Nuclear energy endorsement may be linked to tar sands and climate change pressure
Unresolved questions remain about environmental implications and costs.
Ottawa, June 18, 2007 — Why is the minority Conservative government proceeding on nuclear energy at a time when it is fighting to regain public support after a difficult spring?
Canada's Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn announced Friday the Harper government's endorsement of nuclear power and its approval of going ahead with storing high-level radioactive waste underground.
"Really, what this will allow is a permanent storage and a deep geological depository," Lunn said. "This is an important decision for the government of Canada. As you know, the nuclear industry is very, very important."
For years, the lack of long-term disposal plans has hobbled the nuclear industry, which has lobbied heavily for burying waste deep. Canadians, however, have always said no when asked to have nuclear waste disposal sites in their communities. At the news conference, Lunn dismissed concerns raised by environmentalists about the risks of nuclear energy as well as economic concerns about safe storage plans.
"This is just the beginning of a long process but they (the industry) will be able to begin that process today. It will allow the fuel to be retrieved as technology moves forward and, more importantly, allow it to be monitored continuously as it's going through the storage process."
The announcement makes sense for three key corporate sectors: tar sands, nuclear and construction/development. With the government under pressure to do something about greenhouse gas emissions related to the growth of oil extraction in the Alberta tar sands, nuclear seems an ideal option.
In the June 8, 2007 issue of Executive Intelligence Review, Rob Ainsworth, of the arch-right-wing Canadian LaRouche Youth Movement reports, as have others, of "a project in the Alberta tar sands to construct two 1,100-megawatt reactors, providing power to the area, as well as heat and steam for industrial purposes." It takes an enormous amount of energy to extract oil from tar sands, and nuclear is been touted as a way to greatly reduce the amount of oil burned to support the process.
Every aspect of nuclear power development is both enormously expensive for governments and profitable for the corporations involved. "Most of the top engineering and heavy construction firms serve the energy sector in one form or another," writes Vance Cariaga in Investor's Business Daily. "Some go straight to the wellhead by offering design and management services for oil and gas production. Others build hydrocarbon processing plants, liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals and nuclear power facilities."
The licensing of more reactors would also be a great boon, at potentially greater public expense, to Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd, which has received subsidies of $17.5 billion over 50 years, according to the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout.
The Conservatives' announcement allows existing reactor sites to continue accumulating waste indefinitely, and it initiates a search for an "informed community" willing to host a "deep repository" for burial of wastes. It will also explore moving wastes to a central location for temporary, shallow underground storage and recycling of nuclear fuel.
As Susan Riley writes in today's Ottawa Citizen, "Apart from the experimental nature of the proposed solution, many hurdles remain — notably, finding a community desperate enough to become a nuclear dumping ground. It has been long supposed that some remote northern town would be the lucky winner, given the technological preference for disposing of the waste deep in the Canadian shield. But recent research suggests the sedimentary rock underlying much of southern Ontario would also be suitable. That said, the prospect of a bidding war between Oakville and Rosedale appears unlikely."
With these plans, the Harper government has made an unequivocal commitment to nuclear power and ignores difficult issues of radioactive wastes that have never been resolved by scientists or the Canadian public. Nuclear power remains vulnerable to human carelessness, as well as deliberate acts of terrorism or other sabotage. Even the best-designed radioactive waste repository will leak and expose future generations to radiation. The federal environmental assessment panel concluded in 1998 that from a social perspective, the safety of deep geological disposal has not been adequately demonstrated, has never been officially contradicted or disproved.
"From a technical perspective, safety of the AECL concept has been on balance adequately demonstrated for a conceptual stage of development, but from a social perspective, it has not," the report stated. "As it stands, the AECL concept for deep geological disposal has not been demonstrated to have broad public support."
Nuclear power has left unresolved environmental problems in Canada. Uranium mining has killed Saskatchewan lakes. Processing uranium has created a permanent toxic legacy in the town of Port Hope, Ontario. CANDU reactors routinely release radioactive carbon dioxide and radioactive water contaminated with tritium during their operations, polluting air and water and jeopardizing human health, as confirmed last week in a report commissioned by Greenpeace Canada.
The government announcement reflects recommendations in a report by the government-appointed Nuclear Waste Management Association, which is largely made up of nuclear industry or ex-industry personnel. The Sierra Club of Canada's Emilie Moorhouse said, "Its interests are not public health. Its interests are the promotion of this industry."
Related individuals, organizations and significant events
Intensity-based targets promote oil industry frame
Harper Conservative vs. Public Values Frame
Long process / Unstoppable expansion
Green / Unresolved public safety questions
Economical / Massive subsidies
Links and sources
Feds back underground disposal of nuclear waste, Canadian Press, June 15, 2007
Susan Riley, Going nuclear by stealth, The Ottawa Citizen, June 18, 2007
The Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility
Canadian LaRouche Youth Movement.
Rob Ainsworth, Will Canada Join the Rail and Nuclear Renaissance?, Executive Intelligence Review, June 8, 2007
Vance Cariaga, Heavy Construction Firms Busy Helping Thriving Energy Sector, Investor's Business Daily, May 22, 2007
Tyler Hamilton, Hot granite and steam could clean up oil sands, Toronto Star, May 30, 2007
Environmental Assessment Report on High Level Waste Disposal Concept, 1998
Chinta Puxley, Radioactive tritium in Great Lakes puts kids at risk: study, London Free Press, June 13, 2007
Canadian Nuclear Subsidies: Fifty Years of Futile Funding, Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout
Posted: June 18, 2007
Harper Index (HarperIndex.ca) is a project of the Golden Lake Institute and the online publication StraightGoods.ca