Keynote speaker explains the value of nuclear power
by Sandy Lindsay

March 2, 2016

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Each month, the Men's Probus Club of Saugeen Shores invites a speaker of note to address the members and, this month, it was James Scongack, Vice-President of Corporate Affairs, Bruce Power.

Bruce Power is recognized as a world leader in nuclear energy and produces 30 per cent of Ontario's electricity.  Scongack has been with Bruce Power for 13 years and, in his capacity as Vice-President of Corporate Affairs, is responsible for government, Aboriginal and community relations, communications, corporate social responsibility, environment and waste management.

Prior to his role in Corporate Affairs, Scongack was Executive Assistant to Bruce Power's President and CEO, Duncan Hawthorne and managed various projects for the company.

Scongack recently was part of the team that successfully negotiated a long-term agreement with the province of Ontario that will enable the life extension of the nuclear facility to 2064.

In addition, he also sits on several boards, including, LifeLabs that provides laboratory services and is also  the Generator for Nuclear representative for nuclear on the Independent Electricity Systems Operators Stakeholder Advisory Committee.

Scongack holds a Master's Degree from Guelph University's College of Management, Economics and Leadership and an Honours BA.  He is also a Charter Director for the Bruce Business School's Directors College and has completed a certification through York University's Hewlitt Business School. 

He is also a member of the Ontario Easter Seals Board and is Chair of its Fundraising Committee.


Probarian Andy Bingham presented James Scongack with an honourarium which he is donating to Easter Seals

Scongack brought an update to the Probus Club members, some of whom had retired from the hydro and nuclear industry, and told them that a lot has changed at Bruce Power over the past 15 years when Duncan Hawthorne took over as CEO in 2001.

"At that time," said Scongack, "approximately 30 per cent of our electricity in Ontario came from coal-fired plants and 45 per cent from nuclear and the Bruce site had only four of the eight units operating, with a life span up to 2015.  In 2001, the plan was to shut down the site and decommission it when Bruce Power took it over."

Today, said Scongack, the picture is very different.  There are two plants, Bruce A and Bruce B, each having four operating units.  Bruce Power has invested $10 Billion over the last 15 years with a plan now in  place to run the site to 2064.  "It has been a huge investment that has allowed us to extend the lifetime very significantly."

The site now generates 35 per cent of Ontario's electricity that contributes to low electricity costs for residents and businesses in the province while being a clean source of energy.

Two years ago coal generated electricity was phased out in Ontario.  "Some people believe that coal was phased out due to wind turbines, solar and energy conservation," said Scongack, "but that's simply not true although they played a role in it.   Nuclear power accounted for 75 per cent of the energy needed to phase coal out and we would still have coal today if it weren't for the work done at the Bruce site.  Climate change is a real issue.  Alberta recently announced it is phasing out coal by 2030 and, as governments try to deal with climate change, the first thing they will go after is coal."

According to Scongack, one of the things that Bruce Power did to enable the coal phase-out besides investing in the site, was to introduce the 'game-changing' flexible or dynamic response to the electricity market.  Electricity is fluid driven in that the demand rises and falls as required daily and seasonally.

Bruce Power is now the only nuclear site in North America that has initiated flexible or dynamic response.  It provides base power 365 days a year 24 hours a day and, in 2009, introduced a method to allow its power output to fluctuate with the market demand faster than coal ever did.  "That is very significant," explained Scongack.  "It is very important for us to continue to be successful and, just because we have an agreement with the province, we can't take that for granted.  There are four things we really keep our eye on ... clean energy, dynamic response, private sector investment and low cost of electric power."

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Scongack illustrated a point using a pop can ...

When it comes to investment, no government or taxpayer dollars go to Bruce Power, it is all done through private investment.  The two largest investors are the OMERS Pension fund and TransCanada Pipelline along with the Power Workers' Union, Society of Energy Professionals  and the employees all being stakeholders.

The refurbishment that begins in 2020 at a cost of $13 Billion will be entirely funded through the investors and stakeholders. "This is a very unique structure," said Scongack, "in that no taxpayers dollars play a part so if we go over in costs, we are responsible to our investors."

"The biggest challenge for the nuclear industry is to communicate to the public, what is our price of power. Bruce Power provides 30 per cent of the province's electricity at 30 per below the average cost," Scongack added. "There are no grants and no hidden costs.  We pay for all the waste, all the decommissioning at the facility.  A new feature is an app, where you can enter your electricity bill, look at the other sources of power and see how your cost goes up or down."

Scongack said there is a lot of support for nuclear energy in Ontario. Elected officials go to the energy sector and set out the supply mix but if public support is not there, then the elected officials do not support the supplier whether it's wind, solar or nuclear.  Coals was phased out because of public support.

Scongack then fielded questions from the audience, most of whom were very knowledgeable about nuclear energy and how it works.

He said that safety is a key at Bruce Power and that it is based on their own performance and and the impact of an event somewhere else in the world.  "In the nuclear industry, an event plant is an event in every plant," said Scongack.  "We work together as operators to see, not where gaps are in deficiencies but where gaps are in reaching excellence.  We are very rigorous when it comes to safety."

Scongack assured everyone that, when it comes to technical support, the most robust is around inspections and working together.  "We do a lot of tests with OPG and we are very comfortable that we are doing due diligence."

Scongack also said that one of the biggest challenges is due to retirement.  "There are people who have years of experience.  You can replace them with those who have academic experience and are more than theoretically qualified but, when it comes to the 'hands-on' knowledge, it can be a problem and that's why we have compensated with staffing."

A Probarian complimented Scongack with the recent start-up of Bruce site tours and the success of the program.

Overall, the audience was very knowledgeable about the nuclear industry and, for those who weren't, it was an opportunity to learn more as Scongack took his time to answer any and all questions.

"It was an excellent presentation," said Probarian Dave Gray. "Not having been involved in the nuclear industry, I learned a lot."


Saugeen Shores Men's Probus is always inviting new members ... for information contact andybingham39@gmail.com

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