Trapped by History: Lingenfelter on Nuclear

This landed in my Inbox today so I decided to share it here. Very good unravelling of what pronuker Lingenfelter is really saying when he says what he does.

Trapped by History: Lingenfelter on Nuclear

By Jim Harding, Ph.D.

Leadership candidate for the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party (NDP), Dwain Lingenfelter, came out with his nuclear power policy proposal on March 10, 2009. As he wants to become premier of our fair province it’s in the public interest to look closely at his statement. In a nutshell it’s a superficial document showing no fundamental insight into the history or makeup of the nuclear industry or its sustainable energy alternatives.

Ignoring Nuclear Weapons

Lingenfelter says that the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and NDP have supported the export of uranium “For nearly fifty years”, and then adamantly declares “I support that policy.” I realize the role of hyperbole in politics, but does Lingenfelter really know what he’s saying? Uranium has actually been exported from Saskatchewan for 55 years and all of it from its startup in 1953 until the end of the 1960s went for the production of nuclear weapons. Some estimate that Uranium City, along with Elliot Lake in Ontario, contributed the uranium for one-third of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.[i] So is Lingenfelter saying he supports the nuclear arms race, acknowledged by scientists and clergy alike to be a threat to the survival of humankind and the evolutionary web of which we are a part?

Furthermore, all this uranium mining for nuclear weapons was done in secret, totally outside political processes of transparency and accountability. Lingenfelter ends his nuclear power policy proposal saying, “These decisions (about nuclear power in Saskatchewan) cannot be made without full, public input and understanding”. Sounds good, but all past decisions that got us into this nuclear mess, which Lingenfelter implies he supports, were made without any public input and understanding. No CCF or NDP convention ever supported Saskatchewan uranium going into nuclear weapons; in fact Tommy Douglas was willing to speak at Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) rallies held at the height of the Cold War. So why does Lingenfelter want to associate himself with the completely undemocratic and secretive practices involved in the military origins of uranium mining here?

Without looking back honestly and somewhat shamefully at this legacy, as did Tommy Douglas when I last spoke to him about this, we remain trapped by history. But Lingenfelter, nevertheless, wants to barge on. Wanting to affirm political continuity he notes that past NDP Premier Calvert (belatedly) supported uranium refining in Saskatchewan, and, again Lingenfelter declares, “I support that decision as well.”

Apparently there’s going to be no reflection to learn any lessons from history, e.g from the failure of the previous Blakeney NDP government to get a uranium refinery at the Mennonite community of Warman in 1980. This plan failed because of massive cross-party and grass-roots opposition and the refusal of the proponent Eldorado Nuclear (privatized into Cameco in 1988) to undertake an acceptable social impact analysis, which was to include “interpretation of the concept of stewardship and the extent and depth to which this concept occurs locally, the degree to which it may serve to bind the community, and the impact of the refinery particularly with respect to radioactive waste disposal.”[ii]

Hedging on the Nuclear Renaissance

Lingenfelter tries to normalize the nuclear industry by saying 31 countries use nuclear power and highlighting some of the countries that most depend upon it. What he doesn’t mention is that the role of nuclear power has slipped from 18% to 14% of global electrical capacity since 2005, and that his examples of France and Japan don’t at all show that, as he says, “ many highly developed countries rely heavily on nuclear energy.” France accounts for nearly half (47%) of all of Western Europe’s nuclear power, and Japan accounts for 50% of all nuclear power in Asia. These countries are actually the exception to the rule, which is to move towards more non-nuclear and renewable energy sources.[iii] And both France and Japan are paying a price for their heavy reliance on nuclear. Japan had to shut 7 of its nuclear plants down after they were damaged during a 2007 earthquake.[iv] France’s nuclear reactor corporation, Areva, is facing a multi-billion dollar damage suit due to huge cost-overruns and failure to meet its construction schedule where it is building a reactor in Finland.[v] Areva is the only company of the three that Bruce Power says it is considering to build nuclear plants in Saskatchewan which is actually involved in building the promised “new, improved” generation of nuclear power plants. Scarry!

Lingenfelter doesn’t seem to embrace the industry-created myth of there being a “nuclear renaissance”,[vi] but he doesn’t want to have “a closed mind toward nuclear power.” (I’ll show later, from previous statements by him on the topic, that he actually does have a closed mind regarding nuclear power, i.e. being pronuclear regardless of the consequences or positive alternatives.) As a way to promote nuclear power he downplays the potential of renewable energy, commenting that “even the EU, whose member countries are global leaders in the area of renewable energy, envision producing only 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.”

Lingenfelter seems unaware of global trends. Once transportation and heating, along with the electrical sector, are retooled for sustainability, this will push renewable energy well past 20% of total energy. Globally, renewable electrical capacity surpassed nuclear in 2005 and is already at 20% of electrical capacity and rising. The United Nation Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change projected that at best nuclear would hold at 16-18% of global electrical capacity by 2030, whereas renewables would double from 18-35% by then.[vii] These projections are already outdated with the role of nuclear declining, the steep rate of growth in wind power and energy efficiency, and the solar revolution still to come. In 2007 three countries (China, Spain and the U.S.) each created more wind power capacity than nuclear power created worldwide.[viii]

Lingenfelter’s critique of the potential of renewables is not made in good faith, for, under several NDP governments with which he was associated there was no concerted effort to convert to sustainable, renewable energy. Even now, after the Calvert NDP finally dipped its toe into the renewable energy stream, only 3% of our electricity comes from wind. We are still behind Ontario, Quebec and Alberta.[ix] Southern Saskatchewan is one of the highest inland potential wind power areas in Canada. If we had the wind capacity now on-stream or planned in Alberta we would already get 20% of our electricity from just this one renewable source.[x] We’d be a world leader. The NDP, from Blakeney to Romanow to Calvert, was apparently too trapped by history to have such foresight.

However, “better late than never”! And there’s also co-generation, biomass, small hydro, and most vital, energy efficiency and demand-side management (DSM), all of which the NDP, with its fixation on enlarging the non-renewable export economy over the decades, has mostly ignored, and which Lingenfelter doesn’t seriously explore. I encourage him and other NDP candidates to look at the Pembina Institute’s study, done in Alberta, where Lingenfelter has resided for some years, which shows two renewable energy scenarios. One (pale green) shows how renewable energy and efficiency could meet all new electrical demand in that province. The other (aggressive green) shows how the 70% of electricity provided by coal plants could be provided by renewable energy and efficiency over 20 years.[xi] With less electricity provided by coal plants, and a much smaller grid, Saskatchewan’s conversion to renewable energy would likely be easier.

It would, of course, be a wonder if Lingenfelter has not internalized the worldview of the non-renewable energy corporate sub-culture that is so pervasive in places like Calgary and Huston, and profits so hugely from their heavily subsidized resource-extraction and transmission megaprojects. By downplaying renewable energy Lingenfelter is ensuring continued dependence on “conventional” energy, by which he means large thermal plants fueled by non-renewables. And it’s common for those who support nuclear to say it has to be part of the energy mix. This is deceptive and needs careful scrutiny. If Bruce Power built one or two 1,000 MW nuclear plants on the North Saskatchewan River there’d be no possibility of a mix of conventional and renewable energy. We would remain trapped by history. Bruce Power supports the continuation of coal, which is now responsible for 57% of Saskatchewan’s electrical capacity.[xii] If you added 1,000-2,000 MW of nuclear on to our relatively small grid (now 3,500 MW) you’d make us all totally dependent on these two toxic, water-devouring thermal energy systems. These are major contributors to climate change and/or radioactive contamination of the planet. You’d squeeze out the potential for a sustainable mix from renewable sources. And everyone on the grid would be even more vulnerable due to nuclear power’s track-record of unreliability and its history of public-bailouts for atrocious construction and refurbishing cost-overruns.

Optics and Electioneering

Lingenfelter’s statement is more about optics and election strategy than a thoughtful, forward-looking energy policy. He must know from the polls that with more informed public debate starting to occur, support for nuclear power is starting to decline. Women were already against nuclear power in the Regina Leader Post poll of May 2008. More opposed nuclear power than supported it (40.5% to 38%) when the question referred to citing such a plant at Lake Diefenbaker. And in that poll only 25% supported a private corporation like BP undertaking an electrical generating mega-project. Fourty (40) percent thought SaskPower should call the shots.[xiii] Only a minority (45% in Bruce Power poll[xiv], and 38% in Prince Albert poll[xv]) have bought the promotional myth that “nuclear is clean”, which suggests the green-washing of nuclear hasn’t been very effective. We may soon be adding “nuclear is clean” to the list of failed nuclear promotional slogans, such as “too cheap to meter” and “the peaceful atom”.

Lingenfelter knows of the swelling grass-roots concern about how the Sask Party and Bruce Power are trying to manufacture consent for nuclear power in the province. He knows that many people across the province, including within the Sask Party base of support where the NDP must win seats if it is ever to win back government, are getting perturbed about Premier Walls’ cozy relationship with nuclear corporations. He may even sense that this could be the Sask Party’s Achilles Heel. And, he knows that with his contestants for NDP leadership already positioning for this controversy, which will almost certainly shape the outcome of the next provincial election, he must be more visible on the matter.

So what does Lingenfelter propose? He proposes a “blue ribbon panel of independent experts, showing the people of Saskatchewan that such a (nuclear) project could be sustainable, from both the financial and environmental perspective.” But sustainability is about inter-generational justice. It is not sustainability to leave a long-lived radioactive waste stream, and toxic nuclear plants for future decommissioning, while proliferating weapons fuel and technology. And we’ve already seen how past NDP-appointed inquiries have been used to legitimize pronuclear policy, similar to the Sask Party’s flawed Uranium Development Partnership.[xvi]

Does Lingenfelter really want Saskatchewan to be another guinea pig for the nuclear industry? There is a lot of economically-opportunistic talk of us having to add-value to uranium because it is here. Wind, solar, biomass, and small hydro are all here too. And these can be harnessed without ecologically-destructive uranium mining, increasing the probability of catastrophic nuclear accidents, or creating a radioactive waste stream as a burden for our future kin. So let’s break from our destructive history and, yes, add some value to these renewable resources. And let’s do this based on human values that are committed to protecting and restoring environmental health, and reducing the risks of global warming and nuclear proliferation, as well as achieving cost-effectiveness.

History Haunts Us

Lingenfelter titled his nuclear power policy proposal “Failing the People – The Wall Government and Nuclear Power.” We don’t want to be cannon-fodder for any politicians. So before we get carried away over Lingenfelter’s critique of the Sask Party’s really bad process we should review his own declarations on the subject. Speaking to the Saskatoon Business Association in 2005, while Vice President of Nexen Oil, Lingenfelter criticized the Calvert NDP government for allowing “mining of uranium for use in reactors throughout the world, but then take a position that it is too dangerous to use fuel and to deal with the waste locally.” He then went on to promote Saskatchewan as a “champion” of nuclear power, “promoting our province as a potential source of clean nuclear power and seeking active investment.”[xvii] This sounds strangely similar to what Brad Wall is now doing, with his ministers having also bought in, hook line and sinker, with the green-washing of nuclear. And Wall’s government is actively seeking investment deals with AECL, Bruce Power, Cameco, and Areva; any nuclear corporation it can find.

Lingenfelter went further in 2005 than Wall does now by promoting Saskatchewan as a site for a nuclear waste facility, which is something both AECL and Cameco have endlessly pushed. However, the most stunning thing about Lingenfelter’s nuclear power policy proposal is that there is no mention, whatsoever, of the accumulating nuclear waste problem that will plague our future kin. Again, not willing to embrace the challenges of sustainability, or face the collective errors in our history, Lingenfelter seems destined to repeat them. Not mentioning nuclear wastes will not make them go away.

Polls are selectively drawn on by the nuclear industry and pronuclear politicians in the Sask Party and NDP alike. What is not mentioned by Premier Wall or his nuclear backers, or by Lingenfelter, is that Saskatchewan people are opposed to taking nuclear wastes from elsewhere (Ontario, United States, France, etc.). The findings on this from a 2008 poll done for the Regina Leader Post are very revealing, with 32% strongly opposed to a nuclear waste facility compared to only 16% strongly in favour. Overall 48% oppose a nuclear facility compared to 44% in favour, and the opposition is more forthright. Those strongly opposed to a nuclear facility are also a larger group than those who strongly supported a uranium refinery. (This support for a uranium refinery is consistently used to try to legitimize expanding the nuclear fuel system here.) And youth between 18-34 years “are most opposed” to a nuclear waste facility in Saskatchewan.[xviii] It’s also noteworthy that 50% of those polled in Prince Albert picked “waste disposal” as the “main drawback” of Bruce Power’s proposed nuclear plants. This concern was fairly consistent across all demographic groups.[xix]

The governments of Manitoba and Quebec have already passed legislation banning nuclear wastes from elsewhere, and based on the polling here it is highly likely that Saskatchewan people would support such legislation. Ontario, with almost all the nuclear power plants in Canada, would then have to seriously start to confront its nuclear waste problem, rather than relying on some future political fix, such as shipping it to us, which is what we have in store if we allow Brad Wall’s ill-conceived nuclear plan to proceed. Having to face the consequences of our actions is always required to bring about more responsible behavior.

Making History

The kind of leadership we all hope we get from the Obama Presidency sizes up history and uses reason and compassion to alter course. Lingenfelter is trapped in a history he won’t honestly explore. His nuclear power policy proposal is about political jockeying, not about using judgment and leadership to make things better. It’s not about helping Saskatchewan make the needed transition from being the second highest per capita Canadian source of GHGs, the main global source of the nuclear fuel system and all its radioactive wastes, and, yes, a continued link to nuclear weapons through the Depleted Uranium (DU) chain.[xx]

It is time to change the course of history, not layer on even more rhetoric to try to ignore its lessons. With an all-time low membership (e.g. only 5,000) the Saskatchewan NDP is now in deep crisis. The unsustainable, non-renewable resource extraction mind-set that Lingenfelter wants to salvage is a big part of the problem. Some may think that the party can find a new direction by electing a young, more progressive, non-nuclear leader. And the NDP leadership contest will certainly be news-catching until it’s over in June. Then what will all the progressives who have joined the NDP, to elect someone other than Lingenfelter, do? Will they stay on, as have many who have fought and lost these battles in the past?[xxi] Will they close ranks around “Link” to elect “the lesser evil”, and thereby muzzle themselves on the nuclear power controversy? Will they, once again, reject nuclear power here but continue to support exporting uranium to become radioactive toxic waste in reactors elsewhere? Or will they recognize that this turning of direction, so that we aren’t trapped by history, will have to come from a larger, grass-roots, coalition-building process that is non-partisan in the narrow sense of loyalty to political institutions and ideologies?

Lingenfelter isn’t alone in not knowing Saskatchewan’s nuclear history. When a friend of mine was doing graduate research in past NDP Premier Woodrow Lloyd’s archives, he came upon a 50-page booklet issued in 1946 for the adult study-action groups animated by the newly elected CCF government’s Adult Education Division.[xxii] This division had previously issued study booklets on such topics as Co-operative Farming, Women’s Role, Family Welfare, Good Health, Community Housing, Community Organizing and Rural Electrification. The one my friend found was called “Atomic Future”.[xxiii]

It begins by saying that atomic power will bring us “a new world, glorious beyond our dreams…we can use atoms to make our climate warmer. We can make Spring come a month earlier and Autumn a month later. In fact we can make our Prairies as warm as California if we wanted to.” It reads like socialist science fiction. There is no “biosphere”, no “ecosystems” or “habitats” anywhere in the 50 pages. The planet is all for us, to exploit for our purposes. Such anthropocentric and technocratic thinking was widespread in the early CCF and continues on in the NDP. And the “social gospel” vision of exploiting resources under public (and then private) control for creating plenty was pronuclear from the start. When I read this booklet many things fell into place, including how past NDP Premier Blakeney, who spearheaded the expansion of the uranium industry, could be so narrow minded about public ownership of uranium mining, with no apparent regard for the fact that uranium is a long-lived radioactive toxic heavy metal[xxiv] which has only two purposes: to build thermonuclear or radiological weapons, or to produce electricity that could be produced cheaper through much safer means without increasing the risks of nuclear weapons proliferation while creating a long-lived radioactive toxic waste stream.[xxv]

The naïve nuclear vision has turned into a nightmare, and it has run its course. History gets very messy when people hang on to undiscerning, inherited beliefs. Look at what happened with the Presidency of George Bush in this regard. I’m not saying that Lingenfelter, or any of the others in the NDP who cling to a history they won’t explore, can’t change worldviews. Millions of people across the planet are probably in the process of doing this daily, especially since the capitalist financial meltdown. But this change can’t happen without honest reflection and reevaluation, of which there is no sign in Lingenfelter’s nuclear power policy proposal.

But there are signs of such reevaluation in every community in Saskatchewan. And it is happening across political and religious lines. So let’s get on with the challenge of moving towards a sustainable society. We have a special moral responsibility when it comes to phasing-out the nuclear industry. And we will be working in the spirit of those who laid the ground for Medicare. It will be an interesting and tumultuous journey.

March 26, 2009



Endnotes

[i] See Carole Giangrande, “Saskatchewan Uranium and the Weapons Link”, The Nuclear North: The People, the Regions and the Arms Race, Toronto: Anansi, 1983, chapter III.

[ii] Quoted by Mervyn Norton, “Nuclear Debate worth close look”, Saskatoon Star Phoenix, March 19, 2009

[iii] See “2008 World Nuclear Industry Status Report”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Nov./Dec. 2008.

[iv] It’s ironic that the heat in the mountain range where this occurred could provide much geothermal energy to supply Japan’s electrical needs. Mind set is everything!

[v] See Jim Harding, “Public Cost of Nuclear Power High”, Special to the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, March 6, 2009.

[vi] See Jim Harding, “Is There Really A Nuclear Revival?”, Coalition for a Clean Green Saskatchewan, 2009.

[vii] UN Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, Fourth Assessment Report, 2007.

[viii] See Amory Lovins, The Nuclear Illusion, Rocky Mountain Institute, 2008 for details on worldwide growth of renewables.

[ix] Canada currently has 2,246 MW of wind capacity, about one-tenth that of Germany.

[x] 800 MW on a 3,500 MW grid.

[xi] “Greening the Grid: Powering Alberta’s Future With Renewable Energy”, Pembina Institute, 2008.

[xii] See “Saskatchewan 2020: Clean Energy. New Opportunity” – Report on Bruce Power’s Feasibility Study, Nov. 2008, p. 17.

[xiii] “Uranium Refinery and a Nuclear Power Plant and Related Issues”, Sigma Analytics, May 2008.

[xiv] “Saskatchewan 2020”, p. 13.

[xv] See “Public Opinion Poll To determine Support for Attracting Bruce Power To Develop in The Prince Albert Region”, DEMAR Consulting Associates INC, March 12, 2009. The methodology of this poll is fundamentally flawed and the design greenwashes nuclear power.

[xvi] See historical details “Uranium Blowback” and “Dark Side of Nuclear Politics”, in Canada’s Deadly Secret, 2007, chapter 4 and 14.

[xvii] See Jim Harding, Canada’s Deadly Secret, p. 226-27

[xviii] See Jim Harding, “Beneath Saskatchewan’s Nuclear Poll”, Prairie Messenger, March 5, 2008.

[xix] Public Opinion Poll, p. 11

[xx] DU (U238) left from Saskatchewan uranium enriched abroad remains available for military purposes in spite of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) being signed by Canada. See Canada’s Deadly Secret, pp. 253-55.

[xxi] Remember that during its period in opposition, specifically from 1983-1991, the NDP party policy was for phasing out uranium mining. (See Canada’s Deadly Secret, pp. 59-62.) Now, again in opposition, its policy supports expanding into uranium refining.

[xxii] There is some irony about this as I was raised in Saskatchewan because my father Bill Harding returned here from Alberta in 1946 to be Assistant Director of Adult Education.

[xxiii] Dyson Carter, Atomic Future. Study-Action Outline No 6, Regina: King’s Printer, 1946.

[xxiv] Uranium takes 4.5 billion years to decay into lead, which is still a toxic heavy metal.

[xxv] Medical isotopes can be created without using nuclear reactors, in fact, this is being encouraged since reactors like the NRU, which is still making medical isotopes at Chalk River, produce weapons-grade uranium as a byproduct.

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