Notes from Canada: Nuclear – Power or Folly?
Canada, like the US (and other nations), is presented with a dilemma: How to handle ever-increasing energy needs while decreasing dependence on fossil fuels. One leading plan is to develop new nuclear power plants. But why, asks Green Party member Bob Halstead, aren’t we thinking about renewable energy instead? A very good question, indeed — and one we should consider carefully on both sides of our shared border.
Halstead is a retired educator and active writer who posts thoughtful essays on environmental, social, and political topics on his Facebook page, Paradigm Shift. Blue Planet Green Living is pleased that he has agreed to share his environmental essays with our readers. This is the first in a series. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
I just watched “My Nuclear Neighbour: The Nature of Things” with David Suzuki, a documentary about building a plant to generate nuclear power in the rural community of Peace River, Alberta. The key point never raised is that wind and solar power will generate more electricity for the same investment in dollars with none of the same investment in angst and risk, a point that Obama also recently missed.
I know that the organisations that most strongly oppose nuclear power in Ontario and Saskatchewan make the same point: investment in new nuclear facility is not wise according to traditional economic theory, even without mention of the long-term effect on widespread earthly ecology or human health.
Originally, it was Jim Harris who brought these arguments to my attention: He did it in more detail. Jim’s points to me were roughly as follows:
1. To build a nuclear power plant required more investment.
(a) To build the enormous concrete structure would take more time, possibly 15 years, and this would use a lot of energy, long before the plant would produce any energy. This would require current coal-fuelled facility to operate more actively for much longer. If we put the same time and money into truly green facility, the coal-generating facility would close much sooner.
(b) The labour to build the enormous concrete structure and other detail would require a rather large work force in one location, boosting the economy of a small part of the country. If we put the same time and money into truly green facility, people all over the country would benefit from the economic stimulus of local activity.
2. To operate a nuclear power plant requires investment in many highly trained people with a very specific knowledge in nuclear engineering. In comparison, a typical farmer or property owner could operate a truly green facility without expensive full-time professional help.
3. After a nuclear power plant closes, the land used would have an unlimited future as a toxic wasteland and the structure would be entombed in concrete. Neither structure nor surrounding land would have positive future value, both become a liability. Most likely, the land would have been productive farmland before the nuclear plant was built, as is the present case in Peace River, but it will be dangerous and useless forevermore after 70 years.
4. The design of a nuclear power plant cannot be changed significantly after government approves construction. No matter how the science advances, the plant design stays the same over the 5 years before it is approved, plus the 15 years during which it is built, plus the 50 years that it operates before closing. As sustainable power facility ages and then is repaired or replaced, it will benefit from the better technology that humanity will have acquired by then, becoming more productive.
It is when these points are evaluated for their economic impact using traditional economic theory that the investment in nuclear energy is obviously inferior to investment in truly green facility.
None of these points requires an assumption based on research that humanity has not yet done.
The pro-nuclear lobby argues the following:
1. New nuclear power is needed to bridge the gap between now and when we can rely on truly green facility. Point 1(a) above denies this claim.
2. They put forward scientifically unproven claims as positives:
(a) a little exposure to radioactivity actually improves human health;
(b) radioactive nuclear waste will have a future use as a source of more energy; and
(c) in the future we will have feasible ways of storing the most radioactively toxic matter on the planet (even though no biological life form has ever adapted to it).
Each of these potential positives is as likely to be a negative when the uncompromised, “peer-reviewed” science is in, or when the future has arrived.
Of course, we cannot wish away the nuclear “fear factor”. How remote is the possibility of a catastrophic nuclear accident? As long as it is a possibility, it is only a matter of time.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
This post originally appeared on Facebook and is reprinted by permission of the author. British spellings and punctuation have been retained.