The ongoing debate on nuclear energy

By Andrew Barbero

Alberta may soon be the site of many nuclear plants.

The Energy Alberta Corporation proposed nuclear power early last year as a means of supplying energy to the oil and gas industry while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Peace River is a likely site for the first plant.

However, fueling the oilsands with nuclear energy is not a greener alternative, said one expert in the field.

“Nuclear Power is too slow, too expensive and ultimately too risky,” said Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility president Gordon Edwards.

Considered Canada’s leading nuclear critic, the mathematics professor from Montreal’s Vanier College was invited by the Alberta anti-nuclear group Citizens Advocating Use of Sustainable Energy to speak to Albertans regarding the proposed building of as many as 13 nuclear power plants in Northern Alberta.

“We don’t realize how much we have accomplished already with energy conservation efforts and that’s just through half-trying,” said Edwards. “Renewable energy is out in front of nuclear and this is the route we should be going and putting our money behind.”

Edwards pointed to Germany, a country which has scrapped its nuclear program in favour of wind energy and now leads Europe in greenhouse gas reductions.

Edwards’ critique of nuclear energy falls under three categories; safety, waste and the disturbing connection between peaceful nuclear energy production and nuclear weapons.

“When operating nuclear reactors, small events can lead to substantial consequences,” said Edwards, explaining how a single nuclear mistake would burden countless generations of Albertans. “You can’t rebuild after a nuclear accident, you no longer have a livable environment.”

Nuclear reactors in eastern Canada have drained billions from provincial budgets with costly regulation enforcement and restoration efforts, explained Edwards.

There is also the matter of nuclear waste.

“Waste remains dangerous for tens of thousands of years,” said Edwards. “If you build thirteen nuclear power plants, you need thirteen nuclear waste storage sites, which will all be located next to important bodies of water because the process needs so much of it to cool the waste.”

Because of geographic advantages in this regard, Edwards wondered if Alberta would not become an ideal repository for nuclear waste from all over the country.

Despite numerous environmental concerns, Edwards’ most passionate critique is centred on nuclear reactors connection to nuclear arms, where the uranium used for energy production becomes an ideal raw material for any group wishing to build weapons of mass destruction.

“Nuclear energy doesn’t solve the global warming problem, it only adds to the problem of extermination devices and suicide devices, being nuclear weapons,” said Edwards. “If we don’t get rid of these weapons, they will get rid of us.”

Long believed to be a greener option than fossil fuels, Albertans are debating the nuclear question at all levels.

“My kids are looking at both the pros and cons of it,” said Kristen Simmons, a fourth-grade teacher who grew up in Pickering, Ont., where nuclear power is used.

Simmons attended the presentation to augment her class discussion on alternative energy sources, where it’s studied alongside wind and solar energy.

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