A Throne Speech is an opportunity for a government to make a fresh start, but Trudeau’s September 23 speech is already promising to make at least one of the same old mistakes: throwing hope and money at nuclear power.
Hypothetical new nuclear power technologies have been promising to be the next big thing for the last forty years, but in spite of massive public subsidies, that prospect has never panned out. Meanwhile, the cost of wind, solar and energy storage technologies have been dropping so fast they are making nuclear irrelevant.
On Saturday’s edition of CBC Radio’s The House, Natural Resource Minister Seamus O’Regan announced that the Throne Speech will include a government commitment to develop so-called Small Modular Reactors or SMRs. (They leave out the word “nuclear” in SMR due to the negative connotation).
Minister O’Regan’s decision to throw more good money at the Canadian nuclear industry, which has received over $20 billion from the federal government since 1950, is not an investment that will help Canada build back better from the current crisis. It’s a wasteful decision to pay the nuclear industry to dig yet another hole and fill it in again.
The nuclear industry never delivered on its promise of providing cheap, safe and clean energy.
The global nuclear industry has been in decline since Chernobyl, and in Canada 9 of 22 reactors we built in the 1970s will be closed by 2025 due to the high cost of keeping them operating.
But this hasn’t stopped the Canadian nuclear lobby from trying to revive itself by promising new cheaper, safer reactor designs. The catch? The promise is always contingent on the federal government providing subsidies, cutting public oversight, and protecting industry from the liability for reactor accidents and radioactive waste.
SMRs are the latest promise of a new affordable reactor design, which advocates say would be indispensable for fighting climate change – if only they are developed.
After being sworn in, Minister O’Regan’s briefing book told him that the Ministry’s top priority related to nuclear energy was to “pursue opportunities for Small Modular Reactors (SMRS).”
The briefing book failed to mention, however, that his staff had made similar pitches to Minister O’Regan’s predecessors.
In the 2000s, the civil service and the nuclear lobby convinced previous Ministers to pursue the “Advanced CANDU” reactor. Just like SMRs, the Advanced CANDU was touted as being a tool to fight climate change because it would be cheaper, safer and produce less waste than previous reactor designs.
The Advanced CANDU turned out to be a total waste of money. In the 2000s, Minister O’Regan’s predecessors spent over $430 million to develop it, but it never got off the design board.
Worse, the staff at the Department of Natural Resources has swept this huge failure under the rug.
I filed an Access to Information request for evaluations of the federal government’s support for the development of the Advanced CANDU. The response: such records do not exist.
As the adage goes, if we forget the past, we are doomed to repeat it. Minister O’Regan’s commitment to include Small Modular Nuclear Reactors in the Throne Speech shows he and the Trudeau government are suffering from nuclear amnesia.
Money and time spent on SMRs will divert us from the investments we need to make a green and just recovery.
So what should we do instead?
- Invest in proven renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions that are much cheaper, safer and faster to deploy.
- Update the Nuclear Energy Act — which encourages staff at the Ministry of Natural Resources to continue developing and promoting nuclear energy in spite of its decline and checkered history — so future Ministers stop getting bad advice.
Canadian Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan Statement to the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA General Conference, 50th Anniversary on the Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons 21Sep’20 3m35s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcsXzK2M8hw Comment 23Sep’20 Seamus O'Regan, There is nothing more disappointing, than to see a good mind with sleepy eyes, sold unnecessarily to the highest bidder. You read from the teleprompter, speaking so absolutely, when contrary dangers, injuries, deaths & facts about nuclear energy & weapons are so well known. You & I live such short minute life-spans, compared with the 100s of 1000s of YEARS for NUCLEAR RADIOACTIVE ISOTOPE HALF-LIFE DISINTEGRATION entailed in the nuclear nightmare of 'energy'. The very EPITOME of HUMAN IRRESPONSIBILITY is to consume energy & embodied-energy within manufactured goods, so unnecessarily & lavishly, as to produce long lasting pervasive (uncontainable) toxins, which curse the health & well-being economies & ecologies of future generations beyond the capacity of human memory, even to comprehend. The greatest energy loss in CENTRALIZED ENERGY production & distribution is in TRANSMISSION-LINES & TRANSFORMER STATIONS at 5% loss / 161 kilometres or 100 miles totalling an average of 50% loss of the total produced by energy industry (eg. right-of-way appropriation, investment-costs, EMF-loss, management, legal, insurance, staffing, etc) standard calculations. When FULL-COST-ACCOUNTING adds what industry considers as 'EXTERNALITIES' such as damages to Human-health of citizens, workers, genocidal destruction of whole 'indigenous' (Latin 'self-generating') cultures, wildlife & Biosphere-productivity, then the loss-total rises to well over 95% of the energy produced by any central nuclear, hydro, hydro-carbon, wind, solar etc. EASILY ACCESSIBLE LOCAL COMPLEMENTARY ENERGY Its up to us. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/design/9-Complementary-energy Humanity is surrounded/engulfed in massive amounts of reliable local ENERGY CONCENTRATIONS WITHIN THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT. Capturing these human produced energies, right where we need them, cleans-up & rebalances human life in harmony with nature rather than enabling their ongoing damaging pollution. Making energy choices personal, empowers & responsibilizes individuals, families, extended-families, multihomes, neighbourhoods & whole societies (even engineers & politicians) to live abundantly within our means. EVERY CITY AS ENERGY EXPORTERS Here are some examples, which when captured through industrial modularly produced capture & generating infrastructure, will securely provide 180% of energy needed by society with only short transmission & limited transformers: 1) GETTING-OUR-SHIT-TOGETHER with kitchen cuttings for bio-remediation methanization producing storable methane gas (Natural gas) for heating, cooking & transport along with safe fertilizer for our food trees & gardens. Stored energy provides the base-line backup for all other non-constant forms of energy. ~25% of energy needs. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/design/5-bio-digestion-toilet 2) URINE SEPARATION for use as a non-pathogen fertilizer, combined with such as carbon based fall leaves as well as an energy source as well as baseline backup energy. ~5% of energy needs. 3) ZERO-WASTE: Removal of fecal, urine & compost from sewage cleans up rivers, lakes & oceans, while capturing compost cleans up all other materials into reduce, reuse, repair, RECYCLING, disassembly & reassembly streams. Embodied energy captured in materials is the greatest energy source for recapture. CEMENT-BOARD-COMPOSTERS are a good solution. ~25% of energy needs https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/design/5-cement-board-composters 4) CO-LIVING with personal private homes nearby to one's extended families & friends for intentional collaboration in intergenerational, female-male, interdisciplinary, critical-mass, economies-of-scale proximity in the Multihome-Dwelling-Complexes (eg. apartment, townhouse & village) where 70% of people presently live. The average multihome is 32 dwelling units with ~100 people forming intimate yet powerful collaboration. Shared land, walls, floors, ceilings, roofs, foundations & infrastructure, reduce building & operating energy costs amount to 1/3rd for the same space used by the suburban-isolated, detached nuclear-family household. Re-implementing indigenous Relational Economy enables us to collaborate & get to know each other. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/relational-economy Circular domestic, associated industrial & commercial economies enable 90% of residents to gain a full livelihood without time & energy consuming commuting. Imagine whole cities living & working locally in harmony with nature, without commute. Imagine elder, handicap, youth, illness & other care programs organized locally with intimate family & neighbours being hired with each person able to contribute in a complementary fashion to all others ~35% of energy needs. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/relational-economy/extending-our-welcome-participatory-multi-home-cohousing 5) ROOF-TOP restructuring into Gardens, insulates buildings where needed most on top, brings nature back to the heart of cities for good fresh food grown with maximum sunlight availability, human physical & psychological health as well as birds & wildlife, as well as reducing roof degradation, urban 'heat-island-effect' & air conditioning. ~20% of energy needs. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/relational-economy/extending-our-welcome-participatory-multi-home-cohousing 6) Gather naturally 'soft' SNOW-RAIN-WATER off of our roofs, filtered through garden plants & earth & stored in tanks on upper stories just below. In the case of city infrastructure failure, such urban-distributed massive quantities of water storage provide essential backup sources for: drinking, cooking, washing, cleaning (grey water), garden watering (grey water) & dousing for fire. ~15% of energy needs 7) Linear-axis building-mounted helical WIND-TURBINES with screening to gather the 16 fold wind concentrations on our building shear surfaces such as wall corners & roof peaks even at low 5 km/hour ambient wind speeds. ~15% of energy needs. 8) Welcoming PASSIVE-&-ACTIVE SOLAR into our collective buildings & placing photo-voltaic & water-heating combined panels on our east, south & west building surfaces. Solar panels / skins on building surfaces act as building insulation as well as reducing ultraviolet & infrared damage to building shells. ~15% of energy & hot-water needs 9) Replanting of the 'indigenous' POLYCULTURE-ORCHARDS, which filled most urban centres before violent invasion, genocide & colonization. Polyculture grows vertically in small foot-print spaces. 3-dimensional Polyculture is 100 times more productive of food, materials, energy & water cycle than 2-D 'agriculture' (L 'ager' = 'field'). 20% of energy needs. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/design/1-indigenous-welcome-orchard-food-production-efficiencies 10) Most cities are built on rivers with bridges. BRIDGE-PYLONS presently divert water in flow concentrations difficult for many fish & amphibians to traverse. Natural flow is recaptured when kinetic (continuous non-dammed flow) water linear-axis electric turbines are mounted well below the water-line (with screening) on the pylons for local electrical production & usage. Linear axis helical wind turbines are mounted on pylons & truss structures (with screening) above the water line. 5% of energy needs