Saturday, September 23, 2006
Oil Sands Consultations Panel
Re: Adding Value to Alberta’s Oil Sand Resource
Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the future of Alberta’s oil sands.
Alberta is to be commended for her perseverance in developing a valuable resource from a phenomenon not long ago viewed as little more than a remote natural oil spill. As depleting carbon based resources become more and more precious it is prudent to seek ways to acquire still more value for Albertans, and the world.
Extracting and refining the oil from the sands requires a lot of energy. Overall value can thus be enhanced by utilizing potentially lower cost non-carbon energy for those processes. This would also conserve natural gas, oil, and coal for future generations. It seems timely to seriously consider the use of nuclear energy for future oil sand development.
During my tenure at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., I prepared a paper, with James Donnelly, which establishes some parameters related to the use of the CANDU reactor system to facilitate oil production and upgrading. The paper identifies synergies between oil sands operations and reactor construction. One of these, heavy water production, is essentially specific to CANDU reactors. Others such as steam, hydrogen, and oxygen, and zirconium production could be relevant to many types of reactors.
The primary focus of the above paper was on the potential for carbon dioxide emission reduction. Nuclear energy also avoids many pollutants and toxic substances associated with the burning of fossil fuels thus compounding possible environmental co-benefits. As a technical scoping paper it did not address the cost of nuclear energy for oil sands operation. More recently, the Canadian Energy Research Institute undertook a study of the economics. The authors compared the cost of nuclear energy with natural gas as a provider of steam for extraction purposes and found them similar. Subsequent escalations in the cost of natural gas would favor nuclear energy. As fossil fuel costs continue to escalate the economic advantage of nuclear energy will also increase.
I do hope you find the papers I’ve referenced useful. They are not definitive studies of the use of nuclear energy in oil sand operations. They serve as an introduction to the concept. I’m sure much more expertise is available to provide you with additional technical, environmental, safety and economic information.
I’ve noticed that any mention of nuclear energy in Alberta newspapers tends to elicit knee-jerk reactions of negativism or obfuscation. The Panel has been given a great opportunity to establish a rational discussion of its potential focused on making the most of the tar sands. I’m looking forward to the results of your initiative. I offer my assistance to help soberly and seriously inform Albertans about this opportunity to enhance Alberta’s role as a provider of essential energy to support humanity and our living environment.
Duane Pendergast, Ph.D., P. Eng.
 Donnelly,J.K. and D.R. Pendergast, "Nuclear Energy in Industry: Application to Oil Production", 1999. http://www.computare.org/Support%20documents/Publications/Nuclear%20oil%20sand.htm