The Ontario Government is vain enough to think it has made a decision to go nuclear. But let's get something straight. The only decision it can really control is the one to spend up to $40 bil to build and repair plants.
Actually going nuclear is quite another story. The fact is, if the Libs cancel a full-scale enviro and economic assessment and their plan goes ahead, taxpayer cash will be used to fund reactors that will end up auctioned off as cricket stadiums, tourist traps for jaunts through Ontario ghost towns or folk museums for Homer Simpson reruns and memorabilia.
Why am I saying this? Because there's no nuclear fission without uranium, and uranium ore is getting too pricey to be splitting atoms for long. Though Canada, specifically Saskatchewan, is the world's largest producer of uranium, there's no hometown shopper's discount for the metal any more than there is for oil.
No one, it seems, worries about the availability of uranium in the industry that humility, Plan B, mundane details, Murphy's Law and second thoughts forgot.
Ever since the 1950s, when nuclear power was promoted as a fantasy that broke all the limits on what humans and science could do to transcend their earthly confines, industry promoters have radiated confidence.
Nothing changes the mindset.
The just-released Uranium Red Book for 2005, the annual industry guide to resources, claims there are no supply problems on the yellow brick road. There's enough supply for 85 years, the report glows. Indeed, things are getting better all the time. In last year's red book, there was only enough for 60 years if most of the world went nuke. Thank you for radiating.
The price and availability of uranium aren't on the radar of media pundits or politicians either. That's because in the nuke industry reactors are the high-cost item, and the actual fuel is seen as an incidental expenditure that adds up to about 5 per cent of an electricity bill.
But the price of uranium - already five times 2001 levels and likely to rise again as new power plants come on line - is not the issue. It's the energy bill for bringing uranium to market that will be the industry's undoing.
Conventional high-grade uranium - like conventional oil easy and cheap to find, and easy and cheap to mine and refine - is extremely scarce. So scarce that it will cost more than it's worth in terms of the sheer energy required to find it, mine it, mill it, refine it, bring it to market and bury it.
The fuel required to do all that work would be more economically and safely applied to the direct production of electricity.
The math on using two units of fuel (mostly fossil fuel, for those who hope nukes can ever limit global warming) to create one unit of a fuel that could blow up in our faces is too clear-cut to be accepted, even by Ontario's numb ratepayers.
Uranium reality has been hidden for almost 15 years because the nuclear industry fell upon the equivalent of "found money." In 1993, after the Soviet Union went belly up, the uranium portion of its nuclear arsenal was auctioned off to the U.S. Department of Energy, which - free marketers though they profess to be - stockpiled it for a decade to keep uranium investors from losing their shirts in a price crash.
Slow release of the stockpile supplied more than half of the world's uraniumsales over the past several years and kept prices down - until now. Now is payback time on the found money, because the artificial surplus killed off a generation of exploration, development and engineering expertise.
The uranium industry's lost generation means that business is restarting with minimal plans and capacity in place.
A 2005 report for the World Nuclear Association argues that although the supply of uranium around the world is plentiful, "optimistic geology" needs to be "tempered by realistic development costs."
Mine shafts have to be deep, well-ventilated and protected from the constant pressure of radon gases and flooding. Even rich sites have low-quality ores, which means every ounce of uranium leaves a trail of tons of "tailings" that have to be stored and managed in a huge and expensive dump site for centuries.
Most mine workers and supplies have to be flown in to the remote bunkhouse towns, and workers often get isolation rates of pay.
The headaches continue, as confirmed by the endless excuses for delays that uranium producers provide in their annual reports to impatient investors.
"To call an inferred resource economic is a contradiction in terms and is speculative at best," Seitz writes. Precise estimates of costs aren't available, for the simple reason that the industry hasn't done much exploration or new mining for a decade, he says.
Note to politicians: the cost estimates you've been given by your bureaucrats are based on wild guesses.
David Fleming, a British economist and environmentalist who specializes in the tough-minded economics of energy descent ( a term describing our era better than "peak oil'), writes about the sheer amount of energy - never mind the cost - needed to mine, mill, refine, transport, store and safeguard a lethal material like uranium.
This is not to mention the the oft-forgotten and energy-dense materials for decommissioning mines and reactors and finding a garbage dump for nuclear waste.
In energy terms alone, the nuclear option is a loser. It requires more energy at almost any stage than it produces overall. So much energy is required by the uranium milling process alone, sorting out the useless gravel and rock in preparation for refining what's left "that the total quantity of fossil fuels needed for nuclear fission is greater than would be needed if those fuels were used directly to generate electricity," Fleming writes in the UK's Prospect Magazine.
Uranium gives new meaning to "dead end." The evidence for its scarcity and low concentration is everywhere around us, for the simple reason that life would be impossible if it weren't scarce and dispersed.
An energy plan that ignores that fact of life will give new meaning to "financial black hole."