Bishops question nuclear ethics

Calgary Herald : Graeme Morton - June 18 2009

With files from Jamie hall, Edmonton Journal

Alberta's six Catholic bishops say serious ethical questions must be answered before any decision can be made about whether or not to build nuclear reactors in the province.

In a pastoral letter issued Wednesday, the Alberta Conference of Catholic Bishops called for more public input into the nuclear power question, citing concerns about stewardship of the environment, effects on water supplies, protection of human life, security threats and adequate consultation.

Calgary Catholic Bishop Fred Henry said expert opinions on nuclear energy are divided and the debate can easily become polarized.

"The recent online survey the department of en-e rgy conducted was hardly adequate considering the size of this issue and the potential impact it could have on future generations and on the environment," said Henry.

"Given the number of problems we've had concerning nuclear energy in Canada, we have to have a good public hearing, a broad, thoughtful discussion on this. It's high time we raised some serious questions."

Ontario-based Bruce Power has proposed building a$6.2-billion nuclear power plant in the Peace River region of northwestern Alberta.

Alberta Energy spokesman Bob McManus said the provincial government has used a number of methods to gather public opinion on the contentious issue.

"We conducted forums in a number of centres around Alberta where we heard from ordinary Albertans, we've just completed the online survey and there have been numerous letters and phone calls," said McManus. "So we think it's been a fairly extensive public engagement process and we're awaiting the results of that."

Henry said the Alberta bishops hope to develop some form of study guide by the fall which will help Catholic parishes and interested individuals educate themselves on the nuclear power issue.

"I don't know if we necessarily want to lead the public discussion, but we'd certainly want to be a player," said Henry of the church's role in encouraging input.

"One of our roles is to raise the pointed moral and ethical questions that need to be asked," he said.

In their letter, the bishops state, "A further sustained consultation is needed where all stakeholders can speak face-to-face with government decision-makers in a public, transparent process. It is especially important that the voices of those living near the sites of the proposed nuclear power plants, including Aboriginal and Metis communities, be heard."

Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith, president of the provincial bishops' conference, said much of the discussion to date has focused on scientific, financial and technological issues.

"All of those are important. But what we'd like to suggest, as well, is that there are other ethical questions that really ought to be brought into the discussion," said Smith.

"Now that the possibility of a project has come before this province, let's weigh all of the risks and all of the benefits and make sure the people of province are well informed."

Elena Schacherl of the Nuclear Free Alberta Coalition applauded the bishops' stance.

"There are other options for generating power in Alberta. The big thing is for more people to become educated about this issue. People need to think about what kind of future they want for their children and grandchildren," said Schacherl.

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