DAVID SUZUKI FOUNDATION
Climate Change Program - Organization's stance against nuclear power:
Thanks for your e-mail Janet, and thanks, too, for your support of our work. It's much appreciated by the staff here at our office in Vancouver, B.C.
In terms of the symposium on "Energy Generation and the Environment"
I will share with you some more in-depth information regarding our organization's stance against nuclear power. There are several pragmatic reasons behind the fact that we and most other environmental groups are opposed to the use of nuclear power. These reasons are based on numerous valid arguments supported by scientific papers and studies on the issue.
Summarized below the main reasons that explain why we are opposed to nuclear power:
1) Cost: The energy source that was originally promoted as "too cheap to meter" has proven to be one of the most expensive energy sources in history. The only way the industry has survived so far is through significant government subsidies.
For example, between 1952 and 2002, Canada's state-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) received subsidies totalling $ 17.5 Billion. Even with these substantial subsidies, nuclear power is still a very expensive proposition. For example, empirical evidence from the last nuclear plant
built in Canada (Ontario's Darlington) shows that the plant's estimated cost of $3.95 Billion in 1978 became a final actual cost of $14.4 Billion when Darlington was finished in 1993. A rough back of the envelope calculation indicates a range for the cost of Darlington (dollars per installed MW) of between $ 3.9 to 4.1 millions (i.e. $14.4 Billion divided by Darlington's installed capacity of 3740 gross MW or 3524 net MW).
To contrast, the Canadian Wind Energy Association states that wind power is currently being deployed in Canada for a cost of $ 1.5 million per MW. Furthermore, usually industry cost estimates for nuclear power do not include potential financial liabilities to society from environmental and health impacts, or the costs of accidents, clean-ups, waste disposal or plant decommissioning. As an example, the current private operators of Bruce Power have managed to convince the Ontario government to bear the potential
costs of a nuclear accident such as those that occurred in Chernobyl or Three Mile Island.
Nuclear plants are not only expensive, they're also financially risky because of their very long approval and construction times, historical cost overruns, and open-ended liabilities such as security threats and waste disposal. Many renewable energy options (e.g. wind) can be deployed more quickly than nuclear plants and do not entail any of the above problems.
2) Waste disposal: In 2002, the federal government gave the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) a three-year mandate to choose between three radioactive waste management alternatives: "deep geological disposal in the Canadian Shield"; "storage at nuclear sites"; or "centralized storage".
However, as NWMO admits, all of these options have serious problems. In the own words of NWMO's President Elizabeth Dowdeswell: "We don't have all the answers, either about technology or about the future of society." Nevertheless, NWMO has released a draft recommendation combining all three
disposal options in a 300-year, phased approach moving from storage at nuclear plants, to centralized storage, and finally to deep rock disposal. The NWMO expects this option, titled Adaptive Phased Management (APM), to cost $24 Billion. The APM proposal also depends on a critical step: finding
a community either in Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec or New Brunswick willing to host 1.9 million radioactive nuclear bundles within their boundaries.
3) Safety issues: Each step of the nuclear fuel chain, from uranium mining to the eventual dismantling of reactors, produces radioactive pollutants. The Pickering nuclear plant provides an illustration of the periodic detrimental safety implications of relying on nuclear power. This plant, which is located in a densely populated urban area, has often caused tritium leaks into the environment.
Tritium, a cancer-causing radioactive form of hydrogen, is produced as a by-product in nuclear reactors and is emitted into the air and water. Exposure to tritium increases the risk of developing cancer. In 1997 Ontario Hydro revealed that it had failed to report tritium contamination of ground water at the Pickering nuclear generating station for the last twenty years (in 1979 it found 2,150,000 becquerels per litre (Bq/L) of tritium in ground water, and in 1994 it found 700,000 Bq/L).
Unfortunately the above example is not a limited occurrence nor is a problem specific to the Canadian nuclear industry. In April 21 2005, Great Britain's Thorp reprocessing facility experienced a significant leak of highly radioactive nuclear fuel (containing uranium and plutonium fuel). Reports indicate that taxpayers will have to finance the repairs to the plant and that recovering these liquids and fixing the pipes will take months and may require special robots to be built and sophisticated engineering techniques devised to repair the ££2.1bn plant.
In any discussion about safety it is imperative to remember the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Many analysts have called the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant catastrophe 'the greatest technological disaster in history'. Scientific estimates indicate that the nuclear plant fire released a cloud of radioactivity equivalent to 200 Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs that spread as far as Western Europe and Turkey. The disaster killed at least 30 plant workers, sent hundreds of others to the hospital, and exposed millions of people to ionizing radiation. Chernobyl related radiation exposure is linked to up to 2,000 children that have developed thyroid cancer. Understanding the final health impacts of the Chernobyl disaster may take decades;
however, it is widely accepted that the accident caused great economic and psychological hardship, especially among the over one hundred thousand people who had to be permanently resettled away from their home in the town of Chernobyl.
4) Weapons proliferation: The use of nuclear reactors provides a unique opportunity to those willing to obtain the plutonium necessary to manufacture nuclear bombs. In fact sales of Canadian nuclear power
technology enabled India to develop weapons grade plutonium and the manufacturing and testing of its first nuclear bomb in 1974. Since then Canada has sold its CANDU nuclear technology to countries such as: Argentina, China, North Korea, Pakistan, Romania, and Taiwan, several of which have either already acquired a nuclear weapons capability or have considered embarking on a program to do so.
5) Terrorism: Despite some security improvements since 9/11, nuclear power plants remain potential targets for terrorists. As a result of this, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC; see http://www.ipcc.ch/) has stated that if nuclear power were to be used extensively to tackle climate change, "The security threat ... would be colossal." In addition to being a ready source of plutonium, the nuclear industry produces a variety of radioactive materials that can be combined with dynamite to produce
'dirty bombs', which could create significant disruption and damage if used by terrorists in busy urban areas.
6) Uranium supply: Nuclear power analysts have described the market of uranium as a 'market failure' (i.e. current prices are not adequate as signals for supply decisions). The implication is that if demand for nuclear power continues to grow uranium prices are bound to continue to grow increasing the already high costs of nuclear generation even further. Furthermore, in Canada, the provinces that are using nuclear power do not have their own domestic uranium reserves and therefore have to import capital away from their own jurisdictions to purchase uranium elsewhere (e.g. from Saskatchewan).
Many renewable energy sources on the other have no fuel costs (e.g. wind, solar, hydro) or even if fuel costs are involved (e.g. sustainable biomass sources) local options for fuel supply are usually available (e.g. from forestry and agricultural residues).
7) Jobs: Renewable energy sources such as wind power provide several times more jobs as nuclear does. In fact, nuclear power generates fewer jobs than any other energy option in the world. For example, each terawatt-hour of power generation using nuclear power is estimated to create 75 jobs per year; using the same units, wind power employment generation ranges from 918 - 2,400. For more details please see Table 3. Direct jobs in energy production (page 5) of Goldemberg (2004) "Rationale for renewable energies: Making the case for renewable energies". Available at
8) Nuclear power is not a solution for climate change: When the entire nuclear cycle (from uranium mining & processing to plant construction & eventual decommissioning) is considered, the amount of CO2 released is far from insignificant. Also, the enrichment of uranium is responsible for a large amount of the gas CFC-114, which is not only an ozone-depleting substance, but also has a greenhouse-potential equal to 9800 times that of CO2. Furthermore, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), revealed in a recent report that nuclear power cannot grow fast enough over the next decades to slow climate change - even under the most favorable circumstances. In fact it is for these and other reasons that nuclear power was rejected as a solution to climate change at the 2001 UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in Bonn.
While not everyone will agree with each of the above points, we feel that there are so many compelling concerns about this energy source (many of which have no foreseeable technical solutions) that the expansion of this industry is not only unwarranted, but a dangerous and expensive distraction from implementing truly sustainable energy sources.
Instead of nuclear, we support the implementation of a multitude of approaches including energy conservation and efficiency measures, as well as renewable sources like wind power, sustainable biomass options, and solar applications. All of these options are cheaper, safer, more versatile, and
create more jobs and local self-reliance than nuclear power.
I hope this information proves useful to you, Janet.
Brian Yourish, Administrator
Climate Change Program
David Suzuki Foundation
2211 West 4th Ave, Suite 219
Vancouver, BC, Canada V6K 4S2
Phone: 604-732-4228; Fax: 604-732-0752