Climate policy disconnect in Canada: where’s nuclear power?

The mainstream media is running with news of soon-to-be-released recommendations on climate change policy from a new group including four former prime ministers. Early reports on the group’s other members—which include the Pembina Institute—indicate the recommendations will be pure same-old, same-old.

The group, called Canadians for Climate Leadership, is due to release its report on September 10.

Though the Pembina Institute has loudly criticized Canada’s rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it has also refused to acknowledge the massive emission reductions achieved in the Ontario electricity generating sector since 2003. As I have mentioned, annual emissions from this sector were 15 million tonnes lower in 2006 than they were in 2003. This is because four nuclear reactors, laid up in the 1990s, returned to service. These displaced coal-fired power generation, which is the biggest source of GHGs in Ontario’s power sector.

Pembina doesn’t like nuclear power, so it and other mainstream environmental groups never mention this reduction. This anti-nuclear position is a bit puzzling when you consider that emission reductions are, or ought to be, what climate change policy is all about.

Moreover, the performance of Ontario’s nuclear fleet will determine whether the Ontario power sector is the only one in Canada that will meet its Kyoto target by the end of 2010. My bet is it will, and then some. I bet it will even meet the federal government’s reduction target. Few have mentioned this, but when you apply it to Ontario electricity, the federal target is even tougher than Kyoto.

I would be pleasantly surprised to see any positive reference to nuclear power in the Canadians for Climate Leadership report. And very surprised. If mainstream environmentalists signed on to it, then it will tout the same old politically correct bromides, like renewable energy and conservation. The Canadian climate debate will continue as before. I guess we’ll see.

If I am right, how will this play out in the context of the election? Like I said earlier this week, this election is Kyoto electoral test part II.

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15 years ago

Canadians, in particular Canadian journalists and environmentalists, dont have a clue about what is needed to improve the world climate. There is no scientific evidence that reducing humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions will cool the planet. It may make it hotter. No one knows. And if it does make it cooler, how much cooler should it be? No one knows. No one has even attempted to formulate these questions. Instead, lots of people have lots of answers, and they get really upset when independent thinkers poke holes in their cult’s dogma. Of course we should be using more nuclear power – it is clean, safe, quiet, dependable, and cheap. But will it improve our climate? No one knows. Many nuclear power advocates have jumped on this new climate bandwagon, figuring that anything that even superficially promotes their cause is worth it. The more I think about it, the more I dont like this approach. Honestly, and scientifically, we just dont know what the impact on our climate will be. We do have evidence that our kids will be poorer, sicker, hungrier, and less educated without nuclear power. That is enough to convince me.

15 years ago

Nuclear power made sense even back when nobody cared about climate change or clean air. Half Ontario’s power comes from three tiny locations, and we could double that output without significantly expanding those places. Power in this province is so cheap that greens are demanding a carbon tax to force its price up.

It it’s that way here in Ontario, then it will be that way in the developing world. Electrification was the cornerstone of our technological and economic development, and it will play that role in the developing world too.

You’re right Randal, who can predict how things will be, climate-wise, in a hundred years. But if emissions—GHGs or pollution—are an issue and we have a form of non-emitting generation that has proven itself, then why not talk up that aspect.

15 years ago

“But if emissions—GHGs or pollution—are an issue and we have a form of non-emitting generation that has proven itself, then why not talk up that aspect.”

I find myself increasingly uncomfortable with discussions about GHGs and “Terrestrial Power” (a better name for nuclear power) because the talkers only present part of the story. For me the partial story has become so distorted that it is beginning to feel dishonest. People make it sound so simple – just reduce GHGs and the climate will get better. It just is not that easy. Better for me is worse for someone else. How do we work that out? Also, Canada is so small that even our maximum contribution to reduced GHGs will not make any difference at all. Why should we engage in expensive projects that have no impact? And what is a better climate, anyway? Perhaps hotter and more predictable would be preferable to colder and more deadly. Lots more people die from cold weather than from hot weather. So the simple notion that we just have to build some reactors and then the weather will improve just does not work for me – the weather problem is not going to be solved that easily.

15 years ago

That’s just it Randal, take climate change and air pollution out of the debate, and the atom is still among the best ways—if not THE best way—to put power onto a modern grid. It is cheap, dependable, and does not require massive tracts of land.

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