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No faith in Harper on nuclear issue Re: 'Firing of nuclear safety boss criticized'

The Hamilton Spectator: Peter Cronin - January 21, 2008

Sometimes in observing the puzzling actions of the Stephen Harper government, I wonder: Are we in the presence of genius whose workings are beyond our ken, or are we watching an egocentric, self-destructing in uncontrolled outbursts of spite, and taking us with him?

With regard to the government's spat with the Nuclear Safety Commission, pundits within the inner spheres of the nuclear energy industry speculate that Harper is engaging in manoeuvres intended to water down the influence of the NSC in order to increase the value of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.'s nuclear reactor sales program.

Even if it is just a matter of Harper getting even with another senior bureaucrat (NSC president Linda Keen) getting in his way, it occurs to me that a clever politician would ensure such machinations were a little less overt.

But especially disconcerting is the timing of his apparent ham-fisted handling of the issue.

The practice of using coal to create electricity is plummeting out of favour as Canadians become increasingly aware of the health risks of air and water pollution. Recognizing the age of coal may have passed in public opinion, governments around the world are toying with the idea of resurrecting nuclear-energy generating programs.

Could there be a worse time for Harper to pull the rug out from under any faith the public might have had that its government would make safety paramount in any resurgence of a nuclear-energy program?

In the unlikely event that anyone has forgotten, the disaster at Chernobyl and the accident at Three Mile Island were caused by lack of effective cooling to the nuclear fuel in those facilities.

Keen was fired for the actions of the commission in shutting down the Chalk River facility for not bringing online, in time, backup cooling water pumps required by regulators to help prevent the kind of accidents that occurred at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Had Harper and Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn been so concerned about the world supply of medical isotopes, they would have made some effort to ensure the facility upgrades were made on schedule.

Perhaps Harper expects from us a divine faith in his infallibility and altruism, and no arm's-length commission watching over our safety is required.

I, on the other hand, am more inclined to agree with Robert Burns, that "the best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry" and, hence, to choose an arm's-length regulator over an impetuous prime minister any day.

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