Nukes No Solution to Climate Change

By Tooker Gomberg, Toronto, Canada.

Canadian officials are promoting nuclear power as a climate change solution. But nukes have their own problems, and there are much better alternatives available.

Last week, environment ministers from across Canada wrapped up a two- day meeting in Kananaskis, Alberta. Once again, climate change was on their agenda. In their news release, they said it was “one of the highest environmental priorities facing our country,” and they pledged “to intensify their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” But they never said how. They’ve been singing the same tune for years: talk, study, promise. Yet they do nothing.

While the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers may be cheering all the way to the bank, the levels of greenhouse gases emitted in Canada have been going straight up. That, after Canada signed the Kyoto Protocol two years ago, promising to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6% by 2012.

While our emissions grow, Arctic sea ice shrinks. Polar bears in western Hudson Bay are starving because the ice is starting to melt three weeks earlier in the season, cutting into the bears’ seal-hunting time. The current issue of the journal Science reports that the expanse of Arctic ice pack is shrinking rapidly because of greenhouse gases released from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas. According to the December 1 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, the ice has shrunk by 40 percent in thickness over the past four decades.

The world’s coral reefs are bleaching and dying due to warming oceans. The incidence of violent storms is skyrocketing. Earth’s thermostat is going wacky. Doing nothing is no longer an option.

Enter Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. At a recent symposium of the Canadian Nuclear Society, Natural Resources Minister Ralph Goodale enthused that nuclear power plants could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. He also suggested that Canada could sell Candu reactors abroad, then get emission credits for doing so through the Kyoto protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

Due to cost and safety concerns the industrialized world hasn’t ordered a new nuclear power plant in more than 25 years. Ontario has temporarily shut down eight of its 20 reactors due to the worst safety and performance record in its history. Now the nuclear industry is desperately trying to foist these white elephants on unsuspecting countries. To add insult to injury, Canadian taxpayers are helping foot the bill.

While nuclear plants don’t emit greenhouse gases, as dirty coal-fired power plants do, nukes have their own problems, like catastrophic accidents (remember Chernobyl?). Turkey, recovering from two recent devastating earthquakes, is about to purchase a nuclear reactor, possibly from Canada. That Canada would saddle other countries with the expensive construction and decommissioning costs of an industry whose waste remains radioactive and dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years is unscrupulous, to say the least.

As the world community slowly moves towards addressing the climate crisis, Canada stands alone in urging the nuclear route.

Sustainable options are available, in the form of energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy. For instance, Edmonton has set up a special revolving fund to finance energy efficiency improvements. Investments have been made to improve lighting in buildings. Timers and swimming-pool covers have been installed. Not only have these moves managed to cut energy use dramatically in those buildings, incredibly, for every dollar invested they are earning savings of 30% each year.

Greenpeace, in co-operation with the European Wind Energy Association, recently released a report showing that within 20 years, wind could meet 10% the world’s electricity requirements. The potential for electricity from the sun generated by photovoltaic panels is even greater. KPMG, in a report commissioned by Greenpeace, concluded that electricity from PV panels on your roof will be cost-competitive with electricity from dirty fossil fuel or nuclear power plants when mass production of solar panels begins in earnest.

The Canadian Government has a choice: Promote the failed, expensive and dangerous fossil fuel and nuclear technologies of the past century, or help bring about an energy revolution that would help repair the damage we have done to our planet, as well as kick start new, sustainable economic activity.

It ought not to be a difficult choice.

Tooker Gomberg is the Climate & Energy Campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, and a former Edmonton City Councillor.