Nunavut in Canada spends an extraordinary amount for energy, far more than most other provinces, and it is all fossil energy. Try as much as a dollar a kilowatt-hour. At wholesale.
Where consumers in the other Canadian provinces average 8.5 cents, the electric company itself buys diesel for electricity production at between 50 cents and as much as $1 a kwh. Part of the cost is simply transportation. Nunavut has only 33,000 consumers in the cold and sparsely populated province, which is partly made up of an arctic archipelago, spread out over an area the size of Europe.
The Qulliq Energy board wants to find an alternative to buying diesel to make electricity, and according to CBC, it is considering micro-nuclear power: North mulls micro-reactors as solution to rising power costs
“Between the fluctuation in global petroleum prices and the global recession of 2008, the Board believes more so now than ever that Nunavut needs to reduce our dependence on diesel fuel, and agrees with the Government of Nunavut’s desire to advance capital projects which provide alternatives to fossil fuel consumption,” QEC board of directors chair Simon Merkosak wrote in the company’s 2010-2011 corporate plan.
Various options for cleaner, cheaper energy are being mulled, along with micro-nuclear plants. Although Canada is a world leader in hydro electricity, the province claims that the bids it has received for a new hydro project far exceed the costs of the mini nuclear plant. Mackey said a recent proposal for a hydro-electric power plant in Iqaluit was estimated to cost $200 to $500 million over the next 40 years, while some competing micro-nuclear designs pitched to QEC have promised to meet the same energy needs for $15 million over the same period.
Of course, this is a theoretical figure, since there are as yet no takers for micro-nuclear plants, and nuclear plants are notorious for cost overruns. But the region might make a good guinea pig. With such tiny populations, a power plant that is just 10 MW can supply the small far flung off-grid towns, and micro-nuclear plants are just the right size. Unlike their typically 1,000 MW cousins, they are easier to control.
“The smaller the reactors are, the easier it is to make them inherently safe because your power densities are much lower and the cooling temperatures involved are much lower,” said Dr. Jeremy Whitlock, a reactor physicist at Chalk River Laboratories and former president of the Canadian Nuclear Society. “These are power plants you don’t need a nuclear PhD to run.”
Modern small-scale nuclear designs also focus on permanently closed, modular units that would never have to be opened to risk exposing the core. They could essentially be plunked down, run for years and then the whole module would get replaced much like a battery.
With 27 tiny diesel power plants to replace, at $15 million a pop, 25 10 MW reactors could supply the province at a built cost of about $400 million, somewhat within the range of the median hydro estimate.
It would be a chance to test the cost-effectiveness of micro-nuclear plants in the one environment in which nuclear power could prove appropriate: in very, very, very sparsely populated regions.
Image: Lindsay Nicole Terry
- Japan nuclear crisis fuels Nunavut uranium fears (cbc.ca)
- Nunavut power rates going up 19% (cbc.ca)
- Japan’s reactor disaster raises Nunavut nuclear fears (ctv.ca)
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