You can buy a lot of solar panels for the price of a nuclear reactor

Ontario nuclear plantThe Green Party of Ontario has a bad habit of emitting frustratingly vague news releases a few days after whatever they’re talking about has broken. They could do with a lesson from whoever’s whipped the federal Greens’ media apparatus into shape.

Nevertheless, although they have the luxury of not having to propose anything really specific, they often make good principled points. Today, apropos of not much, a statement on nuclear power:

“Nuclear power has been a money pit in Ontario, and with another $40 billion headed its way, it looks like the Liberals haven’t learned from past mistakes,” [Ontario Green leader Frank] de Jong says. “Besides the obvious safety issues, nuclear power is simply not competitive when you factor in subsidies, environmental costs or disposal costs. Instead of building more reactors at exorbitant expense, Ontario should phase out existing ones as soon as possible.”

“The Liberal government is squandering both money and opportunities,” said John Ford, GPO Energy Advocate. “Every billion dollars spent on nuclear is a billion not spent on conservation, retrofitting or developing renewable energy.”

Just refurbishing existing nuclear reactors costs billions and billions of dollars. I had a long face-to-face interview with de Jong during the 2003 provincial election campaign, and one of the things he said that’s stuck with me is that for $1.5 billion, the rule-of-thumb price of a new nuclear reactor generating maybe 750 megawatts of electricity (the whole province of Ontario uses about 25,000 on a hot summer day), we could outfit every detached home in the province with a solar-powered water heater and cut demand by the same amount, if not more.

Such a program might be difficult to administer and there are questions of equity with this specific idea — why should the government outfit detached homes, which are predominantly inhabited by the comparatively financially comfortable? — but the Ontario’s nuclear “fleet” has not historically been a paragon of efficiency and good management. The cost overruns and blown schedules that seem to accompany any nuclear work, at least in Ontario, are legendary.

You can buy a lot of conservation measures for $1.5 billion. If the government’s going to be in the electricity business, it’s a point worth reflecting upon.

(Photo credit: Untitled, Flickr/Bahman.)


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