despite the abysmal performance, astronomical costs and serious safety and environmental problems that have plagued Ontario's nuclear program, former federal finance minister John Manley recommended last week that Ontario resurrect the 1950s dream of "clean and cheap" nuclear power to solve the province's ever worsening electricity woes. Round and round we go, throwing good money after bad, never asking ourselves if this whole nuclear experiment is worth it. In Europe, a growing number of countries have decided to opt out of the nuclear age altogether.
Most of the European Union is now nuclear-free or committed to phasing out their nuclear programs. Ireland, Greece and Denmark decided to stay non-nuclear from the start. Other countries - Sweden, Austria, Spain and Italy - have used referenda, moratoria and legislation to inject democracy into the nuclear power debate.
After deciding to phase out nuclear power in 2000, Germany has brought online more than 12,000 megawatts of wind power (one-third of global wind capacity) and installed more than 100,000 photovoltaic solar panels on home rooftops. Germany was able to shut down the first of its 19 reactors last November. The other 18 will be shut down over the next 15 years.
Even Belgium, which depends heavily on nuclear power for 57 per cent of its electricity, is developing plans to replace its seven reactors.
So what can Ontario do to phase out nuclear power?A blueprint does exist.
A study by the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout showed that Ontario's coal and nuclear plants could be replaced over the next 15 years through a mix of conservation, renewables and high-efficiency gas generation while allowing Ontario to surpass its Kyoto targets.
The study exposed for the first time that, thanks to premature aging, all 20 of Ontario's Candu reactors are set to shut down between 2010 and 2020, more than 10 years shy of their original 40-year design life. This leaves Ontario just six short years to plan a smooth transition to a non-nuclear future. To keep the lights on and the province working post-2010, we must plan to phase in efficiency programs and deploy renewable energies. The Germans are doing it. We can, too.
One billion dollars can build 1,000 megawatts of wind turbines. The estimated cost of rebuilding all of Ontario's reactors ranges from $ 20 to $30 billion.
We can cut demand for electricity by 20 per cent by 2012 through conservation alone. Ontario households currently consume three times more electricity than the typical northern European home.
Simple things like regulating minimum efficiency standards for household appliances and commercial and residential buildings can get us even further.
On the supply side, we must replace our centralized coal and nuclear stations with decentralized generation stations. And wind, solar and biomass generation must be deployed across the province. Currently, only a handful of commercial wind turbines are operating in Ontario.
Finally, Ontario could double the efficiency of fuel use by using more co-generation technology, which produces both electricity and heat for use in industrial, commercial and institutional buildings. By making the power where we use it - in malls, factories and schools - we can stop waste, lower our energy demand and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Our choice should be simple: throw Manley's report in the dustbin.
Shawn-Patrick Stensil is director, atmosphere and energy, for the Sierra Club of Canada.