Disadvantages lurk in push for nuclear power
It's dangerous, uncertain and very expensive. Which brings us back to EVs. They can only be considered truly green if they’re fuelled by the greenest-possible power sources, which is what we should demand not nuclear power.
I’ve recently focused on electric vehicles, especially Ontario’s steps to promote them with more charging stations and bigger incentives.
The tone generally has been that the moves are positive, helping to pave the way for greater use of electric vehicles as part of a greener, more sustainable future.
But EVs are only as green as the electricity that powers them. If it comes from coal-burning generating stations, they can be responsible for more toxic and greenhouse-gas emissions than internal combustion engines.
With stations fuelled by oil or natural gas, it might be a wash. Things are supposed to improve as you travel along the scale from nuclear power to hydro, and then, in the best case, wind, solar and other renewable sources.
Ontario claims to be on the greenest end of the spectrum, since most of our electricity comes from hydro and nuclear generation, and we no longer burn coal.
Not so fast.
A few weeks ago, Premier Kathleen Wynne, in an unsuccessful bid to boost the Liberal candidate in the Whitby-Oshawa byelection, announced a $13 billion refurbishment of the Darlington nuclear generating station.
A similar amount is to be spent on the Bruce Nuclear station near Kincardine on the shores of Lake Huron.
The aim is to ensure that about half the province’s electricity is generated at nuclear facilities for a dependable base load.
What’s wrong with this?
- Nuclear power is far from pollution-free. It creates toxic greenhouse-gas emissions as uranium is mined, shipped and processed, and the plants are built, operated and dismantled.
- It raises safety issues, particularly from radiation releases. That danger is acknowledged by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which now requires that potassium iodide pills — to reduce the threat of thyroid cancer after radiation exposure — be distributed to everyone within 10 km of nuclear plants, and available to anyone within 50 km.
- Despite decades of expensive research, there’s still no consensus on how and where to store the most radioactive waste from these facilities.
- The plan to store low- and medium-level waste at the Bruce site is raising concern all around the Great Lakes.
- The $26 billion estimate for the two Ontario refurbishments is a lot of cash. Worse, the actual total will likely be far higher, given the history and apparent inevitability of cost overruns. Construction and refits at Darlington and Bruce have ranged from 50 to 350 per cent over budget. Even taking inflation into account, the overruns are substantial.
All this makes nuclear power dangerous, uncertain and very expensive.
Many reports suggest alternatives — including conservation, hydro, and renewables such as wind, solar and biofuels — could ensure we have the electricity we need, at far less cost and risk. They say EVs, with their ability to store electricity and level fluctuations in supply and demand, could be part of a solution.
It’s at least worth an objective, open look. But pouring so much into nuclear power kills the chance to even consider other options. Sadly, while renewables spark growth and jobs elsewhere, that’s the route we’re on. We need to stop and examine all the choices
Which brings us back to EVs. They can only be considered truly green if they’re fuelled by the greenest-possible power sources, which is what we should demand.
Freelance writer Peter Gorrie is a regular contributor to Toronto Star Wheels. To reach him, write firstname.lastname@example.org and put his name in the subject line.