The world’s attention has been riveted by the ongoing events at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. We have watched in horror as first the earthquake, then the tsunami and finally the emerging nuclear disaster have hit that country. And we have been inspired by the courage of the Japanese, and especially the heroic actions of the “Fukushima 50”, the nuclear technicians who are literally sacrificing their lives to prevent a wider catastrophe.
For a generation that has no direct recollection of Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, and whose only reference point for nuclear safety may be the satirical but seemingly harmless antics of Homer Simpson, this is a much needed wake up call. The nuclear industry, stopped in it’s tracks for nearly 20 years by Chernobyl, has been patiently waiting for our collective memory to fade. In the last five years, it has been increasingly active, promoting nuclear power as a safe and carbon-free alternative to fossil fuels. They have been on the hunt for jurisdictions with cooperative governments and a hunger for electricity.
They have found one, right here in Alberta. In response to Bruce Power’s efforts to site a nuclear power station in northern Alberta, the PC government in 2009 undertook a public consultation process. http://www.energy.alberta.ca/Electricity/1577.asp While the survey showed that a plurality of 45% of respondents agreed that nuclear proposals could be considered on a case-by-case basis, 75% of Albertans were concerned about the health impacts of nuclear and 77% did not want to leave a nuclear waste problem for future generations. Most interesting was that 65% of respondents believed that the nuclear industry could operate plants safely. Had the survey been taken this week, I have no doubt that this number would have been much lower. On the basis of this survey, then Energy Minister Mel Knight announced that the provincial government would consider proposals on a case-by-case basis. In other words, the door to nuclear energy was open in Alberta.
Then came Fukushima.
According to Tom Adams, an electricity expert and consultant based in Ontario in an interview with the Calgary Herald, “The future of nuclear power is highly questionable, all those questions about reactor safety are back on the table.” In the interview, Adams said that the Japanese nuclear industry was considered to be the world’s “gold standard” and the weekend’s incidents will convince many that there is no safe way to operate a nuclear reactor. “This is not like Chernobyl…. This is a fall from grace from the top of the top, the best of the best,” he said.
It may well be that the Bruce Power proposal, delayed by the recession, has been made uneconomic by the surplus of cheap natural gas and politically impossible by the Fukushima crisis. But all along, the PC government has steadfastly refused to come clean about it’s support for nuclear power in Alberta. In fact, they still refuse to take it off the table. Recently, energy department spokesman Jay O’Neil said the earlier criteria for approving nuclear power plants still stand, but agreed regulatory oversight would likely be heightened in the wake of the Japan crisis.
This government has had numerous meetings with Bruce Power and it’s lobbyists and has received large donations from Bruce Power and its associated companies. There is no doubt in my mind that Bill 50 is intended, in part, to circumvent public regulatory scrutiny for nuclear power plants and their associated transmission infrastructure. Bill 50 removes the requirement for public hearings,including interventions from opponents and interested parties, allowing the Tory cabinet to designate any project “critical infrastructure”. It also removes the requirement that such a project be in “the public interest”. That’s why the NDP has said that it’s vital that Bill 50 be repealed.
We in the NDP have said for years that this PC government is the most secretive in Canada. The nuclear issue is one example in many. The PCs have steadfastly refused to answer questions about their policy regarding nuclear power or their relationship with Bruce Power and other nuclear interests. Neither Mel Knight nor his successor Ron Liepert have given straight-forward answers to questions about the government’s support of nuclear power in Alberta. See my question to Liepert this week about this: http://assemblyonline.assembly.ab.ca/Guide.aspx?viewmode=4&categoryid=-1¤tdate=2011-03-17&languagecode=12298&eventid=1361# You can find it at about 32:40. I’m sure you will be blown away by his arrogance and non-responsiveness.
In my ten years at the Ledge, I’ve seen lots of nonsense, game playing and bad policy from this crew. But the thing that bothers me the most is the PC government’s practice of developing and implementing policies in secret, and refusing to acknowledge this when asked. Another example is the policy of cutting long term care beds, the opposite of what they promised in the last election. Despite leaked documents released by the NDP exposing the policy, the government still refuses to admit what it is doing to our most vulnerable seniors.
This is not how an open and accountable government should operate in a democracy. Information in the government’s possession, particularly it’s policies and objectives, belong to the citizens. Any government that denies this keystone of democratic government must be removed.
(Thanks to the Herald and other news outlets: real reporters doing real news)