Nuclear reactions

Readers respond to Tom Adams’ National Post article, “Last call for AECL subsidies”
National Post
March 29, 2002

I read with disappointment and concern

. . . Tom Adams‘ lopsided attack on Canada’s nuclear industry (Last Call for AECL Subsidies, March 20). Disappointment because of the lack of balance in the article. Concern because these sentiments had misguidedly been connected to me.

Mr. Adams notes that there is currently a review ongoing for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. This is hardly news or newsworthy. The government of Canada periodically reviews its own services, agencies and programs. As for my alleged “skepticism” about AECL’s business case, I would say that good governance and due diligence about the way we invest Canadians’ tax dollars are not the same as skepticism.

Mr. Adams suggests that the world is abandoning nuclear power. In fact, nuclear energy generates 14% of Canada’s electricity and 16% per cent of the world’s electricity. There are 438 nuclear power plants operating in the world today, and 32 countries rely on nuclear power plants for a quarter of their total electricity needs.

Mr. Adams reports that the federal government has invested $19-billion in the nuclear industry between 1947 and 1994. In fact, the government of Canada has invested about $6-billion in nuclear R&D since 1952. This investment has helped create a technologically sophisticated industry consisting of more than 150 companies employing tens of thousands of well paid, high tech workers.

Herb Dhaliwal, Minister of Natural Resources Canada, Ottawa.

Ontario Hydro did not “pull the plug”

. . . on seven reactors. Mr. Adams is surely aware that Ontario Power Generation is, in fact, engaged in restarting four reactors at Pickering, and Bruce Power is planning to restart at least two of the reactors at Bruce. Hardly a pull-out as Mr. Adams pretends.

The industry cares very much what the cost of nuclear power is. That is precisely why the above-mentioned reactors are being restarted. Quite simply, the electricity they provide is cheaper and cleaner than that of any alternative.

The unpalatable fact that Mr. Adams is attempting to avoid is that nuclear power means economic electricity supplied without atmospheric emissions of carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides. The unpalatable fact is that Mr. Adams’ recommendations for Ontario’s energy needs mean greater costs and greater pollution, not less.

William Clarke, president, Canadian Nuclear Association

I wish to respond to comments of mine

. . . taken out of context and misrepresented by Energy Probe, in its latest tirade against the nuclear industry.

“Cost” means much more than the dollar value of building a new electricity plant. It means balancing all negative socio-economic and environmental impacts against benefits, from start to finish, and making the best choice among alternative technologies. It does require an open mind, and certainly leaves no room for the Seventies’ “no-nukes” mentality.

Since the first CANDU reactor started supplying electricity 40 years ago, nuclear power in Canada has avoided the emission of over 1.5-billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, and saved something like 10,000 lives, due directly to the displacement of coal plants. By not buying fuel for these coal plants, the Canadian public investment in nuclear power has long been paid back, and the returns continue.

Jeremy Whitlock, reactor physicist
Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., Deep River, Ont.

Tom Adams responds:

Canadians enjoy some of the most economical electricity in the world, but – Mr. Dhaliwal take note – not in Ontario and New Brunswick, the two provinces that rely on nuclear power. Because nuclear has proven uneconomic, no Canadian utility has ordered a plant since 1973, when Ontario Hydro ordered Darlington, a plant that came in 270% over-budget and now produces the highest cost power in the country. And that’s despite federal subsidies to nuclear power of $19-billion, according to Canada’s leading impartial analyst, Lethbridge University’s George Lermer.

Canada’s experience is consistent with that of the rest of the industrialized world. Because nuclear power cannot compete with cheaper and cleaner forms of electricity, no private company, anywhere in the world, has ever built a nuclear reactor in which nuclear would be forced to compete for customers.

In the 1990s, no longer able to support its money-losing nuclear program, Ontario Hydro shut down eight obsolete reactors. The Canadian Nuclear Association doesn’t like my characterizing that decision as “pulling the plug” because, with fresh subsidies, Ontario Hydro’s successor partially reversed its decision.

The restart program that the CNA seems so proud of illustrates nuclear power’s uncontrollable costs. Hydro’s successor expected the refurbishment to take four years, and be completed in 2002. The project is already 90% over-budget and three years behind schedule.

Because nuclear power cannot stand up to economic scrutiny, people like AECL’s Mr. Whitlock employ non-economic factors, a highly subjective exercise that could justify just about anything. Mr. Whitlock estimates immense social and environmental costs for fossil fuel emissions, for example, but ignores the immense environmental and social costs associated with nuclear wastes and uranium mining, which have lain waste vast tracts of Canada and uprooted many communities, particularly northern and aboriginal communities.

To read Tom Adams’ article, “Last call for AECL subsidies,” published by the National Post on March 20, 2002, please go to:

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