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House: Where is the nuclear debate?

Mike Watkins - November 4, 2007

http://mikewatkins.ca/2007/11/04/no-nuclear-debate/

The end of the petroleum age is a notion which might have been laughed at fifty years ago but which is looking increasingly close on the horizon--for those who are paying attention. At the same time, climate change as a result of the burning of fossil fuels is an issue which, despite the best efforts of politicians like George Bush and Stephen Harper to deny and ignore, has garnered global attention and concern from every day citizens of the planet.

The conjoined issues of climate change and energy scarcity have created an environment where politicians can ram through bad policy.

We shall increasingly hear that nuclear power is the only way to meet green house gas reduction obligations while at the same time power our energy-hungry lives.

There has been precious little public discussion on the role of nuclear energy going forward, despite a clear acceleration of the nuclear industry's agenda by politicians in Canada, the United States, and Australia.

There are vast sums of money at stake: Canada is the world's largest producer of uranium, followed by Australia. The United States, China, and France are the worlds largest present-day or near-future consumers of uranium.

Vested business and military interests exist in both producer and consumer states, but particularly so here in Canada. We have AECL pushing for reactor sales; our world-leading uranium deposits eyed hungrily by miners; and the worlds largest nuclear consumer - the United States - directly across our borders.

In Stephen Harper, the U.S. has found a Prime Minister who quite happily will work on their behalf to create a policy and political under which an acceleration of nuclear-related exports can occur.

Canadians largely live under a cloud of illusion when it comes to our participation in the nuclear arms industry. Our uranium has ended up in U.S. nuclear weapons, by proxy or in actuality, it matters not. While our politicians have in the past called for a re-thinking of NATO nuclear policy, we've never backed up our policy with principled action.

Former foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy in his 1998 speech to NATO quoted a poll showing 93 percent of Canadians wanted Canada to take a leading role in the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Yet it was Canadian nuclear technology that led to India becoming a nuclear power; our uranium finds its way, directly or by proxy, into the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Liberal governments allowed the transport of plutonium into our country for experimental test burns, despite prior recommendations from House of Commons committees that such a program was unfeasible.

Given our historical inability to match our citizens' desires with working policy, what confidence should we have that the current government will do any better? In fact there is every reason to believe, and evidence to prove, that Stephen Harper will increase Canada's role on the nuclear stage, without having consulted parliament or Canadians at large.

Garnering little notice in the press, in early November members of the House of Commons were debating changes to the inadequate liability legislation covering the nuclear industry. Like the stock market passes risk off from insiders to a largely un-knowing public, the nuclear industry wants to pass practically all the risk off on to you and me. In other words, they keep the profits, we keep the waste and future problems. The potential liability is virtually immeasurable - hundreds of billions of dollars - but money means nothing when nuclear accidents can leave vast areas of geography uninhabitable.

In tandem, Stephen Harper's government has been quietly pursuing the Canadian nuclear industry's agenda on the international stage, a stage largely controlled by the United States.

According to censored documents obtained by The Canadian Press through an access-to-information request, the federal government has been "very interested" in the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) since 2006 when Canadian and American officials began discussions "to consider possible parameters of Canadian involvement."

Canada signing onto GNEP would be a "wet dream" for the country's nuclear industry, said Dave Martin, energy co-ordinator for Greenpeace Canada.

"It would mean a dramatic increase in nuclear exports and reprocessing, which is something they've wanted for a long time," he explained from Toronto. "But the cost in terms of proliferation and security risks is going to be enormous."

One obstacle to membership in the GNEP, Mr. Martin pointed out, is that Canada has a long-standing policy against repatriating radioactive waste-which contains plutonium-from the sale of uranium and CANDU reactors, designed and marketed by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

A Disturbing Change of Position

Embassy Magazine in its September 12 editorial quotes UBC professor Michael Byers who has detected since the Harper government was formed a significant shift in Canada's stated policy towards nuclear weapons.

In January 2002, Canada's policy called for "the complete elimination of nuclear weapons...through steadily advocating national, bilateral and multilateral steps," Mr. Byers points out in his new book, Intent for a Nation: What is Canada For?

[Recently the] foreign affairs website has been amended to say that Canada's nuclear weapons policy is now "consistent with our membership in NATO and NORAD, and in a manner sensitive to the broader international security context." As Mr. Byers rightly points out, this clause strips Canada's policy of any real meaning.

I don't recall Stephen Harper stating anywhere during the 2006 election that a Harper government would be more, not less, tolerant of nuclear weapons. Did voters give Harper a mandate to expand our country's contribution to the arms race? To nuclear proliferation? Are we prepared to take on the worlds nuclear waste, as GNEP effectively mandates?

If you disturb the land, terrible illnesses will happen in retribution. Disrupting one part of your life knocks the whole system off balance. Traditional Navajo Healer's Philosophy

Perhaps our native population can stand up and speak about the issue with a powerful voice.

Labrador's Inuit government is considering suspending all uranium mining and development on its territory because of concerns over the safe disposal of the radioactive element's waste. "The tailings disposal is a very big concern. How do you dispose of it and store it for hundreds and hundreds of years afterwards safely?" said William Barbour, Nunatsiavut's minister of land and resources.

Seems to me there ought to be a serious debate on this issue, not the pablum that is Question Period or most elections.

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