Monday, December 17, 2007

EDITORIAL: Evidence shows that nuclear energy is not safe, clean or economical

Tuesday December 18, 2007

Letter to the Editor

When Energy Alberta announced plans to construct a nuclear power plant in northern Alberta, I, like most residents in the Peace country had only general knowledge about nuclear power. The proposed site is approximately 100 kilometers directly north of where I farm and intend to raise my children so I began looking into the implications of living close to a nuclear facility. It didn’t take much investigation for my initial concern to turn into alarm over the serious negative effects the nuclear industry in Canada has had on public safety, the environment and our pocket books as taxpayers.

The nuclear industry portrays itself as a safe and clean alternative to fossil fuels. They fail to inform people of the releases of radioactive tritium and heavy water that are released from Canadian reactors on a regular basis. The great lakes have measurable levels of tritium and heavy water from the many documented releases from Canadian reactors. The industry’s response to these facts is to point out that these contaminants are diluted in the environment to below arbitrarily set levels. The facts increasingly show that there is no “safe” level of tritium in the environment. In fact, the communities surrounding the Bruce nuclear facility in Ontario have some of the highest rates of cancer in Canada.

There is more to nuclear power than just the reactor. Industry likes to avoid talking about the other components of nuclear generation: namely, the uranium mining, fuel processing and nuclear waste storage facilities. All of these other activities have serious health, safety and environmental impacts that are just as serious as the reactor itself. Many places in northern Saskatchewan are toxic wastelands from mining activities. Port Hope, Ontario has suffered from serious radioactive contamination in their schools and throughout their community from their fuel processing facility. After fifty years of searching and billions of taxpayers dollars spent, government and industry are no closer to a solution for safe, permanent storage of spent fuel. This is why large amounts of radioactive wastes are being stored at the reactor sites where they were produced. These wastes will be a dangerous and expensive liability for future generations for hundreds of thousands of years to come.

Some have suggested that a solution to the nuclear waste problem is to bury it deep in the Canadian shield. In reading the Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s final study, one alarming statistic that I came across was that it would take “about 53 road shipments a month for 30 years” to move Canada’s backlog of nuclear waste to a central location. That’s more than one and a half truck loads per day for 30 years on our public roadways. This solution also comes with a price tag upwards of 25 billion dollars.

There is no need to stampede into nuclear electricity. Both Sweden and Germany have led the world in greenhouse gas reductions while phasing out nuclear plants through the use of wind generation and conservation practices. Virtually all western European countries with the exception of France have been moving away from nuclear energy. 6.2 billion dollars is the proposed cost of the nuclear facility. With that money and the proper political will, we could make huge strides in green energy and energy conservation.

The nuclear industry has been the recipient of large government subsidies for decades. If these costs paid by taxpayers are added to the costs assumed by society, such as environmental cleanup, increased health care costs, liability in case of an accident and storage of wastes for hundreds of thousands of years, I would suggest that nuclear energy is in fact the most expensive form of electricity we could generate. There are also potential risks associated with catastrophic events, terrorism and nuclear arms proliferation.

The Alberta Alliance has publicly endorsed going nuclear. The Conservatives have repeatedly said they are open to the nuclear option, and many of their members appear to be endorsing it from behind the scenes. The Liberals are criticizing the undemocratic nature of the approval process while remaining silent on the actual debate over nuclear power and the Green party seems to be absent from the debate altogether. The Alberta NDP is the only party that has publicly endorsed a “nuclear free Alberta”. As the NDP candidate for the Dunvegan, Central Peace constituency I challenge all candidates and parties to declare their position on nuclear power so that the residents of this area and all of Alberta can make an informed decision on this important issue in the next provincial election.

Nathan Macklin
Alberta NDP candidate
Dunvegan, Central Peace

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