Canada wary of nuclear power for oil sands

CALGARY, Alberta, March 28 Wed Mar 28, 2007 10:58pm BST

CALGARY, Alberta, March 28 (Reuters) - Plans for nuclear power plants to supply electricity and steam to the Alberta oil sands should be put on hold until the full repercussions of using the technology are known, a Canadian parliamentary committee advised.

In a report on the sustainable development of the oil sands released this week, Parliament's natural resources committee steered clear of making a decision on using nuclear energy before the impact of placing the plants near oil sands projects are known.

Production from Canada's oil sands, the world's second-largest storehouse of petroleum, is forecast to triple by 2015 to 3 million barrels a day.

At least one Alberta company has touted building a C$5.5 billion ($4.7 billion) nuclear plant in the oil sands region to generate steam and electricity, both key to the process that separates tar-like bitumen from the sand.

Energy Alberta Corp. wants to put a Canadian-designed Candu twin-reactor plant in the region by 2016. The steam produced by the facility would be piped to thermal oil sands producers, who could pump it into the ground to liquefy the bitumen.

The electricity produced could replace natural gas-fired generation plants, cutting emissions of carbon dioxide.

However, the committee report said that steam could only be piped up to 25 km (16 miles), while a 600 megawatt reactor would be capable of supplying an upgrader that produces about 60,000 barrels of synthetic crude oil a day.

It concluded that almost 20 nuclear reactors would be needed just to meet the production growth planned to 2015.

Smaller reactors, producing 100 megawatts of power, could be more useful for individual projects, given the limitations of shipping steam, the report said. It added that other technologies have the potential to produce power and steam more cheaply than nuclear plants.

The committee called for government and industry to work together to find ways to cut natural gas use in the oil sands but added it "recommends that no decision be made on using nuclear energy to extract oil from the tar sands until the repercussions of this process are fully known and understood."

Wayne Henuset, head of Energy Alberta, could not be reached for comment.

($1=$1.16 Canadian)

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