Chalk River: Crisis ‘foreseeable and preventable’

UPDATE! I’m out of town and not blog-reading.  Here’s updated material from JimBobby and TGB which I read *after* I posted what’s below!

It becomes clearer, with each bit of information, that Parliament was seriously hoodwinked on the Chalk River issue by Harper. From the Inbox:

—- Original Message —–

From: Gordon Edwards
Sent: Friday, January 18, 2008 1:47 PM
Subject: Isotope suppliers could have met 250% of world market needs
Clarification on isotopes:
It is important to realize that technetium-99m is not used
for therapeutic purposes but for diagnostic purposes, so
it is completely untrue that “lives” were at risk during the
so-called Chalk River isotope crisis. In fact it was a major
inconvenience and upset hospital schedules considerably,
but it put no lives at risk. And in fact the inconvenience
was avoidable.
Frank von Hippel is a very careful and credible researcher.
In a 2006 article he said that 250% of world demand for
short-lived radioisotopes like molybdenum-99 (the source
material needed for making technetium-99m available) could
be met by the world’s isotope suppliers and that even
without Canada, 100% of demand could be met.
Thus all the talk about a “crisis” was actually foreseeable
and preventable. If AECL and Nordion had plainly informed
their customers that the MAPLE isotope-production reactors
were seven years behind schedule (because those reactors
were seriously flawed in both design and construction) and
that Canadian supply depended on a 50-year old geriatric NRU
reactor that was not up to modern safety standards, then the
customers could have arranged for other suppliers to be prepa-
red to take up the slack. Result: no crisis.

Radioactive Leak @ US side of Lake Erie

Lots going down on the nuclear front.  I stumbled upon a pair of poets plugging Caldicott’s book at their blog, On the Wilder Side.  Nice to see other poets in the nuclear-free movement.

I almost missed the piece below; it was trying to hide itself in my inbox.  Reading it makes me wonder.  Why is Finley pushing for another reactor on Lake Irie?  How does the US nuclear industry’s regulation compares to ours?  And, will our regulations be forced to change because of the GNEP and the SPP?

Radioactive water leak found at Ohio nuclear plant on Lake Erie
January 7, 2008 – 21:08
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
AKRON, Ohio – Workers found a small radioactive water leak inside an Ohio nuclear power plant on Lake Erie, plant operator FirstEnergy Corp. said Monday.

The leak was on a weld that held two pieces of cooling pipe inside a reactor containment building at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant, FirstEnergy said in a report filed with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The amount of water from the pipe was so small when discovered Friday that it was not quantified in the report, said FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider, who described it as “moisture.”

“It involved water from the reactor, so it is radioactive water but it is within the containment building and nothing was released. Our workers were not affected,” he said.

The Davis-Besse plant, about 50 kilometres east of Toledo, had been scheduled for shutdown in February but FirstEnergy moved it up to the end of December when the NRC expressed concerns about the durability of certain kinds of welds at nuclear plants in general.

Schneider said the company was in the process of strengthening 16 welds when the leak was discovered at one weld. He didn’t speculate about what could have happened if the leak had gone unnoticed.

“The situation did not exist while the plant was operating,” he said.
“We do inspections and we would have caught a situation like this.”
A message seeking comment was left Monday with the Earth Day Coalition environmental group in Cleveland, which has criticized FirstEnergy’s safety claims in the past.

NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng said it’s possible stress from the welding reinforcement, called an overlay, may have caused a crack.

“It’s not a big concern,” Mitlyng said.
“What FirstEnergy is going to do is get an understanding of the nature of the crack, then it will have to propose a solution for fixing it. Then our inspectors will review it.”

Schneider had no estimate on how long the evaluation of the leak may take or how long the plant will remain shut down.
The Davis-Besse plant was shut down for two years starting in 2002 after inspectors found an acid leak that nearly ate through a steel cap on the reactor vessel at the plant. It was the most extensive corrosion seen at a U.S. nuclear reactor.

By the time the plant returned to full power in 2004, FirstEnergy had spent $600 million making repairs and buying replacement power. The NRC required the plant improve its safety procedures.

FirstEnergy is the fifth-largest investor-owned utility in the United States

Thx, JimBobby

US Backing Down on Bali Agreement

Surprised?

The US backtracked yesterday on the climate change agreement reached after marathon talks in Bali, saying it had “serious concerns” about the new global consensus and that developing countries had to do far more if there was to be any pact in two years’ time.

The reality check followed the drama and euphoria of the weekend when the US was shamed into joining the rest of the world in working towards a new climate change agreement to come into force after 2012. All 190 countries have agreed to take the talks further.

But the White House press secretary, Dana Perino, poured cold water on the Bali result, saying the talks had not adequately addressed the responsibilities of developing countries. “The US does have serious concerns. Negotiations must [now] proceed on the view that the problem of climate change cannot be adequately addressed through commitments for emissions cuts by developed countries alone.”

In a clear signal that the US would agree to nothing unless China and India, the two largest developing countries, agreed to significant cuts, she said that account had to be taken of the size of countries’ emissions as well as their level of economic advancement. China’s emissions are on a level with those of the US but on a per capita level, each American emits far more than a Chinese. “For these negotiations to succeed, it is essential the major developed and developing countries be prepared to negotiate commitments that will make a due contribution to the reduction of global emissions,” she said.

Not really surprising, eh? In fact, it makes Environment Minister John Baird’s behavior at the plenary make sense. He wasn’t expecting the US to agree to anything. But they did do so, we now see, just to shut everyone up. They had to; they need NAU, GNEP and the Tar Sands to go ahead as planned.

Edited to add Monbiot’s point that this is an echo of the Kyoto round.

GNEP: Good for Terrorists

I could go on and on a bout why no nukes is good nukes but these folks at the Oxford Research Group (celebrating their silver anniversary) are very articulate so I’ll let them have the floor. From Too Hot to Handle? The Future of Civil Nuclear Power

Richard L. Garwin, IBM Fellow Emeritus and an expert in nuclear-weapon technology, argues that
the new reprocessing scheme proposed in GNEP would make it easier for terrorists to acquire
fissile material needed to fabricate nuclear weapons. Reprocessing was abandoned not only
because of the increased risk of nuclear proliferation but also because it was too expensive to
make commercial sense.

Garwin argues that, far from being proliferation resistant, GNEP makes it easier for terrorists
to acquire nuclear material suitable for fabricating nuclear weapons. He points out that: “To obtain
10 kg of plutonium from ordinary Pressurised Water Reactor spent fuel containing 1% plutonium,
a terrorist would need to acquire and reprocess 1000 kg of highly radioactive material.”

Under GNEP: “the plutonium will be contaminated only with a modest amount of transuranics (TRU)
so that the terrorist would need to reprocess a mere 11 kg of material, and according to
recent Department of Energy (DOE) studies, this would have only about 1/2000 of the
penetrating radiation that would count as ‘self protecting’.” Spent nuclear-power reactor fuel,
however, is so radioactive that it is self-protecting and cannot be handled without
remote-handling equipment.

.

So, uh, ya, the PM didn’t really do his homework on this one, did  he?  Or did he?

Thanks to World Report for the lead.

Canada Aglow for Dubya’s GNEP

Deeper and deeper we move into the arms of the failing democracy dubbed the U.S.A. Fools and fascists, all those who make these ridiculous deals!

Canada to join controversial nuclear partnership


OTTAWA – The Conservative government announced today that Canada is joining an international nuclear club that’s drawn fierce criticism from environmentalists.

The unexpected public declaration follows months of stone-walling and denials by government ministers and departmental officials, who refused to comment on Canada’s assessment of the U.S.-led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.

Lots of people who know more than me have expressed grave concerns about this plan.

“Canada is recognized for its commitment to (nuclear) safety and non-proliferation,” Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier said in a release.

“By joining this partnership, we are making sure Canada can continue to be an effective advocate for those ideals.”

But we know that nuclear is not safe. Is Bernier unable to read or make sense of this?

The concept would see nuclear energy-using countries and uranium-exporting countries band together to promote and safeguard the industry. But the plan is highly controversial because it proposes re-using nuclear waste, a practice effectively banned in Canada and the United States since the 1970s for security reasons.

So they’re going to break laws or make new ones that contravene the old ones.

As the world’s largest uranium exporter, Canada could be taking on a huge responsibility to deal with nuclear waste from around the world.

“It’s totally undemocratic and unaccountable of this government to take such an enormous decision to re-import nuclear waste into our country without involving Canadians,” said NDP environment critic Nathan Cullen.

An official in Natural Resource Minister Gary Lunn’s office insisted the GNEP model no longer includes repatriating waste.

“There is nothing in the GNEP statement of principles that compels Canada or any other country to take back spent fuel,” Louise Girouard said in an email. “Canada does not import spent fuel and we will not do so.”

And we’re supposed to believe that? You’ve gotta be kidding me!!!

Dave Martin of Greenpeace Canada said that sounds like “GNEP Lite” and called it “definitely without question the worst of both worlds” – nuclear proliferation without control of the fuel cycle.

The issue was central to last week’s Australian election, where long-standing prime minister John Howard was turfed from office after signing on to the GNEP without public debate in September.

The technology issue alone is a major headache for Canada.

Internal government documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act suggest AECL’s CANDU technology was shut out of initial GNEP discussions.

Lunn announced Thursday, in concert with the decision to join GNEP, that AECL’s future is up for grabs.

“It is time to consider whether the existing structure of AECL is appropriate to the changing marketplace,” Lunn said in the government release.

He announced a review of the Crown corporation.

There’s been talk of selling AECL since June 2006

The sudden embrace of the GNEP marks a sharp reversal for a government that initially refused in September even to say whether it would send officials to an international planning meeting on the partnership.

If you believed for a moment, that the Old Con Government of Canada would not join GNEP, pray, do tell, on what planet do you live?

Nuclear watchdog too close with industry

Regulatory Independence: Law, Practice and Perception is an independent study of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission prepared by the Institute on Governance (IoG). The report suggests that Canada’s nuclear watchdog agency is sleeping with the industry players. The CNSC “has in the past put more focus on communicating with licensees than with non-government organizations and the broader public.”

And we’re supposed to trust the CNSC???

The report recommends that

…in order to function as an effective independent authority, there must be clear separation of the regulatory body from government and industry interests. [emphasis mine] Maintaining the integrity of the regulator through appropriate mechanisms and guidelines is essential to ensure the independent authority remains insusceptible to unwarranted external influences…

A Globe and Mail article suggests that what has been happening in the past isa host of private, informal meetings with industry personnel but never with NGO representatives:

Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch says there’s no need for Ms. Keen to risk even the perception of unfairness by seeing applicants who may later seek favourable rulings.

“Holding meetings outside of a formal commission hearing, that’s like a judge meeting with a plaintiff or the defence and saying: ‘Here’s how it’s likely to go, and what I need from you in order to give you the decision that you want.’ ” Potential applicants who need information can read statutes online or public records of past decisions, he added.

Doesn’t that just make you feel all snug as a bug in a rug? NOT!

David Martin, energy co-ordinator for Greenpeace, says his group has never had the benefit of a private audience with Ms. Keen.

“Oh, never. No. The only time we’ve had any direct contact with Linda Keen has been through the regulatory processes where she’s sat on the commission.”

The watchdog only recently started a consultation process with public interest groups in the face of growing pressure, Mr. Martin said.

That said, there’s legitimate concern over the extent to which Ms. Keen and senior staff are privately meeting with nuclear interests, he said.

This is all happening as the industry holds a “full-court press” to expand operations – while pushing for more lenient environmental assessments – in several provinces, Mr. Martin said.

“When you understand that they’re conducting these meetings effectively in secret, and you combine that with the increasing regulatory leniency that [the commission] is showing to the nuclear industry, I think two and two make four. This is an agency that has been seriously co-opted, and is in serious need of reform.”

So, my question is, just how safe are we, really?

Nuclear Smoke and Mirrors from Alberta to Australia

From the inbox, an essay by Dr. Jim Harding:

 

NUCLEAR SMOKE AND MIRRORS FROM ALBERTA TO AUSTRALIA:

The AECL’s Advanced Candu and Bush’s Global Nuclear Partnership

 

By Jim Harding*

 

A few weeks before Stephen Harper went to the APEC meeting in Australia, ready to discuss George Bush’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), the Energy Alberta Corporation (EAC) in consort with AECL announced its plan to build two Advanced Candu Reactors (ACRs) near Peace River, Alberta. Harper, EAC’s Wayne Henuset and AECL’s mandarins won’t want the public to connect the dots too quickly. Harper’s minority government might not weather a heated controversy over Canada importing nuclear wastes while having a huge unsolved nuclear waste problem of its own. That controversy erupted in the Australian election campaign after the Howard government indicated it would consider buying into Bush’s plan to have supplier countries take back and reprocess spent fuel.

 

The Seaborn Panel, the 9-year federal review of Canada’s nuclear wastes, never investigated Canada importing nuclear wastes, and reprocessing these wasn’t even on its radar screen. Rather, it concluded that deep geologic disposal of irradiated nuclear fuel is not acceptable to the Canadian public and recommended that the management of irradiated fuel be addressed by a body at arms length from the both the nuclear industry and government. Instead, the Chretien government mandated the industry-owned agency, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), to deal with the issue. Under the NWMO’s announced plan, irradiated fuel is to be stored at existing reactor sites for at least a generation, i.e. 30 years, before being moved to a centralized location and possibly being reprocessed before the high-level radioactive residues are buried in a deep geologic repository. Such reprocessing would create a highly radioactive corrosive liquid even more dangerous than the solid spent fuel rods, and the extracted plutonium will remain extraordinarily toxic for over 800 generations.

 

The large nuclear reactors (ACR-1000) that EAC wants to build in Alberta are justified as an environmentally-friendly alternative to the natural gas that is currently used to heat the tar sands. The fact that the tar sands are the dirtiest of all fossil fuels discredits the nuclear industry’s PR about being the clean, magic bullet for averting global warming. That’s bad enough. If it became widely known there was a hidden agenda about an international nuclear waste dump in Canada, then all the hype about clean nuclear energy providing economic development might begin to fall on deaf ears. Besides, the ACR-1000 reactor is only a design on paper and hasn’t been reality tested. Without the $200 million granted to AECL from the Harper government for design work, adding to the $17 billion dollars of subsidies since 1952, there’d be no chance at all of this project ever seeing the light of day. (Such large handouts of federal taxpayer’s money could become a contentious issue, given Alberta’s populist ideology of self-reliance.) Serious design flaws have already been noted by the 2004 Safety Assessment done for the U.S.’s Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR); most notably the risk of a Loss of Coolant Accident (LOCA) and core meltdown after a power surge resulting from a large or multiple pipe breakage.

 

AECL’s 180 degree About-Turn

The original Candu designers prided themselves on using heavy water (the “d” in Candu) as a moderator and coolant, so that natural uranium (the “u” in Candu) can be used as fuel. No enrichment of uranium is required. But the new ACRs will use light water as a coolant, and for that reason they will require slightly-enriched uranium (SEU) as a fuel. Why the flip-flop?

 

The basic motivation is to reduce costs, but there is a darker side to what AECL calls the ACR’s “fuel adaptability”. AECL’s Technical Summary for the ARC-1000 says it is “ideally suited to burn other fuels such as mixed oxides (MOX) and thorium.” MOX is a code word for a blend of uranium and plutonium. But “other fuels” can also be used and these include irradiated fuel elements from Light Water Reactors (LWR) such as used in the U.S., France, Japan and elsewhere. According to Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, the ARC-1000 would be able “to make use of the “DUPIC” process, whereby spent LWR nuclear fuel is repackaged and used to fuel a Candu reactor.” The reason for this, he says, is that “the amount of fissile material (U-235 plus plutonium) in spent LWR fuel is more than enough to match” the requirements for SEU.

 

AECL is trying to put a responsible spin on this. It’s scientistic handlers used to assert that due to international safeguards there was no chance of uranium exported for nuclear power being diverted for weapons. Now they’ve created a new argument to market their “peaceful atom.” An AECL paper by nuclear engineer Jeremy Whitlock argues that the new Candu design will provide “unique synergism with LWR technology”, that it “can be used to disposition ex-weapons plutonium”, and, furthermore, that all this will be a “positive contribution to world peace.” The U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) disagrees, saying in its January 2006 statement on Bush’s GNEP, that “all reprocessing technologies are more proliferation-prone than direct disposal” of nuclear wastes. 

 

AECL’s Unparalleled History of Botched Designs

The only advantage of the new Candu would be to the fledgling AECL. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the ARC-1000 to be up and running, for the list of botched AECL designs is lengthy. There was the Organic Cooled Reactor in Manitoba, which was an expensive dead end. There was the Candu Boiling Light Water Reactor in Quebec, which (without even including design costs) was a $126 million disaster. Then there was the Slowpoke Energy System, for which design work cost $45 million, which didn’t work properly. Next came the Candu-3, for which design work cost $75 million, which no one wanted. And the Candu-9, with design costs still secret, which was a no-go in South Korea. More recently AECL built the Maple Reactor at Chalk River, which threatens to become another technological and financial fiasco since the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is refusing to even license it for operation.

 

The Candu industry has been a sinkhole for the Canadian taxpayer. Each Candu reactor built so far has required refurbishing costs equal to the original construction costs after only half of its projected operating life.  And after 50 years in business, AECL has only sold 12 reactors abroad. In 1996, to try to justify its huge taxpayer subsidies, it set a goal of 10 sales by 2006. But only 3 sales occurred, including the Romanian Cernavada plant from a 1980 deal, which required another $328 million Canadian guarantee; and two plants at Qunshin in China that received $1.5 billion in Canadian Account financing. During this decade AECL lost sales to Turkey, Australia and South Korea.  With this dismal record, AECL has done a design flip-flop, turning its back on natural uranium fuel to try to cash in on the worldwide nuclear waste crisis. But we must be on guard. While AECL is opportunistically promoting ACR’s which can use irradiated nuclear fuel from other countries, after 60 years they still haven’t cleaned up their radioactive mess at the Manitoba Whiteshell Lab, and their plan for cleaning up their contaminated Chalk River Lab, costing millions more for the taxpayer, remains obscure.

 

Enter George Bush and his GNEP

Beholding to huge federal subsidies, AECL is also beholding to U.S. President George Bush with his $405 million brainchild, the GNEP. The only thing “global” about this plan is the U.S. pretence to world hegemony, which seems delusional after the Iraq debacle. And the only partners to this proposed “global” plan would be countries already in the nuclear weapons club, along with their uranium suppliers. The agreement would make it mandatory for uranium suppliers to take back spent fuel from reactors abroad. The bargaining chip would be allowing enrichment facilities and nuclear power plants that use spent fuel in these countries. Some chip. We’d get to throw more public money down the nuclear drain, create and store even more dangerous nuclear waste, and have less capital to create truly sustainable, renewable energy systems to avert even more catastrophic climate change.

 

Bush’s plan would be unworkable without the major uranium exporting countries – Canada and Australia – involved. Luckily for Bush, both countries are governed by neo-conservative parties that also oppose Kyoto. Bush is presenting the GNEP as a means to control nuclear proliferation, while making nuclear power available globally, by not allowing enrichment facilities, or spent fuel to remain, that could be used to produce weapons. (This finally admits that the Non-Proliferation Treaty is not an effective guarantee against proliferation from nuclear power plants.) The converse of this is that GNEP members would preserve a near monopoly on nuclear technology and weapons. No wonder, in the context of discussing billions living in inhuman conditions, climate change and the potential for nuclear holocaust, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. ElBaradei, in a Sept 03/07 interview with Der Spiegel, said “we are moving rapidly towards an abyss”. With a real sense of urgency, he said that, “in order to seem credible to the nuclear wannabe states we must demand steps towards nuclear disarmament from those who have nuclear weapons – an obligation that is stipulated in the non-proliferation treaty but is not complied with.” He goes on to deplore what he calls “this two-faced approach” since “If practically all nuclear powers are modernizing instead of reducing their arsenals, how can we argue with the non-nuclear states?”

 

More pragmatically, the GNEP would provide “a way out” for the nuclear powers, none of which has any fundamental solution to their own mounting nuclear waste problem. As the world’s major supplier of uranium, Canada, under the GNEP, could be required to take nuclear wastes back from the largest users of nuclear power – the U.S., France and Japan. The elements therefore exist for a dangerous nuclear expansion strategy in Canada. First, a Candu redesign requiring some uranium enrichment that can be used as a justification for importing nuclear wastes to reprocess as fuel, and then the tar sands as a justification for building this new generation of nuclear plants. And, finally, lest we forget, we have the huge Saskatchewan uranium industry supplying the raw material to the nuclear powers, which, under the GNEP, would require that nuclear wastes be brought back to Canada.

 

Nuclear and Kyoto: The Big Disconnect

The first I heard of Canada “repatriating” spent fuel was when AECL and Saskatchewan’s uranium multinational, Cameco, advocated this in the early 1990s. At the time they were both working towards an integrated uranium-nuclear industry. Now Cameco operates the Bruce Candu plants and a uranium refinery in Ontario, and, with a sympathetic Prime Minister from Alberta, AECL is trying to base itself in its north. It seems the AECL and Cameco were flying this trial balloon of us taking back nuclear wastes long before George Bush or Stephen Harper were elected. Could the tail be wagging the dog?

 

It’s no accident that the GNEP is spearheaded in countries refusing to support the Kyoto Accord. Kyoto sets targets for reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs), which mostly come from fossil fuels. However, business and government interests in oil-dependent countries (including countries like Canada, i.e. Alberta, dependent on exporting oil) don’t want anything to slow down their profit and royalty-gushing ventures. Meanwhile efficiency, geothermal, wind and solar electricity are proving to be the most cost-effective ways to quickly lower GHGs, which doesn’t sit well with the nuclear industry’s comeback strategy of stressing itself as the clean alternative to fossil fuels. Furthermore, the 2001 Climate Change Conference in Bonn rejected nuclear as a solution to climate change partly because nuclear will steal capital from the cheaper, less risky, more effective renewable alternatives. So the nuclear industry is primarily looking to the countries outside Kyoto for support. It helped when George Bush’s 2005 Energy Bill gave another $13 billion subsidies to the industry, and a privatized electrical market allowed U.S. nuclear plants to displace “stranded costs” on to the consumer. And it certainly helped AECL when the Harper government, continuing the Liberal practice of bailing out the nuclear industry, provided millions to design the ARC.

 

Harper’s government has tried to low-key its involvement with Bush’s GNEP, but we know from a Canadian Press Access to Information request that his government has been seriously involved in discussions about this since at least March 2006. While his aides, seemingly aware that this issue is politically explosive, tried to downplay the “secret agenda” item at the APEC forum, Natural Resources Minister Lund has been more candid. In reference to reprocessing spent fuel for new Candus, in the September 5, 2007 Globe and Mail, Lund is quoted as saying: “as the technology evolves, it’s something we’ll see”. The next day this was “corrected” and it reported that the Canadian government hadn’t yet decided on supporting such reprocessing. At the end of the APEC meeting, Harper’s Foreign Minister Bernier said that the Canadian government had just about decided about the GNEP. This is more smoke and mirrors, as Harper had already funded the ARC, which AECL promotes as being able to use reprocessed spent fuel, and his government has enthusiastically supported the ARC being built in the tar sands. All this from the man who so righteously attacked the Liberals for being unaccountable for far less consequential and less expensive matters.

 

Meanwhile the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) is forthright about its support for enriching uranium and importing nuclear wastes. CNA President Murray Elston even uses the high price of raw uranium as a reason to support nuclear waste as the fuel of future choice. He continues the practice of the CNA providing disinformation to the public, saying in the Sept. 5, 2007 Globe and Mail that, “nuclear military powers have been reprocessing and transporting nuclear waste for years, and have proven it can be done safely.” Plutonium contamination at the U.S. Rocky Flats plant, France’s nuclear conglomerate Areva contaminating the North Sea, radioactive contamination of the Irish Sea along with detectable levels of plutonium in children’s teeth emitted from England’s Windscale/Sellafield reprocessing plant, and various weapons countries losing nuclear weapons grade uranium is apparently “safe” to the CNA.

 

Lessons from AECL’s Saskatchewan Shenanigans

We saw a similar process as what is now happening in Alberta in my home province from 1989-91, when AECL had another private company front the proposed building of a Candu-3 in our North. (AECL also tried but failed to sell its Slowpoke 3 to the University of Saskatchewan at the time.) AECL used every manipulative trick in the book, including inflating energy growth to make us fear we’d freeze in the dark without nuclear power. (They forecast a shortfall of electricity in Saskatchewan by 2000 unless a Candu reactor was built.) They wined and dined local politicians and businessmen on trips to Ontario’s Candus, as they are now doing with Albertans.  And they tried to bribe us – during a slump in the economy – with the economic opportunities of a Candu-3 export industry based in our province. And they made no mention of the huge taxpayers subsidies that made it possible for them to float such grandiose schemes.

 

Under Grant Devine’s Tories, who privatized the uranium crown Cameco, AECL got the public utility Sask Power on side for a while, though their figures never jibed. At one point, as many jobs were promised from constructing one Candu-3 as came in total from the massive Ontario Darlington 8-reactor complex. There was lots of nuclear hype that got favourable coverage by the well-oiled and parochial provincial media. But, as with so many other AECL projects, the Candu-3 was never built, anywhere, as Saskatchewan people and third world countries alike rejected the contrived plan. And we are doing fine in 2007, with no black outs and no nuclear plants; though the Tory-like Sask Party and its Premier-in-waiting Brad Wall seem to think we should have one even if its not needed. We have a few wind farms, and, yes, uranium exports remain the bulk of primary energy production and export. The NDP government which spearheaded uranium expansion in the 1970s publicly opposes nuclear power without wanting to admit that they have been willing and essential pawns in the nuclear expansion strategy, which we now see taking shape with Bush’s GNEP and Harper’s compliance.

 

Saskatchewan and Alberta people are now interlocked in this geo-political drama. We will have to be vigilant about creating a future based on sustainable, renewable energy while phasing out the uranium-nuclear industry; or see both our provinces become the dangerous playground of a nuclear industry that expands by economic bribery and political bailout.

 

* Jim Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies and author of the just released Canada’s Deadly Secret: Saskatchewan Uranium and the Global Nuclear System (Fernwood, 2007).