Ontario closer to nuclear expansion

DARLINGTON, ONTARIO - You wouldnÂ’t know it from the way politics is played in this province, but very soon environmental hearings will assess the shiny new nuclear reactors planned for Darlington, outside Oshawa.

No protests, no media campaigns and virtually no media coverage so far.

Behold Ontario’s thermonuclear paradox: Virtually no political fallout can be detected from local residents when nuclear reactors are being built or rebuilt in their backyards. NIMBY becomes BIMBY — Build It in My Back Yard.

Compare the calm on nukes to the political storm generated by the anti-wind movement over renewable energy — recasting clean and green into just plain mean. While Ontario has become Ground Zero for anti-turbine protesters, nuclear power remains the white elephant in the room — a sleeper issue that fails to rouse local residents. When it comes to nukes, what really keeps the Ontario government burning the midnight oil is the prospect of cost overruns, not radioactive spills.

Ontario Power Generation has spent years laying the groundwork, but even if OPG gets an environmental green light, it wonÂ’t be full speed ahead for new nukes.

First OPG has to buy them. And it canÂ’t do that without a viable seller.

ThatÂ’s the nuclear conundrum Ontario faces. For all the hard work that has been done, the environmental hearings have the feel of a phantom assessment because the nuclear hardware remains an unknown.

OPG has clearly signaled that it wants to buy more CANDU reactors from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., a company that remains very much in limbo: Ottawa is keen to wash its hands of AECL, but the privatization process has been painfully slow.

Ontario isnÂ’t giving up, because an estimated 70,000 high-paying jobs flow from the industry, which supplies about half of the provinceÂ’s power. But the McGuinty government insists Ottawa backstop the province on predictable cost overruns.

Meanwhile, potential buyers of AECL have been reluctant to pony up without knowing that Ontario had signed up for more reactors. Frustrated by this CANDU catch-22, QueenÂ’s Park suspended the procurement process. That was two years ago.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is now accusing McGuinty of dragging his feet. “An Ontario PC government will stop the dithering and delays and invest in new nuclear,” he declared last month.

I asked Hudak how heÂ’d do that, given that many in the industry fault his federal Tory counterparts for leaving AECL in the lurch.

“Well, obviously I’d want to see them get through the federal process as promptly as possible,” he told me. “We’ve run out of time. Whatever interactions are necessary in the federal government… to help facilitate that, we will do.”

ItÂ’s an interesting promise from Hudak, who is avowedly pro-nuclear. If a Conservative government in Ottawa continues to drag its feet, how would he keep his word?

One possibility is good timing: Sources suggest there may soon be progress on the privatization of AECL, which would allow the procurement process to resume, just as the environmental assessments are moving along. If the stars fall into alignment, a future Premier Hudak could preside over the powering up of OntarioÂ’s nuclear industry.

But if the problem doesnÂ’t magically solve itself, heÂ’ll have to persuade Ontarians that he can credibly turn the heat up on Prime Minister Stephen Harper, defending the provinceÂ’s interest against federal indifference. That could prove to be a hard sell.


in Year