Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Nuclear Question

Over the past few months, since Bruce Power announced that it might be interested in building a nuclear power facility in Saskatchewan, and especially since the mayor and members of the Chamber of Commerce visited a Bruce Power facility in Ontario, the interest of the public in discussing the possibility of such a facility has grown by leaps and bounds.

This interest took another jump forward after the city commissioned a public opinion survey on the issue, then announced the results just before Bruce Power held open houses here.

You should be aware that the decision to hold the survey was not made by council. We found out about the survey while it was going on. If we had been consulted before the decision was made, I would have suggested that holding such a survey was premature, and that the wording of the questions, particularly including the adjective "green" without defining it, made the results questionable.

However, I am encouraged by the public interest in the issue, and the evident engagement of many thoughtful and committed individuals. The key to effective public involvement is to find an issue that people care about, and this issue is clearly one that people want to discuss and debate, publicly, and would like more information about.

Like many residents, I'm looking for more information. While I grew up in Ontario, where nuclear energy is a fact of life, I still think that there are many questions that should be answered before I can form an opinion about whether this would be a positive step for Prince Albert. With that in mind, I've been taking advantage of the opportunities for learning - I attended an interesting debate on the tar sands at the library, where the nuclear question came up; I went to the Bruce Power open house; I was able to catch the end of a renewable energy options forum at Wesley United Church after a council meeting, and I went outside to listen to the people who gathered at City Hall before last week's council meeting. All of these provided useful information, and raised more questions.

What I would find useful is a straight-forward comparision of all the options out there, answering all the questions, from cost of start-up (and how this would be funded), through ongoing costs, to environmental impact (including impacts on air, water, wildlife, etc), to reliability, to life span of any facility, through to waste disposal. Right now I find that many of the arguments get angry very quickly, without providing that sort of side-by-side comparison that might help people avoid getting caught up in the emotions of the moment. And I'm willing to accept that no solution is perfect, but this way the least risky options could be identified.

I also think that a decision of this magnitude is one that belongs directly to the people who will be affected. We have plenty of time to develop a clear, unambiguous question about whether a nuclear facility should be built in or near Prince Albert, and include it in this year's election.

A side benefit? Having such a question to answer might motivate more people to actually get out and vote, and democratically, that would be a good thing.

"It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it." - Joseph Joubert

No comments: