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Life Off-the-Grid

“My Nuclear Neighbour”

by Cam Mather

I watched a great documentary on “The Nature of Things” on CBC recently called “My Nuclear Neighbor.” You can watch it online.

The program is about Bruce Nuclear, a private company, wanting to build a nuclear power plant on the Peace River in northern Alberta. I’ve been hearing a lot about the challenges in increasing production at the tar sands. Right now they use a lot of natural gas to process the bitumen but as natural gas supplies dwindle and natural gas becomes more expensive, it won’t be feasible to continue to use it at the tar sands. They are looking to switch to nuclear plants for the energy they need.

The documentary showed public meetings that were held and then the filmmakers focused on two women who own property that would border  on the proposed nuclear plant. The women were flown from Alberta to Ontario to tour Bruce Power’s nuclear plant on the shores of Lake Huron. It was quite a tour. It was given by Duncan Hawthorne, the president and CEO of Bruce Power, who assured the women that everyone in the area loves Bruce Nuclear. They showed a community picnic sponsored by Bruce Nuclear. Wow, everyone seemed to having a great time. Sign me up!

Duncan kept assuring the women of the safety of the CANDU technology. Then a few days ago I read in the Globe and Mail that The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission discovered that 217 workers who were refurbishing one of the Bruce Power reactors were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.

“The CNSC said the workers were exposed to alpha contamination, a dangerous form of radiation that, if breathed in or ingested, poses a risk of cancer. Preliminary dose calculations indicated that an ‘action level for inhalation of airborne radioactivity may have been exceeded,’ the CNSC said.”

Bruce Power is spending $5 billion to refurbish these reactors, so apparently nuclear power is neither safe nor cheap. I wouldn’t harp on this if Duncan Hawthorne wasn’t constantly being interviewed on television programs, such as TVO’s Agenda, claiming that nuclear power provides the cheapest kilowatts available on the grid.

Now in the case of Bruce Nuclear he has a bit of a unique perspective. He didn’t have to build the plant, the Ontario taxpayers did, and we have a $38 billion debt from building nuclear plants in the province. Sure it didn’t cost him anything to build it, so with the uranium he buys he can produce cheap electrons. He also won’t have to pay to decommission the plant when it reaches the end of its life, taxpayers will pay for that. Oh, and he doesn’t have to pay for liability insurance in case of an accident, taxpayers cover that. The $600 million needed for the new transmission lines from his plant, no problem, he doesn’t have to pay for it. Oh, and the billions that will have to be spent to one day permanently store the nuclear waste off-site, which is stored temporarily on-site, taxpayers pay for that, and the money is not being set aside for that time. You simply cannot say nuclear power is cheap if you don’t include these costs in your calculation.

Apart from the issues with cost and safety I encourage you to watch the documentary online and observe the level of security required at the plant to keep it safe. They were happy to show the small army of specially trained ex-military security guards taking target practice with their assault rifles. Holy cow, are these plants that dangerous that you need an army to defend them? Last time I checked, the 90 wind turbines on Wolfe Island were unprotected, except for a few cows grazing underneath them.

I would agree with Duncan that we need to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. He believes we need more nuclear power and I believe we need more wind and renewables. We’re going to need a lot of wind power. We’re going to need an Apollo Moon Mission commitment to wind and renewables to hold CO2 concentrations at sustainable levels. And we’re going to need to use electricity more efficiently and we’re going to have to charge more for it, so people are actually paying the true cost. Right now Ontario ratepayers do not pay the true cost of nuclear generated electricity.


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