Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 22, 2009
Alberta Bishops question rush to nuclear power
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - The Alberta government should do "public, transparent" consultation with the people of the province before allowing a nuclear power plant to be built, say the Alberta bishops.
Introduction of nuclear power into the province would be "not without serious risks," the bishops say in pastoral letter released June 17.
They encourage Catholics to take an active role in "ethical reflection" on nuclear power and to add their voices to others raised in public debate.
Government consultation on the issue "needs to go beyond the recently-concluded one-month Internet survey" organized by Alberta Energy, the bishops say.
"A further sustained consultation is needed where all stakeholders can speak face to face with government decision makers in a public transparent process.
"It is especially important that the voices of those living near the sites for the proposed nuclear plants, including aboriginal and Métis communities, be heard."
(The full text of the bishops' letter is on Page 15.)
Bruce Power has selected a site 30 km north of Peace River for a possible nuclear plant and may consider a second plant.
The six Catholic bishops in the province do not take a stand in their pastoral letter for or against nuclear energy and warn that the debate could quickly become polarized.
But they raise several pointed questions about the potential environmental effects, threats to life and health, financial cost and security associated with nuclear power.
They ask whether there is sufficient river water available in Alberta, both now and in the future, to meet the needs of proposed reactors.
The bishops question whether nuclear power will actually reduce greenhouse gas production as its proponents claim.
They note "the operation of all nuclear reactors presents a serious potential risk to the life and health of human beings" and ask whether that risk is being "adequately considered."
They also ask whether Alberta should allow production of nuclear waste when "there is still no official government approved procedure or standard for permanent storage and burial of radioactive nuclear waste."
BEST USE OF FUNDS?
Cost overruns, the bishops say, are frequent in the development, operation and decommissioning of nuclear power plants. "Is this the best use of limited government funds, especially at a time when governments are facing major deficits?"
They point to the fact that nuclear facilities may become "attractive targets for terrorists" and ask whether "nuclear facilities and radioactive wastes (can) be kept safe and secure for present and future generations."
The bishops note that the government has established a panel of engineers, physicists and business professors to provide expert advice on nuclear power.
"The expertise of other disciplines, including ecology, life sciences, social sciences and ethics, needs to be drawn upon," they recommend.
At a June 17 news conference, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith, president of the Alberta Conference of Catholic Bishops, noted that the Church supports the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
That does not mean, however, Smith said, that the Church supports every nuclear power project.
The bishops' main concern is the need for a greater public engagement in what is a major decision affecting the future of the province, he said.
"We are not interested in embarrassing the government. The government may well have other plans for public discussion that we have not seen."
Smith suggested that other forms of public discussion might include televised debates, town hall meetings and other forums where people could ask questions.