Dash for Gas: Will Ontario repeat the UK’s mistake?

May 27, 2013
 By: Donald Jones, P.Eng., retired nuclear industry engineer, 2013 May 25.
A condensed version of this article will appear in the 2013 June edition of the Canadian Nuclear Society BULLETIN.
The present situation in Ontario, and indeed in the United States, is reminiscent of that in the United Kingdom in the 1990s. Cheap natural gas discovered in the North Sea coincident with the development of combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) technology effectively put a stop to any future nuclear build. The “Dash for Gas” had started. The last nuclear plant to be built in the UK was Sizewell B, a Westinghouse design, that started up in 1995 but planned follow-on units were cancelled because low cost natgas, together with politically imposed financial burdens on the nuclear generators, made the market price for electricity lower than the nuclear generation costs. However, in Ontario the present nuclear generated electricity cost on Ontario’s hybrid electricity market is much less than the real cost of that from CCGTs. The US has recently started construction of five nuclear power plants with twelve more undergoing various licence reviews by the nuclear regulator despite cheap gas and over the years the megawatt (MW) capacity of most of the existing plants has been increased by the equivalent of six large units with more increases to follow. There are also several designs of small modular reactors being actively developed.

Today the situation in the UK is much different. North Sea reserves of natgas are down and gas prices are very much up. In 2010 the UK grid was made up of 34,000 MW of gas (Ontario in 2013, 10,000 MW), 29,000 MW of coal (Ontario 3,300 MW), 11,000 MW of nuclear (Ontario 13,000 MW), 4,200 MW of hydro (Ontario 8,000 MW) and 4,200 nameplate MW of wind (Ontario 2,000 MW on transmission grid). Imported gas will account for 75 percent of all gas consumed in UK by 2015, it was 50 percent in 2009. The government has set a limit on carbon emissions from fossil plants that ensures that only gas-fired units get built in the future, unless carbon capture and storage (CCS) becomes practical for coal-fired plants – unlikely.  Read the rest of this entry »