Politically Crackin â€“ March 21, 2011
Although Alberta certainly doesnâ€™t seem to be facing an energy crisis at any point in the foreseeable future, given that our province is blessed with some of the largest proven oil reserves of any region in the world, oil and gas resources donâ€™t automatically equate to a free supply of electricity. Because of that, at several junctures in Albertaâ€™s past, there has been some serious discussion about establishing nuclear electric generation facilities in Alberta.
Given the recent events in Japan, I doubt we will see many people embracing the idea of building nuclear power plants in Alberta at any point in the near future. Some may raise potentially valid arguments that the radiation leaks in Japan were extremely minimal compared to much larger nuclear accidents, such as Chernobyl. For that matter, based on the numbers, they hardly seem to rank as genuine dangers given the amount of radiation the typical person absorbs in a given year from other sources, such as living or working in a concrete or granite building.
But there is also a probably equally valid argument that knowing the earthquake and tsunami risk in northern Japan, engineers should have had far better backup systems in place, and averted any kind of nuclear emergency to begin with. And, whatâ€™s additionally concerning, is that these power plants were regarded as some of the best operated and regulated in the world. But, what is perhaps more concerning, is that according to some, the door is still wide open for nuclear power in Alberta. As indicated in a blog post this weekend, Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason (no relation to regular OEP contributor, Brian Mason), a 2009 Alberta Government consultation process resulted in then Energy Minister Mel Knight announcing his government would, in Masonâ€™s words, â€śconsider [nuclear power plants] on a case-by-case basis.â€ť And, apparently not even a near disaster in Japan has caused much change of stance.
According to Mason, â€śenergy department spokesman Jay Oâ€™Neil said the earlier criteria for approving nuclear power plants still stand, but agreed regulatory oversight would likely be heightened in the wake of the Japan crisis.â€ť Iâ€™m sure those who now believe nuclear power to be unsafe will not find much consolation in additional regulations. After all, atoms canâ€™t listen to politicians, meaning no amount of regulation will stop a nuclear process running out of control. Perhaps more concerning, though, is that thereâ€™s no real commitment to regulations of any sort required to build a nuclear power facility in Alberta — according to Mason, about all one has to do is convince the provincial cabinet to declare a project to be building â€ścritical infrastructure,â€ť and via Bill 50 (aka The Electric Statutes Amendment Act, 2009), they can build their very own nuclear reactor, with no public hearings or consideration of opposing views required. In fact, apparently any such project doesnâ€™t even have to be considered to be in the â€śpublic interest.â€ť
Should one be very concerned? Perhaps not, since our collective memory has surely been reminded of the possible dangers of nuclear energy in a very real way these past couple of weeks. But with Earth Hour just around the corner, and with electric energy concerns always on our minds, perhaps now is the time to far more seriously consider safer energy sources for the future, such as solar and wind power.