May 23, 2000
To the Editor, National Post
For decades, nuclear power has produced electricity without emitting
greenhouse gases, to the tune of a billion tonnes avoided in Canada alone.
Forced to concede this fundamental and remarkable fact, anti-nuclear
activists are showing signs of desperation ("Canada's nuclear nabobs try
to turn green" by Norman Rubin of Energy Probe, May 20). An attempt to
call up old chestnuts like "too cheap to meter" (actually a promise never
made by the nuclear industry) and other half-truths, rings hollow in a
naked move to stave off disfranchisement in the nuclear debate.
A proven technology with minimal environmental impact, nuclear power is
the cornerstone of the most realistic strategy for meeting
greenhouse-gas-reduction commitments world-wide. Some of Mr. Rubin's
efforts to divert attention from this essential point demand rebuttal:
Canada has the technology for safely disposing of high-level nuclear
waste, by putting it back where it came from -- in the ground. This waste
is much shorter-lived and isolated than that of Mr. Rubin's favoured
technology, natural gas, which spews its by-products into our lungs.
Contrary to allegation, Canada's nuclear waste disposal technology
includes monitoring, retrievability (if needed), and was deemed
"technically safe" by a nine-year Environmental Assessment Review Panel in
1998. Mr. Rubin prefers to call this a "hung jury" in reference to the
Panel's caveat that the technology is "unsafe from a social perspective"
-- a curious turn of phrase defined as "not having broad public support".
Most readers know the difference between "acceptance" and "safety", and
I'm sure they don't appreciate having the distinction obscured, by either
the Review Panel or Mr. Rubin.
Greenhouse-gas reduction can also be achieved with energy-efficiency
measures and renewable sources, which is why they should be part of the
overall strategy. Most observers recognize the need for a major power
source in addition to these measures, and Energy Probe chooses natural
gas. It is unfathomable, however, that Mr. Rubin would describe natural
gas as a "low-emission fuel", since its greenhouse-gas emissions are fully
two-thirds that of coal. To equal the annual output of a Darlington-sized
nuclear station, natural gas would spew a million tonnes of greenhouse
gases (and thousands of tonnes of acid gases) into the atmosphere.
Natural gas is a rapidly depleting resource much better suited to
space-heating applications, for which it excels.
It is also unclear why Mr. Rubin chooses to partner nuclear with coal
power, claiming that the latter is required to top up nuclear's base-load
supply. After all, the same "topping up" can be supplied by hydro, solar,
wind, or the beloved natural gas -- you choose the partner technology.
Clearly, Canada needs an effective, new "watch dog" group on energy issues
-- one that is open-minded, flexible, sincere, and not afraid to doff its
nabobs still stuck in a 1970s "no nukes" mentality.
Jeremy Whitlock, Ph.D.