Date: September 13, 2007 8:15:53 AM GMT-06:00
Subject:Fwd: Global Nuclear Group a Risk for Canada: Critics
Embassy, September 12th, 2007
Global Nuclear Group a Risk for Canada: Critics
By Christopher Guly
It’s an international group few Canadians had heard about until last week when news broke that the country had received an invitation to join.
But signing onto the U.S.-led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership could lead to dire consequences, say critics of the Bush administration’s nuclear-power expansion plan, which is being promoted as a way to reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation.
Critics also called on the Canadian government to hold a national debate on the benefits and drawbacks of joining the partnership, rather than making a decision they allege could have significant ramifications for the country behind closed-doors.
It was revealed last week that Canada has been invited to join the one-year-old partnership, which aims to spread nuclear power to ensure energy security and fight climate change while ensuring the technology can’t be used by third parties to develop nuclear weapons.
The federal government has not yet announced whether it will do so, or whether it would send a representative to attend a GNEP meeting in Vienna on Sunday, despite Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier saying in Australia last week that the government would “have a decision in the near future about our participation.
Australia has also received an invitation to the group, which lists the United States, China, Japan, France and Russia as members, and Australian Prime Minister John Howard indicated that his country, which is the second-largest producer of uranium after Canada, would join.
During an address last week to the 2007 World Nuclear Association’s annual symposium in London, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dennis Spurgeon said that “candidate countries” could be invited to participate in the GNEP for several reasons, including expressing an interest to join as a member or observer and nomination by GNEP partner countries.
At the conclusion of last week’s APEC ministerial meeting in Sydney, Mr. Bernier acknowledged that as the world’s top uranium producers, Canada and Australia “have considerable interests in whatever the United States and the international community have in mind in terms of future uranium development and production and marketing.”
Interest in GNEP since 2006
According to censored documents obtained by The Canadian Press through an access-to-information request, the federal government has been “very interested” in the GNEP since 2006 when Canadian and American officials began discussions “to consider possible parameters of Canadian involvement.”
However, when asked about Canada joining the GNEP at last week’s APEC summit, Mr. Harper said the government had not “felt pressured to make a determination by any particular timeline.”
He said that Canada’s priorities were to ensure the country’s uranium and nuclear industries “are not left out of any of the international opportunities that other countries may take advantage of,” and that any international agreement “fully respects the non-proliferation agreements…and objectives that Canada and other major countries have long subscribed to.”
But Liberal Natural Resources critic Mark Holland accused Mr. Harper in a statement of “having closed-door discussions [at the APEC meeting] to potentially broker a deal that would have all the waste generated from the uranium Canada sells to the world brought back on our doorstep for disposal.”
“The debate needs to happen here at home before we make promises internationally,” Mr. Holland added. “Mr. Harper is handling this critical issue with the same secrecy and lack of transparency that has been the hallmark of this government.”
In addition to calling for a national debate, Mr. Holland’s statement raised a major concern: that nuclear fuel exported from Canada for use by other countries would be repatriated for disposal in Canada after being used.
Last week, Liberal leader Stéphane Dion warned that Canada could become a “global nuclear waste garbage dump” if it signs onto GNEP, and called for a debate in Parliament before the government commits to joining.
“This is an enormous legacy problem and an issue that could last centuries, and I don’t believe the Conservative government has the mandate or the responsibility to just arbitrarily choose Canada to be a toxic dumping ground for other nations’ waste,” NDP environment critic Nathan Cullen said.
Should the government bypass Parliament and have Canada join the GNEP, Mr. Cullen vowed opposition members would seek to “un-sign” the agreement.
“If they think this is a good idea, they should put it in the public,” he said. “If they don’t, then it’s going to be open to all kinds of challenges, both in Parliament and in the courts.
Plan Would Boost Nuclear Exports
There’s no question, however, that the government is taking a long look at the potential economic benefits.
Canada signing onto GNEP would be a “wet dream” for the country’s nuclear industry, said Dave Martin, energy co-ordinator for Greenpeace Canada.
“It would mean a dramatic increase in nuclear exports and reprocessing, which is something they’ve wanted for a long time,” he explained from Toronto.
“But the cost in terms of proliferation and security risks is going to be enormous.”
In a statement, Greenpeace Canada said that although the international initiative is promoted as an anti-proliferation measure to prevent the reprocessing of radioactive waste to obtain plutonium for nuclear bombs, GNEP would worsen proliferation through the spread of nuclear power and the increase of plutonium reprocessing.
“I don’t think there’s any way to keep the genie in the bottle,” said Mr. Martin.
On the eve of Mr. Harper’s Tuesday address to Australia’s Parliament, Green Party leader Elizabeth May and Australian Greens Leader Sen. Bob Brown issued a joint statement accusing both countries’ leaders of “obstructing real action on climate change while promoting dangerous policies on nuclear energy and uranium exports,” and said that last week’s APEC summit “had made the world a more dangerous place.”
“For a long time, the two biggest threats to the survival of the planet have been nuclear war and climate change–and now they’re together, and that’s what’s troubling,” Ms. May said, adding the Green Party plans to raise the issue in the next election.
She said that with plutonium being transferred around the world as fuel, the world would be less secure in terms of terrorist threats and the risk of nuclear accidents.
Rather than joining the GNEP, Canada should re-embrace its traditional role supporting nuclear disarmament, in Ms. May’s view.
Waste Storage a Tricky Issue
One obstacle to membership in the GNEP, Mr. Martin pointed out, is that Canada has a long-standing policy against repatriating radioactive waste–which contains plutonium–from the sale of uranium and CANDU reactors, designed and marketed by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.
“Historically, AECL wanted to be able to offer to take back that waste from countries not wanting to deal with the long-term management of the waste,” he said.
But while Canada reprocessed uranium to provide the U.S. and United Kingdom governments with plutonium for their respective nuclear-weapons programs, the complex practice ended in the late 1960s.
“It’s very expensive and very messy, and produces a large volume of highly radioactive liquid and acidic waste. From an environmental standpoint, it’s extremely problematic,” said Mr. Martin.
“Radioactive waste remains toxic for about a million years and needs to be sequestered from the environment for that period of time, which is arguably impossible.”
Ms. May said the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, created five years ago under former prime minister Jean Chrétien’s watch, proposes to store nuclear waste in a specific underground–as yet unknown–location.
“The final decision as to whether to permanently dispose of that waste would be made in 300 years,” she said. “That’s like having an envelope waiting for us from Oliver Cromwell saying, ‘Open now, you have further instructions.’”
In June, Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn said the government accepted the NWMO’s recommendation for managing used nuclear fuel in which it would be kept at a reactor site for 30 years, then transported to a centralized storage facility in “an informed and willing community” before being buried deep underground.
But last week, the Globe and Mail reported that Mr. Lunn acknowledged that spent fuel could also be reprocessed in Canada.
“There is no question that as the technology evolves, it’s something we’ll see in the years ahead,” the paper quoted Mr. Lunn as saying.
As for the GNEP, he said, while it’s not practical to require uranium-producing countries to accept nuclear waste from nations that use the reactor fuel, “there could be some advantages for Canada to be an official member of the GNEP.”
In tackling climate change, Canada has to consider various energy options, including “clean coal” and “clean and safer nuclear solutions,” Liberal Industry critic Scott Brison said recently while attending a World Economic Forum meeting in China.
And AECL nuclear engineer Jeremy Whitlock explained that a “reliable” base-load power supply to run an electricity grid requires a conventional source, such as nuclear.
“If you have that foundation, you can be branching out and building wind farms,” said Mr. Whitlock, past president and the current chair of the Canadian Nuclear Society’s education and communication committee.
But Mr. Cullen said countries like Germany are using alternative sources, where 20 per cent of its energy comes from wind power.
“You get where you aim, and where this government is aiming is on reliance on dirty fuels and nuclear.”