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"Energy Alberta's nuclear maverick revamping power plant application"

Energy Alberta's nuclear maverick revamping power plant application
Canadian Press, July 20, 2007

CALGARY (CP) - The head of Energy Alberta Corp., an upstart western company pushing nuclear power in the Prairies, isn't taking the summer off, as planned.

Instead, Wayne Henuset is revamping a site application to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission from his office in the suburbs of southeast Calgary.

The affable former oil-and-gas entrepreneur had, with partner Hank Swartout, bandied a date in mid-June to the media for setting the regulatory ball rolling on their $6.2-billion nuclear power plant project.

Passionate about the controversial project, they even flew out Alberta town council members to New Brunswick to tour a similar facility and see for themselves the benefits of having a nuclear power plant on site.

But the application for a licence to prepare a site was sent back within two weeks, with the commission diplomatically calling the application a draft.

It's requesting a number of items be more detailed, particularly where the proposed generation plant would be built.

"The biggest hurdle is they're wanting us to commit to a location," Henuset said of the $600,000 application that named two likely towns, Whitecourt and Peace River, for the plants.

Energy Alberta's ambitious plan is to build two 1,100 megawatt nuclear powered generation plants in northwestern Alberta - the first in the province.

The two-year-old company partnered with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the federal Crown corporation and makers of Candu reactors, to provide the science and expertise. It also lined up a bank for financing and started collecting potential clients.

Henuset touts the benefits of nuclear power as a low greenhouse gas emitter, an about-face for a former oil patch player who is seen as a cowboy by eastern investors - even though he reserves the boots for town hall meetings in Alberta.

Another benefit is that once the plants are up and running - eight to 10 years from now - they'll provide a stable supply to the electricity grid, consumers and investors, he said.

This spring, Energy Alberta took to the road to garner political and public support for their bid, first targeting the power and steam needs of Alberta's oil sands. That tactic was abandoned as unrealistic, and Energy Alberta focused instead on providing power to the grid.

Any doubts Whitecourt Mayor Trevor Thain had about the technology and its benefits faded during his tour of Point Lepreau, New Brunswick's nuclear plant, and meeting with city councillors in Saint John, N.B.

"From an economic point standpoint, it would stabilize our town for a number of years," Thain said.

Point Lepreau brought 800 jobs and $100 million a year in salaries to St. John, a boost to the economy Whitecourt would welcome, Thain said. And the community of just under 9,000 residents is coming on side, he added.

For a province that is the undisputed oil and gas capital of Canada, the concept of and support for nuclear generation has been slow to take.

Proponents argue that atomic power is cheap and clean, relative to coal, oil and natural gas, while doubters point out nuclear waste has a shelf life longer than human activity on earth.

"All we have is the abysmal track record of nuclear power in Canada and the lack of information from the company that we can actually evaluate," Chris Severson-Baker, with the Pembina Institute, said.

The last nuclear power plant in Canada was built more than 25 years ago. And while the Candu reactors used in the country's commercial reactors have good safety records, their associated generation plants fail spectacularly on the cost side.

Pembina has not been able to access any detailed information about the Energy Alberta project, so Severs believes it's impossible to say whether it can be delivered on time and on budget.

"Until we actually see something on paper, I don't think anybody knows what they're planning to do," he said.

Henuset said the company took two years to research and develop the project before going public, bringing the experts at AECL on board and making inroads with potential customers in the province.

It will be another two years before the company becomes public, around the same time he anticipates starting construction on a plant. It would then be up and flowing electrons to Alberta's electricity grid within five years, Henuset said.

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