The nuclear lobby has finally found a cause that seems to give nuclear power renewed standing post-Chernobyl: it's the solution to climate change.
Watch for Energy Minister Dwight Duncan and Premier Dalton McGuinty to use the endorsement of nuclear by the Europeans, seen here as a greener lot, as licence to repackage and sell nuclear as a climate change plan.
The sales job actually began last spring when the government recruited ex-Greenpeacer Patrick Moore - an energetic supporter of causes like genetically modified foods, salmon farming and dumping old ships full of toxic materials in the Third World - to sell the greenhouse-gas-emission-free virtues of nuclear.
Moore's arguments - that nuclear energy is clean, safe and cost-effective - were given little scrutiny by the media, a sign of the strong temptation to accept nuclear as a panacea for climate change and energy insecurity.
But many more authoritative voices are speaking out against the investment in nuclear. To paraphrase the Pembina Institute, replacing fossil fuel power stations with nuclear reactors simply replaces one set of environmental problems with another set of different but equally unacceptable risks, the most obvious of which is the generation of large amounts of high-level hazardous radioactive waste.
We're talking here about severe groundwater and surface water contamination via radioactive and hazardous pollutants like radon gas and radionuclides, not to mention contaminated dusts and heavy metals entering the atmosphere.
Spending on nuclear has kept us from a sustainable, fossil-fuel-free energy future, starving green solutions of the funds and focus they need to flourish. Energy analyst Amory Lovins, whose predictions on big energy issues in North America have been proven right a number of times, has argued persuasively that cost alone should sideline nuclear as an option as we develop our next generation of energy sources.
Pembina's recently released report Nuclear Power In Canada concludes similarly that investing in nuclear to address climate change is simply too expensive; so does the Natural Resources Defense Council in the United States, where Robert F. Kennedy Jr. serves as senior legal counsel.
In Ontario, that reality has been demonstrated in spades. The $15 billion in so-called "stranded" debt we are all paying off on our electricity bill is the cost of dead reactors, nuclear cost overruns and plant delays. And then there's the over $75 mill in financial guarantees that would have to be provided by taxpayers for waste fuel management, decommissioning costs and damage to the environment, public health or economy in the event of an accident.
The price tag of a new, sustainable energy system for Ontario will be very high, in the tens of billions. But building a power system centred on spending $40 billion for nuclear will again pillage the funds needed to bring efficiency and renewables online faster.
Climate change, nuclear proliferation, the destruction of the oceans and the mass loss of species are converging problems right now. We will not get many chances to get it right - maybe only one. What we need is a leap to a sustainable future.