Canada to join controversial nuclear partnership
THE CANADIAN PRESS: TheStar.com Bruce Cheadle - November 29, 2007
Plan proposes re-using nuclear waste, a practice effectively banned in Canada and the U.S. since the 1970s for security reasons
OTTAWA - The Conservative government announced today that Canada is joining an international nuclear club that's drawn fierce criticism from environmentalists.
The unexpected public declaration follows months of stone-walling and denials by government ministers and departmental officials, who refused to comment on Canada's assessment of the U.S.-led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.
And it could spell the end of Canada's heavily government-subsidized, decades-old relationship with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.
"Canada is recognized for its commitment to (nuclear) safety and non-proliferation," Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier said in a release.
"By joining this partnership, we are making sure Canada can continue to be an effective advocate for those ideals."
But the partnership - or GNEP - has many critics, both in the environmental movement and scientific circles.
The partnership, first pitched early in 2006 by U.S. President George W. Bush, proposes expanding and promoting nuclear energy worldwide by developing a new and unproven breed of "fast reactors" that can burn nuclear waste.
The concept would see nuclear energy-using countries and uranium-exporting countries band together to promote and safeguard the industry.
But the plan is highly controversial because it proposes re-using nuclear waste, a practice effectively banned in Canada and the United States since the 1970s for security reasons.
Moreover, the original GNEP concept proposed that all used nuclear fuel be repatriated to the original uranium-exporting country for disposal.
As the world's largest uranium exporter, Canada could be taking on a huge responsibility to deal with nuclear waste from around the world.
"It's totally undemocratic and unaccountable of this government to take such an enormous decision to re-import nuclear waste into our country without involving Canadians," said NDP environment critic Nathan Cullen.
An official in Natural Resource Minister Gary Lunn's office insisted the GNEP model no longer includes repatriating waste.
"There is nothing in the GNEP statement of principles that compels Canada or any other country to take back spent fuel," Louise Girouard said in an email. "Canada does not import spent fuel and we will not do so."
Dave Martin of Greenpeace Canada said that sounds like "GNEP Lite" and called it "definitely without question the worst of both worlds" - nuclear proliferation without control of the fuel cycle.
The issue was central to last week's Australian election, where long-standing prime minister John Howard was turfed from office after signing on to the GNEP without public debate in September.
The technology issue alone is a major headache for Canada.
Internal government documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act suggest AECL's CANDU technology was shut out of initial GNEP discussions.
Lunn announced Thursday, in concert with the decision to join GNEP, that AECL's future is up for grabs.
"It is time to consider whether the existing structure of AECL is appropriate to the changing marketplace," Lunn said in the government release.
He announced a review of the Crown corporation.
Opposition critics immediately denounced that as the road to privatization.
The sudden embrace of the GNEP marks a sharp reversal for a government that initially refused in September even to say whether it would send officials to an international planning meeting on the partnership.
Briefing documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the access law had shown great enthusiasm for the project, and revealed that senior Canadian officials had been in secret talks with the Americans for months.
But Harper's officials fiercely denied this fall that any decision had been taken and insisted Canada was still reviewing the matter.
Greenpeace's Martin said debate has been purposely stifled, calling the sudden announcement "outrageous."
"It's part and parcel of this government's contempt for public opinion and public involvement in important environmental decisions," he said.
"We've seen it on the climate change file and now we're seeing it on the nuclear file."
Martin argued that, "no matter which side of the nuclear debate you fall on - pro or anti - everyone should be able to agree this is something which deserves public scrutiny."