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Published Columns: March 2006
The Nuclear Roadshow
By John Ford

On February 13th, the McGuinty/Cansfield Nuclear Roadshow pulled into Ottawa. The high-end public relations firm hired by the Ontario government held a two hour event at the Congress Centre to hear comments from the public on a report from the Ontario Power Authority about our energy future. Decisions based on this report will likely leave a legacy of thousands of years.

After a late start, and a short video containing facts of dubious accuracy from the absent Energy Minister, those citizens who took the time to attend waited in line to speak at two microphones. Instead of being allowed to address topics of their own concern, each speaker was asked to address only the topic of the moment such as: "the challenge," "coal," "nuclear," and "natural gas." Before each topic was open for comment, the moderator used a few valuable minutes to read comments received from the public prior to the meeting. Those who tried to speak outside the box had their microphone silenced. Only a few who rallied the support of the crowd were able to break out of this constraint. The "coal" topic gave a great opportunity for an industry representative to step up to a mic and extol the virtues of clean coal, even when there were dozens of taxpayers patiently lined up, on hold, waiting for their own topic to surface.

Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club pointed out that the report itself admits not evaluating conservation and efficiency due to a lack of available information. Other speakers noted the lack of an overall energy policy which should take into account dependencies, such as the effect burning natural gas will have on price and availability for gas used for home heating. David Chernushenko, Deputy Leader of the Green Party of Canada remarked, while supposed to be talking about "coal," that he had waited long enough for the "conservation" topic to come up, and that this was a parallel to the government's own priority on the topic.

Also expressed was the concern that the nuclear option, as already tried in Ontario, is deceptively expensive due to a heavily subsidized industry with a less than stellar performance record. It was said that it has escaped environment assessments in the past, and that we are still counting on uninvented technology to make the waste safe for human health. Safety of day-to-day nuclear plant operation and susceptibility to terrorist threats were also cited as concerns.

What is clear from attending this event is that the public has well-defined views that they want to voice, and questions they want answered, before any decisions are made. It was also clear that the meeting was not designed to give a fair hearing to the public nor was it structured to answer questions. One question many were asking at the meeting was "has the direction of Ontario's energy future already been decided?"

But wait, we've been here before. History is repeating itself. The construction of nuclear plants in Ontario was rushed through decades ago due to a looming energy crunch. Consult your electricity bill for the line labelled "debt" to see the result.

John Ford is a technology consultant, and owner of a small energy conservation business.