Friday, February 10, 2006

Nuclear Decision

Despite the fact that we live in a democratic country, most of us feel that our opinion rarely matters: that what we think, what we say, what we care about, isn't even on the political agenda. Even when we cast our vote, it often feels like it doesn't really matter unless the majority of others in our riding do the same thing, and then the majority of other ridings also support our political point of view.

But once in a while, a single voice can make a difference. For the people of Ontario, that time is right now. Our province is at a critical juncture. Our ability to produce enough electricity to meet our demands is dwindling. In recent weeks, the Liberal government's promise to shut-down dirty coal generating stations has been back-tracked because we cannot generate enough power to replace these stations in time.

Enter Canada's nuclear industry. For years, the industry has been carefully building its case to stage a comeback for nuclear construction. With coal being phased out (even later than sooner) we are being led to believe that our only option is nuclear.

It's important to note that the nuclear industry has used millions of dollars of our money as taxpayers (through federal subsidies to Atomic Energy Canada Limited) and as ratepayers (to Ontario Power Generation) to build its case to the public through its "Getting Clear about Nuclear" ad campaign, and through lobbying to the Ontario Power Authority (OPA). The OPA is the agency established to advise the provincial government on the best ways to meet the province's future electricity needs.

The strategy worked, at least as far as the OPA is concerned. When the agency released its recommendations to the province in December 2005, the centerpiece was the recommendation that the province invest $ 30 to 40 billion on new nuclear power projects. This, despite the long history of cost overruns, construction delays, poor performance and serious safety concerns at Ontario's nuclear plants. According to the newly formed, "Go Clean and Green" coalition, not only did these recommendations under-estimate the cost and risk of nuclear power, they also under-estimated the potential for energy efficiency and conservation to reduce the need for new power supplies, as well as the potential of renewable power to fulfill our energy needs.

The brazen push by the nuclear industry must be stopped.
From February 13 to 17, the Government of Ontario is hosting twelve one-day sessions to hear what Ontarians have to say about our future energy mix. The sessions will take place in 12 towns and cities across Ontario: Mississauga, Thunder Bay, Kincardine, Ottawa, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, Sarnia, Oshawa, London, Toronto, St. Catharines and Sudbury. Each meeting will consist of an open house during the day and a town hall meeting in the evening.

Remarkably, the province genuinely wants our opinion on this. More importantly, our current energy minister, Donna Cansfield has clearly demonstrated her support for conservation. Having spoken with her on a number of occasions, I honestly believe that she wants to do the right thing. Unfortunately, she has an uphill battle on her hands. To date, the McGuinty government has only committed to a five percent target for renewable energy.

Show your support. Attending one of these meetings may very well be the most important thing that you do this year. If any of the locations is too far to get to in the evening, then take a vacation day. Our future depends on it.

Let me be very clear. I'm not using the term "future" in some nebulous, tree-hugging kind of way. The decisions made by the Ontario government will affect our ability to meet our energy demands, to remain economically viable as a province, and to provide a safe, sustainable future for our children and our grandchildren.

The arguments against nuclear expansion are substantial and are too numerous to list in this column. (I'd need an entire newspaper.) They have, however, been clearly articulated on the websites listed below. Please visit them. Become informed, attend an information session, or write a letter to the address below.

We all have a unique opportunity to let our voice be heard; to really make a difference. To quote Ronald Wright, "Now is our last chance to get the future right."


Go Clean and Green is a cooperative website sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, The Sierra Club of Canada, the Ontario Clean Air Alliance and the David Suzuki Foundation. Dates and times of all meetings are listed on this website.

Greenpeace Canada

Individuals can also provide comment by visiting the Ministry of Energy, or by sending a letter to "Our Energy, Our Future", 4th floor, Hearst Block, 900 Bay Street, Toronto, ON M7A 2E1.


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