When buying electrical power, Canadian consumers are usually quoted a simple rate. Yet each utility’s price comes from a mix of power sources, often with several types of power generation – and the costs that make up that total price vary widely.
Industrial-scale power generation of any kind is expensive – whether it’s nuclear, oil, coal, or from renewables – but it is not enough to consider the price of generating power, because the full life-cycle of each method of generating power involves many other costs. Building plants safely and effectively can involve very high costs that must be taken into account – as can the raw materials, maintenance, and decommissioning when the plants have reached the end of their lives.
Although nuclear power requires a large investment up-front for building plants and eventually decommissioning them, this investment is offset by low operating costs. Uranium fuel, which is abundant in Canada, is one of the least-expensive fuel sources, and nuclear plants require relatively little of it to operate at full capacity.
Electricity generated by oil ends up costing about the same as nuclear power does, whereas hydroelectric power is the most affordable option. Unfortunately, both methods have limitations: oil produces considerable greenhouse-gas emissions, and Canada is already at more than 90% of its hydroelectric power-generating capacity.
In terms of the average wholesale price that Canadians pay, nuclear power is driving the price of electricity down.