Writer disappointed in path followed by government regarding uranium
Editor: I graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a degree in Biology in 1996, and for the previous few months have been closely following the events surrounding the future of uranium in Saskatchewan. I am incredibly disappointed with the path that the current government has chosen to take regarding uranium development, especially from a scientific point of view.
Too often does “good science” fall by the wayside when there is a financial opportunity at stake? The “scientific” material that was presented via the media, the Bruce Power radio advertisements, and in the video from the public uranium forum was and still is incredibly misleading. To label uranium as a “green” alternative to other energy sources is inaccurate….it does not take into account the entire process of uranium mining, transport, and waste disposal that is partnered with nuclear energy. It cannot be considered a solution to climate change either…..the greenhouse gases produced throughout the uranium chain directly impact climate change. In addition, a reactor in Saskatchewan would export excess energy to further develop the Alberta Tar Sands, which of course is currently one of Canada’s biggest ecological disasters.
As I am writing this, Bruce Power is trying to secure land on the North Saskatchewan River. Already thwarted by a group of concerned citizens in Paradise Hill, the company has turned their attention to Beardy's Okemasis in hopes to buy land bordering the river. A reactor built on the North Saskatchewan will need a huge amount of water in order to cool the reactor contents, yet nowhere is there any information on how this will impact river ecosystems or riparian areas further downstream.
Of greater concern is the looming issue of water shortage….as climate change occurs, the size of the glaciers in the Rockies decrease, meaning that at some point in the next few decades, glacial run-off that feeds the North and South Saskatchewan could be intermittent and possibly even seasonal.
What currently appears to be driving the governments’ quest for a reactor is the demand for medical isotopes. With the shut down of the Chalk River reactor in Ontario, production of medical isotopes has been decreased to the point of global concern. What the general public does not realize is that isotopes can be produced without a nuclear reactor….a cyclotron can produce the required medical isotopes without ever relying on a nuclear reactor.
Perhaps one of the biggest ecological concerns is the storage of nuclear waste. While most people know that waste is highly radioactive, the fact remains that waste material such as plutonium must be shielded from living things for millions of years. A burial site in the Canadian shield is geologically stable, but I would challenge the idea that a waste location will remain stable for the millions of years required to reduce toxicity. A leak in a disposal facility allowing radioactive particles to enter the ecosystem could have disastrous consequences….which is the main reason why Chalk River was shut down this spring. Radioactive particles in any form can cause geneticmutation, and one only has to look at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, or any of the other numerous accounts of nuclear contamination to realize what could happen in Saskatchewan. The other possibility of contamination occurs with the transport of this hazardous material. Undoubtedly, waste would be moved throughout the province using our roads….the thought of an accident causing contamination should be considered, as well as what the lasting impact of radioactivity could be on ground water, crops, and livestock.
I am sure that at some point, the question of economic success versus environmental sustainability will come to a head. It is interesting that economics always seems to trump environmental concern but ecologically, this is a luxury we cannot afford very much longer. As a society, we may need to put a greater emphasis on energy conservation where possible, and developing both existing and new renewable energy such as solar and wind. We cannot exclude the possibility that renewable energy sources could provide the province with equivalent financial opportunities as well as keeping pace with good environmental practises globally. We need to make sure that good science is included in the decision-making process involving uranium, and not just concern with making a profit. Kristen Simonson -