OPEN LETTER TO THE LEADERS OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC,
SASK AND LIBERAL PARTIES OF SASKATCHEWAN
Why Are You Ducking The Nuclear Question?
There is something surreal about this election, for none of you has had to fundamentally justify your pronuclear policies. Saskatchewan is now the major front-end uranium supplier of the global nuclear system, and this issue demands public scrutiny.
Last year Premier Calvert travelled to France to get support from Areva to build a uranium refinery here. Saskatchewan exports all its uranium, and some argue a refinery would add value before export, and strengthen the provincial economy. Meanwhile, Calvert is on record as opposing nuclear power here, and in this election has highlighted a commitment to expand non-polluting renewable energy use at home. What’s good for the goose (us) is, apparently, not good for the gander (those who import uranium from us).
David Karwacki and Brad Wall haven’t pointed out this huge disconnect, perhaps because they wish to hide their own. In the televised leaders’ debate about the future political direction of the province there was not one mention of “uranium” or “nuclear”, even when directly asked a question about global warming.
Sask Party literature quotes the Suzuki Foundation that Saskatchewan has the highest per capita greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Canada. Yet Mr. Wall won’t come out and say whether or not he supports nuclear power replacing coal plants here. And Mr. Wall doesn’t quote Suzuki on how heavy oil development in the tar sands (which all of you want to further develop in Saskatchewan) is soon to become the world’s largest single source of GHGs?
As the leaders of your parties you are letting each other off the hook on nuclear and energy policy. This is patently irresponsible in view of the Saskatchewan economy becoming more dependent on the production of non-renewable energy that contributes to radioactive contamination and global warming. That the media has not asked you the hard questions is disconcerting. So let us ask you a few.
Is Nuclear Sustainable?
Any short-term economic spin-offs from a uranium refinery would depend on the continuation of billions in public subsidies that have kept the nuclear industry afloat. Without these subsidies the market cost of nuclear would likely triple. Despite this help nuclear is quickly losing ground to renewable energy sources, which already produce more electricity globally than nuclear. Aren’t you concerned that our growing dependency on a non-renewable energy economy will cripple our future?
All of you acknowledge the need for a sustainable economy, yet seem unwilling to evaluate your pronuclear policies in those terms. The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) estimates at today’s low usage, where nuclear provides only 16% of electricity and 3% of primary energy worldwide, uranium reserves would run out in 85 years. Meanwhile, each job from nuclear costs one million or more dollars in capital.
How do you justify diverting scarce capital into a costly uranium refinery, or nuclear power plant, when there is such urgency to create truly sustainable, non-polluting, renewable energy systems to avert catastrophic climate change? Especially when these sustainable alternatives are cheaper, create far more and much safer employment, and can get on-stream quickly enough to make a difference?
We are not picking on Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan is not alone in having a huge economic dilemma over sustainability. Even though asbestos has proven to be highly carcinogenic, and is continuing to kill thousands of people exposed to it, the world’s largest asbestos mine in Quebec has not yet been shut down. Short-term economics there, too, dwarf human health, the environment and morality. The consequences of spreading radioactivity from uranium and nuclear across the planet are, of course, far more devastating, and include the added dangers of catastrophic nuclear reactor accidents and the spread of radiation weaponry.
Is Nuclear Environmentally Healthy?
You all seem to have accepted some version of the nuclear industry propaganda that it provides the “clean” magic bullet for global warming. But the nuclear fuel system contributes to GHGs. Saskatchewan uranium is enriched at two dirty coal plants in Kentucky, and let’s not forget the huge quantities of energy used in uranium mining. For example, the Globe and Mail reports that the Cigar Lake mine requires the largest cement plant in Saskatchewan to try to stabilize its underground tunnels.
The private nuclear plants proposed for Alberta will be used to enhance the production of heavy oil, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. The Battleford area is most likely being targeted for a uranium refinery because of potential demand in the tar sands. We ask you in all sincerity: what does this proposed twinning of nuclear and heavy oil say about the nuclear industry’s “environmental ticket”?
The new Candu design proposed for Alberta would use reprocessed spent reactor fuel (nuclear waste). This would increase the pressure to make Northern Saskatchewan and/or Alberta an international nuclear waste dump. Again, as with uranium mining, it would primarily be Indigenous land that would be sacrificed for this military-industrial venture. What is your position on Saskatchewan becoming a nuclear waste dump?
We hope each of you has reflected on the more-than-disturbing fact that the plutonium in nuclear wastes is toxic for at least 8000 generations – which is five times the period it took humans to migrate from North Africa around the whole planet. The continued production of nuclear wastes in return for small economic payoffs today places unjustified burdens on future generations. Please tell us: in what sense can expansion of this industry be considered the moral, let alone sustainable path to follow?
How is promoting nuclear as “clean” more credible than tobacco industry’s claims that its product was benign? The Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) has publicly stated that harm from low-level radiation has not been proven; meanwhile the U.S. Surgeon General now considers low-level radiation from radon gas to be the second leading cause of cancer after smoking. Uranium mine tailings will release radon into the larger environment for millennia. Is appeasing the corporate community blinding you to these vital matters of worker and public health?
The August 13th MacLean’s reported a study that found that children 9 and under, living near nuclear facilities were 24% more likely to die of leukemia. (This study, reviewing 17 studies, covering 136 nuclear sites in 7 countries, including Canada, was published in the European Journal of Cancer Care.) The International Society of Doctors for the Environment (ISDE), representing 100,000 doctors from 40 countries, recently endorsed a non-nuclear energy policy in part due to the risks that nuclear presents for human health. The doctors are, of course, concerned about the prospects of huge radiation releases from future nuclear meltdowns like Chernobyl and the risks from nuclear proliferation that come with any expansion of the nuclear industry.
You are so willing to debate the pros and cons of a universal drug plan. Why are you not willing to debate the implications of nuclear expansion for the life or death of children? With all your talk of health promotion averting rising healthcare costs, how do you justify supporting what is clearly a cancer causing industry?
Is Nuclear Peaceful?
Lastly, why is it that you never discuss nuclear weapons when you support uranium mining and nuclear expansion? Each of you may prefer to hide behind the outdated notion that uranium from Saskatchewan is only used for “peaceful purposes.” Can we consider such a toxic cancer-causing substance as uranium to be “peaceful” in any sense?
About 85% of the uranium exported to the U.S. remains available for use in weapons after the enrichment process that creates reactor fuel. This depleted uranium (DU) is used to produce nuclear bombs and other DU weapons that are presently killing civilians in the Middle East. Each of the 300,000 uranium bullets fired during the U.S. “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq likely had a bit of Saskatchewan within it. The extremely carcinogenic uranium aerosols from these exploding bullets are now in the air and on the land virtually forever, and are already responsible for vast increases in birth deformations and childhood cancers in the region. How does this violence of the so-called peaceful atom truly make you feel?
All of you, we are sure, would endorse human rights. Are you aware that it is a war crime and a crime against humanity to make and use weapons that indiscriminately kill civilians? It is no longer possible to hide behind the reassuring rhetoric of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, so, we ask: what is your position on Saskatchewan uranium being a major source for these horrendous uranium weapons? Be honest. Do you believe that the end justifies the means: that short-term economic benefits of uranium here justify spreading radiation and cancer across other people’s homelands?
Can you turn your heart and head away from such suffering, and from our complicity in it? Do you really support economic growth at any cost? Do you place short-term benefits and votes here, above concerns for global impacts and future effects? Surely if the labour movement is willing to make the sacrifices to make the conversion to sustainable jobs, business should also be willing to come on side. But where is the political leadership on the necessity for such conversion? Why are you not raising these vital questions? Do you think the continuation of political amnesia is really good for our wellbeing and for our democracy? Or for our grandchildren, who will reap the burdens of inaction on preventing radioactive contamination and climate change?
We are looking for some sign that those of you wanting to lead our Province actually care about what the nuclear and uranium industry is doing to people and the planet, and about getting serious about averting cataclysmic climate change. This is too big an issue for you to duck during this election. So, why the general silence on these vital issues of sustainable energy, environmental and human health, and the travesties of radioactive war? Have we so lost our way, and become so amorally parochial, that such considerations no longer matter enough to be raised and debated during an election in our province?
We are sure many others would also like a detailed and heartfelt response.
Bill Adamson, retired Professor of Pastoral Theology, past President of St. Andrews Theological College, University of Saskatchewan, member of the Saskatchewan Conference of the United Church.
Dale Dewar, Associate Professor, College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan; past President, Physicians for Global Survival.
Jim Harding, retired Professor of Environmental and Justice studies; author of “Canada’s Deadly Secret”, past Councillor, City of Regina.
Jim Penna, retired Professor of Philosophy, Saint Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan; past Trustee, Saskatoon Separate School Board.
Dick Peters, Regional Coordinator, for KAIROS Prairies North Region, Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives.
Michael Poellet, Ph.D., for Inter-Church Uranium Committee Educational Co-operative (ICUCEC).
Graham Simpson, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Saskatchewan; past Board member, Saskatchewan Council for International Co-operation (SCIC).
Sylvia Thompson, retired United Church of Canada Diaconal Minister, for Saskatchewan Non-Nuclear Clearing House (SNNCH).
Karen Weingeist, concerned citizen, for Coalition for a Clean Green Saskatchewan.
Dave Weir, for Regina Non-Nuclear Network.
Contacts: Jim Harding (306) 332-4492, Jim Penna (306) 373-0309 or Dave Weir (306)352-3195