CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Bruce Power has set in motion plans for Alberta's first nuclear power plant by applying to regulators to build up to four reactors in the northern part of the Canadian province at a cost as much as C$10 billion ($10.2 billion), the company said on Thursday.
Bruce Power, which runs the massive Bruce nuclear complex in Ontario, has taken over a push to build an Alberta plant after buying out privately held Energy Alberta. It closed the deal on Thursday.
Bruce Power said it applied to the federal nuclear regulator to prepare a site for a Peace River-area complex that could eventually generate 4,000 megawatts for the province, which has suffered from tight power supplies amid an oil boom.
The first unit would could start up as early as 2017, the company said. The regulatory and public consultation process could take three years.
Bruce Power Chief Executive Duncan Hawthorne began the process by holding information sessions on Thursday at three towns near the proposed site at Lac Cardinal, Alberta.
Nuclear power is a controversial topic in Alberta. It was first proposed to help fuel the fast-expanding oil sands industry, but Hawthorne said his company is not tying its proposal specifically to that.
"We're prepared to take a punt at it, really. We're saying we're prepared to spend the next couple of years evaluating the market opportunity and evaluating the site and talking to the community," he told Reuters by phone between presentations.
"At the end of this decision-making process, there will either be a green light or there won't. We've got more questions than answers right now."
He said the company will talk to potential customers and study plans for power transmission in Alberta, where the north-south flow of electricity is deemed to be insufficient.
Bruce Power, a partnership of TransCanada Corp, Cameco Corp, and BPC Generation Infrastructure Trust, said it has not chosen a specific reactor design.
It will chose among several new-generation models. Early estimates peg the cost of the project at C$8 billion to C$10 billion, Hawthorne said.
Nuclear power has been a hot-button issue in the province since Energy Alberta, run by Calgary businessman Wayne Henuset and oil executive Hank Swartout, last year proposed a C$6.2 billion plant for Peace River, saying it would provide electricity without greenhouse gas emissions.
However, opponents questioned the safety of the technology and seized on the company's backtracking last September after first saying it had a buyer lined up most of the output.
Some environmentalists have also warned of potentially dangerous seismic activity in the Peace River region.
Hawthorne said the environmental impact assessment will address all such issues.
Reporting by Jeffrey Jones; Editing by Peter Galloway