Nuclear firms exploiting naivete, says expert
Hanneke Brooymans,
Published: Friday, September 28, 2007


EDMONTON - Nuclear companies are taking advantage of naive Albertans who haven't yet learned about the risks of nuclear energy, says a long-time critic of the nuclear industry.

Gordon Edwards is a mathematician with Vanier College in Montreal who has spent 30 years advocating for nuclear responsibility. He was brought in by local environmental groups to inform Albertans about the potential risks of nuclear energy. "I think both (French nuclear company) Areva and (Atomic Energy Canada Ltd.) AECL are enthusiastic about the degree of naivete because it means it's easier to sell it," he said during a meeting with the Journal's editorial board Friday.

But Energy Alberta Corp., which has proposed a plant next to a lake 30 kilometres west of Peace River, says it's actually quite the opposite. It would be easier to try to build something in Ontario, where residents are used to nuclear power, than trying to convince Albertans living in the land of oil and gas that nuclear power is a good idea, company spokesman Guy Huntingford said.

Edwards said he is worried Albertans don't understand what they could be getting themselves into and that it will be an irreversible decision. "Once you opt for nuclear power, you have made a decision to turn a part of Alberta into a radioactive waste dump," he said. Even if the province isn't chosen as a national storage site for spent nuclear fuel, there are still large volumes of radioactive filters, rags, resins, debris and contaminated equipment that will become the property of Alberta, he said.

The proposed Energy Alberta plant site could hold up to two twin-unit reactors that would generate 2,200 megawatts each. The plan is to have the first one operating by 2017. That project recently began a regulatory process with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. The environmental assessment alone could take three years.

Edwards said Albertans shouldn't place their faith in the commission to ensure the plant will not affect the health of the public or the environment. "You can't rely on the safety commission to look after you. The safety commission has a track record of supporting the industry and never refusing to grant a licence. "They have been a real disappointment because they have never shown much guts in protecting public health and the environment." Edwards said the commission has ex-AECL employees "who are very cozy with the people in the nuclear industry."

The commission disputes these claims. "Regardless of stakeholders' interests - such as economics, timelines, productivity and efficiency - the CNSC's priority is and will always remain safety," said Aurele Gervais, a commission spokesman in an e-mail response. The commission is an independent quasi-judicial administrative tribunal and a court of record, he added. "It considers it crucial to preserve public confidence and trust in the fairness of the regulatory decision-making process. Maintaining an arm's-length relationship to government and industry is a critical element to sustain that confidence."

Edwards was scheduled to speak in Whitecourt today, where Areva is now considering a project. He will also speak in Peace River Saturday, and Grimshaw on Sunday. "I think there is increasing opposition," said Brenda Brochu, president of the Peace River Environmental Society. Fifty people are circulating a petition asking the provincial government to consult with Albertans on whether the province should have nuclear power plants. They have collected about 500 signatures so far, she said.

© Edmonton Journal 2007