January 17, 2001
To the Editor, The Globe and Mail
David Martin is wrong to claim "it is an internationally accepted
principle that any exposure to ionizing radiation increases the risk of
cancer and birth defects" (letters, January 17). His statement is
intended as a slight against the routine emissions of nuclear power
plants, but he deliberately obscures the facts. In fifty years of intense
scrutiny, there have been no health effects observed from radiation levels
thousands of times higher than that due to nuclear power plants.
Radiation at such low levels is a natural part of our environment, and
certainly one of the least toxic. Nuclear plants, in turn, are among the
least radioactive sources we are exposed to.
Nevertheless, the accepted principle of radiation safety is to err on the
side of caution, and assume that the possibility of harm exists at all
exposure levels. This is very different from claiming an increase in
risk, because the effect could just as likely be zero. All we know for
certain is that any effect is so small as to be unobservable. It is
unfortunate that anti-nuclear activists like Mr. Martin routinely exploit
this conservatism to their own end.
Mr. Martin distorts the truth in his claim that nuclear costs twice as
much as natural gas, "even with increased gas prices." Perhaps Mr.
Martin is thinking of peaking supply conditions, where plants are turned
off and on to meet the daily peak electricity demand. Unfortunately the
bulk of our supply is turned on all the time (baseload), including the
nuclear power plants that Mr. Martin would replace with natural gas.
Under these conditions the situation is quite the opposite: nuclear power,
including construction, operation, decommissioning and waste management,
costs half that of natural gas. And this is before gas prices started
Nuclear power is the cleanest, safest, and cheapest baseload electrical
supply option available to us. Forward-thinking governments of the world
know this, and continue to make nuclear an important contributor to their
energy-supply portfolio. Other governments have been swayed by
misinformed perception, and like Sweden of late, will probably turn to
compromise down the road.
It is time for bold but rational thinkers in this nation's energy debate.
The needs of the new millennium are not well-served by the Seventies' "No