The Montreal Gazette has an article in today’s paper discussing the future of Gentilly-2, Quebec’s only nuclear reactor.

Gentilly-2 started operation in 1983 and like all CANDU reactors is undergoing pre-maturing ageing, and must be permanently shut down or rebuilt at high cost in 2010. Hydro-Quebec was supposed to make a decision on Gentilly-2’s future in 2004, but has put off its decision several times, probably because of the questionable economics of rebuilding the station, which supplies less than 3 % of Quebec’s electricity.

Since I started following the debate on Gentilly-2’s future in 2002, the estimated cost for rebuilding the station has almost doubled from $ 845 million in 2002 to $1.5 million today. That estimate, of course, doesn’t include the inevitable cost over-runs that would occur if the reconstruction of Gentilly-2 went ahead. Recent life-extension projects in Ontario have gone hundreds of millions of dollars over budget despite promises to the contrary by the nuclear lobby.

I intervened several years ago in hearings held by the Quebec’s environmental assessment board (Le Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement or The BAPE) on future of Gentilly-2. The BAPE made a number of interesting recommendations regarding Gentilly-2. It recommended that Hydro-Quebec’s cost estimates for rebuilding the station be verified before any decision is made, that Quebec clarify its position on the storage of high-level radioactive waste (used fuel), and that Hydro-Quebec propose a socially acceptable plan for managing its other stockpiles of radioactive wastes.

Neither Hydro-Quebec nor the Charest government has responded to any of these recommendations. This is typical of how decisions on nuclear power get made - behind closed doors and without public input.

It shouldn’t be this way. The BAPE said the future of Gentilly-2 was of such importance that it was “une Choix de société” – a “societal decision.”

Indeed it is. It’s time to start the public debate on Gentilly-2’s future.