City council should rethink its idea of a ban on building nuclear power plants
By Patrick Moore
May 11, 2007
I recently had the privilege of addressing the faculty and students of McMaster University's nuclear engineering department, the pre-eminent nuclear engineering program in Canada.
McMaster is producing specialists dedicated to researching, building, operating and maintaining the country's nuclear energy facilities. At a time when Canada is desperately seeking ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution from coal-fired power plants, these future engineers will contribute enormously to the country's greenhouse gas emissions reductions and to a safe, reliable and cost-effective nuclear energy infrastructure.
Canadians are leaders in nuclear energy innovation such as CANDU reactor technology, and are poised to benefit enormously from the world's nuclear energy renaissance. That's why I was alarmed to hear Hamilton city council is contemplating passing a resolution that would ban the construction of any new nuclear power plants within the city's limits.
I don't know if any new nuclear plants will ever come to Hamilton. That's not the point. A ban, while legally non-binding, would send a very negative message to McMaster's nuclear engineers and potentially could cost Hamilton thousands of high-paying jobs, this in a city where a nuclear research reactor has been operating safely for almost 50 years.
Nuclear power plants bring a lot of wealth to the communities in which they operate.
There are 18 nuclear reactors in Canada and 443 worldwide, quietly and safely producing electricity every day while drawing in a talented, highly educated workforce earning 40 per cent more than the average wage.
When I helped found Greenpeace in Vancouver in the 1970s, my colleagues and I were firmly opposed to nuclear energy. But times have changed. I now realize nuclear energy is the only non-greenhouse gas-emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels and satisfy Canada's growing demand for energy.
Unfortunately, environmental activists have become so influenced by their own misinformation that they fail to consider the enormous and clear benefits of harnessing nuclear energy to meet Canada's goals for clean air and reduced greenhouse-gas emissions.
Hamilton's city council must not make this mistake.
Cost-effective wind energy, hydroelectric power and geothermal heat pumps are all part of the solution to Ontario's energy challenge. Yet, it is completely unrealistic to argue as some activists do that we can replace existing nuclear and coal-fired plants, which currently make up 70 per cent of Ontario's electricity production, with renewables and conservation measures alone.
Natural gas is not a solution either because of its volatile prices and carbon emissions.
Prominent international environmentalists such as Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, Gaia theorist James Lovelock, and the late Bishop Hugh Montefiore, former Friends of the Earth leader, all came to realize that nuclear energy represents the only practical means of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions while meeting increasing global energy demand.
Since the establishment of the industry more than 40 years ago, there has never been a single serious accident at any Canadian nuclear facility. There has never been a single radiation-related death in the history of the Canadian nuclear energy sector. This history clearly shows nuclear energy poses no danger whatsoever to Canada's environment.
Chernobyl is often raised as an argument against the further development of nuclear energy. But Chernobyl was an accident waiting to happen. This early Russian design had no containment structure, unlike all reactors in the West. It was a bad design with shoddy construction and unprofessional operating procedures.
Compare this to Three Mile Island, where safety features averted a catastrophe and radiation was contained inside the plant. Three Mile Island was the only serious nuclear accident in North America and no one was killed or injured. To put Chernobyl in perspective, the accident stands as the exception that proves the rule that the nuclear energy industry is safe, among the safest industrial sectors in the world.
Let's also remember, contrary to claims of activists, that spent nuclear fuel is not waste. Recycling spent fuel, which still contains 90 per cent of its original energy, will greatly reduce the need for treatment and disposal.
There is simply no environmental, economic or social justification for council's proposed resolution.
From the first hydro electricity delivered to Hamilton in 1896 to power its steel mills, the city has always embraced technological advancements that have brought it prosperity.
Nuclear energy has enormous potential to brighten Hamilton's future and to do so in an environmentally beneficial manner. The proposed ban goes against Hamilton's long tradition of embracing this sort of technological progress.
If council is serious about protecting the environment and encouraging innovation and job growth, they should scrap the proposed resolution and support sustainable nuclear energy.
Dr. Patrick Moore is an adviser to government and industry, a co-founder of Greenpeace and chairman and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver.