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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


To TVOntario's "Studio 2" current affairs show, regarding a panel discussion on the restart of the Pickering-A nuclear plant near Toronto:

October 5, 2001

Your panel discussion on Ontario's "nuclear comeback" was well-moderated and presented, but concerns a complex subject seldom done justice in such forums.

For example, I believe the crux of the matter came out right at the end but had to be cut off; namely, that Norm Rubin (Energy Probe) and Tony Sinclair (U of T) are talking about two different scenarios.

Sinclair was correct to point out that generating electricity with wind and solar power requires the construction of equal-capacity generating plants of a more reliable type (fossil, nuclear) if we are considering future expansion of the supply system. Rubin, however, was clearly talking about present-day usage, where every "clean" megawatt avoids an existing "dirty" megawatt, regardless of how unreliable that source of "clean" energy is.

Rubin's point is valid, but completely irrelevant to the restart of Pickering-A. This project is about replacing 2000 MW of dirty baseload generating capacity, with clean baseload generating capacity. The coal plants that would come to the rescue of Rubin's windmills (typically supplying their rated capacity only 10-15% of the time), are simply not going to be around in the future. Thus, we are talking about major plant addition to the grid, even if our current electricity demand stays constant.

The only practical alternative to nuclear power in Ontario is natural gas, often touted as a clean energy source by environmental groups. In Wednesday's discussion Rubin inexplicably shrugged off Sinclair's point that natural gas is a polluting fossil fuel. Is Rubin (and Energy Probe) suggesting that the annual emission of 6 tonnes of carbon-dioxide (a greenhouse gas) for every home powered by natural gas, is a trivial concern? Does the fact that coal emits 10 tonnes really make gas "clean"?

Finally, I take exception to a few of Rubin's statements that are of questionable accuracy. Of particular concern was his claim that Canada's nuclear regulator does not require Pickering to have a "state-of-the-art" shutdown system capable of avoiding a Chornobyl-type accident. This is a highly irresponsible, fear-mongering comment to make, and quite false. Clearly Rubin is either out of touch with the technology he is paid to oppose, or he is practicing deliberate obfuscation.


Jeremy Whitlock