June 17, 2008

Bruce Power Eyes Uranium Rich Saskatchewan for Possible Nuclear Power Plant


SASKATOON - Saskatchewan, the world's largest producer of uranium, looked to jump into the nuclear game Tuesday with word that Bruce Power (TSX:CCO, TSX:TRP) will study the possibility of building a reactor in the province.

But critics charged that the move is aimed at pitting Saskatchewan and Alberta against each other in a nuclear race.

Duncan Hawthorne, president and CEO of Bruce Power, announced that the company will undertake a feasibility study on the potential of bringing nuclear energy to the province. Hawthorne said it's about ensuring Saskatchewan has a secure supply of clean energy in the future.

"Saskatchewan is no different from other parts of the world or Canada, looking at the supply mix now in the light of climate-change issues," said Hawthorne.

"Saskatchewan is pretty heavily dependent on coal today."

As part of the plan, Bruce Power will look at the economic impact of and public attitudes about adding nuclear energy to the province's current electricity supply.

Bruce Power will work with SaskPower to evaluate electricity demand projections and examine what transmission upgrades would be needed to accommodate new nuclear units.

"We have to look at how big is the market demand, how does that fit with the supply mix, where would it be located," said Hawthorne.

There was no word Tuesday about potential locations that would be suitable for a new generating station.

A report prepared for Crown-owned SaskPower and leaked to CBC Radio last month recommended a site on Lake Diefenbaker between the Gardiner Dam and the town of Elbow. The February 2007 document states plant output from there would be split equally between Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The report also says the region is a good choice because it's close to existing transmission lines and far from heavily populated areas, while at the same time within driving distance of major cities including Saskatoon and Regina.

But there are also cautionary notes about the water supply - the lake provides domestic supply for about 40 per cent of the province.

Hawthorne brushed aside suggestions that Bruce already has a location in mind.

"We will do our own surveys and they will determine where possible locations would be, so I wouldn't prejudge that," he told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview from Saskatoon.

"If we knew where it was today I would say where the best location was and save myself the expense of doing a study."

The feasibility study is not unexpected after comments by Saskatchewan Energy Minister Bill Boyd, who said last month that an "introductory-type" meeting was held with officials from Bruce.

Boyd has said Saskatchewan would be a good choice for a reactor.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who was elected last November, has frequently said Saskatchewan and its vast supply of uranium could be to nuclear power what Saudi Arabia was to oil.

Mining the raw material is as far as Saskatchewan has progressed in the nuclear cycle - until now.

"This is a very preliminary step that is being taken by Bruce Power," said Enterprise and Innovation Minister Lyle Stewart, who was on hand for the announcement.

"There are a number of other steps that have to be taken on a very long road before we ever see a build of a nuclear power plant in the province. Certainly we'll at some point want to do our own review of any project, assuming that Bruce's review gives the project the green light."

Stewart said federal and provincial environmental concerns, public safety and water quality issues also need to be addressed. There would also need to be "substantial public consultations."

Saskatchewan is not the only location being considered for a reactor.

Earlier this year, Bruce Power Alberta filed an application with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for approval to prepare a site that could generate 4,000 megawatts of electricity from two to four reactors near Peace River, Alta.

Saskatchewan's Opposition New Democrats said Tuesday's announcement by Bruce Power was a move to pit the provinces against each other in the race for a nuclear power plant.

"This wasn't their first choice. Their first choice was Alberta," said NDP enterprise and innovation critic Frank Quennell.

"They're talking to Saskatchewan now, they're in Saskatchewan now because the Alberta government asked for a study that the Saskatchewan government doesn't want to have."

In April, the Alberta government appointed an expert panel to prepare a report on nuclear energy. The panel will examine environmental, health and safety issues, compare nuclear energy with other electricity generation technologies, among other things.

That report is expected to be completed later this year.

Hawthorne suggested that the possibility of building a nuclear power plant in Saskatchewan would not necessarily negate the need for one in Alberta as well.

"It's very possible and very credible that two locations would be required to support these two provinces," said Hawthorne.

"We intend to continue aggressively with the environmental assessment in Alberta. By the end of this year we'll have determined whether or not it's feasible to mount a similar campaign in Saskatchewan," he said.

Bruce Power intends to begin its analysis this summer and issue a report by the end of the year.

The Ontario-based nuclear power company is a joint venture of Saskatoon-based uranium giant Cameco Corp. (TSX:CCO) TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP) of Calgary and other partners.

-By Jennifer Graham in Regina