On Sept. 20, SaskPower announced they were considering two areas as possible sites for Saskatchewan’s first two nuclear reactors. One is at Lake Diefenbaker, near Elbow, and the other is Estevan, with three nearby reservoirs under consideration.

When it comes to choosing between Estevan and Elbow for future nuclear power development, Estevan would have to try really hard to lose.

Really, really hard.

First of all, while the study area for possible siting is within a 10 kilometres radius of these bodies of water, it’s highly, highly unlikely these reactors will be built anywhere that is not directly touching water. That’s because pretty much every nuclear reactor built for power production in the world is built touching water. You could theoretically pump the water into and out of the lake, but why would you? Unless they’ve come up with some magic with these new small modular reactor designs, it’s a real safe bet the sites will be immediately adjacent to a shoreline.

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Here’s a practical consideration most people probably haven’t thought of, beyond the usual consideration of are there enough hotel rooms for temporary workers. If you need something special machined in Estevan, you can go to a place like Axis Services, whose business has focused largely on supported coal-fired power generation, to the point where they don’t even have a sign along the road. If you need hydraulics, you could go to Wil-Tech Industries, which built its business supporting the mines, before branching out and diversifying. There are all sorts of electrical companies, from electricians, to electrical suppliers. And if you need a big crane, you could call up Skylift Services, who always seems to have cranes at the power stations or mines.

If you need a crane near Estevan, no problem! Companies like Skylift Services are there. But Elbow, not so much. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

But if you build your power station at the village of Elbow, well, they have a marina. And three campgrounds. And effectively no industrial base whatsoever. Otherwise, you’ve got a whole bunch of nothing on both sides of the lake. In Outlook, or distant, Davidson you might get some small town agricultural capability, but nothing industrial like what Estevan already has in place.

Similarly, being a nuclear facility, you will need very high levels of security. And a local SWAT team that can respond, if necessary. Estevan/Weyburn can do that. Elbow? Maybe they can get a few kids working at the marina to grab their pellet guns.

The east side of Lake Diefenbaker is the other area of consideration for nuclear development. SaskPower

Elbow does have one thing going for it that could be a high card, if not a trump card – proximity to electrical load centres. I once had a discussion with the previous CEO of SaskPower, and he explained that if you wanted to get power from Estevan to Regina, you lost about 4.5 per cent of it due to line loss – the natural electrical resistance in the power lines. And to Saskatoon, that number was 9 per cent. That meant that if you wanted 100 megawatts in Saskatoon, coming from Estevan, you had to produce roughly 109 megawatts at your power plant. That also meant a further 9 per cent in emissions.

Emissions aren’t a consideration for nuclear. But line loss is. Google Earth says Elbow is 100 kilometres from Saskatoon and 150 from Regina. So there would be a slight reduction of line loss getting power to Regina, but only slight. As in, just over 1 per cent. But for Saskatoon, it would be a marked improvement. However much power Saskatoon draws from southeast Saskatchewan, I don’t know. They have a power station at the edge of the city, and Northland Power has a natural gas power station near North Battleford a similar distance away.

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What Elbow and Lake Diefenbaker have is lots of water, and a central location. Such a massive amount of water could be key from an environmental consideration. Putting a lot of heat into a big lake is no big deal. But did you know that when they built the Boundary Dam Unit 3 Integrated Carbon Capture Project, they built a cooling tower similar to the one at Shand Power Station?

Why? I asked. Because they weren’t allowed to put any more heat into Boundary Dam, even though it was a reservoir built for this purpose, and not a natural lake. So that has me wondering if smaller bodies, like Boundary or Alameda, could ever get the nod. Some earthmuffin could say you’re disturbing the natural balance or something, even though all three southeast locations under consideration are manmade.

The Estevan study area is actually three different bodies of water – Rafferty Reservoir, Boundary Dam Reservoir, and Alameda Reservoir, now known as Grant Devine Lake. SaskPower

 

And I don’t think Boundary Dam will fly, either. There’s no room for it. Each reactor requires a complete quarter of land, so we need a half section of undisturbed land. And the western side of the reservoir has been largely mined, as has the northeast side. The south end of the reservoir has a pile of very expensive homes, owned by some of the wealthiest people in the region. People with money for lawyers. Lots of lawyers. People who might get a severe case of Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) if someone decides to plop a nuclear reactor on the other side of the lake, blocking their beautiful sunset.

So that leaves Rafferty. It has a lot more water volume than either Boundary Dam or Alameda. It has a really long shoreline with almost no one living on it except for Mainprize Regional Park. And a lot of the land touching it is so rocky as to be essentially worthless. A good chunk of that land already belongs to the province.

As major highway access is a key consideration, then the north side of Rafferty is the obvious choice. The main transmission lines between Boundary Dam, Shand and Regina run on that side of the reservoir. And there’s 40 kilometres between Mainprize and the Rafferty Dam, so there’s plenty of options to choose from that give water, transmission line, close highway access and proximity to Estevan. My guess is the site would be somewhere from south of Macoun to south of Hitchcock. Close enough to Estevan, but far enough away, “just in case.”

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What about the people?

So that’s the site. But what about the people? That’s the trick, now, isn’t it? If conventional coal at Estevan completely shuts down in 2029, you’ve got about 1,000 people between the mines and power plants who will be looking for work. Elbow, not so much. GE-Hitachi says it will take 24-36 months to build these new reactors, if the first one isn’t expected to go online until 2035, how do you keep this highly skilled workforce around?

While many power plant jobs will be very similar – the generation side, which puts hot steam through a turbine to spin a generator – the nuclear portion is all new. There’s going to be a learning curve where we’re going to have to send most of that staff to Ontario for training, likely for a year or two. Or we import people from there to here. We might even have to recruit former U.S. Navy staff with nuclear experience. Where do you think nuclear operators in the U.S. get their staff from? It’s a well-established career path for officers and enlisted personnel.

As for the coal miners, some might be able to get work in the initial construction. And some could find work with the nuclear plants otherwise. But the reality is most will be gone.

Lastly, both possible sites have one thing going for them: a healthy distance from the professional protesters in Saskatoon or Regina. Both are far enough away that a U of R professor can’t just come out and picket over her lunch break. And when it comes to nuclear, this is a real consideration, especially when people go BANANAS – Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything, Silly.

 

Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of PipelineOnline.ca. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@pipelineonline.ca

Pipeline Online is the only media in this province focused the Saskatchewan energy sector. This is what we do, period. Watch for new stories posted at PipelineOnline.ca Monday to Friday with the lead story at 7 a.m., as well as stories posted throughout the day. If you see something you like, please share it.

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