Experts highlight hazards of nuclear energy

Written by Roma De Robertis, SCIC on January 2, 2012

gordonedwardsSaint John – Serious risks of nuclear energy far outweigh benefits, experts said during a public forum at the University of New Brunswick Saint John on November 30th.  

Professor Gordon Edwards of Montreal said citizens of New Brunswick and Canada are not prepared to deal with “the unstoppable power of radioactivity” arising from potential nuclear disaster.  

“I don’t think the lessons of Fukushima have been registered,” added the president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, referring to the March 2011 Japanese nuclear catastrophe.  On November 10th, Japan’s Catholic bishops released a document titled, “End Nuclear Energy Now.”

Professor Edwards said there has never been a study about potential nuclear disasters in Canada.  Such catastrophes would threaten the food supply, force mass evacuation and put pregnant and nursing women at particular risk, he warned.

He spoke at two public forums preceding hearings by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission held Dec. 1 and 2 in Saint John.  The commission will decide whether the Point Lepreau nuclear generating station will be granted a five-year licence to resume operating in 2012.  

On the Bay of Fundy 40 km west of Saint John, Atlantic Canada’s only nuclear power plant began operating in 1982 and suspended operations in March 2008.  Refurbishment was originally scheduled to take 18 months and cost $1.4 billion.  Technical problems delayed the project which is expected to be finished three years late and $1 billion over budget.

At the nuclear commission hearings, Professor Edwards called for a full environmental assessment with an independent panel before the Point Lepreau nuclear station is permitted to resume operating.  He spoke on behalf of Nuclear Free New Brunswick, a coalition representing more than 20 citizens’, environmental and First Nations organizations with support from faith groups.  

At the public forum, Professor Edwards also said the future of the tax-supported nuclear industry in Canada should be judged by a royal commission asking Canadians whether they want to prolong the life of the industry or phase it out.  He urged Canada to follow Germany’s lead in phasing out nuclear energy.

He said “pro-nuclear” federal governments have long promoted the industry at home while pursuing sales of Canadian nuclear reactors abroad.  The nuclear industry also benefits technology and robotics manufacturers, he added.

The Point Lepreau nuclear generator is “an export model” which the federal government seeks to promote internationally, said Professor Edwards.  In response to questions, he said nuclear energy considerations are “very politically complicated,” extending beyond safety concerns.

Cause for Concern

In an interview, he said everybody should be concerned that human-made plutonium, a by-product of nuclear energy, is used to fuel nuclear bombs.  “We’re planting the seeds of our own destruction,” he added.

During his campus presentation, Professor Edwards noted that, “Canada is one of the world’s largest producers of uranium,” the radioactive mineral used as nuclear fuel.  Large quantities of top-grade uranium are mined on Aboriginal land in northern Saskatchewan.  

In March 2009, Saskatchewan church leaders called on citizens of the province to reflect with care on proposed expansion of the uranium industry and the possibility of a nuclear power plant there.  Bishops representing Anglican, Roman and Ukrainian Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran communities urged citizens to make their views known to provincial government leaders.

During the New Brunswick hearings and public forums, Michel Duguay of Quebec City also spoke against re-licensing Point Lepreau. The director of the Movement for a Nuclear-Free Quebec, who holds a doctorate in nuclear physics, pointed to dangers of radiation contamination following possible earthquakes in the area.  

He also warned of risks posed by human error, design and operational problems and potential terrorist attacks at Point Lepreau. His talk was sponsored by the Saint John-Fundy chapter of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick Action group.  

Sharon Murphy and Chris Rouse of the action group also spoke at the campus forum, which was co-sponsored by the university and introduced by economics Professor Rob Moir.

At the hearings, the Saint John chapter of the Council of Canadians expressed concern about safety of the area’s fishery as a food supply in case of nuclear accident.

The citizens’ group said the province “is rich in wind, water, wood and solar energy sources which are more suitable for our energy generation and do not leave us with dangerous radioactive waste or the risk of a devastating nuclear accident.”

Proponents of nuclear energy point to jobs and other economic benefits of the industry.  They note nuclear power is free of fossil fuels which lead to carbon gas emissions responsible for climate change.  

Opponents call for jobs and economic opportunities based on renewable energy.  Professor Edwards also said employment could arise from decommissioning nuclear power plants.

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