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Rehabilitating nuclear

The Ottawa Citizen: March 20, 2008

Anyone who says cultural attitudes are fixed in stone should think about the astonishing transformation in the way we think about nuclear energy.

For many years, nuclear power was a terrifying thing. Lingering images of Hiroshima, and then later the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, caused many businesses and governments to shiver at the idea of investing in nuclear energy.

And today? Now we have communities in Ontario that are actually lobbying to have nuclear plants built in their jurisdictions. Most notably, people living around the Nanticoke coal-fired station hope to play host to a renewed nuclear industry in the province. The leaders of these communities rightly believe that a nuclear plant in the neighbourhood would translate into hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars for the local economy.

Nuclear energy is enjoying a renaissance for several reasons. It is an extremely clean form of energy. Suddenly, people are more afraid of global warming caused by burning coal than they are by the risks associated with nuclear energy. So too, the global security risk associated with propping up dictators by buying their oil are arguably greater than the risk of nuclear accidents in our own borders.

As experts continue to crunch the numbers and do their cost-benefit analyses, nuclear energy increasingly emerges as the most viable way to power our cities in the 21st century. Nuclear energy still has real problems -- the issue of nuclear waste is the biggest -- but it appears to be better than the traditional alternatives.

That some communities are not just willing to accept this reality but are in fact embracing it shows that the rehabilitation of nuclear energy is just about complete.

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