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Alberta's nuclear future

Nuclear energy is on its way to Alberta, although not for the reason you would think.  Nuclear energy company Bruce…

By Erin Empey , in Radioactive Blasphemy , on January 27, 2009 Tags: , , , ,

Nuclear energy is on its way to Alberta, although not for the reason you would think.  Nuclear energy company Bruce Energy is investigating a site for a nuclear power plant near Peace River, in north-western Alberta.

The purpose of the plant is supposedly to provide energy to Alberta residents and businesses, and in particular to the Alberta tarsands to aid in bitumen extraction.  Proponents argue that it will create jobs and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  The claim that a process that creates nuclear waste and accelerates production in the tarsands is good for the environment is, of course, laughable on its face.

At least one community group has been reading the fine print on Bruce Energy’s plans.  Bruce Energy’s partner TransCanada has plans to run a transmission line from central Alberta to the Pacific Northwest, where it will connect with lines to California.  The community group’s website also cites an obscure study that suggests the proposed plants won’t even be able to serve the needs of the oil sands.

One has to wonder why neither company is explicit about the California plan.  TransCanada’s website only claims that the infrastructure will

“enable large-scale development of environmentally attractive power generation projects, including wind, hydro and low emission cogeneration.”

Neither Bruce Energy nor TransCanada have been forthright about the link between the planned nuclear plant which would produce more energy than Alberta needs and the multi-state transmission line.  Wouldn’t the sale of “green” energy to California be less repugnant from a PR standpoint than using the energy to feed the monster that is the Athabasca oil sector?  I do not see the logic in this strategy.

At any rate, environmental arguments for nuclear power remain dubious.  This week Scientific American published an article on uranium mining.

“For every metric ton of uranium ore pulled from McArthur River, roughly one metric ton of waste rock, often radioactive and rich in toxic heavy metals, is produced-and other mines produce even more waste rock per ton of ore.”

After the enrichment process, a further 90% of that metric ton of uranium ore becomes nuclear waste.

According to research from the Pembina Institute, claims that nuclear energy produces zero greenhouse gas emissions have been exaggerated.  Although emissions produced are lower than that of fossil fuel production, they still occur from the construction of plants, uranium mining & processing, and plant decommissioning.  The amount of GHGs increase as the quality of the uranium mined decreases, which is likely to happen as global demand for uranium goes up.

Although arguments for nuclear energy in Alberta can be persuasive, they just don’t make ecological or economic sense for the long term.  Public money will subsidize these privately owned nuclear projects.  This comes at the expense of investing in new technologies that truly are sustainable and efficient.  Supplanting (or supporting) a bitumen disaster with a uranium one is hardly the way forward.


  • I’m not sure what you thought I would think, but nuclear seems like an obvious solution for the tar sands.

    From an environmental perspective, nuclear does not produce GHGs and the tar sands use a lot of energy to produce, which mainly comes from coal-fired power plants that do produce a lot of GHGs.

    This just shows the hypocrisy of the environmental movement. Sometimes I think they want us all living in caves.

  • As long as those caves are nowhere near tailing ponds or uranium mines. You’re absolutely right that nuclear energy makes sense for the tar sands, that is, if you think the tar sands make sense.

    There is a lot more to environmentalism than just worrying about greenhouse gasses. The damage to ecosystems in Saskatchewan and Alberta caused by uranium mines and the tar sands is horrendous. And there is still no practical way to dispose of nuclear waste.

    Just like solar and geo-thermal, nuclear power is not profitable without generous subsidies. According to this link:

    nuclear power in Canada has costs tens of billions of dollars, racked Ontario with debt and caused several accidents. And of course, plenty of expensive infrastructure has been built to support investment in the tar sands. What would happen if we invested that sort of money into geo-thermal, solar, and energy efficient technologies? If we have to subsidize energy, why not choose the greenest available? The reason solar and geo-thermal are (supposedly) so much more expensive than nuclear is because they have not received anywhere near the same financing into research and development or government support.

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