Thursday, June 11, 2009

Saskatchewan's Glowing Future...

Source: CBC: Medical Isotopes on Saskatchewan's Radar
Source: CBC: More Negative Voices at Latest Uranium Hearing

Well, I woke up today and decided to check the news, a daily routine of mine. While scanning the Saskatchewan based headlines, I found two stories that seem strangely related to me. On a day when Stephen Harper releases an economic update, the NDP and the Bloc flat out declare their non-support, and Michael Ignatieff muses whether or not to prop them up, I figured a Saskatchewan based post was more important; especially given the issue.

Since the Saskatchewan Party, under the leadership of Brad Wall, was elected they have been toying with the idea of a nuclear powered Saskatchewan. After all we are one of the leading producers of uranium in the world, so in those regards it would make sense for us to refine and produce nuclear energy within the province...So they say.

First, I'd like to address the problem of nuclear energy on a fundamental level before going into the political aspects. I feel I should say that I am not an environmentalist, I am not a nuclear physicist, nor am I anything that would qualify me as academic status to talk about nuclear power in any great intellectual way. I am, however, an informed citizen who has looked into the idea and have formed my own opinions as such.

The problem, as most people will tell you, about nuclear power stems from nuclear waste. In most cases, the waste is often sealed inside canisters and the canisters and then buried or housed in a massive facility that is designed to accommodate them. This is the solution we've come up with to deal with nuclear waste; simply ignore it and tuck it away. The problem with this is, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will agree, is that it is not a permanent solution.

As of October 2007, the IAEA released a report that explores the current scientific possibilities of such contained waste, despite these facilities, finding its way back into the soil and as such into ground water and becoming a health hazard for humans and animals. When the IAEA publishes a report that annouces the fesibility of such an issue, it's important to listen to it.

So, with the problem of nuclear waste, nuclear power seems less and less viable as it presents problems with what to do. The second most common problem falls on the idea of water supply. It is my understanding that to keep a reactor cool and working properly, massive amounts of water are required. The currently proposed locations for nuclear power plants, near rivers and lakes outside of Prince Albert, pose a problem in regards to supply and demand.

Those water sources currently feed a lot of drinking water to nearby communities, Saskatoon included. If these sources are suddenly divered for a nuclear power plant, what happens to the water levels in these communities? Will we have to suffer through water restriction laws that limit such things as watering a lawn or other wasteful water habits just to compensate? I haven't heard a word from the Wall Government on such issues, and it would be interesting to know what their plan to compensate for this water shortage will be.

Now that I've addressed the issues behind the problems of nuclear power, it is time to address the two news sources that I've quoted above. In a week when we've had a Federal Cabinet Minister talk about the isotope crisis as 'sexy', we now have to deal with a Premier who sees dollar signs over the opening of nuclear power plants.

Brad Wall stated openly that Saskatchewan could very well look into producing medical isotopes here in Saskatchewan once nuclear power plants are open. It's estimated that a reactor producing these isotopes could bring as much as $9 million dollars into the province per year, which no doubt is an alluring siren's song to pretty much anyone.

The problem, however, is that Wall's own nuclear bulldog, Dan Perrins, has questioned the fesibility of such a project in Saskatchewan. Given that we don't have any nuclear reactors at all, and are only discussing building them, it would be complicated to build a reactor solely for the purpose of nuclear isotope production. The problem is further compounded by the fact that the reactor would need to exist within three hours of a place capable of further processing of the isotopes.

Effectively, the plant would need to be close to a large enough city centre with the means to further refine and process nuclear isotopes. Which dictates that the plant would likely have to be built near Saskatoon or Regina, given that the Universities in these cities would likely agree to and have the means to carry out such further processing in the name of academic and scientific advancement.

Now, I know what many of you are thinking: If Brad Wall's own people are saying this is highly unlikely given the cost versus the return, why mention it? I'm glad you asked.

Nuclear opposition in the province is growing, as seen in the public forums that Brad Wall's government has contracted to get public opinion on the idea of nuclear energy in the province. More and more opposition is starting to show itself in the public, a problem that could amount of the Wall Government abandoning their nuclear ambitions.

Even Dan Perrins, who is the chairman of the meetings, is at a loss on how to change public opinion. His only suggestion is that the public is lacking information about nuclear power and that they need to be more informed by the government. Effectively, this means that he is dismissing concerns by saying the people concerned about nuclear waste, increased risks of cancer, water loss, and other problems are simply lacking the education or proper information about nuclear power. If this is true, then Mr. Perrins is more than welcome to release the information he has that makes him an expert and a supporter of nuclear energy.

Now we come to the speculative part of my concerns. Shortly before Christmas last year, I had a chance to speak with a friend's uncle, who is a SaskPower employee and a stauch conservative supporter. I won't release any names, not that it matters, but I shall impart what I was told. He was supporter of nuclear energy, explaining to use poor political science majors that Saskatchewan's energy grid was ineffective and would be tapped out soon enough.

Despite our objections, and suggestions of alternative energies mixed with a dash of common sense and tax incentives, he refused to budge and simply repeat the we could only survive as a province with nuclear power. It had escaped me at the time, but I remember it now and shall mention it here: Does anyone know how much power we export?

Saskatchewan, like other Canadian provinces, makes a quick buck by selling excess power from our grid to American States that are finding themselves strapped for power. It is estimated that California is going to become one of these states, largely thanks to water shortages and other problems, and that they are going to need outside assistance to keep their power flowing.

Enter Brad Wall. In addition to apparently wanting money for medical isotopes, I do believe that Premier Wall believes he can make money off of selling power to the Americans. We take the risk of a meltdown, we deal with the nuclear waste, we deal with the water shortages; and in exchange we get a little amount of money and Brad Wall can come to us and say he's turning a profit in difficult financial times...Proof of his 'good leadership.'

So, it stands to reason: If Saskatchewan is currently exporting excess energy, we need to put ourselves first and our Provincial Government needs to put the province first by ending these exports to ensure we can power our own province. If, given current power grids this does not completely solve the problem, we can suppliment the grid through self-installed solar panels and wind turbines that help ease the strain on the grid itself.

There are other solutions to explore before rushing to build a nuclear power plant; solutions that don't involve us taking the risks for someone else, all in the name and hope of making a quick buck.

*Although that is the closing of this post, for any readers in Saskatoon I would like to remind you all that Dan Perrins and his public forum will be coming to see us next week on Monday, June 15th, 2009. The meeting will be held at the Saskatoon Travelodge, 106 Circle Drive West at 7:00pm in the evening. I'm hoping to be there, but if I am not, hopefully a few of you can make it out and let your voices be heard.

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