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A Submission from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

Gideon Forman, Executive Director

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment is a national organization representing over 2,800 medical doctors and concerned citizens. We do educational work and advocacy with the goal of protecting human and environmental health.

In 2006 we received a Canadian Environment Award (Gold) from Canadian Geographic Magazine and the Canadian Government for our cross-Canada pesticide education initiatives. In 2007 we received a “Best of the Best” award from the International Association of Business Communicators for developing a campaign to ban lawn pesticides in London, Ontario.

As a physicians’ organization we are extremely concerned about nuclear energy. This form of electricity generation is hideously expensive, highly unreliable, and very dangerous – both to the environment and human health.

It is dangerous not just when there’s a major tragedy such as Three Mile Island or Chernobyl but in the course of its normal, everyday operations. People are put at risk when nuclear fuel is transported and when it’s burned in reactors; they’re put at risk when low-level radiation is released into the atmosphere by mistake or during so-called “planned purges”. And of course they’re put at risk during the process of uranium mining.

Uranium mining is harmful in at least two ways: first, the physical act of extracting uranium from the Earth necessitates the burning of phenomenal amounts of fossil fuel and therefore the creation of huge amounts of greenhouse gases.

Each nuclear plant demands the annual extraction of 162 tons of natural uranium which must be excavated by bulldozers, shovels, and trucks – all of which require diesel oil.

In fact, the amount of oil required is so great that one expert, Dr. Helen Caldicott, estimates that “within ten to twenty years, nuclear reactors will produce no net energy because of the massive amounts of fossil fuel that will be necessary to mine and enrich the remaining poor grades of uranium.”

So the next time the nuclear industry says nuclear power is emissions-free, we may want to ask them how the uranium gets from its buried state to its position within the reactor.

The second harm associated with uranium mining is of course cancer. And as a doctors’ organization we’re particularly worried about the health of uranium miners. These people are at risk because they’re exposed to elevated concentrations of radon, a carcinogenic gas that accumulates within the mine. Dr. Caldicott estimates that between one-fifth and one-half of uranium miners in North America have died and are continuing to die of lung cancer.

That’s a harrowing statistic and should be reason enough on its own to pursue other, safer forms of electricity generation.

So we support an end to nuclear power in Ontario, beginning with a moratorium on uranium mining.

As well, we will continue to work for the retrofitting of buildings, increased conservation measures, and the adoption of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.