April 28, 2004
We have learned that the federal government has quietly begun giving its friends in the nuclear industry new access to the public purse, in order to fund plans for massive nuclear power growth.
1977 marked the nuclear industry’s last expansion victory in Canada. That was the year that the Ontario government gave the go-ahead to build the Darlington nuclear station. Since then, thanks to the anti-nuclear movement, not one new nuclear reactor has gotten the go-ahead anywhere in Canada. Our argument – that nuclear power was neither safe nor economical nor reliable – proved to be the nuclear industry’s death knell. Or so we thought.
Now the nuclear power industry – whose boards and senior personnel are staffed with well-paid political cronies – is coming back, not because it has become safe or economical or reliable but because of the close relationship nuclear directors and CEOs have with the people in power.
During his last weeks in office, Prime Minister Chretien launched a new spending spree by providing seed money to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), a federal crown corporation, to fund a new reactor design. Although AECL swallows at least $130-million of taxpayer dollars yearly, and although it has a history of being embroiled in questionable dealings – including one in which its agent was convicted of bribery involving illegal commissions to secure reactor sales to South Korea’s state-owned utility – its cozy relationship with the federal government allows it to stay in business.
AECL is now pushing a new expansion strategy – obtaining federal subsidies in aid of Alberta’s tar sands industry, on the claim that this will somehow reduce greenhouse gases. The nuclear industry’s message to the oil industry: ‘You need energy to convert tar sands into oil. We’ll get taxpayer subsidies to build nuclear reactors in northern Alberta. That will develop tar sands production. Working together, both energy technologies can stay alive.’ The Alberta Chamber of Resources and other tar sands industry groups have already endorsed this scheme, and are working to convince Alberta Premier Ralph Klein to adopt it, too. If Alberta does, two of the world’s riskiest and dirtiest energy technologies – nuclear reactors and tar sands plants – will receive unprecedented encouragement to pollute.
Following Energy Probe’s advice, including our testimony before the Public Utilities Board, New Brunswick had decided to forego renovating its safety-challenged Point Lepreau reactor. AECL is.trying to reverse that decision. Using its taxpayer backing, AECL is trying to keep the troubled reactor running by offering to renovate the reactor, sweetening its offer with sweeping guarantees. Likewise, it is offering subsidies to prevent the shutdown of Quebec’s Gentilly 2 nuclear station, which also requires premature retirement. And it is quietly working behind the scenes with Ontario Power Generation, Ontario’s crown-owned nuclear corporation, to make sure that cheaper and cleaner competition from alternate technologies such as co-generation, which very efficiently generates heat and power, doesn’t replace Ontario’s aging fleet of reactors.
Explicitly ignoring cogeneration in his financial analysis, former federal finance minister John Manley has recently recommended that Ontario Power Generation attempt to restart a second aged and troubled Pickering A nuclear reactor – this after the first restart effort was completed 500% over budget.
We have written to the new prime minister, Paul Martin, asking him to abandon the questionable policies of his predecessor and to make the nuclear industry financially accountable. So far, he has not provided us with an answer. Given the nuclear industry’s sustained clout in the corridors of power, and given Mr. Martin’s own history with the nuclear industry – as finance minister he repeatedly broke his own government’s promises of restraint, throwing lifelines to keep it afloat – we are not hopeful about receiving a satisfactory answer.
If we don’t, we’ll have a fight on our hands. No industry is more deserving of a natural death than Canada’s nuclear industry – a multi-billion-dollar boondoggle that gave India its nuclear bomb ingredients, provided nuclear technology to Pakistan, is repeatedly implicated in bribery scandals, and threatens the health and safety of Canadian citizens.
The nuclear industry has suffered one defeat after another in the last 25 years and we plan to continue that string of defeats. With your help, we’ll continue to oppose its ill-advised schemes, counter its unrealistic studies, and present our findings to the government, so that government decisions can be based on facts, not on the backroom shenanigans of a financially and environmentally bankrupt industry.