25 years of nuclear tilting

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Twenty-five years ago when I was a youthful reporter, the Toronto Star was on a campaign against all things nuclear.

Pierre Trudeau was prime minister and the Star loved the man with a passion. Trudeau had launched a crusade against nuclear weapons (which was easy to do, considering Canada didn’t have any) and the Star was naturally on board.

For months, any story that contained the word “nuclear” accompanied by a number of derogatory comments could be guaranteed a spot in the newspaper. The source of the comments wasn’t particularly important. Every protest was covered, every diatribe worth a story. One summer day I was sent to a “press conference” that consisted of an angry young man with no shoes and dirty feet raging from a stage to an audience of one - me.

He had a stringy little beard and some papers he’d obviously typed up himself and he ranted on about something or other that may have been vaguely related to the nuclear industry. At the end he invited questions and, being the only one there, I posed one, probably along the lines of: “Are you nuts?”

Back at the Star I explained the absurdity of the situation, but fear of publisher Beland Honderich far outweighed concern about running a story that makes the paper look silly, and I was told to write it up. So I did. Flash: Scrawny kid in North York hates nukes.

Fast-forward to summer 2008 as Dalton McGuinty’s government announces it will build two new reactors at the Darlington nuclear plant, the first new reactors in Canada in 15 years. “Durham cheers jobs as massive expansion will almost double nuclear plant’s output,” the Star says.

Hmmm. It would appear that something has changed at 1 Yonge, the Star’s world headquarters. Maybe it’s the absence of Pierre Trudeau, or of the dreaded B. Honderich. In any case, while Dalton McGuinty has faced the predictable wave of criticism about Darlington, The Star has come to his defence.

Noting that critics have focused their attacks on the cost of the project, and on the poor record of past nukes to come in on budget, the Star assesses the argument in an editorial and finds it wanting. Interest rates were higher then, governments changed, regulations were altered….

“Besides,” the Star says, “what choice do we have as the existing nuclear plants come to the end of their life cycles? More power from coal, with its greenhouse-gas emissions? Or from natural gas, which has become a very expensive fuel? Or from wind, which doesn’t always blow? Or massive savings from conservation, which would require a dramatic change in our lifestyle?”

“Some would say yes to any or all of the above. But the Star believes that more nuclear power should be part of the mix, with appropriate oversight to ensure that costs do not run out of control.”

We’ll have to pause now to consider that statement. The non-toxic, biodegradable, fair-trade, shade grown, chlorine-free, 100% organic Toronto Star — leading the nation in political correctness since 1892 — says we need more nukes.

Conservation isn’t good enough, and, besides, would “require a dramatic change in our lifestyle.” (Wait a minute - isn’t the whole point of Stéphane Dion’s carbon tax to “alter our lifestyles”?)

Yeah, yeah, wind is good, but it’s not exactly a bastion of reliability and those big turbines slaughter birds by the flockload. Five hundred ducks land in an Alberta tailing pond and half the continent is up in arms, but thousands of birds get chopped up regularly in whirring windmills and there’s hardly a chirp of protest.

Dirty old coal, obviously, is no solution. And natural gas is expensive. The Star doesn’t even mention solar power, which can’t even make those little garden lights they sell at Home Depot throw off a decent light, much less power a city.

So nukes it is. The Star embraces reality, 25 years after the fact.

Beyond the pleasure of poking fun at Canada’s prissiest newspaper, there’s an important point here. Environmentalists have been demanding the death of every viable form of power generation for decades, without producing a viable replacement. We’re told to adopt “alternatives” but the alternatives are impractical beyond a limited scale. Some pit one group of conservationists against another. Ask for a reasonable way to replace the existing power grid without creating emissions or bankrupting the country, and you’ll get a long stream of gobbledygook which leads to the conclusion that there isn’t one.

It comes down to a simple reality: It’s easy to stand on a stage with dirty feet and rail against the imperfection of life. But it doesn’t solve anything. There’s no perfect way to generate power; you pick the one that works best under the circumstances and try to limit the damage. We’d have been better off accepting that fact years ago, rather than listening to pointless talk about ineffective “alternatives.”


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