Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 10, 2003
Develop green, not greed energy
Alberta's Natural Resources Minister Murray Smith has a lot of gall suggesting Saskatchewan build a nuclear power plant to help power Alberta's tar sands development. Smith may think his offer is generous - the tar sands will be able to get the electrical power it needs while Saskatchewan gets the economic benefits of selling power to the development.
But, of course, if this were such a wonderful idea, the Alberta government would be scrambling to build its own nuclear power plant and maybe buy some of Saskatchewan's uranium . . . if the price is right.
One reason Smith gave for offering to have Saskatchewan build the reactor is safety concerns. That is, if the reactor should melt down at some point in the future, it would be sparsely populated northern Saskatchewan (and its 81 per cent aboriginal population) and Manitoba that would suffer the Chernobyl-like effects. As well, as owner of the reactor, Saskatchewan would be stuck with the problem of disposing of the spent nuclear fuel rods - rods that would remain radioactive for millions of years to come.
It's not surprising Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert quickly rejected Smith's not-so-altruistic offer. Still, one cannot help but wonder about the Saskatchewan government's longstanding hypocrisy on uranium. The province has gone to great lengths to promote its uranium resources - former premier Allan Blakeney once said the province was mining uranium to foster Third World development - but won't build nuclear reactors in its own province. Nuclear power is safe enough for Third World nations, but not for the folks in Saskatchewan.
Calvert underlined this view in his response to Smith when he said he doesn't support nuclear power or a nuclear waste dump. Well, just what are those importing countries supposed to do with all the uranium Saskatchewan is selling them?
"This isn't a clean source of power," Calvert said. "It's probably the dirtiest, given what comes out." Then wash your hands clean of this horrible mess.
Certainly, we would agree with the Saskatchewan premier that wind power is the safest and most efficient form of renewal energy. Yet, that is not the basket where the Saskatchewan government has chosen to place most of its eggs.
An independent consultant is currently doing a $35,000 study for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to see whether nuclear power would be cheaper than natural gas to help recover oil from Alberta's tar sands.
But even if it is cheaper, such an approach should be rejected. Nuclear power has proven itself to be an unsafe source of energy whose true costs are not apparent until years later. Eight of the 20 nuclear reactors in Ontario have been out of service for the past five years. European nations have either rejected nuclear power or are phasing it out.
With fossil fuels as the major source of greenhouse gases behind global warming and with nuclear power an unpalatable source of energy, the question naturally arises, where does the world turn for its expanding energy needs?
We, and others, have addressed this question before, repeatedly calling on the Alberta government to use its financial resources to develop alternate, renewable forms of energy. This province has had the unique opportunity for 50 years to be not just a major petroleum producer for the next few decades, but also to be a major energy producer for the long-term future.
Private utilities are to be congratulated for the tentative steps they have taken to use wind power to meet some of Alberta's power needs. But developments such as the Kyoto Accord are not barriers to be feared, as much as they are opportunities to be developed. There is a world out there that is waiting not so much for the tar sands, but for non-polluting, renewable forms of energy. Alberta should be leading the way in finding them.
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