My friend Jim Fairthorne over at State of Affairs posted a blog on Thursday detailing environmental watchdog Greenpeace's castigation of the Ontario government's proposed nuclear plan. Jim made a number of prescient points, all of which you can find here, but to summarize, he discussed the importance of keeping Canadian jobs in Canada and argued that if GP spokesman Shawn-Patrick Stensil wanted to criticize nuclear energy, he might do well to come up with some alternatives that were just a little more specific than hiding behind the “green energy” moniker. I'll come back to Mister Stensil in a minute.
I'm going to go out on a limb here, and throw my support behind Jim on this one. Yes, I'm a huge supporter of green technology. Yes, I think wind turbines and solar panels are wonderful ideas and a great support network for our energy infrastructure. But the bottom line is this: according to the 2008 Independent Electricity System Operator statistics, here's how our energy generation-to-consumption worked:
- Ontario Energy Production totalled 159.3 TWh
- Generation by Fuel Type:
- 53 per cent from Nuclear (84.4 TWh)
- 24.1 per cent from Hydroelectric (38.3 TWh)
- 14.5 per cent from Coal (23.2 TWh)
- 6.9 per cent from Gas/Oil (11 TWh)
- 0.9 per cent from Wind (1.4 TWh)
- 0.6 per cent from Other Sources (1 Twh)
Okay? Okay. Nuclear energy provides over half this province's power – fact. The so-called “green” energy totals (if we assume that all “other sources” are green in nature) generate roughly three percent of what the current nuclear plants generate. So clearly, at least in the short term until green tech can be made more efficient and the red tape of any major changeover can be cleared up, the Power Of The Atom looks like a pretty good alternative to things like coal, oil and other major pollutants.
Jim's article (if you haven't read it yet, and you should) doesn't even directly deal with the issue of whether or not nuclear power is “good” – he skips over that pointless argument and goes right into the economic ramifications of the Ontario government contracting the building and maintenance of our nuclear reactors to external, non-Canadian companies. Jim argues that it's a much better idea for Ontario's economy to make sue of the existing CANDU infrastructure and keep these jobs in Canada, and I tend to agree with him.
And now back to Mister Stensil, who personally responded to Jim's blog post. I've included the text here:
I don’t think you tried to hard to find alternatives to Ontario’s nuclear plans on Greenpeace’s website.
I [sic] took me two clicks to find this link: renewableisdoable.ca
You’ll find a report there that’s been endorsed by all of Canada’s major environmental organizations on how to replace the Pickering B and Bruce B nuclear stations.
At a global level please check out Greenpeace’s Energy Revolution report on how we build a climate friendly energy system (without nuclear): http://www.energyblueprint.info/
I took the liberty of checking out the links Mister Stensil included in his post, and what I came up with solidifies my irritation with this whole situation.
If you go to the “Renewable Is Doable” site, you'll find an awful lot of rhetoric about how green technology is a Better Idea than nuclear power, but they don't really say a great deal about how it's better, why it's more economically feasible or even what technologies they want to use instead. They make mention of a trend towards lower energy requirements in Ontario and reference the IESO statistics for 2008 that I mentioned above. However, upon reading the IESO report, I discovered the “trend” is actually the result of wetter, more temperate summers decreasing the public desire for air conditioning. So basically what they're saying is because the trends are dependent on the weather, we can no more predict energy consumption than we can plan a picnic with any real assurance it won't be rained out. And yet, Greenpeace is still railing against the idea of nuclear energy as unnecessary.
In a blog post on January 13th, 2009, Mister Stensil contends that these predictions render nuclear energy an overcompensation for a non-existent need. He figures we can replace the existing CANDU network with a wide array of solar panels and wind turbines to shore up what will amount to 75% of our energy requirements by 2010 (especially once the plan to shut down Ontario coal plants goes into effect).
Once again, I'm all for the prospect of reducing our dependence on pollutant-rich energy sources in favour of green alternatives, but this has not been well thought-out. What happens if we decide to shut down every nuclear reactor in favour of fields of wind turbines (that people already don't want), or sheets upon sheets of solar panels? Do you have any idea how much this kind of initiative would cost? Certainly I don't think it would result in the “billions of dollars” of savings Mister Stensil is suggesting.
The bottom line is this: we're in the midst of a much-touted economic crisis. Jobs are going the way of the dodo with alarming rapidity. Changing our entire energy system to a green network whose efficiency is still under debate would be a monstrous, costly undertaking. We have existing power which, while it's not perfect, is rather efficient and will cost us far less in the short term and shore up our energy requirements while we research green technology and figure out ways to improve its efficacy in the interest of eventually making that changeover. The green revolution is coming, folks, but it's not going to be built in a day.
Feedback on this issue would be much appreciated – we need to talk about this.