Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU)
Citizens’ Inquiry on the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle
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Our Choice

by Ross Sutherland

There are many aspects to the question of uranium mining in Eastern Ontario. There are safety considerations with the mining, processing, use and disposal of uranium, dangers to drinking water contamination, its link to weapons of mass destruction, its undermining of native rights and its negation of the rights of residents and property owners through the mining act. Others have or will speak about these concerns and I want to state my support for them.

As strong as these arguments are against uranium mining and the nuclear industry when it comes to making a societal decision any action needs to be evaluated both in terms of its problems and benefits and how it compares to alternatives. This is a principle underlying our environmental review process.

Unfortunately the provincial government has chosen to exempt the expansion of nuclear power in Ontario from this process of public scrutiny and accountability. I welcome this opportunity to address this issue here because I believe it is also central to the concerns of this inquiry.

One of the reasons that our provincial and federal governments have given a free ride to the nuclear industry, and by extension the uranium mining industry, is that they have accepted as truth that there is no alternative but nuclear power to, in their words, “keep the lights on.” This simple phrasing though is only symbolic for the much greater fears they invoke, that without nuclear power we will not be able to maintain our standard of living, keep our industries functioning and power our hospital operating rooms. If this is true, than as bad as nuclear power and uranium mining are, as unfair to local residents and the native people and as unsafe and expensive as it is, we as a society may have no choice.

My first thought when confronted with only one answer which is unpalatable is to think that maybe we have the wrong question. Maybe we should be asking do we have to meet the electricity demand forecast by the Ontario government to have a thriving economy, to keep our hospitals and schools open and to keep our lights on.

This is the principal question that the World Wild life Fund and the Pembina Institute looked at last year in their report “Renewable is Doable.” Central to their analyses of whether nuclear power is needed in Ontario is determining whether future demand projections can be reduced to the point where renewable sources can provide reliable affordable energy that will meet Ontario’s needs.

“Renewable Is Doable” makes a strong case that there is an alternative to the escalating demand projections of the Ontario Power Authority, the OPA, the government body that oversees Ontario’s electricity system. The ability to reduce demand means that we can meet Ontario’s power needs without coal and nuclear.

It is not possible in the time allowed to present the detail in “Renewable is Doable”, but a summary of the findings and the background technical papers can be found on line at renewabelisdoalbe.com. A few points need to be raised to show how the framework adopted by the report provides a realistic alternative to the nuclear option.

First, the alternative is premised on the government taking a comprehensive and sustained approach to reducing demand and developing renewable power sources. In other words the government has to take this task seriously. Sadly there are too many examples of under funded programs, successful pilots that were not picked up, and good opportunities missed to say that any government in Canada has started to take this task seriously, in large part because they continue to believe that there is no alternative to nuclear. I think it is important to also recognize that there is a strong incentive for the nuclear and fossil fuel industries to undermine conservation and demand management programs where ever possible.

Except for this bias the lack of attention to many of these programs is difficult to understand. One of many possible examples that illustrate this point is the industrial peak demand reduction program. In the summer, on those hot sticky days, electrify demand often outstrips supply: a point that is often used against those advocating renewable energy. To help address this problem the government has a contract through Rodan Energy where companies agree to reduce their energy demand at peak times, like the hot sticky days, which reduces the amount of power that the province has to buy at very high prices. It is an effective program to manage demand but the government capped the funding so there were willing companies which could not be signed up. Energy costs rose and demand rose because of the government’s lack of commitment to alternatives other than nuclear.

As “Renewable Is Doable” points out a comprehensive and sustained conservation program would not be cheap, it would cost tens of billions of dollars, but the outcome would be a society built around a new approach to energy, a sustainable one, one that provides us with a future.

Second, most of the figures in “Renewable Is Doable” are from the OPA and other government sources. Key is that they accept the OPAs demand projections up to 2027 as the starting point and make the case that this demand can be lowered to a manageable level. On the costing side they accept the government’s assumptions that there will be no cost overruns from nuclear construction, an assumption with no basis in previous nuclear power plant construction: they have all gone over budget usually in the range of 40%.

Finally, while the costs are high to implement a comprehensive conservation, demand management, renewable energy and waste heat recovery program, they are still less than refurbishing and expanding nuclear power generation. And the green options developed by “Renewable Is Doable” also produce approximately half the carbon emissions of an energy system built around nuclear power making a more compelling case for these options.

There is a very strong argument that there an alternative to nuclear power that uses realistic and achievable energy conservation goals and renewable energy sources. This is an alternative to nuclear power that is reliable, cost effective and achievable. The problem is that conservation, demand management and renewable energy is not an alternative for the nuclear power industry. It is also not an alternative for the fossil fuel industry, which relies on the same assumptions of expanding demand.

This brings us back to the dispute that sparked this inquiry: Whether there should be uranium mining in Eastern Ontario? The choice fundamentally comes down to do we want to build a new energy economy. One that is committed to jobs and social justice; to a thriving economy; to strong services and to a deep and profound commitment to ensuring the future of our planet for our children and grandchildren. Or do we want to invest in an all or nothing gamble on unreliable old technologies with the myriad of problems that are being identified before this inquiry.

I would encourage the inquiry and the panellists to keep clearly in mind that we have a choice. This is the first step in overcoming the nuclear industry’s self interested campaign that there is not alternative. We have a viable choice that affects our society’s future security and safety as well as the local issue of whether we will have uranium mining in Eastern Ontario. We can have jobs and keep the lights on without nuclear power and uranium mines.