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« Uranium One Incorporated Dynastic Complications | Main | Fronteer Development Group Incorporated Up 100% in 6 Weeks »

Alberta Tar Sands and Nuclear Power

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This is an interesting conundrum, how does Alberta meet the demands for more oil without resorting to nuclear power to generate the energy required to match the expansion programmes of the Tar Sands projects in and around Fort McMurray. It also begs the question of why not move directly to nuclear power as a form of energy and minimize the the dependence on oil.

According to the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, Alberta's oil sand deposits contain approximately 1.7 trillion barrels of bitumen, of which over 175 billion are recoverable with current technology, and 315 billion barrels are utimately recoverable with technological advances. The Athasbasca Oil Sands Deposit is, by itself, the largest petroleum resource in the world.

Anyway we found this article in the Herald Tribune today that we hope that you may find interesting and informative.

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The issues surrounding oil production from the tar sands and nuclear power plants being proposed in Alberta are integrally woven together, says journalist Andrew Nikiforuk.

The Calgary-based business journalist was in Grande Prairie Thursday to give a presentation at the Golden Age Centre based on his latest book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of the Continent.

Sponsored by the National Farmers Union, it followed similar presentations in Dawson Creek, sponsored by the Peace River Organic Producers Association, and in Peace River, which was sponsored by the Peace River Environmental Society.

The issues surrounding the tar sands and the nuclear power proposals weave together, said to Nikiforuk, as he believes one is motivating the other.

Nikiforuk opened by stating the tar sands have changed Alberta forever.
“We’re a very different place than we were 10 years ago. You can’t have 700,000 people pour into the province, and come here not to make a living but to make a killing, and not have that change the nature of things,” said Nikiforuk.

He said the province started at 600,000 barrels of oil in the mid-1990s, is at 1.3 million barrels now, and there’s talk of about jumping to 3.5 million, if not higher (5 or 6.5 million barrels), in the future.

He said this would bring the province close to Saudi Arabia, where production is nine million barrels a day.

The amount of energy used for this level of production is staggering, and not currently coming from sustainable sources.

“Every day, we use enough gas to heat 6,000,000 homes, and to replace that natural gas consumption would take 20 nuclear reactors, according to the Canadian Parliament and their report ... in 2007,” said Nikiforuk.

“Of course, there’s another solution – slow down and don’t produce as much. That doesn’t seem to be on the table, but that should be part of the national discussion,” he later added.
Nikiforuk cited multiple reports that seem to suggest fossil fuel production could well be headed toward nuclear in Alberta.

One of those, from a 2007 presentation in Japan, suggested a requirement of a 30% increase in energy to match the major ongoing expansion of the tar sands, stating nuclear reactors are proven large-scale thermal energy producers.

But Nikiforuk pointed out, based on material from contrary reports, the shift to nuclear to power operations in the tar sands is problematic.

He questions Alberta’s ability to deal with nuclear waste.

He also questions the costs associated with maintenance, and other, peripheral items such as security at nuclear power plant locations.

He also brought up Chernobyl.
“The legacy of that is still ongoing ... you have an accident – something goes wrong – and you’re living with the consequences for a long, long time. It is not an oil spill – it is something totally different,” said Nikiforuk.

But the main question Nikiforuk raised at the end of his nearly two-hour presentation is the very one he wants those who come out to listen to him speak to start asking was where are the reports on renewable power, economic risk and the alternatives of solar power, wind power, biomass or whatever else?

He said thus far, we have only seen the reports on nuclear power.
“We’re going to become the world’s first country to use nuclear power not to get off fossil fuels ... but we want to use nuclear power to accelerate bitumen production. I would argue that there is a huge reputational risk to doing that,” said Nikiforuk.

“The first country that uses nuclear power to accelerate fossil fuel production won’t be welcome in the global community for long.”

Some of those in attendance have been trying to generate awareness of their own, and see Nikiforuk’s visit as a much-needed additional voice.
“He’s got credentials,” said Tyler Cruickshank, a member of the local activism group, Stop Poisoning Our Communities.

“The people see SPOC as just a bunch of kids who are just kind of trying to rebel.
“The way I see it, he’s the bridge between the business people and the people who are environmentalists ... we’re always fighting at each other ... and he’s just like ‘this is the brass tax – these are the facts.’ ”

Cruickshank said his attendance was as much about getting educated as anything else.
“He might be able to help us understand something, so that we can make others understand it a little bit better ...” said Cruickshank.

“I eventually want to be up there speaking to people, because I’m passionate about what I believe in. If you don’t fight for it, nobody else will.”

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Its a long time since I have lived and worked in that part of the world so if any of our readership who are closer to the situation than we are, please feel free to add your two cents worth and bring us up to date.

Have a good one.

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Reader Comments (8)

I think 'interesting conundrum' sums it up. As readers may be aware "Peak Oil" is about maximum flow rate not potentially recoverable reserves so the fact that there are 1.7 'potential' barrels there is a bit of a red-herring. The fact that there is consideration being given to the possibility that even at 1.3mbpd the energy inputs are unsustainable using natural gas is a clue to how much higher the output might go once it is recognised how precious a resource NG actually is.
That leaves the nuclear option. IMO the Alberta 'Tar Sands' will never generate more than a couple more million bpd even with sky high prices and nukes. At this point the whole area will look like Hades and there will be major major environmental impacts. Hopefully by then we will have learnt that liquid fuels are a precious gift and the damage will be 'worth it' whatever that means...


June 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNick Outram

perhaps the announcement by MDR/B&W on scaleable nuclear power[today's MDR press release] begins to offer affordable costs and shedules for this oil sands dilemma.

June 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterfran

The merits of producing synthetic crude from oil sand with nuclear power is further reduction in generating green house gas although burning fossil fuel will not. Until electric cars comes into mass production , we will very likely need gasoline to run our daily lives and economy.
With nuclear power into heating the oil sand tar mixture, you saved the natural gas for 6 million home everyday plus
the carbon merits. If eventually , electric cars needed more generating power , we have the nuclear reactors in place to generate them.

The French has better technology to reduce these harmful radioactive elements into substantially lower grade or lower
volume of nuclear waste. Why not learn from them and use their technology ?

I understand the Hyberion power modules can be a help as well for future electric power generation but on a smaller scale foot print. The technology is there to save the planet and reduce emission.

June 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkevin

An interesting point to consider is whether or not we will need additional energy... At first reading this sounds silly -'of course we will'!- might be your reply But consider if a Peak-Oil induced Depression lowers our manufacturing energy demand to such an extent that existing power stations can cope then why build more capacity? With 20%+ unemployment due to a liquids fuel crisis, paralysed govt. and plenty of 'spare' electrical generating capacity (nobody can afford the new expensive 'electric' cars) WHY buildout nukes? [I'm playing devils advocate to get you pondering here...! :o]


June 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNick Outram


doesn't the answer depend upon who "we" is. the total globe or just N. American part etc?what conditions will also be in play? e.g.-- GHG a real problem? ordinary age related replacement of fossil burning resources? the actions of the 5 billion others on earth who desire improvement in their lives? on and on and on!

using history of us humans, i'd develop the case where the sands and nuclear support were a viable needed capacity for the future.

your proposed conditions could prevail or, equally, could not.

June 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterfran

They should check out hyperion's nuclear batteries.

June 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRich Bolen

So what oil sands company is the picture of? Is it OPTI Canada?

June 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBLACK GOLD

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