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Alberta to decide by January on allowing nuclear power

Albertans will finally find out next month whether their energy-rich province will kick-start Canada's so-called nuclear renaissance.

"I would like to have the issue concluded by the end of January. We will - either way," Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach told The Globe and Mail during an interview.

The provincial government has been studying for more than two years whether to allow nuclear power generation. Earlier this year, it completed public consultations into the controversial energy source.

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Even without a decision, the topic has already prompted several anti-nuclear demonstrations around Alberta.

Mr. Stelmach said his Progressive Conservative government has been slow to issue a policy statement on nuclear energy because it needed time to thoroughly investigate the issue.

Across Canada, other provinces have been recently mulling whether to allow nuclear technology, or, in the case of Ontario, build more nuclear power plants to keep up with electricity needs. Several factors, including high building costs, have stalled or scrapped efforts.

Saskatchewan is also expected to issue a policy statement on nuclear power generation within weeks, according to a government spokesman.

In September, the province released a report that found most residents opposed it. Saskatchewan leads the world in uranium production, but doesn't currently refine it.

Back in Alberta, Ontario-based Bruce Power has already expressed interest in building a nuclear plant north of Peace River, which is about 385 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

It's been 17 years since a new nuclear reactor went into service in this country, and the Alberta project, if built, would be the first in Western Canada. Nuclear power sites are currently operating in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

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John Peevers, a Bruce Power spokesman, said even if the Alberta government green-lights nuclear power next month, it's not a done deal that Bruce would construct a plant in the province.

"That's something that some people have sort of misunderstood. We have made no decisions to build anything yet," he said.

However, if the province allows it, the company will likely launch a lengthy environmental assessment of the $10-billion project near Peace River. Mr. Peevers said the earliest a plant could be operational is 2018.

Bruce Power has already opened an office in Peace River where local residents can come to ask questions about the project and nuclear power technology.

"We still don't think people have enough information to make up their minds either positive or against the project," Mr. Peevers said.

"We here in Ontario are much more familiar with nuclear, so we understand there are a lot of questions."

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