Nuclear power is experiencing a revival due to growing concerns about climate change. The nuclear industry has reinvented itself as an environmentally friendly option, producing electricity without the air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions of coal, oil or gas.
But there are a number of concerns with relying on nuclear power as an environmentally and financially viable option. Nuclear power creates radioactive waste for which there is no accepted method of safely managing or storing. It is also prohibitively expensive. The last plant constructed in Ontario, Darlington, was budgeted at $3.4 billion but ended up costing $15 billion when it was finally completed in the mid-1980s.
Nuclear technology can provide energy without the air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions produced by fossil fuels. The largest and currently unresolved environmental problem concerns nuclear waste. As of 2012, Canada had over 56,000 tonnes of highly radioactive nuclear waste and nowhere to put it. With a radioactive half-life of 25,000 years, nuclear waste remains dangerous for 250,000 years, posing huge costs and risks for future generations.
Power plants can also leak hazardous materials. For example, Pickering reactor #4 had a heavy water leak in April 1996 that released radioactive tritium into Lake Ontario, contaminating drinking water supplies.
The energy source once billed as "too cheap to meter" has proven to be one of the most expensive energy sources in history.
Between 1956 and 2000, Canada's state-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) received subsidies totaling $16.6 billion. Even with these subsidies, nuclear power is far more expensive than both fossil fuels and renewables.
The last 20 reactors built in the U.S. had an average cost of $5,000 per kilowatt of capacity; the last one built in Canada cost $4,000 per kilowatt. Compare these prices to the current prices for large-scale wind power and natural gas plants, currently at $1,200 and $1,000 per kilowatt respectively.
The figures for nuclear do not include lifecycle costs to society from the environmental and health damage that would result if an accident occurred, nor does it include the costs of clean up, waste disposal or plant decommissioning. Nuclear plants are not only expensive, they're also financially risky because of their long lead times, huge cost overruns and open-ended liabilities.