There are some strong arguments against nuclear expansion

Waterloo Region Record: PETER KOFLER - April 1, 2008

This is a cautionary tale, in response to an editorial in the March 17 Record -- an editorial supporting nuclear as the power solution in Ontario, to the near-term future exclusion of other equally viable solutions such as renewable energy, with energy conservation and energy efficiency apparently not even meriting mention.

The citizens of Ontario and Canada deserve to know of every aspect of the nuclear industry, from mining and construction through the future decommissioning of all nuclear facilities. Only then can we fully appreciate what nuclear is all about.

The stereotypical view of environmentalists as people who "hold as an article of faith that nuclear power is an evil to be resisted at all costs" misses the point. We are all effectively environmentalists because we simply can't exist without the environment.

Whether we actively care about it or not, the environment includes all of us.

The question boils down to this: since climate change and environmental degradation appear to be the make-or-break global issues of the next 50 years and longer, does nuclear, in fact, represent a clean-energy alternative to fossil fuels in mitigating the impacts of climate change?

The answer is no.

First, nuclear can't address climate change issues without creating additional, serious long-term environmental problems -- spent fuel; decommissioning; the dangerous, long-term hazards of uranium mining; fuel refinement; and the impacts of nuclear power stations.

Second, because the provision of nuclear fuel and the construction of nuclear power stations are heavily dependent on fossil fuels, nuclear can't substantially reduce greenhouse gases now or in the near future to significantly reduce climate change. Greenhouse gases are higher for nuclear, considering the entire cycle, than for wind, low-impact hydro, and also high-efficiency natural gas-fired heat and power plants.

Third, nuclear is one of the most expensive options available for mitigating climate change. It costs Ontario taxpayers dearly, and will negatively affect our long-term economic competitiveness relative to other more environmentally benign alternatives.

Fourth, nuclear is negatively connected to issues of security, weapons proliferation, and accident risks -- a concern that does not exist with any other climate-change energy solution.

Fifth, there simply aren't enough high grade uranium ore reserves remaining to support the proposed global expansion of nuclear over the 40-year life cycle of a typical CANDU generating station built within the next decade.

Lower grade uranium ore means skyrocketing fuel costs, which will make already expensive nuclear even more so. Increased levels of mining to accommodate nuclear expansion would also create further environmental, security and weapons proliferation risks.

Sixth, every dollar spent on nuclear is one which can't be spent on more sustainable, affordable solutions. An increased commitment to nuclear in Ontario and elsewhere usually means a decreased commitment to longer term solutions, many of which are viable and available today.

Seventh, recent nuclear unreliability has actually led to higher greenhouse gas emissions because it forces increased reliance on other fossil fuels, particularly coal . Operational lifetimes have been as low as 25 years -- as opposed to the hoped-for 40 years -- before expensive, lengthy refurbishment.

Finally, there are safer, more reliable and cleaner energy options available today, as opposed to "decades, perhaps generations" from now. We need to commit more resources to those options.

Peter Kofler is Kitchener resident who advocates for sustainability.

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