record, the PUB recommended against refurbishing Point Lepreau. Based on the evidence presented to them, they concluded the venture was not in the public interest due to the financial risks involved. The Government of New Brunswick has yet to accept this recommendation.

Considerable evidence about the actual costs of the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant was tabled by NB Power during the public hearings. An interesting comparison can be made between the cost of generating electricity over the lifetime of Point Lepreau and the lifetime costs of generating electricity from other options.

In 2006, the lifetime cost of electricity from Point Lepreau is expected to have amounted to a whopping 10.97 cents/kwh according to NB Power's evidence. That makes it the most expensive electricity in New Brunswick. Too cheap to meter indeed!

How does this stack up against other means of generating electricity? During the Lepreau hearings, NB Power presented evidence on the lifetime cost of electricity from non-nuclear options. According to their evidence, these amount to 7.33 cents/kwh for small-scale wind, 6.35 -6.75 cents/kwh for combined cycle natural gas, 6.22 cents/kwh for coal, 5.92 cents/kwh for Orimulsion, 6.48 cents/kwh to refurbish Unit #4 at Courtenay Bay for combined cycle gas, and 4.37 cents/kwh for power from a refurbished Coleson Cove (new pollution controls, life-extension and conversion to burn Orimulsion) and 5.01 cents/kwh from a refurbished Point Lepreau. This is a bit confusing, 10.97 cents or 5.01 cents - may need a sentence of explanation.

According to the Dominion Bond Rating Service, NB Power's income in 2001 from residential sales amounted to 7.94 cents/kwh sold, its income from commercial sales was 8.43 cents/kwh and its income from industrial sales amounted to 4.91 cents/kwh. NB Power's net debt for that year was just shy of $3 billion.

What makes nuclear power so expensive? To begin with, the capital costs are high to ensure the risks of a nuclear accident are kept to the absolute minimum, and these capital costs have a habit of escalating into orbit. The cost of building the CANDU 6 nuclear power plant at Point Lepreau in New Brunswick tripled to $1.2 billion from its original estimate. The costs of refurbishing the Pickering "A" nuclear power plant outside of Toronto increased from $800 million to $2.8 billion.


(photo: NB Power)

The operation and maintenance costs of running a nuclear power plant are also high in the best of circumstances. They were projected to be $119 million this year for Point Lepreau.

Then there is the poor performance. According to NB Power's evidence, Point Lepreau's performance began its drastic decline only 12 years into its operating life. Since that time it achieved a capacity factor of less then 70 percent (to 2002). When the power plant is down, it does not generate any revenue but accumulates bills for expensive replacement power and expensive repairs.

If you look at the performance of CANDU reactors in Ontario, Québec and New Brunswick, this decline in performance is not unique to Point Lepreau (Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout, Phasing Out Nuclear Power in Canada, 2003). The cumulative energy available from all nuclear reactors in Canada starts to decline around age 10 and continues to decline to the end of their operating lives.

Another factor in the high costs of nuclear electricity relates to the fact that the lives of CANDU reactors are being cut short by premature aging, specifically by the stretching and sagging of the pressure tubes which contain the nuclear reaction in the reactor core.

It was originally predicted that Point Lepreau would operate for 40 years. This was reduced to 30 years, and that is the period over which its costs were to be paid. With consultants' studies suggesting that the nuclear power plant will only make it to age 25, the Government of New Brunswick had to write-off $450 million in consideration of its reduced lifespan.

Next, there is the tremendous cost of managing the radioactive wastes, which results from splitting the atom to generate electricity. NB Power's evidence presented at the hearing put the total costs for managing 50 tonnes of radioactive waste at $388.9 million (2001$) if the reactor were retired in 2006. That figure includes the cost of on-site storage, transportation to a centralized disposal facility and the costs of using such a facility.


(photo: CBC News)

Finally, there is the cost of decommissioning the nuclear power plant after it has reached the end of its safe operating life. NB Power's evidence put these costs at $454 million (2001$), with over half of the spending occurring 35 years after the reactor has been shut down for good.

This past summer, NB Power was forced to borrow $125 million for investment purposes in order to satisfy the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission's requirement that the utility provide a $750 million guarantee to cover its liabilities for radioactive waste management and plant decommissioning.

As of April 1, 2004, the Point Lepreau Nuclear power plant will be owned and operated by a new Crown corporation called NB Power Nuclear Inc. It will sell electricity under contract to the new NB Power Distribution and Customer Service Company, which will supply New Brunswickers with power. The cost of this contract has yet to be revealed.