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Whitecourt bids for nuclear plant

Whitecourt bids for nuclear plant
Upstart Calgary firm prepares to file applications for $6.2-billion Candu project
Jason Markusoff, The Edmonton Journal
May 04, 2007

EDMONTON - An upstart Calgary energy firm is thrusting Alberta headlong into the nuclear debate, with plans to apply next month to build a $6.2-billion twin reactor in northern Alberta that would become the largest -- and most controversial -- power plant in the province.

Energy Alberta Corp. is in talks with the town of Whitecourt and at least two other communities as potential sites of the mammoth 2,200-megawatt facility designed to meet the ravenous electricity needs of Alberta's oil sector, Wayne Henuset, the company's president, said Thursday.

It has teamed up with Atomic Energy Canada Ltd., the federal Crown corporation which makes the Candu reactor, and intends to file site applications with Canada's federal nuclear regulator on June 15.

Henuset said the reactors could begin operating as early as 2016.

Energy Alberta has also stepped up its promotional campaign in Alberta, making a private presentation with AECL to Alberta Conservative MLAs Thursday. This weekend, it will fly Whitecourt's mayor and other local leaders to visit a Candu reactor in New Brunswick.

"The communities are helping us decide which ones want the facility, and that's where we are right now," Henuset said, outside a Tory caucus meeting.

The Tories could also take a serious step forward on going nuclear at their annual convention Saturday, when party members vote on a resolution to set up a committee to hold public consultations and study nuclear energy.

Energy Minister Mel Knight and nuclear proponents said the presentation was only an information session.

"There was no sales pitch," Knight said.

While the minister said nuclear is just one possible new energy source alongside hydroelectricity and biomass, he noted that a report from the United-Nations-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change due out today is expected to recommend using nuclear power to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

"When that body declares that this is perhaps a way forward for the world, we can't put on blinders and just pretend it's not happening," Knight said.

Liberal Leader Kevin Taft expressed alarm that Energy Alberta is already at the application stage, before the provincial government has gauged Albertans' comfort level with having Western Canada's first reactor.

"It feels like the Tories have let the nuclear genie out of the bottle, and not bothered to tell the public about it," said Taft, who said he's highly skeptical of the nuclear option.

Energy Alberta's applications to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission will propose two possible sites, although only one would actually be built, Henuset said. He expects environmental and technical approvals to take about five years, and insisted his firm will raise money through private equity rather than government cash.

Whitecourt, about 180 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, already has a heavy forestry and paper industry and would embrace a plant on its doorstep, the local MLA said.

"What community could host 1,000 workers in 10 years and plan for it? Well, Whitecourt's a perfect community," George VanderBurg said.

Under the plan, AECL would build in Alberta a pair of its new "advanced" Candu reactors. The project would dwarf any other electrical plant in Alberta.

Henuset, who's worked in petroleum services and liquor retailing, formed Energy Alberta in 2004 expressly to construct a nuclear plant in Alberta. Veteran oil-patch entrepreneur Hank Swartout came on later as a fellow director, and AECL signed on last fall. This spring, the firm signed former Calgary Sun publisher Guy Huntingford to do public relations.

"I saw them at Earth Day celebrations, for God's sake," quipped NDP environment critic David Eggen. "They're trying to soften up the public. But people have reason to be skeptical."


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