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Demise of nuclear is being exaggerated

demise of nuclear

Demise of nuclear is being exaggerated


MARCH 3, 2010

Recent media reports have suggested a respected institute has thrown cold water on the notion of a nuclear renaissance for Canada. My reading of the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) report is the renaissance may not come as fast here as in some other countries, but it is nonetheless real.

After all, the Chinese, Indians, Americans, French, Italians, South Koreans, and people from other nations are moving forward with nuclear power development.

Over 50 reactors are currently under construction in 13 countries. China alone has 20 nuclear power plants under construction, with many more being planned.

In the latest State of the Union, U.S. President Barack Obama proposed billions more in spending for nuclear energy. Even more recently, the president announced $8.3 billion in federal loan guarantees to build two reactors at a nuclear power plant in Georgia, signalling the first wave of new nuclear plants in the U.S. in more than three decades.

To be sure, nuclear energy is undergoing a renaissance and its future is bright. The World Nuclear Association predicts the number of nuclear power plants may double worldwide by 2030.

More and more countries are recognizing that nuclear energy is clean, cost-effective, reliable and safe.

The 436 nuclear plants operating globally avoid the release of nearly three billion tonnes of CO2 emissions annually — the equivalent of the exhaust from more than 428 million cars, more than half the cars in the world today.

At its recent conference in Ottawa, the Canadian nuclear industry celebrated 50 years of nuclear energy innovation and leadership. If Ontario, which has 16 nuclear reactors producing 50 per cent of its electricity, wants to maintain its leadership in the field and meet its increasing demands for energy over the coming decades, it must commit to building new nuclear plants soon.

While the CIGI report pointed to higher cost as one of a number of areas it felt would slow nuclear development in Canada, it held open the prospect of additional nuclear power development in Canada by 2030.

On cost, however, we should remember that compared to other energy sources, nuclear energy is highly cost competitive. An independent comparative study published by the Brattle Group for the U.S. state of Connecticut estimated that nuclear energy may have the highest capital cost, but still produces the least expensive electricity, except for combined cycle natural gas with no carbon controls.

The seven CANDU reactors built in South Korea, China and Romania over the past 14 years have delivered excellent lifetime performance — all above 89 per cent. And given the most recent Pickering unit refurbishment was delivered on time and on budget, it’s clear that nuclear power plants can be built in a reliable and cost-effective manner.

The CIGI report raises false alarms about the safety of nuclear plants. It fails to mention there were no deaths or injuries in the only serious accident in the West at Three Mile Island. And the next generation of nuclear plants are even safer than the ones already operating safely every day.

Yes, renewable energy does have an important place in the world’s energy mix. While solar is too expensive and inefficient, I strongly support the use of hydroelectric, biomass, and geothermal energy. Yet it is unrealistic to suggest, as some environmentalists do, that renewable energy and conservation alone can meet the world’s growing energy needs.

In the early 1970s when I helped found Greenpeace, I believed nuclear energy was synonymous with nuclear holocaust, as did most of my compatriots. That conviction inspired Greenpeace’s first voyage up the spectacular rocky Pacific coast to protest the testing of U.S. hydrogen bombs in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Almost 40 years on, my views have changed, and the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views, too, because, along with hydroelectric power, nuclear energy is the only non-greenhouse-gas-emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels while satisfying the world’s increasing demand for energy. 

An adviser to government and industry, Patrick Moore is a Greenpeace co-founder and chair and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver (

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