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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


To The National Post in response to an article by Norm Rubin of Energy Probe on the Greenhouse-Gas amelioration potential of nuclear energy:

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.