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Canadian provinces continue to back nuclear power

Canada geese stand near the Ontario Hydro Pickering nuclear power station, listed by a U.S. State Department cable as a site critical to American interests.

Andy Clark/Andy Clark/REUTERS

Key Canadian provinces reaffirmed their support for nuclear power Tuesday and the national regulator declared the country's generating stations safe even as Japan's crisis spurred other nations to back away from nuclear.

Ontario, Canada's most populous province, said there was no change in its plans to keep the nuclear-powered portion of its electricity output at 50 per cent.

"The government's long-term energy plan speaks to the need to replace some of our nuclear facilities over the coming decade. There will be a thorough environmental assessment of the proposal," Ontario energy ministry spokesman Andrew Block said in an e-mail.

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Ontario unveiled a 20-year energy plan late last year that includes investing $33 billion to build two new nuclear reactors at its Darlington nuclear power station, east of Toronto, and modernizing some other existing units.

Ontario is generally regarded as a region of low seismic activity and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has been quick to reassure the public of its confidence in the safety of Canada's nuclear reactors.

Japan faced a potential catastrophe Tuesday after an earthquake-crippled nuclear power plant exploded and sent low levels of radiation towards Tokyo.

In response, Germany said it would shut down all seven of its nuclear power plants that began operating before 1980, at least until June . The European Union said it wanted to set stress tests for reactors in the bloc

The province of New Brunswick, on Canada's East Coast, gets 25 to 30 per cent of its power from a single nuclear station. It is continuing talks with French reactor maker Areva on building a second reactor at its Point Lepreau power plant, provincial Energy Minister Craig Leonard said.

In Alberta, Energy Minister Ron Liepert refused to rule out the possibility of allowing nuclear power in that power-hungry Western province. But he pointed out that no company is applying to build a reactor.

"In Alberta we have an open, competitive generation marketplace," he said at a heavy oil conference in Edmonton. "Anyone who wants to invest in any kind of technology is open to do so if they meet the regulatory and various approvals that are required. There is no application on the books I'm aware of so it's really ... irrelevant."

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The nuclear debate has boiled over at times in Alberta, where nuclear has been proposed as a way to power the province's massive oil sands developments. In 2008, nuclear generator Bruce Power proposed building up to four reactors in the Peace River area of northern Alberta to power oil sands projects.

Critics have said the region is subject to seismic activity, which creates risks for such an operation. However, earthquakes are not nearly as severe as on the Pacific Coast where the province of British Columbia forbids the building of nuclear power plants.

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