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Living with nuclear’s double-edged sword

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#1 gwest


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Posted 10 March 2011 - 12:49 PM

Q Much has been written, including in the pages of this newspaper, about the ethics of transporting spent nuclear generators from Bruce Power across the Great Lakes. The plan is to send the generators to Sweden, where technology exists to “recycle” them in a way that has shown to be safe. What’s your take on the ethics of this plan?

A: Full disclosure: I live much of my life on the shore of Georgian Bay: I drink water straight from the bay, eat fish right out of the water and swim in it every day from May to October. I have a huge personal investment in that water remaining clean.

But I turn on my lights at night. I use a washing machine, TV and computer. I heat with wood when I can and electricity when I can’t. When the power is off, life as I know it grinds to a halt.

About 37 per cent of Ontario’s electricity comes from nuclear. No industry in this country has a better safety record. Nuclear contributes virtually nothing to the problem of greenhouse gases. Although expensive, it’s reliable and abundant. But the problem of nuclear-waste disposal remains unsolved.

There is no perfect way to generate sufficient electricity to power this province. Coal is filthy; natural gas, while preferable, still generates significant pollutants and has to be piped from afar; hydro is largely tapped out, without new engineering projects and their major ecological impacts; windmills kill birds, and nobody in this province seems to want one anywhere they can see it; large-scale solar remains impractical in this climate; overall, green energy sources are a drop (albeit a growing drop) in the bucket against Ontario’s wants and needs.

So here’s the ethical problem. Unless Ontarians are willing to cut electrical consumption by 35 per cent to 40 per cent, crying about spent nuclear generators on the lakes is just another form of NIMBYism. It’s like demanding a clean city while refusing to let a garbage truck drive down your street.

I don’t hear opponents of this plan offering to give up their TVs and computers – in fact, they are often the same people advocating electric cars as an environmentally friendly panacea. We want our power — we just want the nuclear waste in someone else’s back yard, the windmills out of sight, the coal-fired plants closed down and natural-gas pipeline construction halted so we don’t disrupt caribou migration. In short, we want to both suck and blow — and that won’t work.

Ethically, it is the responsibility of Bruce Power to dispose of these materials in the safest possible manner. It’s the responsibility of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to satisfy itself that appropriate safeguards are in place. It is the responsibility of the Ontario government to oversee the project, and ensure that risks are stringently managed. From what I read, all these bodies have done their bit.

We’re running out of other people’s backyards to dump our waste into. If we insist, as we do, on continuing to consume at the present rate, we have to accept our share of the risk that is the result of that insistence, and pay the real cost of mitigating that risk until a safe manner of final disposal is developed.

Toronto star

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