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Embrace sustainable and wiser power generation, nuclear critic tells the province

Telegraph-Journal Saint John, New Brunswick: ALAN COCHRANE, Canadaeast News Service - February 25th, 2008

A flash in the pan: Energy

New Brunswick should invest its money in alternative and renewable sources of electricity, rather than spend billions of dollars on nuclear power plants that provide short-term benefits and long-term problems, nuclear critic Dr. Gordon Edwards said.

"Instead of jumping from the carbon frying pan into the nuclear fire, we need to find alternative sources of energy," Edwards said in an interview following an hour-long presentation at Mount Allison University in Sackville. He said countries like Germany are embracing wind and solar power, which are becoming progressively cheaper to set up and much safer for the environment and the people around it than nuclear power.

"The question New Brunswickers need to ask themselves is whether they want to be a launching pad for the spread of more nuclear technology around the world."

New Brunswick is currently preparing to refurbish the existing nuclear generating station at Point Lepreau and considering the construction of a second reactor nearby. This comes amid reports that New Brunswick's demand for electricity is actually declining and the province has the capability to import cheaper electricity from neighbouring jurisdictions.

Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, has fought for transparency and accountability from Canada's nuclear industry. He has acted as a consultant to many government organizations, such as the Auditor General of Canada and the Ontario

Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning.

In his presentation, Edwards traced the history of uranium, radioactivity and the serious health risks associated with an element he believes should be left in the ground where it can't hurt anybody.

Uranium is a natural element that remains dormant underground. The problems occur when it is brought to the surface.

He said exploration and testing for uranium, which has been proposed for areas around the Turtle Creek watershed area - home of Metro Moncton's water supply - is too dangerous to comprehend. So far, local councils have rejected the idea of exploring for uranium.

He said drilling and testing creates small holes in the rock which act as "chimneys for the radon gas to escape" and allow contamination to spread into the water supply.

"It's difficult to assess and track, but it is definitely bad news."

Bringing uranium to the surface through mining operations can release dust particles that can be lethal even in tiny quantities. Uranium goes through many changes into many more lethal types of radioactive particles that can invade the human body, mutate cells and cause all sorts of damage. Uranium mines in Ontario have large deposits of waste materials that will remain toxic for hundreds of thousands of years.

He pointed to a modern artificial lake in Saskatchewan equipped with pumping stations that was built to house waste material from uranium mines.

"It's an ingenious plan, but is it going to last for 800,000 years?"

Waste rock from uranium mines is often dumped and reclaimed for use as building materials like stone and concrete, resulting in new homes being constructed of radioactive material.

He said nuclear generating stations routinely emit radioactive materials and are powered by small uranium pellets enclosed in metal bundles which generate heat.

"You can get the energy out of the pellet if you accept the responsibility of looking after it for the next million years."

After the pellets are spent, they must be cooled for several years before they can be stored, but they continue to generate heat and radioactivity for many years after that.

In the long run, he said, nuclear energy is just a flash in the pan. It will take billions of dollars to construct and set up a generating station that will last maybe 30 years, and take billions more to shut down when its lifespan is over.

Then there is the issue of nuclear weapons. For many years, much of the uranium mined in Canada went to the United States for use in making weapons. Edwards said former Prime Minister Lester Pearson outlawed that in the 1960s, but uranium still finds its way into weapons. And if uranium continues to be mined for use in electrical generating plants, at least some of it will continue to be funneled into weapons. This continues to feed what he calls the "hypocritcal double standard" that some countries like the U.S. and Britain are allowed to have nuclear weapons while others are not, and they would use those weapons to prevent other countries from making their own.

He believes that if New Brunswick allows another nuclar generating plant to be established in this province, it would act as a springboard for the technology to be used in other parts of the world.

After speaking at Mount Allison yesterday, Edwards continued to another speech in Saint John. He is scheduled to speak today at St. Thomas University in Fredericton. His speaking tour was sponsored by the New Brunswick Conservation Council and various university groups.

The same article was front page of the Times & Transcript as well under the title:

Invest in renewable power, N.B. told.

Nuclear critic tells province to avoid spending billions on nuclear power; alternate energy sources are cheaper and safer.

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