AECL: Jim Flaherty’s Atom Splitting Headache

This link: Jim_Flaherty_s_Atom_Splitting_Headache is the slide deck  originally prepared for a lecture presented to U of T EngSci ESC 203, “Engineering, Society and Critical Thinking” October 26, 2010. EngSci students are specifically invited to send in comments or questions, as are any other interested readers. Many thanks again to Lisa Romkey, the instructor for ESC 203, for the opportunity to present to her class again this year.

The version of the slides presented here is slightly edited from the original. An additional year of Candu benchmarking data was added on Slide 7 and responses to comments from reader is included in a new slide at the end.


  1. Dear Mr. Adams:

    You mentioned that Canada needs to renew its relationship with the atom. I am sorry if I should have understood this from the lecture, but are you referring to Canada’s use of D2O reactors, or Canada’s economics and policies regarding nuclear energy?

    • All generation technologies should be economically competitive contributors. D2O reactors have failed the test. If Canada is going to build new nuclear generators, we have to move to a more successful technology with a larger operating base of reactors over which to share overheads.

      Economics have been ignored in Canada’s relationship with the atom. AECL and its supporters wrap themselves in pleas to nationalism. Their economic multiplier arguments — that government spending on AECL creates jobs — ignores the impact on taxpayers who have to fork over the money and also would have us believe that the more money AECL spends the better off we are irrespective of whether the spending creates any value. The MAPLE reactor fiasco is an example of lots of spending with zero value produced. The jobs created on that project directly harmed the Canadian economy, although the specific employees and contractors benefitted.

      Economics are by no means the only consideration in nuclear policy. We also need to think much more deeply about nuclear security and environmental protection. To raise just one example, Canada’s long standing nuclear relationship with Pakistan is something we ought to be considering carefully.

  2. Tom:

    After researching nuclear reactor technology for almost a decade, I came to like the CANDU design less and less. The main reasons for it ceased to have any validity in science decades ago. Had many of these rectors been properly constructed in the first place, the major mid-life refurbs, all of which well exceed the initial constructions costs, would not have been necessary.

    That’s not even the half of it but I won’t bore you with the gory details!

    In fact, although I am literally ga-ga on nuclear energy, I have no use whatsoever for the CANDU or any other neutron moderated, single pass, megalithic nuclear reactor either!

    In unlikely event you are not aware of what I’m talking about; google “Integral Fast Reactor” and go where you’re led. For the size of reactors we should be building (as fast as is safe to do so) go here:


    Sean Holt.

  3. One thing that I have been getting from years of compiling the energy news is that the model of power generation and delivery is moving from one of centralization to decentralization. You have probably noticed the same trend. The reason this is happening is simply because the cost of a centralized power system is increasing quickly (the capital costs for nuclear construction in 2009 increased over 30% in one single year!). As well, the cost of on-site decentralized combined heat and power systems are declining as we are finally seeing the commercial viability of fuel cells which utilize abundant natural gas. As well, such decentralized generation greatly reduces the capital cost required for new transmission and delivery networks.

    I am bringing this up because what I see is that our current Liberal and Conservative energy policy is based upon a past generation’s model and neither is addressing the move to the growing occurrence of decentralized on-site power. I find this disheartening because I have worked in large energy projects in the field of project management. I can see that for example a new Darlington nuclear station is very likely to cost Ontario upward of $40 billion. With our province having being dismantled economically by failed socialist/Liberal strategies, can our province really afford such an investment? If so, what will that do to power rates going forward as Ontario is already at a disadvantage? As well, what will such hi-cost energy rates do to the discretionary income and industrial base of our province? I think I know the answer and that answer is expressed when I tell younger people to get the hell out of Ontario and stay out. We will be a country that is increasingly influenced by the Western provinces and Ontario is likely to be a “has-been” for some time.

    The only solution that I see is if Ontario’s energy policy takes the path of Wayne Gretzky’s hockey prowess which is “to go to where the puck is going – not to where it is.”

    I believe that large incentives should be given (not feed-in-tariffs) to businesses that want to install CHP systems to generate their own power. As well, I believe that in less than 4 years, that an incentive should be provided to households to do the same. Such an energy policy is now in place in England with the Cameron government and is increasingly being adopted in the United States of America.

    When it comes to nuclear power I am a big advocate of SMR technology (small modular reactors). The Candu design is outdated and needs to be put back on Noah’s arc. It is hi-time that Canada stopped bitching about Candu’s demise and started moving forward. At the very least, building a Westinghouse AP-1000 at Darlington with private dollars for a private operator should be the policy of the next government in Ontario.

    My point of view comes from what I have observed from my own research and from my own experiences in the energy industry. I don’t believe that everyone should adopt my points of view. However, I do believe that my points of view are not only my own and do carry inextricable logic.

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