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This is what nuclear power could look like on the Prairies

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The Prairies Climate Change Project is a joint initiative between CBC Edmonton and CBC Saskatchewan that focuses on weather and our changing climate. Meteorologist Christy Climenhaga brings her expert voice to the conversation to help explain weather phenomena and climate change and how they impact everyday life.


There are a lot of options in energy for Canada — hydro, wind, solar, biomass, natural gas, geothermal … the list goes on.

As we work to decarbonize our electricity sources, there is growing interest in nuclear power.

Nuclear power has a long history in Canada, with the first plant, the Nuclear Power Demonstration Reactor in Rolphton, Ont., going online in the early 1960s.

Today, larger nuclear generating stations in Ontario and New Brunswick supply about 15 per cent of Canada’s electricity.

But what about the Prairies? There is no nuclear power in Alberta and Saskatchewan as of today. Alberta currently produces nearly 90 per cent of its electricity from natural gas and coal; in Saskatchewan, fossil fuels provide about 80 per cent of electricity.

But as the country looks to phase out fossil fuel use, what could the future look like?

Nuclear in Canada

While New Brunswick is home to one nuclear generating station, most of Canada’s nuclear power lies in Ontario, which has three generating stations — Pickering, Darlington and Bruce.

Canada’s nuclear power plants use nuclear fission. Atoms from a uranium fuel are split apart, releasing energy in the form of heat and radiation. The heat is used to create steam from water. The steam then spins a turbine, creating electricity.

Spent fuel — radioactive waste — must be stored securely for decades or even centuries.

While a new large nuclear plant has not been built in Canada since the Darlington plant came online in the early ’90s, there is development on the way for small modular nuclear reactors, or SMRs.

SMRs come with some changes from the larger plants, said Gary Rose, vice-president of new nuclear growth at Ontario Power Generation, which operates the Pickering and Darlington facilities.

“They’re smaller, and because they’re smaller they can be more modular and built in factories and have a much more predictable cost and schedule to deploy,” Rose said.

Ontario Power Generation is leading the country in SMR development. A small reactor under construction at Darlington is expected to be operating by 2029.

The SMR will provide 300 megawatts of electricity, which could be enough to power around 300,000 homes. The plant would run for 60 to 80 years.

“I would say we are leading the world in deploying this technology, and certainly many other countries and provinces are following us,” Rose said.

Nuclear on the Prairies

Alberta and Saskatchewan are no stranger to nuclear talks. Both provinces have signed memorandums of understanding with New Brunswick and Ontario — the intention is to share knowledge in the push toward nuclear power.

“Alberta is a leader in technology and innovation, and Small Modular Reactors have the potential to help support our responsible energy production while reducing emissions,” said Alberta’s Ministry of Energy in a statement.

In April, Alberta signed a memorandum of understanding with the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute to explore the viability of deploying SMR technology in the province.

Saskatchewan is a step ahead of Alberta, with plans for the same type of SMR that is being deployed in Ontario.

Artists drawing of new small modular reactor.
An artist’s rendering of the SMR technology proposed for Ontario’s Darlington location. Saskatchewan plans on exploring the same type of reactor. (Ontario Power Generation)

“We’ll be in a position to make a decision on potentially our first SMR investment in 2029,” said Kent Campbell, president and CEO of the Crown Investments Corporation of Saskatchewan.

Campbell said two potential sites have been identified in the Elbow and Estevan regions of the province, with a final selection expected in late 2023 or early 2024.

“If you look at our power production system right now, we’re still fairly heavily reliant on fossil fuels,” he said. “As we move to a scenario of net-zero electricity production, we’re going to need to look to other sources.”

Along with advancements in solar and wind power, nuclear power is a very good option, Campbell said.

“We are very, I think, optimistic that it will be part of our power generation future as we move forward into the 2030s and beyond.”

Safety and waste

Any talk about developing nuclear power sparks questions about safety and environmental impacts, and accidents like those at Three Mile Island, Chornobyl and Fukushima.

So what about the risks in Canada?

Nuclear safety in Canada is monitored and regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

“Canada has been in the nuclear power business since the 1960s, one of the first countries in the world to produce nuclear power, and we do have an exemplary safety record,” CNSC president Rumina Velshi told CBC in an interview.

Velshi said that for existing plants, challenges lie with ensuring facilities continue to meet new standards and safety codes. The CNSC works with facility operators to ensure they are following international standards.

A nuclear power plant as seen from the air
The safety of nuclear power plants is regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) (Ontario Power Generation)

“We do an assessment of each nuclear facility, not only on a regular basis, but then each year we produce a report card on how well those facilities are doing,” Velshi said.

“When serious accidents happen, like when the Fukushima accident happened in 2011, for instance, it’s our job to understand what are the learnings for us.”

And when it comes to new builds, Velshi said the technology itself has improved safety.

She said SMRs incorporate passive safety systems, which means that if things go wrong, the reactor shuts down.

Velshi said one benefit of nuclear power is the small, containable amounts of spent fuel.

“We know exactly how much waste there is and where it is. There are very, very stringent requirements around inventory and we actually have to report.”

Management of radioactive waste is planned for nuclear builds from the onset. Velshi said that as part of the licensing procedure, the plant’s operators are required to prove that they have a plan and the funds for the safe disposal of waste.

“They have to set aside a certain amount of funds which we review every five years … so that there isn’t this abandoned waste with no one responsible because that funding is there.”

Though Canada doesn’t have a permanent waste solution, Velshi said work is being done to change that through a deep geological repository.

“Think about something underground, way down, a couple of kilometres down, and you store the waste there — and that’s the path that Canada is on,” she said.

Velshi said the CNSC is hoping a site with a willing host community will be selected by the end of 2024, so that the licensing process can start for building a deep geological repository.

Viability with climate change

Much of the drive for nuclear comes from the need for reliable, zero- or low-emission energy sources.

Gary Rose, with Ontario Power Generation, said nuclear power comes with that level of stability.

“In order to advance your renewables, wind, solar, etc., you need baseload energy [for] when you don’t have sun or don’t have wind,” he said.

“If it’s not nuclear or hydro, it’s [natural] gas, generally, and you don’t achieve the carbon reduction that we’re looking for.”

The turbine hall at the Darlington nuclear site.
Nuclear operates with near zero emissions and can provide reliable baseload power according to Rose. (Ontario Power Generation)

“I’m beginning to see [nuclear] as a kind of a battery for solar,” said Esam Hussein, a former dean of engineering and applied science at the University of Regina.

“If you have nuclear, you can afford to rely on those intermittent sources of power.”

Hussein acknowledges that nuclear power is a more expensive option, with higher capital costs, and that it does come with risks.

“There is a price for everything we do … solar has its own challenges and advantages, disadvantages. Wind, hydro — we all know the problems,” he said.

“Take the risk of climate change that can wipe out humanity, or take a calculated, very well-known risk that I believe we can handle.”

Not all convinced

The conversation around nuclear power is complicated, and while many believe it is the answer for a net-zero emission future, others are not convinced.

“Nuclear is not only not the answer, I think nuclear is actually a negative for climate mitigation,” said M.V. Ramana, a professor in the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia.

“Nuclear energy is a very expensive way to generate electricity,” he said, noting that� nuclear costs have increased over time, as safety regulations and licensing become more expensive.

New nuclear builds around the world have been plagued by delays and missed budgets, Ramana said.

According to Ramana, Russia began building two SMRs in 2007 that were meant to be completed in three years. Delays meant they didn’t get connected to the grid until 2020.

And in terms of cost, Ramana said that while SMRs are more affordable on paper than large plants, they lose out on economies of scale.

“When you build a plant that is generating, let’s say, five times as much electricity, the utility will get five times as much revenue out of it, but its costs will not be five times as much.

“When you go small you lose out on economies of scale and so the per unit cost will actually go up for a smaller reactor.”

While Ramana discounts nuclear power as a solution to the effects of climate change, he does argue for carbon emissions to be reduced as quickly as possible and at the lowest possible cost.

“[Nuclear is] a very expensive source of power, it takes a long time to build. So any dollar that you’re spending on nuclear power is a dollar that’s not being spent on something else.”

He said expansion of renewable energy sources, along with further research into storage solutions, is the best path forward.

“We don’t know anything about what kind of storage technologies will be available [in the future] and how much they will cost,” he said.

“How do we deal with climate change? There is no easy answer right there. And the short answer is we have to change everything we are doing.”


Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a CBC News initiative entitled “Our Changing Planet” to show and explain the effects of climate change. Keep up with the latest news on our Climate and Environment page.

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Hamilton steelmaker Stelco sold to Cleveland-Cliffs for $3.4B

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Hamilton-based steelmaker Stelco Holdings Inc. is set to be acquired by U.S.-based Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. for $3.4 billion Cdn.

Stelco said it has agreed to sell all issued and outstanding common shares for $70 per share to the Ohio-based steel producer.

Stelco chief executive Alan Kestenbaum said he is confident Cleveland-Cliffs will remain a reliable supplier to its customers while maintaining Stelco’s “stature and reputation in Canada and maintaining our Canadian national interests.”

Profile of a man
Alan Kestenbaum is the CEO and executive chairman of Stelco. (Bedrock Industries)

Currently, Stelco maintains two major steelmaking facilities in Ontario — one each in Hamilton and Nanticoke.

CBC Hamilton reached out to Stelco for an interview. However, the company said no one was available for comment.

Stelco said in a news release that as part of the agreement, it will keep its headquarters in Hamilton and build on its existing 1,000-employee footprint in Canada. It will also retain Canadian representation on its management team.

The news release also said Cleveland-Cliffs will continue Stelco’s current community commitments, including collaboration with McMaster University and the CanmetMATERIALS research centre, and maintain the existing research chairs with McMaster. The company will also retain its partnership with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Forge FC, and its 40 per cent equity interest and the master lease of Tim Hortons Field.

Getting Nanticoke ‘the real gem,’ expert says

Kestenbaum acquired Stelco in 2016 after the company went into creditor protection in 2004 and was sold as a subsidiary to U.S. Steel Co. in 2007. It then returned to creditor protection in 2014 before signing an agreement to be acquired by Kestenbaum’s Bedrock Industries in late 2016.

Cleveland-Cliffs president and CEO Lourenco Goncalves said Kestenbaum was able to turn an “underperforming asset under previous ownership into a very cost-efficient and profit-oriented company.”

He said the deal “keeps national interests at the forefront and recognizes the importance of the workforce,” noting Stelco respects the union representing its workers, “treats their employees well and leans into their cost advantages.”

Profile of a man
Marvin Ryder is a marketing and business professor at McMaster University in Hamilton. (McMaster University)

Marvin Ryder, an associate professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University, said one of the likely reasons for the purchase of the company is to acquire Stelco’s plant in Nanticoke, which he said is a modern and efficient steelmaking operation.

“If I was interested in buying the former Stelco, it wouldn’t be for what it had in Hamilton, it would be for what it had down the road in Nanticoke… In many ways I would have called it the crown jewel of the Stelco operations,” he said.

In a news release, Cleveland-Cliffs said the transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2024, subject to approval by Stelco shareholders, receipt of regulatory approvals and satisfaction of other customary closing conditions.

Ryder said Stelco’s operation will be business as usual once the sale closes later in the year.

However, he said things could change a few years later. One possibility he sees is that instead of making steel at Nanticoke and transporting it to Hamilton for value-added finishing, the company could consolidate its operations at the Nanticoke site.

“I suspect they’ll keep [the finishing operations in Hamilton] at least for a while. But the real gem that they were acquiring wasn’t really the Hamilton operations, it was the Nanticoke operations,” he said.

 

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Corus Entertainment faces debt problem as it warns about company’s future

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The Corus logo at Corus Quay in Toronto on June 22, 2018.Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

Corus Entertainment Inc. CJR-B-T has barely six weeks to ensure its survival.

Toronto-based Corus, which owns Global News as well as dozens of television and radio stations across Canada, has until Sept. 1 to negotiate some form of debt relief with its lenders. Otherwise, the company warned Monday, Corus may no longer be able to meet its debt commitments, which “may cast significant doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

Despite aggressive cost-cutting efforts – primarily cutting roughly 800 jobs or about 25 per cent of its total work force by the end of next month – analysts fear less spending will not be enough to offset major drops in revenue. The company reported $331.8-million in third-quarter revenue on Monday, a nearly 17-per-cent drop from the same period in 2023.

The company generated $18-million in cash during the third quarter, representing a 29-per-cent year-over-year decline. On an adjusted per-share basis, Corus lost 10 cents in the quarter, a stark reversal from the nine-cent-per-share adjusted profit the company reported for the third quarter of 2023.

“Management will need to come out with a much more aggressive cost-cutting drive in order to remain onside” with its lenders, Bank of Nova Scotia analyst Maher Yaghi said in a Monday morning note to clients. “We expect Corus to push further deep cuts in order to protect the balance sheet.”

Meanwhile, most of the company’s more than $1-billion in debt is due for repayment within the next few years. Corus has $290-million in bank debt set to reach maturity in 2027 and $500-million in bonds due the following year.

Starting Sept. 1, its debt agreements require Corus to maintain a maximum debt-to-EBITDA ratio of 4.25, meaning total debt cannot exceed 4.25 times its annual operating income. The company is currently allowed to hold up to the equivalent of 4.5 times its annual operating income in debt.

In a conference call with analysts on Monday morning, John Gossling, the company’s chief financial officer and co-chief executive officer, acknowledged “things are very tight and we are going to have to deal with it.” He said the company exceeded the 4.25 ratio by the end of its third quarter, putting it on a course to default, though he did not specify the exact size of the disparity.

In a note to clients published Monday afternoon, TD Cowen analysts Vince Valentini and Natale Puccia said the company’s debt-to-EBITDA ratio was likely to exceed 6.0 by the end of its 2025 fiscal year.

“We do not view this as a sustainable capital structure, so we expect the company to pursue a negotiated recapitalization with its banks and bondholders in the near-term,” the analysts wrote.

Corus was already struggling with declining revenues when it was informed last month that Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. would not renew the company’s Canadian rights to five popular specialty channels – including HGTV and Food Network – when its current deal expires at the end of this year. Corus rival Rogers Communications Inc. said at the time that it had won the rights to take over those channels starting in 2025.

Troy Reeb, a former Global News journalist who was previously the company’s executive vice-president of broadcast networks before being appointed co-CEO last month, told analysts on the Monday morning call that “misconceptions have emerged” since the Warner Bros. Discovery announcement.

Corus will continue to hold the rights to the Canadian content featured on the Warner channels that will be going to Rogers, Mr. Reeb said. In HGTV Canada’s latest broadcast year, for example, he said 12 of the top 20 shows were Canadian originals like Property Brothers “and all of them will be staying right where they are with Corus.”

“Our rebranding plans for these channels are progressing quickly and we expect to provide full details in the coming months,” Mr. Reeb said. “There is plenty of great food and home content out there in the international market that does not come from Warner Bros. Discovery.”

The TD Cowen analysts, Mr. Valentini and Ms. Puccia, also cut their rating on Corus stock to sell from hold and slashed their price target from 35 cents per share to just five cents per share. They calculate Corus will have an enterprise value of roughly $790-million by the end of 2025, well below the $1.077-billion in debt the company is still expected to hold at that time.

“It is possible that equity holders could end up with zero,” they said. “But we have assumed the Board (including Shaw family influence) will negotiate for a token ~1% of this enterprise value to remain with common shareholders.”

The Shaw family, which sold their namesake cable and internet provider to Rogers for $20-billion last year, holds a class of Corus shares granting them roughly 86-per-cent voting control of the company.

 

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LCBO reverses plan to open select stores on Friday as strike continues

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The LCBO has reversed its plan to open select stores on Friday as retail workers continue to strike across the province, according to a statement from the Crown corporation on Sunday.

The alcohol retailer had initially announced that it would open 32 of its stores on July 19, but that they’d only be open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays with “limited hours in effect,” even if a deal had not been reached.

However, the LCBO said on Sunday it has made an operational change as a result of its success in fulfilling online orders within a week and is re-allocating employees that they had planned to assign to the select retail stores.

More than 9,000 LCBO employees went on strike, closing 669 locations across Ontario, on July 5.

This is the second time the LCBO has scrapped plans to temporarily reopen stores. On Monday, the LCBO walked back on its plan to open five stores to allow bar and restaurant owners to buy alcohol after the Crown corporation said the union threatened to picket these locations.

“This pivot means that we will be able to improve how we serve Ontario bars and restaurants to help increase product selection, availability, and expedited delivery,” the LCBO said in its statement.

CTV News Toronto reached out to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) for a response on the LCBO’s statement on Sunday afternoon.

The union representing striking workers has said the primary point of contention at the bargaining table is the Ford government’s expansion of alcohol sales in the province, which will see beer, wine, and ready-to-drink beverages available in some convenience stores at the end of the summer.

“We want this strike to end, remain committed to reaching an agreement with OPSEU, and encourage them to respond to our fair offer,” the LCBO said in a statement.

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