Nuclear power safe and green, panel tells Alberta

EDMONTON, ALBERTA - Nuclear power is a safe energy alternative that does not emit carbon dioxide and offers a smaller physical footprint than hydroelectric and wind power, says a new expert panel report.

The $250,000 report was written for the provincial government by a nuclear engineering professor, two business professors and the CEO of an oilpatch company.

While representatives from the nuclear industry are positive about the report, a prominent nuclear industry critic says it does not give a clear picture of the health, environment, safety, security and financial risks.

"I think they are really presenting a very one-sided, very limited picture which doesn't give the average member of the public, or the average politician, any real insight into the nature of the hazards that are peculiar to nuclear," said Gordon Edwards, a mathematician with Vanier College in Montreal who has spent 30 years advocating for nuclear responsibility.

For example, he said, there is no meaningful discussion of the concept of a meltdown and twice they take the time to explain a nuclear reactor can't explode like a nuclear bomb but they don't explain that it can "blow itself to kingdom come."

There is also very little discussion about the financial risks, such as the decommissioning of a reactor, Edwards said. "If you have a private company that builds these reactors in your province, that private company is not necessarily going to be around when these financial obligations have to be met.

They may put money aside during the operational phase, but suppose they simply dissolve."

The provincial government asked the panel last May to explore issues specifically related to adding nuclear-powered generating plants to the province's energy mix. The panel was not asked to make recommendations. The government will now consult the public on whether or not nuclear power should be developed in Alberta. A policy will be in place by the end of the year.

Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason said their party feels the province should copy the no-nuclear power policy of other provinces like British Columbia and Manitoba.

He noted that a recent report by the Pembina Institute laid out how Alberta could turn away from coal-fired power within the next 20 years without having to resort to nuclear energy.

Mason said the government's new report recommends a pro-nuclear policy under the guise of being a factual report.

The nuclear industry is pleased with the report.

"I think overall I'm really impressed," said Albert Cooper, Peace region manager for Bruce Power Alberta. "I think it's a well-done report and it will certainly help Albertans understand the issues and frame their questions."

Bruce Power Alberta wants to build up to four nuclear reactors that could produce 4,000 megawatts of electricity at a site 30 kilometres north of Peace River.

Cooper said the company will wait for the government's policy decision on nuclear power before engaging fully in an environmental assessment of the site.


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