Reactor research centre's agenda
By Mark Bigland-Pritchard, The StarPhoenix, March 16, 2012
(Bigland-Pritchard is an applied physicist, director of Low Energy Design Ltd. consultants, and deputy leader of the Green Party of Saskatchewan.)
The provincial government recently re-announced its taxpayer-funded subsidy to the University of Saskatchewan's Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation (CCNI). It's only fair that we should know what this centre will do with our money. Unfortunately, information is sparse. Medical isotopes were highlighted, but this is only part of the centre's planned program. Thankfully, unlike the case with its unsuccessful bid for a federal subsidy in 2009, it proposes to generate isotopes in a cyclotron, rather than the dirty expensive old method of fission in a reactor. It is gratifying to know that it is following a course that scientifically educated environmentalists like me advised in 2009.
If it helps Saskatchewan's hospitals to fight disease, it will be a good use of my tax dollars. It also appears that the centre proposes using the cyclotron as a neutron source for commercial materials testing. Again, a useful activity, though not a reason for taxpayer subsidy.
If the CCNI was only about particle accelerators, neutron beams and medical isotopes I would see no reason for suspicion. However, it is clear that today, as it was three years ago, the government's main agenda is power reactors, not medicine. The language of the CCNI business framework gives us some clues. In that document, the university refers to "valueadded nuclear technologies."
In nuclear-speak, this usually means "fourth generation reactors," i.e. plutoniumfuelled fast breeders, and the dangerous, costly and weapons-proliferation-prone reprocessing technology upon which they depend. Despite 60 years of development in seven countries, no commercially viable fast reactor has been developed, and several prototypes have been disabled by serious accidents.
As for reprocessing, it has long been an albatross around the neck of the British nuclear industry through repeated leaks into the Irish Sea, cost overruns and technical problems. Even when the technology works, it is still a loss-maker that requires subsidies.
Meanwhile, the government talks about the possibility of nuclear power plants "after 2020." Its media release refers to "small reactors," although Premier Brad Wall's definition appears to go up to 300MW , larger than all but two of SaskPower's existing power stations. Would this be Hitachi's proposed PRISM fast reactor design? Whatever the size, and whatever the design, there is no demonstrated demand, and no business case has been made.
In 2009, the Wall government initiated a consultation process, chaired by well-respected, impartial former public servant Dan Perrins, on the proposals of the Uranium Development Partnership - a panel of known nuclear proponents convened by the government.
The outcome of that consultation process was a resounding "no" to the government and the nuclear industry's plans.
The Perrins report showed: 88 per cent opposed the UDP's overall strategy; 98 per cent supported more development of "alternative" energy technologies; 93 per cent considered nuclear development a net cost; 84 per cent opposed nuclear power generation; 86 per cent opposed nuclear waste disposal and storage; 42 per cent opposed nuclear research, while a further 19 per cent specified support only for medical isotope research and only 32 per cent gave general support.
Meanwhile, 70 per cent opposed uranium upgrading (refineries, enrichment, etc.) and 70 per cent opposed expansion of uranium exploration and mining.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the CCNI is the nuclear industry's chosen back-door route to achieve the goals which the people rejected so overwhelmingly, and that the Wall government is fully behind this anti-democratic move. Indeed, Enterprise Saskatchewan's 2010-2011 annual report bragged that the government was implementing 18 of the 20 recommendations in the rejected UDP report.
Meanwhile, Saskatchewan's universities are conducting scarcely any work on the renewable energy technologies (wind, solar, small hydro, sustainable biomass, etc.), smart grids and energy efficiency measures that are transforming electricity grids worldwide. A Canadian Centre for Renewable Energy Innovation would be a much better use of our money economically, environmentally, and socially.
It appears that the Wall government is prepared to do anything to satisfy its friends in the nuclear industry. It brokers deals that could all too easily put Saskatchewan uranium in Chinese and Indian nuclear weapons. It puts our money into this outdated industry instead of into cleaner, safer, cheaper and more flexible renewable options. It refuses to say a definite "no" to dumping of Ontario's intensely dangerous and long-lived nuclear waste in Northern Saskatchewan. And it seems determined to bypass the opinion of the people it is supposed to represent.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix