The Case for a Nuclear-Free Canada
Nuclear power Is obsolete.
* No new nuclear power reactor has been sold anywhere in North America for over ten years. Since Chernobyl, plans for expanding the nuclear industry in the USSR have ground to a halt. The Philippines permanently closed its newly constructed (and only) nuclear plant after Chernobyl. Many European countries, including Sweden, Austria, and Italy, have decided to phase out nuclear power. When Margaret Thatcher privatized the British electricity industry in 1989, nobody wanted the nuclear plants; since then three new reactors have been canceled and a phase-out of the British nuclear industry seems inevitable. Australia and New Zealand have non-nuclear policies.
* Nuclear power has been rejected by the public. Asking the same question every year, Gallup found that cross-Canada support for the expansion of nuclear power withered from 46% to 16% from 1978 to 1988. A Decima poll taken in June, 1989, found that the "Canadian public opinion is firmly rooted against the use of nuclear energy to generate electricity in Canada"
* Canada is out of step with world trends and public opinion. Twenty nuclear power reactors now operate in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. Ontario, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan are currently considering proposals for new reactors. Ontario and Saskatchewan have operating uranium mines. New mines have recently been proposed for Saskatchewan and the North West Territories. Following are some of the reasons why Canada should be phasing out, rather than expanding, the nuclear industry.
Nuclear power is dangerous.
* Nuclear reactors are inherently dangerous. Catastrophic releases of radiation can occur as a result of nuclear accidents. There have been major accidents at Windscale in England, Three Mile Island in the US, and Chernobyl in the USSR. Meltdowns can occur in CANDU reactors and CANDU safety systems, including the containment system, can fail. The massive pressure tube rupture at Pickering in 1983 illustrates that CANDU reactors are not immune to catastrophic accidents.
* Neither the nuclear industry nor the insurance industry is prepared to stand behind the claim that the CANDU is safe. Read your insurance policy, your property is not covered in the event of radioactive contamination! In addition, an Act of Parliament completely exempts manufacturers from liability in case of an accident, and limits the liability of nuclear plant owners to a fraction of the estimated damages.
* There is growing concern over the adverse health effects from normal operation of nuclear reactors. Some countries - but not Canada - have sharply lowered the permissible levels of radiation exposure for both workers and the public. Health studies have shown increased rates of cancer, birth defects and other health problems because of exposure to radioactive pollution.
Nuclear power is unnecessary.
* There are safer, cheaper, and more reliable alternatives to nuclear power. Increased energy efficiency (doing more with less) and energy conservation (cutting down on waste) have great potential, especially since Canada squanders more energy per person than does any other country in the world. New technologies, ranging from efficient lightbulbs and motors to effective insulation, exist to slash electricity use dramatically without diminishing electrical services.
* Electricity can be produced more economically through industrial cogeneration (simultaneous generation within an industry of electricity and heat from the same fuel source) and small-scale, decentralized generators, such as small hydro-electric plants. Besides, eighty-five percent of our energy needs are non-electrical, and electricity-producing reactors are not able to meet these needs in a cost-effective manner.
Nuclear power can't solve global warming.
* If Canada were to replace all coal-fired electricity with nuclear power, we'd only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by ten percent. Energy efficiency has far greater potential to reduce greenhouse gasses. It is cheaper, faster, environmentally sustainable, and is not limited to replacing electricity. In fact, each dollar invested in energy efficiency displaces seven times as much carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning than does the same dollar spent on nuclear power.
* To replace all of its current oil, gas and coal use, the world would have to build about 80,000 medium-sized reactors. It would take over 200 years to build them even at the rate of one a day, and the cost would be staggering. And common sense tells us that we must not trade one environmental problem for another.
Nuclear power is dirty.
* Nuclear reactors create hundreds of radioactive waste materials which are extremely toxic even in minute quantities. Most of them are contained in the used reactor fuel, which will remain extraordinarily dangerous for millions of years. There is no proven method for safely storing these wastes over their entire hazardous lifetimes.
* Uranium mining and processing threaten workers, nearby residents, native culture, and the environment. The mill wastes, called tailings, contain many dangerous radioactive materials, as well as toxic chemicals such as heavy metals. Spills and teaching from mine sites contaminate river systems and lakes. And the tailings will continue to produce large amounts of deadly radon gas, spreading radioactive fallout over vast areas for hundreds of thousands of years.
Nuclear power is unreliable.
* After a promising first decade, CANDUs are beginning to experience serious technical problems. The pressure tubes, which hold the nuclear fuel, are deteriorating much faster than expected. At the Pickering and Bruce reactors in Ontario, the splitting open of tubes during full power operation caused shutdowns of up to four years for repairs that have cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
* Clogged steam generators are also causing unexpected reactor shutdowns. Unreliable nuclear performance is starting to cause power shortages in Ontario.
Nuclear power is expensive.
* Despite 45 years of government-funded development and many billions of dollars in subsidies, the nuclear industry still cannot stand on its own two feet. Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. still receives $200 million each year as a gift from Canadian taxpayers, even though the Mulroney government promised to cut this annual handout down to $100 million by 1990.
* Nuclear proponents underestimate the cost of nuclear power. They exclude from their calculations the value of the subsidies they have received, the freedom from financial liability they enjoy, and the preferential interest rates they receive for construction. Inaccurate estimates of the productivity of reactors also make them seem more attractive financially than they really are.
* The nuclear industry has no realistic cost estimates for dismantling the radioactive hulks of defunct reactors or of disposing of the high-level radioactive wastes. In Britain, such costs were recently estimated to exceed $30 billion. There are no adequate financial provisions to dispose of approximately 175 million tonnes of radioactive uranium tailings dumped on the surface of the earth in various Canadian locations.
Nuclear power creates few jobs.
* Nuclear plants create few permanent jobs per dollar invested. Although many are employed during a plant's construction, its maintenance and operation require a relatively small work force. Money invested in virtually any other sector of the economy creates more permanent jobs. Nuclear industry workers should be provided with full support for retraining and relocation to new jobs.
Nuclear power is linked to nuclear weapons.
* Canada is the world's largest producer and exporter of uranium. Uranium has only two ultimate destinations: nuclear weapons or radioactive wastes. Uranium used in the World War II Atomic Bomb Project was processed in Canada. From 1940 to 1965 Canadian companies sold uranium under military contracts for use in nuclear weapons. Although Canadian uranium is now sold only for peaceful uses, Canada has no real control over how it is used once it is exported.
* Canadian reactors produce more plutonium as a by-product than do most reactors of other designs. Plutonium is the primary nuclear explosive used in the nuclear arsenals of the world. In 1974, India detonated an atomic bomb using plutonium produced in a research reactor given to her by Canada. By selling reactors overseas, Canada is making available to other countries the raw material from which atomic bombs can be made.
* If the use of nuclear power were significantly expanded, economically recoverable reserves of uranium would be quickly depleted, and plutonium would have to be used as a fuel. Any criminal organization or terrorist group stealing plutonium fuel could make its own atomic bombs. Tritium, a by-product of CANDU reactors and a key com-ponent of nuclear weapons, is in very short supply for the US military. Ontario Hydro decided in 1989 to export tritium even though the exports will free up tritium for nuclear weapons.
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