Sep. 16, 2009 - Issue #726: Stready Rollin’ Men
Despite biased consultations Albertans have spoken out against nuclear power, but will the government listen?
Grassroots provincial Tories in May 2007 endorsed a plan to have the
government strike a committee to study and make recommendations on whether
nuclear power should be part of the province's energy mix. Premier Ed
Stelmach promised to "involve all Albertans through public discussion to see
if that's the direction we want to go in," pointing out that "this is a very
important decision that the next generation and generations after that will
The report of the government-appointed "Nuclear Power Expert Panel," which was expected in the fall of 2008, was finally released on March 26, 2009. "There are those of course who have very strong feelings," said Minister of Energy Mel Knight at the time. "We have to make sure that all Albertans, whether they have strong feelings or whether they're just interested in what we're doing here, we want to make sure all Albertans have their questions and concerns answered. The views of Albertans will be important in developing a provincial approach on the issue of nuclear power generation. The Alberta government has been clear that the province will not take a position until we hear from Albertans."
There were indeed "strong feelings," most of them directed at the $250 000 Expert Panel report and the lack of access to the "consultation." Although the Government of Alberta spent six figures to tell Albertans interested in commenting to go to the Internet, they forgot that not all Albertans have Internet. After three attempts to complete the online survey with a dial-up connection, a call to my MLA that failed to turn up a hard copy and three telephone calls to Alberta Energy, I finally managed to secure a paper copy, which I duly completed and mailed in prior to the June 1, 2009 deadline. If the government had really wanted "to hear from all Albertans" on this critical issue they would have sent the survey with a stamped return envelope to every home in the province.
Further input was limited to "randomly selected Alberta citizens," 20 "discussion groups" held in 10 communities across Alberta and some stakeholder meetings. By June 5 the last of these "consultations" had taken place. So much for Mel Knight's April 23, 2008 promise of "an unbiased examination of the issues ... an objective and broad-based research paper as a first step to having informed and meaningful discussions with Albertans." So much for the May 20, 2009 promise from Tim Grant, the assistant deputy minister of energy: "There's no doubt in my mind that if the people say: 'We don't want nuclear power,' it's not going to be here. It's my job to make sure people have access to the information they need to make an informed decision."
Despite the fact that the government's side of the nuclear power "debate"
is a travesty of a full and transparent democratic process, Albertans have
nonetheless spoken out frequently and clearly on the issue. All this
information is public, and the government needs to take it into account
before making a final decision on nuclear power. What follows are just some
of the many ways in which Albertans have tried to have their voices
Numerous reports questioning nuclear power in Alberta have been released, including Nuclear Power in Alberta: An Alternative Perspective by Citizens Advocating the Use of Sustainable Energy (Cause), Nuclear Power in Canada: An Examination of Risks, Impacts and Sustainability by the Pembina Institute, Keep Alberta Nuclear Free: Community Nuclear Action Guide by Sierra Club Prairie and Risks from Nuclear Power Development in Northwestern Alberta by the Peace River Environmental Society.
Citizens' groups have also emerged in all corners of the province, including the communities where future nuclear plants may be constructed. These organizations include Nuclear Free Alberta, Citizens Advocating the Use of Sustainable Energy (CAUSE), the Athabasca Bioregional Society, the Grimshaw-based Citizens Against Nuclear Development (CAND), the Peace River Environmental Society, the High Prairie Regional Environmental Action Committee, the Whitecourt-based Tipping Point Project, the High River Regional Environmental Action Committee and Lethbridge's Greensence.
Leading nuclear experts have visited the province to speak on the dangers of nuclear power, including Jim Harding, author of Canada's Deadly Secret: Saskatchewan Uranium and the Global Nuclear System, the world-renowned Dr. Helen Caldicott, author most recently of Nuclear Power is Not the Answer and Dr. Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.
Albertans have also spoken out through letters to the editor and by signing petitions opposed to nuclear power. In a collection I have of 80 letters written by Albertans in the last three years, 75 are opposed to nuclear power in the province. Of the five that supported nuclear power, two came from persons with ties to the nuclear industry. There is, of course, no way to estimate how many individual letters were written to Ed Stelmach and Mel Knight. A petition with more than 1500 signatures of Peace Country residents opposed to the construction of a nuclear plant in the region were presented to Peace River MLA Frank Oberle in November 2007. About 2500 signatures from residents across the province opposed to nuclear power was presented by the Coalition for a Nuclear Free Alberta in November 2008.
Despite it all, the Alberta government has clearly failed to read the signs of the time, which are apparent to most commentators. July 31 and August 1, 2009 National Post articles announced the "nuclear renewal" was over after Ontario suspended plans for two nuclear reactors at its Darlington station, saying the nuclear renaissance is "dead on arrival," or as Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason put it somewhat more cleverly, "nuclear power is an idea whose 'half-life' has long since expired." Calgary author Chris Turner in his 2007 book The Geography of Hope wrote, "The Economist ... stated baldly of nuclear power plants that 'not one, anywhere in the world, makes commercial sense.'"
For three years, the Alberta government has managed and suppressed dissent on this critical issue. As one Calgarian wrote on June 22, 2009, "The Stelmach government has already made up its mind and the entire public process, including the public survey and stakeholder consultations, is a farce."
When the legislature resumes in the fall, Mel Knight will most likely announce that nuclear power is "the right fit for the province." But this decision is too important to be left to politicians and industry. Albertans have spoken. In a climate that did not permit debate, Albertans never gave up because they believe in the democratic process. They want to keep Alberta nuclear free, and it is the responsibility of the government to listen and declare Alberta nuclear free. V
Cecily Mills is a retired teacher, volunteer and lifelong social justice activist who has researched, written and given presentations on nuclear power.
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