No Nukes is Good Nukes

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. 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: 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)

About brianmasonndp

I am the MLA for Edmonton Highlands-Norwood.
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7 Responses to No Nukes is Good Nukes

  1. Art says:

    Tories will no doubt claim it’s safer here since Alberta doesn’t experience earthquakes.

    But that begs the question – can you guarantee the plant won’t get hit by a tornado?

    Do we really want to leave our safety in the hands of Ron Leipert?

  2. Gaston says:

    There is no doubts in my mind Bruce Power plans have hatched out of an embarrassing reality: Historically, there has been a glaring lack of interest from the part of Albertans as to what happens away from our great cities. Several successive Alberta governments have demonstrated being unable to see the land and the people for what it is rather than a mere investor’s free for all. It’s all about plundering as many resources as possible, as fast as possible just in case someone notices.

    Indeed this is a great time to remind Albertans how people never win with nuclear power. To anyone who may be still be ambivalent just consider a simple equation: try to put in perspective how much we can gain from it compared to how much we can possibly lose. The two don’t even compare.

    Great Blog!

  3. Ian B says:

    While I wholeheartedly support wide-public consultations, I am deeply disappointed by the blatant fear-mongering you display here Mr. Mason.

    The tragedy in Japan stands as one of only three actual incidents in a 60-year history with nuclear power. In that history, approximately 100 lives have been lost, all at Chernobyl, and much has been learned about the safety of nuclear reactors.

    When contrasted to all other sources of energy, nuclear is far safer, and is treated with far more respect. Coal power plants kill orders of magnitude more people than any other source, via harmful exhaust emissions. Even hydroelectricity has its body count through construction and dam failure tragedies.

    To continue to distort the truth and safety record about nuclear energy is irresponsible from a party that claims to care about the future of energy in Alberta, and breaking our dependency on oil and natural gas.

    • With all due respect, Ian B, nuclear power is extremely problematic. Basic problems such as disposal of nuclear waste have yet to be solved. While the probability of an accident is small with newer technology, it is not zero. And the consequences of an accident are massive.

      Coal is not the only available alternative. In fact, I believe that coal based electricity in Alberta can be phased out within ten years. With the advent of large new natural gas reserves and the rapid development of renewable energy technologies, nuclear power is both undesireable and unnecessary.

      • Ian B says:

        I refer you to the eloquent, progressive and green George Monibot’s latest piece “Going Critical.”

        His well referenced piece ends:

        Yes, I still loathe the liars who run the nuclear industry. Yes, I would prefer to see the entire sector shut down, if there were harmless alternatives. But there are no ideal solutions. Every energy technology carries a cost; so does the absence of energy technologies. Atomic energy has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the impact on people and the planet has been small. The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power.

  4. Gaston says:

    Surely you know by now that the earth quake in Japan did little damage to the reactors but the tsunami did, big time. Now, let’s look at something: The Japanese are reputedly the best, safest in the world when it comes to nuclear power.

    They are the best in the world… they live on a fault line …and they never gave any thoughts about a tsunami? Well, if that’s the safest we can ever get I would rather go without it.
    The point is: the negative outcomes we fail to predict can come back to bite us and it’s almost a given that we, humans, will overlook something, we always do. You are right, no technology is ever perfect but I would rather not go anywhere near the type of problems fully intent on sticking around forever. Problems such as spent nuclear fuel for instance.
    One more thing Ian: if nuclear was that safe why would the Germans be thinking about getting out of it? (ALL German nuclear plants are scheduled to be shut down by 2038) , they are planning on relying instead on miles and miles and miles of solar panels in the sahara desert. Their nuclear plants are already built and they want to dismantle them. Whats wrong I wonder?

  5. Brandi F. says:

    I honestly find it terrifying. We are planning on relocating to Peace River within the next year and I certaintly do not want to be ANYWHERE near something like this. We’re building our house off grid with wind and solar power to try and reduce our footprint, and to be living next door to a nuclear site just seems ridiculous to me. They’re banned in places around the world for a reason.

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