FREDERICTON, New Brunswick - Construction of a second nuclear reactor in southern New Brunswick will take a major step toward reality today with the release of a long-awaited feasibility report.
Premier Shawn Graham has started counting the construction jobs - at least 4,000 - that building the giant, 1,100-megawatt reactor would create, along with another 500 permanent jobs for its operation.
Energy specialists say the feasibility report will confirm what the provincial government has been suggesting for years: A second reactor to produce electrical power for export is viable.
"The market for energy, particularly in the northern part of the United States, is not going away any time soon," said Tim Curry of the Atlantica Centre for Energy, which promotes energy opportunities in the Atlantic region.
"They have one of the most energy-hungry markets in the world. Given all the right ingredients - investors, a good game plan, a good market, and the ability to reach that market - you would expect a positive business case."
The new reactor would be built next to the existing 630-megawatt reactor on the Bay of Fundy at Point Lepreau, New Brunswick, Atlantic Canada's only nuclear power plant.
The existing reactor is about to undergo a major, $1.6 billion renovation to extend its operating life.
Politicians and promoters believe the second reactor, the world's first Advanced Candu Reactor-1000, would position the Maritime province at the forefront of a global nuclear renaissance and allow it to capitalize on the growing domestic and US appetite for clean power.
"The need for electricity is right across North America," said Murray Elston, president of the Canadian Nuclear Association, adding there may be markets for the power in the Maritimes and in New England.
Graham's Liberal government announced last spring that the Canadian nuclear industry would carry out a $2.5 million feasibility study on the Candu reactor.
Along with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. and SNC-Lavalin Nuclear, Team Candu New Brunswick includes key nuclear players such as Babcock & Wilcox Canada, GE-
"You gotta laugh," said David Coon of the New Brunswick Conservation Council, an environmental group.
"Does the premier actually think New Brunswickers will buy the notion that recommendations from the reactor builder about the feasibility of building the reactor are going to hold any water for people?
"People are not going to see this as credible."
Getting the green light from a feasibility study does not mean the project is a definite go. Coon said the complex design for the massive new reactor is still being worked out, and no one has yet figured out how to get the power into southern New England.
"There are too many transmission bottlenecks through Maine," he said.
Elston acknowledged there are hurdles, including the logistics of building the new plant following the overhaul of the old one, and finding the human resources necessary.
"It is not for the faint of heart to put all these pieces together and stay with it," he said.
"But the upside of having those opportunities in a province that has experienced job losses is, in a sense, a light at the end of the tunnel."
Nuclear power is becoming more mainstream globally, and Canada is no exception. Currently, 18 reactors provide about 15 percent of Canada's power supply.
In Ontario, the Progressive Conservative party has pledged to accelerate the build-up of nuclear plants.
But perhaps the biggest shot in the arm for Canada's nuclear industry is an application before federal regulators to build a reactor near Peace River, Alberta, which, if approved, would mark the first time a nuclear plant is located west of Ontario.