Uranium’s energy peak is 2025. Why are we wasting time even talking about this as an option for reducing GHGs, especially when the construction of reactors creates GHGs at every stage of the process and the costs are enormous? Furthermore, the radioactive waste problem has not been addressed and the mining of uranium leaves ecological devastation in its wake. Let’s get off this thought-train!
Here’s help. Dr. David Fleming, an independent writer in the fields of energy, environment, economics, etc. has developed a handy booklet, The Lean Guide to Nuclear Energy. The first page lists good reasons to stay away from nuclear energy:
1. The world’s endowment of uranium ore is now so depleted that the
nuclear industry will never, from its own resources, be able to
generate the energy it needs to clear up its own backlog of waste.
2. It is essential that the waste should be made safe and placed in
permanent storage. High-level wastes, in their temporary storage
facilities, have to be managed and kept cool to prevent fire and
leaks which would otherwise contaminate large areas.
3. Shortages of uranium – and the lack of realistic alternatives –
leading to interruptions in supply, can be expected to start in the
middle years of the decade 2010-2019, and to deepen thereafter.
4. The task of disposing finally of the waste could not, therefore, now
be completed using only energy generated by the nuclear industry,
even if the whole of the industry’s output were to be devoted to it.
In order to deal with its waste, the industry will need to be a major
net user of energy, almost all of it from fossil fuels.
5. Every stage in the nuclear process, except fission, produces carbon
dioxide. As the richest ores are used up, emissions will rise.
6. Uranium enrichment uses large volumes of uranium hexafluoride,
a halogenated compound (HC). Other HCs are also used in the
nuclear life-cycle. HCs are greenhouse gases with global warming
potentials ranging up to 10,000 times that of carbon dioxide.
7. An independent audit should now review these findings. The
quality of available data is poor, and totally inadequate in relation
to the importance of the nuclear question. The audit should set
out an energy-budget which establishes how much energy will be
needed to make all nuclear waste safe, and where it will come
from. It should also supply a briefing on the consequences of the
worldwide waste backlog being abandoned untreated.
8. There is no single solution to the coming energy gap. What is
needed is a speedy programme of Lean Energy, comprising: (1)
energy conservation and efficiency; (2) structural change in
patterns of energy-use and land-use; and (3) renewable energy; all
within (4) a framework for managing the energy descent, such as
Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs).
Veering ever-so slightly off my no nukes agenda to slip in an I told you so. Mayor Fiacco would not reveal the plans for this before the municipal election and now that he is safely back in office he can reveal his real plan. Today P’n’P learns of the plan for a Prairie-to-Ports Gateway & Inland Port which is part of the NAFTA Highway, the Security and Prosperity Agreement, the ecological devastation called the Tar Sands, and North American Union.
This gateway involves moving the rails from central Regina to the west side where industrial development is taking place and will likely increase dramatically without our approval. It will increase land and air traffic which means more air and noise pollution. It will move us closer to BushCo’s & HarperCo’s dreams of not only continental unity but also a continental currency. At a time when we need to be doing our utmost to curb green house gas emissions, our City is promoting increased consumption and an increased use of fossil fuels!
Thanks for what amounts to lies, Mayor Pat, and for selling us out to the corporatist extremists. We’ll see you at the polls in less than two years. And we will remember.
Prairie-to-Ports Gateway & Inland Port
Prairie-to-Ports Gateway & Inland Port
The Prairie-to-Ports Gateway & Inland Port, or “Prairie Gateway” is a virtual combination of services and a cluster of numerous transportation, distribution and assembly players working and investing together. This is the best way to maximize the existing transportation assets across an integrated region, with many transportation, production, storage, trans-loading, assembly, product identification and research resources working as a team. This base will draw additional investment, labour and technology as a catalyst for a host of new ancillary business service companies.
What is an Inland Port?
An Inland Port is defined less on the physical aspects of one location and more on the intelligent logistics and coordination of a multitude of services. It has the following qualities:
- Is an organization or coalition made up of key transportation stakeholders
- Serves the regional trading area businesses and economy
- Facilitates growth for both import and export trade logistics
- A mechanism for cooperation, marketing the regions trade processing abilities
- Provides national coordination and collaboration among ocean port users
Like the Kansas City Smart Port regional model, the Prairie-to-Ports Gateway & Inland Port will be anchored by “connecting” the three major cities of Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Regina. This will promote regional asset and system optimization. It is proposed that Saskatchewan’s central continental location and lower costs would be of sufficient appeal to attract international investor attention. The high level of cooperation among the principal transportation centres of Saskatchewan, through the tri-cities will generate distinct advantages, including:
- Integrate and maximize the unique sub-regional advantages of each community to generate even greater synergies than each community could achieve by working separately;
- Provide a value-enhancing alternative to the various less coordinated and smaller scale and scope terminals, hubs or trans-loading sites existing in other parts of Canada;
- Foster freight movement productivity through modernization of regulatory reform (i.e. highway road weight limits) and preservation of freight-corridor efficiency on road, rail and air.
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.
What we need to know as responsible citizens and what we need our politicians, the law-makers, to know
is intended to contribute to the political, technical and moral understandings required to keep radioactive materials from further contaminating the biosphere, in order to protect present and future generations. We hope to provide opportunities for ongoing, in-depth discussion among citizens, specialists, and policy makers on the responsible care of radioactive materials.
Our most enduring legacy to future generations will be the radioactive materials generated over the last fifty years by nuclear power and weapons production, including structures and equipment contaminated at every step of the fuel cycle as well as all categories of waste. The toxicity of these materials, with their proven capacity to cause cancers, immune diseases, birth disorders, and genetic mutation, constitutes an unprecedented and monumental assault on organic life. To safeguard ourselves and future generations, all these contaminants must be kept out of the biosphere now and for thousands of years.
We who are living now, whether “pro-nuclear” or “anti-nuclear,” need to consider together how we are to isolate the radioactive materials we have produced. We need to consider our responsibility for their ongoing containment, and the immediate steps this guardianship requires of us.
A People’s Policy on Radioactive Waste (Draft July 23, 2002)
The amount and danger of long-lasting environmental poisons produced in recent decades is unprecedented in human history. Since the beginning of the nuclear age, policy regarding all levels of radioactive waste has been set by the nuclear industry, the military and governments. Monetary gain, secrecy and militarism have consistently taken precedent over concerns about intergenerational equity, environmental and public health and spiritual well-being.
Any policy regarding nuclear waste must begin with an immediate halt to its production.
Future survival requires that we take full responsibility for nuclear waste and keep it within our sphere of control. Policy decisions must consider the health, safety and habitat of ALL living things and recognize the need for this most dangerous substance to be completely isolated from the environment for as long as it remains hazardous.
Presently, there is no scientifically sound, environmentally just or democratically defined solution to the disposal or storage of radioactive waste. Yet each day approximately ten tons of high-level radioactive waste (HLRW) is generated, which is one million times more radioactive than the original fuel. It is insanity to continue to use nuclear reactor technology that benefits only one or two generations while creating poisons that will threaten the next 12,000.
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).
From the Inbox:
Begin forwarded message:
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.”