Hydro-Québec to keep studying nuclear energy: CEO

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Nuclear energy is one of the options that Hydro-Québec will consider as part of a drive to ramp up production capacity in the latter part of next decade, executives said.

Hydro-Québec this year hired Montreal-based engineering firm AtkinsRéalis to evaluate the viability of the mothballed Gentilly-2 nuclear facility, chief executive officer Michael Sabia said Thursday in Quebec City. A definitive shutdown of the plant, which had reached the end of its useful life, began in 2012.

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“We are going to continue to study” nuclear energy, Sabia told provincial lawmakers during hearings on Hydro-Québec’s 2035 action plan. The government-owned utility unveiled the document Nov. 2.

Shutting down Gentilly-2 did not come cheap. Hydro-Québec officials said earlier this year that the total cost of decommissioning the facility, which is located in Bécancour, would be about $2 billion over 50 years.

AtkinsRéalis “did a 50,000-foot analysis of the viability of Gentilly,” Sabia said. “For now, given the social acceptability issues, we have decided not to proceed with this. But there are a lot of evolutions in technologies.”

So-called small modular nuclear reactors, which produce large quantities of low-carbon electricity, “could be very well structured for some places in Quebec,” the CEO said without being specific.

Hydro-Québec projects that electricity demand in the province will double by 2050, which means that up to 200 terawatt-hours of extra capacity will be required by that point to satisfy customer appetite. To get there, the company estimates it will need to expand annual generating capacity by between 8,000 and 9,000 megawatts in the next 12 years. Nuclear energy is not part of the plan.

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“We have to keep an open mind” via-à-vis various technologies, Hydro-Québec executive vice-president Claudine Bouchard also said during Thursday’s hearings. “Given the magnitude of the future needs, we must envisage a range of solutions, to increase our production capacity and reach our long-term decarbonation and economic prosperity goals.”

Options such as nuclear energy and offshore wind power “will be analyzed based on their technological maturity and their cost, as well as their social acceptability,” Bouchard added. “We are talking about a contribution post-2035. No megawatt is included in the plan we are presenting today.”

AtkinsRéalis is the Montreal-based engineering company formerly known as SNC-Lavalin Group. It is the original equipment manufacturer of the CANDU nuclear technology, which powered Gentilly-2.

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