A typical artist’s illustration of an unthreatening “small modular reactor” site, this one created for TWI Global (the initials stand for The Welding Institute), a British industry-funded research and public engagement organization (Image: TWI Global).

Small nuclear reactors don’t make any more economic sense now than they did back in the summer of 2020 when Alberta Premier Jason Kenney took to the Internet to tout the supposed benefits of the largely undeveloped technology being promoted by Canada’s nuclear industry. 

Now that Mr. Kenney has taken to Twitter again to claim atomic energy is a “real solution that helps reduce emissions” and that so-called small modular reactors can “strengthen and diversify our energy sector,” it’s worth taking another look at why the economics of small nuclear reactors don’t add up. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in a room with lots of shiny pipes, steel vessels and gauges – in this case, though, not a nuclear reactor but a brewery dedicated to the peaceful production of beer (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

As I pointed out in this space in 2020, “as long as natural gas is cheap and plentiful, small nuclear reactors will never make economic sense.” 

Natural gas is somewhat more expensive now than it was then, but not enough to make a difference to that calculation when the massive cost of any new nuclear-energy project is considered.

Even “small modular reactors,” so named to reassure a public skittish about the term nuclear and wary of the costs and risks of atomic reactors, are extremely expensive. It would be more accurate to call them “medium-sized nuclear reactors.”

For example, two such reactors built by Russia starting in 2006 were supposed to cost $140 million US. They ended up costing $740 million US by the time the project was completed in 2019.

Getting approvals for smaller reactors is time consuming, too. As environmentalist and author Chris Turner pointed out yesterday, the first small nuclear reactor approved in the United States “submitted its application in 2017, got approval late last year, could begin producing 700MW by 2029 if all goes perfectly. Solar will add double that to Alberta’s grid by 2023.” Indeed, the estimated completion date of the NuScale Power project may be even later.

The small reactors touted by many companies, often entirely speculative ventures, are nothing more than pretty drawings in fancy brochures. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, there are about 50 concepts, but only a couple in the United States and Russia with massive amounts of government money behind them are anything more than pipedreams or stock touts’ pitches to investors. 

And small nuclear reactors are less economical than big reactors, so power companies aren’t interested in building them; all but one proposed design requires enriched uranium, which Canada doesn’t produce, so they won’t do much for uranium mining in Alberta; and all the safety and waste-removal problems of big nukes continue to exist with small ones. 

Russia’s floating small-modular reactor barge, the Akedemik Lomonosov (Photo: Rosatom).

These points are documented in more detail my 2020 post, which also discussed why smaller reactors will never create very many jobs in Alberta, although they could be a boon to Ontario if the technology took off. 

Mr. Kenney’s most recent tweet – which provides a link to a slick video touting nuclear power produced by The Economist, a British newsmagazine for people who wish they were rich and smart – was posted on Jan. 6. 

By coincidence, presumably, a communique issued the same day by the former heads of nuclear regulatory committees in the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, and France concluded that “nuclear is not a practicable means to combat climate change.”

“The central message, repeated again and again, that a new generation of nuclear will be clean, safe, smart and cheap, is fiction,” the communique states. 

Nuclear energy is neither cheap enough nor safe enough to provide an effective strategy against global climate change, the communique authors argued. “To make a relevant contribution to global power generation, up to more than ten thousand new reactors would be required, depending on reactor design.”

Among their key points: 

  • Nuclear power more expensive than renewable energy on a similar scale
  • None of the problems of waste disposal have been solved
  • It’s so expensive financial markets won’t invest in it, so it requires massive public subsidies
  • No one is prepared to insure against the full potential cost of environmental and human impacts of accidental radiation releases
  • Construction timelines are too long for it to make a contribution to stopping global warming

So why are Canadian provinces like Alberta so enthusiastic about the idea?

Environmentalist and author Chris Turner (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Well, it provides a way for governments captured by the fossil fuel industry to show they’re doing something about climate change without actually doing anything about climate change.

Of course, just because nuclear power generator might reduce the carbon footprint of oilsands extraction, that doesn’t mean the oil extracted would not be burned elsewhere, contributing to climate change. 

For a government like Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party, it’s also an opportunity to make a positive-sounding announcements about new jobs in a new industry on days when news media would otherwise be concentrating on the latest scandal – nowadays pretty well every day!

Moreover, the UCP Government is being actively lobbied by the Canadian Nuclear Association, “the voice of the Canadian nuclear industry since 1960,” which “promotes the industry nationally and internationally.”

Lobby firm CEO and former MP Monte Solberg (Photo: New West Public Affairs).

According to the Alberta Lobbyist Registry, Calgary-based New West Public Affairs, a firm with close ties to the Kenney Government headed by former Harper Government minister Monte Solberg, has been engaged to “facilitate introductions for the Canadian Nuclear Association and share information on Small Modular Reactors” with various government departments.

New West was hired, “specifically, to generate support for the technology and to identify if there is an opportunity in Alberta’s mining and oil and gas sectors for the deployment of new low carbon energy sources, including nuclear,” the registry entry says.

The CNA is also using Ottawa-based Earnscliffe Strategy Group, one of Canada’s best-known lobby firms, to seek “support for clean electricity – including nuclear electricity – as a foundation for emissions reduction in Canada.” In addition, Earnscliffe is lobbying for “support for the research and development of small modular reactors.”

Join the Conversation


  1. Aha! The risky idea of nuclear power. Very risky, I might add. Have these pretend conservatives and Reformers in the UCP not learned anything about Chernobyl, Fukushima, or any other nuclear disasters? It was long ago, and the Alberta PCs were also looking at the prospects of nuclear power for Alberta. At that time, Albertans flat out said no to this idea. Accidents can still happen, and the disposal of the nuclear waste is another great concern. The UCP’s track record on environmental concerns is very sketchy. This also will likely be another very costly boondoggle by the UCP.

    1. Maybe they did learn something. Technology has improved JUST A LITTLE since Chernobyl, don’t ya think? When something goes wrong, should we abandon it altogether? By that logic, I should have learned my lesson about Dave the first time he BLINDLY supported the fascist NDP. But I still give the guy a chance. Why are you lefties SO afraid of EVERYTHING???

      1. B: Technology isn’t foolproof. It just isn’t, no matter how far we have advanced as human beings. Nuclear power still isn’t without its risks. Claiming the NDP are fascist is just plain absurd. I don’t know why the creator and author of this blog hasn’t blocked you yet. It’s his decision to do that, not mine. If I was the author and creator of this blog, I would definitely block you.

      2. Maybe we did learn something?? You bet.

        We learned nuclear technology is always more expensive then the estimates. We learned no private investors want to buy in. We learned the waste is radioactive for thousands of years, and that as of this writing, there is no safe disposal available on planet, and certainly jettisoning it into space would be immoral and expensive .

        On a related note, we learned from your post that you muddy technical waters with a partisan perspective that can’t even keep fascism and socialism separate. Fascists are right of centre B. The NDP may have some difficulties being as left leaning as Tommy Douglas, the man who gave us our ‘socialist medicine’ was….but fascism??? Give your head a shake….and then give Kenney a chance if you wish.

        He’s the man for sure, for big promises that don’t get delivered. Keystone XL comes to mind…..evidence of a foreign environmental plot against Alberta evaporated as well….and let’s not rehash ‘the best summer ever’.

    2. Anonymous: all bad ideas seem to keep coming back for our brains, like zombies. If memory serves, there was a proposal kicking around a few years ago – 2008, in fact — to build a nuclear power plant somewhere near the Town of Peace River, which would have had the advantage of the nearby river of the same name as a plentiful source of water for its cooling towers.

      Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and it was never built … no pun intended.



      That said, there are a lot of serious, knowledgeable people — including federal Natural Resources Minister & former Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson — who do not feel we can ultimately decarbonize our nation’s energy grid without including some nuclear power generation, especially for base load. I don’t claim to be knowledgeable enough to evaluate this notion, but to suggest it is confined to those who are “captured by the fossil fuel industry” is probably inaccurate.

      1. JERRYMACGP: A similar analogy is that of a smoker, who smokes 4 packs of cigarettes a day. Doctors detect cancer, in the smoker’s lungs, and say it can be fixed. The doctors and nurses tell the person to quit smoking. The person refuses to listen, and keeps on smoking. The cancer returns, and the person doesn’t get better, but ends up getting worse, and perishes.

    3. There are many reasons to be against nuclear power, but lease don’t use Chernobyl or Fukushima as examples for why not to use Nuclear power. Cherbnoyls reactor is nothing like modern reactors and under a similar failure a modern facility would not meltdown. They are designed so that any radioactive material during a failure is encased in so much concrete, there is no chance of it affecting the environment. Fukushima is an example of not building your house on sand…….on a beach…….that gets strong waves. Basically the reactors supply power to the system that cools itself. During an emergency, if the reactor shuts down, it has backup diesel engines to take over. When the earthquake struck Japan, the reactors ended being shutdown by the end and the diesel engines took over. All the backups did what they were supposed to and worked. But then the Tsunami hit the nuclear reactor……..built right by the ocean. And those diesel engines got flooded and failed. Thats when the cooling system shutdown and short time later….BOOM GOES THE HYDROGEN! So if you build your nuclear reactor properly and somewhere where you can account for even the most extreme variables, its completely safe.

      1. PLEASE DO NOT SCREAM AT ME: I can also use Chernobyl, Fukushima, and other examples as to why nuclear power isn’t a good thing to pursue. I just used those two as good examples. Nuclear power is a very risky form of power generation. There is absolutely no technology that is foolproof. Anything can still happen with nuclear power plants. When it does, it’s another oops moment! Japan is a very technologically advanced country, and the Fukushima nuclear power plant catastrophe isn’t that old. The damage that happened is quite extensive. There is a biblical proverb about fools returning to their own folly. This applies here, under the UCP.

        1. But I just explained why Fukishima happened. That power plant should never have been built in that spot. A nuclear power plant built on the plains, on rock solid ground, with redundancies built for extreme weather such as a tornado, would pretty much require an attack to cause a meltdown. And even then, they have so many automatic safeties that its almost impossible to cause a reactor leak. Nuclear waste produced from modern reactors is so little that storage is not an issue. You end up with about a barrel of nuclear waste a year. Compared to however many millions of tons of carbon produced by coal power plants or natural gas, its a fair deal.

      2. It is true that the case of the Fukushima reactor (which most people don’t realize is still ongoing–they don’t have it under control in any sustainable fashion) is fairly specific. It does not follow that reactors other than Fukushima are perfectly safe, or even that potential new, improved reactors will be perfectly safe. Not having the particular vulnerabilities of Fukushima does not imply perfection. Those thick layers of concrete you mention, for instance . . . become radioactive, which both turns them into a disposal problem of their own and changes their properties in unpredictable ways. ALL the pieces of a nuclear reactor that are near the fuel become radioactive–and this often makes them brittle and failure-prone. Nuclear reactors fail all the time. Not usually catastrophically, but one wonders, how many normal failures on average before you get a cascade of failures that turns really serious? All reactors get less safe as they get older, and all companies running them have a very strong monetary motive to keep on running them longer than their planned/safe lifespan . . . eventually the new super-safe design becomes the dangerous radioactive old hulk that should have been shut down decades ago but wasn’t.

        However, in many ways the chance of a meltdown is the least of the problems with nuclear power. From the economics to the waste, the problems of nuclear power don’t seem to stop. For instance, just one minor side effect: The fact that the health impacts of nuclear power are diffuse and often difficult to prove, only showing up through careful epidemiology, helps to make coverups fairly easy and successful. This seems to promote a culture of dishonesty and propaganda in the nuclear business which adds one more note of corruption and lies to our media environment.

      3. My understanding is that the concrete in which the Chernobyl reactor is encased has to be redone every few dacades. I forget if its 30 or 40 years, cut concrete does break down……..and the waste from nuclear reactors is poisonous for thousands of years. Imagining we could have small nukes everywhere…..generating an amount of electricity that is trivial given their expense….to build, and eventually to decomission……..is madness. Most of us didn’t even know or remember that Sumas prairie was a lake, drained in the early 20th C. so we could grow food. That flood last fall caught us all by surprise. Turned out our terraforming ain’t as smart as we like to believe it is.

        Our species has a high opinion of its technological finesse, and a very poor memory for its failed projects. So I still say, ‘better safe than sorry’….no nukes.

    4. Yes. But UCP boondoggles make money for some people. We have to find some use for all that tax money the government is sitting on, and funding small modular nuclear reactor fantasies is one idea with a long tail on it. Nothing nuclear gets built on time, or on budget……….so its a boondoggle guaranteed to keep giving….to the entrepreneurial among us, who’ve never understood what radioactive half life is all about.

  2. It has always amused me that many of the supposedly smaller (no) government RPC MPs went into lobbying immediately after leaving public life. Monte Solberg did this, probably the prospect of returning to employment as a CPA held no interest for him. And the pay is lousy. And the perks aren’t there. And then there’s the work.

    As for these mini-nuclear reactors that are comically expensive and short of the useful track record (Wannabe Bond villain Vlad Putin has one, of course.) I suspect the only reason Kenney talks them up is because it’s a favour to his fellow Resistance alumni Scott Moe and the vast supply of uranium Saskatchewan is sitting on. Potash and Prairie Dog don’t pay what they used to. And he’s gotta keep your only BFF happy now that Doug Ford has gone total commie. But when has Kenney ever been able to resist a crazy expensive boondoggle? Never ever.

    And on a side note…it appears that Harpo the Younger (AKA Ben Harper) is spending even more time of Twitter, attacking PMJT for causing pretty much everything. He’s getting high-volume retweets from Erin O’Toole and all the CPC trained seals (the ones that O’Toole likes and rewards) otherwise Harpo the Elder will be sending them angry DMs. Harpo’s boy gets paid a cool $100K while going to Columbia U and he has to look like he’s useful. He’s doing Matt Wolf’s job and more than half the price, so I believe he’s already proved his worth. And he’s providing stacks and stacks of unintended comedy, so kudos.

      1. I think you missed one, Dave. Depending on how it’s done building small reactors could be yet another way to channel public (gov’t) dollars into private (corporate) pockets. Some sort of P3 ish arrangement, perhaps. And forget public tenders, the UCP does cronyism like nobody else!!!

        1. As a retired teacher, I think it has legs. I can see the headlines now. “Investing in Climate Mitigation with Small Modular Reactors: No Money Left for Public Education” The hard hats, heads and hearts in the UCP will run with it.

  3. Let me guess. They want to put a nuclear reactor in the foothills. Then, if there is a meltdown, who cares if they strip mine it?

  4. While all the other reasons are valid, we really need look no further than Monte Solberg’s involvement to know this is naught but another UCP confidence trick: gold ‘reactor’ bricks? ‘nuclear’ gems? ‘power’-in-a-poke? …. ‘small-modular’ dinar?

  5. As distressing as I find the rise of Neoliberalism correlating to the rise of Nazism in the Documentary, “Rise of the Nazis.” It occurred to me, the infamous dictator was also looking for technology to bail him out.

  6. I think that you are missing the synergy here. Create vast amounts of nuclear waste which are then safely stored in the huge holes left by the open pit coal mining industry.
    It’s a win-win!

  7. .. it might be helpful to cease & desist using the term ‘Oil’ or ‘Alberta Oil’
    Of course you know fully 97% of ‘Canada’s Vast Oil Reserves’ are actually Bitumen
    Conventional Oil & nodding horse ‘pump jacks’ remain the ‘go to’ stock image
    for any article about ‘the oil patch’ – almost never reflecting Offshore Sweet Crude
    or the rest of the non renewable 3 % of ‘the vast reserves’ scattered across Canada

  8. Canada’s conservative premiers — Jason Kenney, Doug Ford, and Scott Moe — are leading the charge for SMRs. What is their record on climate change?
    When the three stooges agree on something, run!
    Why do “free-market” libertarian fossil-fuel boosters support monolithic nuclear power dependent on govt subsidies over free-market renewables? Nuclear power does not exist w/o massive subsidies. Every nuclear station in Ontario was built by the govt. If nuclear weren’t massively subsidized, no one would touch it.
    The nuclear push is a delaying tactic. Distributed renewables — the most democratic form of energy available — are ready to go. At much lower cost. Govt-subsidized nuclear is more likely to compete with, displace, and delay renewables — not back them up.
    The oilsands industry wants taxpayers to fund installation of SMRs to reduce upstream emissions — and keep the oilsands party going.

    Just about every ENGO opposes nuclear — “a dangerous distraction from real climate action.”

    1. Geoffrey: I respect your consistently rational appeal to evidence and logic. It is almost totally wasted in Alberta and Canada. Let’s recap: the UCP in Edmonton are pushing nuclear reactors to cook the tar. The equally delusional BC Hydro will soon have a dam on the Peace River at Site C with more than enough capacity to cook all the tar you could ever want with the addition of a 600 km transmission line to Ft. Mac. Then Tar Sands oil could be sold as “green.” But, hey, who cares about costs and reputational damage if we can help Ontario’s crippled nuclear industry, store the nuclear waste in Saskatchewan, and have Ottawa pay for it all?

      Let the kids pay for the next 600 years of nuclear waste storage already littering the Ontario and Sk. landscape. Ignore cheaper and easier distributed renewables and whinge about waste from battery production when you have the largest lakes of toxic waste in the world sitting next to the Athabaska river. The UCP types are too delusional to even be called stupid. Don’t look up.

  9. “Stupid Ideas R Us” should be the UCP motto. Do we have a Green Line LRT yet? No, but Kenney and his band of dolts think it would be great to invest in a giant theoretical suction tube to transport people between Calgary and Edmonton. What next, the Star Trek transporter beam?

    And/or massive amounts of public money could finance a train line for tourists between Calgary and Banff, conveniently negating the need for tourists to spend any time or money in Calgary. Public expense, private profit: it’s the way Kenney rolls. People don’t need a train to get to work. Wealthy tourists need an exclusive sightseeing train.

    Of course, things like this could be financed by nickel-and-diming Alberta university professors, who haven’t seen a raise in quite some time despite growing inflation, and are in mediation with Kenney-cut PSEs. Threaten them with the elimination of programs and entire departments to get them to submit, then follow through on it. Lives ruined, both students and staff alike, in the aftermath? Who cares, this is the Alberta of Kenney kakistocracy!

    So as much as Kenney wants to distract us from the Covid crisis unfolding on our doorstep, destruction of all sorts is his goal, even the destruction that is flying under the radar.

  10. It is good that there IS discussion about nuclear power, solar, etc. I don’t know much, and have tried to learn with an open mind. I do know that fossil fuel power is very harmful to environment and has caused so much death and destruction.
    There is a debate on youtube that seems evenly matched for pros and cons of nuclear power: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVIURNBGaHs.
    There does seem to be a lot of emotion involved in any discussions, but there is less so in that debate. It’s a good reasonable debate.
    I only watched that debate as I am interested in Gordon McDowell’s YT channel where he and guests explain (and advocate for) molten salt reactors. I had no idea there was more than one kind of “nuclear power.”
    In any case, I am, of course, leery of any UCP schemes. Very leery. So leery that I am almost automatically against anything the UCP are for!
    And, very concerned about climate change…
    I don’t know.

    1. Well, I think what I’d say to a Conservative about nuclear power is, there aren’t any rules making it illegal to build nuclear plants. So if nuclear power is a great thing, surely the free market must have built a bunch of it already? There must be lots of private, unsubsidized nuclear power plants, with the private sector efficiently disposing of the waste, the private sector insuring them without government backstop . . . and if there aren’t any of those (which there aren’t), then surely a Conservative must be against them as an example of the nanny state, right?
      I’m not a conservative so I don’t care about the free market. There are plenty of things that don’t make profit that are worth doing. But those tend to be things that help actual people, like universal health care, and I still care about doing them more or less efficiently. So, generating power without generating greenhouse gases is something that needs doing, and I’m fine with the government doing it directly. But it should be done relatively efficiently and it should be done quickly; renewables will get me three times as much power three times as fast as nuclear, so nuclear is out. All the other headaches and dangers of nuclear are just icing on the cake . . . SUCH A LOT OF ICING . . .

  11. An alternative to these small nuclear reactors would be localized geothermal power plants. These are not large either, but reliable and non-toxic. Maybe the UCP could back this kind of non-polluting energy production??!!! Not likely, for sure, but one can only offer viable alternatives [unlike that of killing off the “boomers”!]. Of course, since these are localized utilities, the provincial government would have little say in who and how they are run for the benefit of Albertans.

  12. I can understand the concern about nuclear, but will current systems be able to handle a massive increased demand for power because of the electrification of vehicles? Is there any research on this?

    1. Uh, there’s LOTS of research on this. The answer seems more and more clearly to be “yes”. I mean, as long as you build those panels and turbines and such. Equally relevant, the answer to the question of whether adding nuclear to the mix will help with this is “NO”, it is far too expensive and far too slow to build.
      Renewables are much cheaper and faster; as far as I can tell the only reason there is anyone out there who hasn’t internalized this is that hippie environmentalists like solar and wind so in some way that MUST mean they’re impractical, no matter what the actual economics say. To be fair, solar and wind used to be expensive. Prices, especially for solar, have been changing at an incredible rate; they’ve only been the cheapest thing out there for a short time. Nuclear, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t be in use anywhere without politics.

  13. “as long as natural gas is cheap and plentiful, small nuclear reactors will never make economic sense.”

    Youre begging the question. Why dont you compare the economics based on the price of natural gas in SE Asia?

    Does it make for the wrong answer?

    As to renewables being an answer. Renewables require three time the infrastructure to provide grid because they are not on demand.

    I do agree that the nuclear isnt a great option. We should just stick with clean coal for grid power.

    1. BRET LARSON: There is no such thing as clean coal. Mining it does environmental damage, as does burning it, even for power generation. This explains why Jim Prentice, who happened to be a cabinet minister under Stephen Harper, and was the Environment Minister, had said twelve years ago, in 2010, that coal fired power plants in Canada would have to be gone in a decade, because of their contribution to GHGs, and pollution. The very same Jim Prentice who became Alberta’s last PC premier, and told Albertans to take a look in the mirror. While in this last political post, Jim Prentice also wanted coal fired power plants gone in Alberta, because they were known to contribute to GHGs, and pollution, like smog. Another issue, was when Robin Campbell, a cabinet minister under Jim Prentice, was in agreement with Jim Prentice on this matter. Yet, Robin Campbell did a 360, and is now the president of the Coal Association Of Canada, and actively supports coal. 7 years ago, there was a provincial election in Alberta. One of the campaign promises from every political party in Alberta was to close down coal fired power plants in Alberta, because they were major sources of GHG emissions, and pollution.

      1. Of course clean coal exists, if you juxtapose it with unclean coal. That would be the old power plants which pumped out radioactive ash and acid gasses out of their stacks. Those plants have went the way of the dodo, meaning they now have scrubers and the like.

        I “contributed” on a paper on it in university if you want to discuss it at length. If not you can do your own literature review.

        Coal plants also have the benefit of being a single source provider so if trendy things like CO2 as a pollutant are an issue mitigation measure can be applied a lot more easily.

        I do agree, clean coal is the advertising take, and yes its much like “Green energy is great!”, but it at least has the benefit of being possible and any major industry is going to have a non-benefit footprint.

    2. If it weren’t for your comment history on this blog, I might have given you the benefit of the doubt and assumed you were being sarcastic or ironic with your reference to “clean coal”. However, I know better. There is no such thing as “clean coal”. Those words rarely belong together. If you believe that “clean coal” is actually a thing, I assume you are also likely to believe a bunch of other lies and propaganda from the fossil fuel industry and the Trumpsters south of the border.

    3. *sigh* Brett you seem to have forgotten what has been frequently pointed out to you. The price of natural gas in SE Asia is not high enough to off-set the costs of transporting the stuff from here. Transportation economics are a brutal fact of living on the prairies. Welcome to the real world.

      Nuclear is most assuredly NOT “on demand.” You must be thinking of gas fired turbines, batteries, or pumped hydro storage. The latter supplies about 15% of Alberta’s grid load during peak times. Ironically if you include all the carbon costs of fueling, developing and disposing of nuclear, coal, clean or otherwise, does not look so bad. Too bad about Stelmach’s five buck carbon tax and all those cheap co-gens and renewables killing coal’s market.

      Renewables work best in a distributed smart grid, which is exactly what Alberta has now. The “smart” in our grid comes from government regulation. The extortionate line charges come from Klein’s privatization.

      1. Smart and government dont deserve to be in the same sentence together.

        Like for instance when the Notley government canceled the existing contracts and cost the rate payers in Alberta something 2 billion dollars for nothing.

        1. Brett – you conveniently forgot some examples of not so smart government as provided by our current Jason Kenney led UCP government including:

          1 – Picking a fight with health care workers including medical doctors and continuing it during a pandemic
          2 – Cancelling the rail by oil plan at a cost of over $2,000,000,000.00
          3 – Paying $1,400,000,000.00 for an oil line that was doomed to not be built as well as providing even more money in loan guarantees
          4 – Costly and pointless ‘referendum’ questions
          5 – Cancelling the ‘super lab’ in favour of more costly and less effective private labs

          The list could be easily expanded and I fully expect that Jason Kenney will add even more in the near future.

          1. Big difference, Kenney did things to support the economy of Alberta. Notley did things to reward her green ting in her party.

            And no, supporting the economy is what every government has to do. Its how we eat.

            The investment on the pipeline is before the courts, I expect, at a minimum the Americans will have to pay it back.

        2. BRET LARSON: Nice try, but that’s not true. Ralph Klein’s electricity deregulation disaster was $34.5 billion, and $2.5 billion of that was to help pay for rebates to offset the sudden jolt of skyrocketing power prices in Alberta. Ralph Klein also let greedy power companies line the bank accounts of the CEOs, at the power consumer’s expense. That was $10 billion. Ralph Klein screwed us over in so many ways. But that’s what you’d expect from pretend conservatives and Reformers.

          1. I agree, the points you bring up enforce my general feeling that the only good government is smaller than the government you currently have.

            Sometimes you don’t get what you want, so when something like Ralph bucks coms along, you should really spend it on something memorable that you enjoy.

            For instance I bought bikes for my kids and we tooled around on those bikes for a long time.

            Originally I bristled at government doing such a transfer, but in the fullness of time the above strategy allowed me to see the silver lining in their antics.

        3. Smart and private corporations don’t deserve to be in the same sentence together.

          The trouble with sweeping generalizations Bret, is that they are not only logical fallacies, but often ideological ones as well. Good government is more than possible….we had such in Saskatchewan when I was young. They gave us our single payer health care system, and fought the big private money of the American medical system to do so.

          Smart government isn’t that hard. It’s just a matter of not voting for ideologues who think they know everything before they begin. That might be hard for Alberta, but not impossible.

          Getting the big private money out of government…and long term care, and education, and our foreign owned energy sector, might be hard….but you can’t buy good government.
          The real problem today is that it’s too often up for sale. Ie: Just imagine the money we could drain from the public purse, if our current ‘bad government’ convinced us investment in small nuclear was the way to go.

  14. The players, politics, and history of the notional nuking of bitumen sands are so byzantine as to make Jason Kenney look like a lone, simple school boy, a little satchel on his back representing his personal political arc while he drags two very heavy steamer trunks behind him, one representing the bitumen smelting industry, the other the nuclear reactor industry. The two big industries’ histories are much older than K-Boy himself whose been a fellow rider only since his time in the HarperCon government whence the core of his nuclear and bitumen conceptions were paved upon in his soul.

    The malevolent neo-rightism marauds democratic parliaments like a travelling medicine show selling citizens what they’d disapprove of if not persuaded by hucksterism — bitumen-sands are barked as snake-oil sands and small nukes as cute little kittens—in service to stateless corporatocracy or, in neoliberal globalizers’ present throes, to ‘identity politics’ and demagoguery to stave off their demise. Its rhetoric is always ulteriorly motivated to deploy stealth based on the theory that you can sell anything, even bad, by way of good advertising—that is, by exaggerating the alleged benefit of a policy while omitting the risks or costs. Jason Kenney, product of this schooling, currently epitomizes the strategy by the product he’s trying to sell in his current pit of unelectability: but it isn’t nukes or dilbit—it’s his own career.

    The Littlest premier is almost daily dogged by political fallout while sitting on the bubble of a party about to pop: he needs a steady supply of happy-news distractions from his disastrous policies. The bitum-a-nuke concept is such: another nothing-burger that would take years, if not forever to realize, and certainly longer than the time he’s got left before losing party leadership and government, whichever comes first. His connections with former HarperCon colleague Monty Solberg who’s spearheading the nuclear industry’s pitch to smelt bitumen, and the superficially compelling case that it would substantially reduce smelting GHGs, are only slightly convenient to K-Boy’s immediate dilemma: he’s just as likely to never mention it again and move to another distracting decoy—whack-a-mole on a bitum-a-nuke bubble, as ‘t were.

    But, as far as attention getting goes, bitum-a-nuking is compelling, but only as superficially as thinking that cutting smelting GHGs will solve the bitumen industries feasibility problems. Scratch the lead paint and it’s immediately apparent the nuke industry itself has feasibility problems, too; and, motivated by the opportunity a moribund bitumen industry presents, it’s likely to indulge in dubious advertising to put the superficial concept into magical light, hopefully an imagine so vivid citizens will set their cognitive anchor deep into it and question the proposal no further. The warts are readily revealed, however,—and they’re the same, old warts as ever.

    Even in the very unlikely scenario of natural gas prices rising so high that nukes become a competitive alternative for smelting—reducing GHG of each barrel of bitumen by nearly half—the resulting, lowest-quality petroleum still competes poorly with conventional oil and of course is still destined to be combusted into the air. The GHG reduction aspect will be pumped and many conservative voters will latch onto and, in the current style of absurd equivocation, that nothing-burger (with respect climate-change) is a countering argument upon which they’ll stake everything and any reminder of other, inconvenient factors they’ll meet with righteous indignation. K-Boy’s depending on it as a handy shibboleth by which supporters will identify friend or foe. To the extent they believe nukes will resurrect bitumen, they will ignore or forgive nuclear dangers. In the USA equivalent, anybody disparaging nukes would be condemned as unAmerican by tRumpublicans.

    The facts remain that the nuke industry is ready-made stealthy and Kenney avails its propaganda for free. Yet the enthusiasm and the usual suspects peddling it are conspicuous coming so soon after the Fukishima disaster: yes, it was almost eleven years ago, but it took twice that long for nukies to dare raise their heads after the Chernobyl disaster. The differences now are size—nukes say “small reactor” (styling it capable of solving a big problem: smelting GHGs), and the privatized nature of the industry which the HarperCon government (Kenney was part of) completed in 2008, just as Chernobyl-chill was abating. The now-private industry can be as stealthy as the governing party that favoured it. Like K-Boy was indelibly imprinted by the perfidious political tactics of his mentor, the libertarianized industry is as marked as Cain by how it was born. (I always suspected there was more to selling AECL than ideological symbolism: it was preparatory to applying nukes to bitumen smelting—that is, by clearing a pathway relatively unfettered from government regulations.)

    ‘Am I my brother’s keeper,’ federal Health minister Tony Clement might as well have asked when news media wanted to know why he hadn’t been apprised that two-thirds of the world’s medical isotope supply was about to be cut off when the Chalk River reactor was shut down by Linda Keen, president of the Canada Nuclear Safety Commission because water-cooling pumps which keep the reactor from melting down were not wired into an emergency power supply as required. Clement was referring to Gary Lunn, federal minster of Natural Resources: Lunn, he claimed, didn’t tell him about the set-to between Lunn and the Commissioner over the emergency-pump issue smouldering since mid 2007. Lunn didn’t provided instruments to resolve it, despite repeated requests, and when Keen did what the law requires and shut the facility down in January 2008 (making world headlines), Lunn and the entire HarperCon propaganda machine first defamed her (claiming she was incompetent and put millions of lives at risk) and, a day before she was to explain all this to a Commons Committee, summarily fired —a highly inappropriate action given she presided over a quasi-judicial body supposedly immune from political interference. The government legislated around Keen’s order and reopened the reactor without the emergency pumps hooked up. We have since become more accustomed to such systems-gaming by neo-right governments.

    Keen challenged the firing in Federal court, losing on an extremely arcane interpretation of wording. Experts in the field said Lunn should have been fired for incompetence instead. How this related to the eventual privatization of Atomic Energy Canada Ltd is unclear, but Liberal MP David McGuinty likened it to underhanded, US Republican-style tactics Canadians had never seen before. Unfortunately, we’d see more of it, but at the time, it was another HarperCon ‘first’.

    Canadians were getting to know these tactics are typical of the Canadian neo-right, yet in 2008, voters begrudgingly re-elected the HarperCons to second minority and Crown Corp AECL was sold to SNC Lavalin for a paltry $15 million. Gary Lunn, however, saw his usual margin of victory shrink perilously and, if the 3,000+ votes for an NDP candidate on the ballot who subsequently dropped out of the race had gone to the Liberal runner-up instead, Lunn would have lost. He was demoted to the sports ministry and finally did lose in 2011—the beginning of Harper’s first and last majority—to Green leader Elizabeth May who’s kept her Saanich-Gulf Islands seat ever since. How much the AECL fiasco factored into Lunn’s defeat is hard to say, but it’s the most readily recalled episode of his political career, easily drowning out the fact that he had broached the idea of bitum-a-nuking long before K-Boy did.

    The lesson is that unscrupulous governing parties can and do game rules for partisan reasons even when the rules regulate extremely dangerous operations like nuclear reactors. The concern is that private, profit-motivated nuke operators are self-regulating to some degree and, therefore, more likely to bend rules even more than unethical governing parties can.

    Lunn wasn’t the first to propose nuking bitumen: in 1958 “Project Cauldron” was renamed “Project Oil Sand” to assuage public wariness of nuclear weapons—since the project involved exploding a 9 kiloton, US nuclear bomb some 1200 feet below the surface, just under the bitumen-sand deposit, the searing heat ‘boiling’ the bitumen into liquid which would fill the resulting subterranean blast-cavity and thence be extracted like a conventional oil reservoir. The test site was selected for its remoteness, just north of present day Fort MacMurray, but the project was scrapped (before any explosion) in 1962. Given Alberta’s appalling backlog of orphaned, leaky wellheads ever since, it was probably a good thing. Just look at how rampant fracking has gotten. Imagine! Nukes all over the place!

    When I was a Boy Scout, we went on a guided tour of the Pickering nuclear power plant on Lake Ontario, ten miles south of our little town. A slick PR guy (who actually smoked Benson&Hedges cigarettes during the whole presentation and tour!) emphasized how “safe and clean” the technology was. In the 60s, I ate breakfast everyday looking at the giant reactor domes sprout one-by-one like mushrooms, smack in the middle of the once-beautiful view of the Lake ten miles away. Later I actually lived in the shadow of one of the domes in Pickering. Nobody thought much of the place—some even liked that you could go ice fishing through the patch of open water the heat of the plant’s water-exchange kept from freezing in winter. Even two-headed bass—no shit!

    Then, in 1979, an all-party commission reported the plant actually poses a number of serious risks to the surrounding population, estimating, for example, the cost of a meltdown and evacuation of Toronto and environs at north of $10 billion. My folks were naturally concerned but, having been forcibly expropriated for an airport that was never built, and then renting the house they built from the government, they just took it as par for the course. The lesson is that the technology was sold as safe when it really isn’t. Then came the inevitable upgrades which are mind-blowingly expensive. Now, 57 years later, the oldest of several reactors are being decommissioned—and that of course costs even more money. Fortunately, there haven’t been any serious mishaps—so far. None of my kin lives anywhere near that place anymore. The enduring joke was that the mushroom-like reactor domes might become mushroom clouds. It’s kinda ‘Nuke Noir’, I know, but every time I think of Pickering I feel a certain Monty-Burns glow from within.

    The case against bitum-a-nuking is straightforward: it’s way too expensive, presents risks at every phase of installation and operation (Ontario Hydro has also cited terrorist risk, post-9/11, but Alberta might also recall bombings of petroleum-wells), and—kicker of all—the waste is very dangerous for a very, very long time and no real system of permanent neutralization has ever been developed (all of this will be sugar-coated with the simple label of “small”). And anyway, it wouldn’t solve bitumen’s main problem: low quality and market price which renders it infeasible even when cheap natural gas is used for smelting—let alone expensive nuclear. (Not to mention that petroleum alternatives are gaining favour as climate-change continues to raise concerns higher and higher.)

    The significant points are not really about bitumen and nukes but what Kenney is using them for politically. And, second, how the notion will affect already-brainwashed, fanatical attitudes about the fantasy of expanding bitumen production or neglecting policies to transition workers into new industries as bitumen winds down.

    Don’t buy a pig in a slo-poke, my friends. The days are getting longer, courtesy of the biggest, safest, cheapest (free except for sunscreen) nuclear reactor for lightyears around. Stay safe, keep cool, and be kind.

    1. Scotty: One quibble: Bitumen is distilled, not smelted. The first house my wife and I owned was not that far from the domes of Pickering, which are not as pretty or as blue as the domes of Samarkand. And the only time in my journalistic career I ever left my notebook behind with all my story notes in it was at that same nuclear power plant. It was quite hard to get back in and retrieve it. DJC

      1. Great story! Love to hear it some day.

        One re-quibble: it may be that the bitumen is coincidentally distilled in the process which I call ‘smelting’, the primary process of melting it out of the mineral sand which, I think (I might be wrong here), accounts for the greater part of petro-fuel (natural gas) used.

        But the difference might be merely fractional, I do agree.

        One more aspect of this industry demystified! Thanx very much.

      2. Like every other “ore” an economical extraction process has to be proved. Different locations will have their own peculiarities but generally would be characterized as open pit mining to insitu-extraction.

        Looks to me like much of the separation process for open pit mining is gravity or other physical property separation mechanisms. The insitu process looks to be based on boiling temperature, which I guess could be described as single stage distillation.

    2. Great analysis of the story behind the closure of the Chalk river nuclear reactor. Provides more reasons why you can’t trust the UCP or the CPC with anything to do with nuclear power. They will ignore safety to protect the profits of their buddies in the industry, whichever industry that happens to be, fossil fuel or nuclear. And, they will gleefully shovel taxpayer money to them in the service of those profits.

      The mining and initial refining of bitumen from the tar sands is energy intensive. The process often requires lots of high-pressure steam. The energy to create that steam has to come from somewhere, usually carbon-intensive electrical generation. This is one reason bitumen is much more carbon-intensive than crude oil. The appeal of nuclear for the folks in the fossil fuel industry is to reduce the carbon footprint of bitumen extraction and refining. But, this is just nuts. We should be reducing our reliance of fossil fuels in general such that the mining of bitumen is made unnecessary.

      This, however, is a problem for the fossil fuel industry and governments that rely on fossil fuels for revenues, such as Alberta, Canada, Russia, Saudia Arabia, etc. These resources are likely to be trapped in the ground if the world gets serious about decarbonization, so they are doing everything they can to greenwash fossil fuels to keep on selling them for as long as possible and as quickly as possible.

  15. I’m waiting for the next news conference when this big idea from Kenney comes up. Mind you, this big idea is the product of Kenney many, many personal days, where he recharges and renews his mind for bigger and better things.

    If the matter of the nuclear waste material comes up — fear not — for Ken-Babe has the best solution ever.

    Channeling his inner Elon Musk, Kenney will strike upon a brilliant idea, that he can only call his own, an announce that all nuclear waste material will be disposed of my being launched into space.


    Yes, many powerful rockets will be launched from Alberta, making it the leading hub for waste disposal on the planet. Many giant rockets carrying harmful waste will eject it into the deepest depths of space, freeing the earthiness of all their cares for the future, and it will all thanks to Kenney’s … GENIUS!

    And going another step further, Kenney will propose that Alberta will totally de-risk by 100% the cost of bringing Space-X to the province. Elon Musk will be drawn to Alberta’s never-ending pot of billions and billions in public funds to finance every single one of his ambitions. Only the truly ambitious can be so bold.

    Thomas Edison

    Nicola Tesla

    Albert Einstein

    Alan Turing

    Elon Musk


    Jason Kenney

  16. Who doesn’t like nuclear? In theory some time in the future, theoretical robots will go inside all of the spent nuclear reactors on earth and theoretically dismantle them safely. The theoretical robots of the theoretical future that is. Then all the hazardous waste will be stored in all the regular spots the people of earth like to store all that fun kinda stuff. That makes sense when you remember that the ucpeas remote monitoring computers that protect pregnant women and babies from mercury got covid at the start of the first wave and haven’t recovered. Why didn’t those computers get vaccinated?

  17. When it comes to decarbonization, I think it is important to keep an open mind about alternative energy sources that will help us accelerate to the goal of reducing carbon output so that we have a chance of surviving as a species. Right now, things are looking pretty grim.

    The problem with modular nuclear reactors and Jason Kenney is precisely that – the combination of the nuclear fuel and Jason Kenney is a guaranteed disaster in the making. Kenney may be more devious and clever than the average UCP member, typically a low-information know nothing, but Kenney’s grasp of science is tenuous at best. Do we need to look further than his handling of the pandemic for proof of this? And, the UCP is the party most likely to be captured by the lobbyists, again because the UCP is composed of a bunch of credulous fools, for the most part, who are willing to believe all sorts of nonsense as long as it aligns with their narrowly circumscribed views.

    In any event, there are nuclear fuel alternatives to reactors that rely on a uranium cycle. For example, there are thorium-based reactors that have some potential advantages. For those who are interested, here are some links:


    I would also highly recommend Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel, Ministry for the Future, for a fictionalized and highly informed treatment of these complex issues. Here is a review: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/book-review-ministry-future. Here is an interview with the author on CBC’s Ideas program: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/lessons-from-science-fiction-on-how-to-fight-climate-change-1.6287369.

  18. Modular reactors, whether small or large, produce nuclear waste. And every cubic metre of nuclear waste means a cubic metre of *money* — fossil fuel tax revenue — that government didn’t get.

    The former heads of nuclear regulatory committees in the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, and France, in “concluding” that “nuclear is not a practicable means to combat climate change”, were actually continuing to tell the lie that got them those jobs in the first place.

  19. Perhaps there is something intrinsic to being conservative that inclines them to enthusiastically embrace lost causes. Or, maybe it’s a supreme disregard or disdain for the environment – the more potentially damaging something is, the better.

    I suppose also mentioning the word nuclear catches everyone’s attention and makes people forget about whatever they were previously focused on, making it a great distraction too.

    Of course the lobbyists for big corporate interests with lots of money, only seem to make this even more appealing to Kenney and the UCP.

    In their ideal world I suspect there would be coal mines across the eastern slopes and nuclear reactors everywhere else, but I suppose if they can’t have the coal mines they would settle for a bunch of nuclear reactors. Welcome to Kenney’s dystopian vision for the future of Alberta, that seems like something from an apocalyptic industrial past.

  20. “Former heads of nuclear regulatory committees in the UK, US, Germany and France”

    And all are former heads because they’d had insufficient skills to do their job.

    Two well qualifed Energy Secretary’s in the Obama Admin – one a Noble Prize winner in Physic’s recently wrote and article in LA Times begging the science illiterate governor to keep the states remaining nuke and source of a large chunk of the states clean energy in service.

    Lookup “diablo-canyon-nuclear-plant-climate-change-zero-emissions”

    Actually the cost of gas power was averaging in the 10 cents a kWh range in Alberta while the cost of OPG’s older nukes was6 cents.

    The current cost of total rebuilts of Ontario nuke fleet is $2/watt, about the same as the last 7 Candus built and the same as new Chinese and NRC approved Korea reactors. Even the UK’s Hinkley project is dropping to $3/watt when financed as we do in Canada with public power.

    I take it from your post that you are an American but are unaware that American’s can’t build anything anymore, from aircraft to cars to railways to space craft much less nuke power. Canada had to send you fellas Elon Musk to help with cars and spacecraft.

    ” two such reactors built by Russia starting in 2006 were supposed to cost US$140 million. They ended up costing US$740 million by the time the project was completed in 2019.”

    Candu Energy is predicting its SMR will be licensed and shovel ready for 2023 with 30 month installation.4

    Yup the first Boeing 787 cost $28B, subsequent planes are sold for $200M. China just put their new HTGR SMR in service as well.

    1) Actually as built wind and solar in Canada starts at $10/watt average before subsidy for slave labour build 100% subsidied Chinese product. As an American you would like the slave labour part. That doesn’t include the $40/watt average land fill end of life disposal cost and 40 cents a kWh required to provide for fossil backup for those regular weeks long low/wind solar events like Alberta just went thru, and of course the thousands of air pollution dead from that fossil backup.

    As I demoed above Canadian nukes hover around $2/ watt average

    2) Actualy WIPP is storing nuke waste nicely in the US and Finland and Sweden have just about finished their facilities. Yucca mtn is built and ready to use but for politics. Canadu nuke waste fills a half skating rink, and will last 300 years before reducing to the level of natural uranium. The cubic miles of deadly toxic forever wind/solar and fossil waste kills thousands of Canadians annually.

    3)All Canadian power outside of the Alberta is public. Wind/solar in Canada is subsidized by Ugyhur slave labour and the Bank of China.

    4)While civilian nuke power hasn’t hurt a soul, no insurance is available for the millions killed annually by your wind/solar backed with fossile and fossil air pollution

    5) Actually with the current 2 -4 year timeline on Canada’s nuke project record, and Elon’s self driving app and we could be fossil free by 2030. That’s why your lobbyist can get bank financing

    Hope this helps.

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