Last week, Britain's Sustainable Development Commission declared that there is no justification for building new nuclear power plants in England, Scotland, or Wales. After reviewing what it calls the most comprehensive evidence base available, the Commission found that the costs of nuclear power outweigh the benefits, even in a post-Kyoto world.
The Commission cited five major disadvantages of nuclear power. These disadvantages ring true in Ontario:
1. Long-term waste no long term solutions are yet available, let alone acceptable to the general public; it is impossible to guarantee safety over the long-term disposal of waste.
In recent weeks, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission approved (but has not yet licenced) the Western Waste Management Facility, to be located at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station near Kincardine, Ontario. The WWMF will be used for the storage of low and intermediate level radioactive waste produced at the Bruce and other Nuclear Generating Stations in Ontario. Long-term, this waste will be deposited into the proposed Deep Geologic Repository nearby. Neither proposal has undergone a full environmental assessment hearing, with cross-examination of witnesses, testimony under oath, or peer review of scientific claims. Furthermore, these waste sites will be located just upstream from the drinking water intakes of more than 8-million people.
2. Cost the economics of nuclear new-build are highly uncertain. There is little, if any, justification for public subsidy, but if estimated costs escalate, there's a clear risk that the taxpayer will be have to pick up the tab.
3. Inflexibility nuclear would lock the UK into a centralised distribution system for the next 50 years, at exactly the time when opportunities for microgeneration and local distribution network are stronger than ever.
Last fall here in Ontario, Premier McGuinty inked a multi-billion dollar deal with Bruce Power to purchase electricity from the company's nuclear facility on Lake Huron. As the U.K. report predicts, this deal locks Ontario into a centralised distribution system for the next twenty-five years.
4. Undermining energy efficiency a new nuclear programme would give out the wrong signal to consumers and businesses, implying that a major technological fix is all that's required, weakening the urgent action needed on energy efficiency.
Yet last month, the McGuinty government opted to give Ontario's largest power consumers a $700-million plus energy subsidy instead of encouraging them to cut costs through increased efficiency.
5. International security if the UK brings forward a new nuclear power programme, we cannot deny other countries the same technology. With lower safety standards, they run higher risks of accidents, radiation exposure, proliferation and terrorist attacks.
The issue of international security is not addressed in the Ontario Power Authority report on the province's energy future, but it is an important consideration in any new energy plan. Canada rarely hesitates to encourage other nations to adopt our home-grown CANDU reactors. According to the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout, â€œAll of Canada's past and present CANDU customers (China, India, Pakistan, Taiwan, Romania, Argentina, and South Korea) have at one time or another pursued nuclear weapons programs.â€? And just like the U.K, if Canada develops concerns about another country's motives, the terms of the Kyoto agreement may limit our power to decide who gets access to nuclear technology.
The Sustainable Development Commission's findings have received little media attention outside of the United Kingdom, but perhaps it is time that Ontario took a look at the report. Their concerns are similar to our own clean air, affordable and reliable energy yet their findings are radically different. You can't help but wonder who's really unclear about nuclear power?