Power Politics

Submitted by Anne Rucchetto

How to best extract, procure, and sustain a supply of safe and affordable energy is one of the most crucial preoccupations facing this generation. The threat of a looming energy crisis, driven by the precipitating challenges of climate change, presents an unique opportunity to policy-makers, environmentalists, healthcare providers, and all engaged citizens—as we try to find viable solutions to our current energy needs while maintaining a suitable natural environment to support human, animal, and plant life (Copenhagen Alternative Declaration, 1995).

These questions are not hypothetical; securing and funding appropriate sources of energy for Ontarians continues to draw heated debate across political, economic, and social lines. Furthermore, situations of human rights abuses and mass resistance to particular methods of extraction, such as The Dakota Access Pipeline construction project at Standing Rock Reservation, call attention to the need for accountability, transparency, and meaningful public consultation when labouring to meet ever-increasing energy demands. Above all, the escalating violence (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2016/nov/21/dakota-access-pipe...) unleashed on water protectors at Standing Rock serves as a reminder that profit takes disturbing priority over vital, irreplaceable natural resources such as land, wildlife, and  water. The clash of vested economic interests with the will of devoted communities signals a need to interrogate official corporate and governmental dialogues with critical vigilance to unintended consequences, past historical precedent, and the precautionary principle (Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999).

The controversies around Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) Pickering Nuclear Generating Station raise concerns about the health of the residents, workers, and natural landscape within the outmoded structure’s 30 km fallout zone. The Pickering Nuclear Generator was opened in 1971 and was supposed to be shut down in 2014. As more people reside near the Pickering Nuclear Station than any other nuclear station in North America, the rationale for interrogating its public health implications is evident (OCAA, 2016). For years, committed advocates have been highlighting the pitfalls of nuclear power, and the particular disadvantages of Pickering’s Generating Station. Following the nuclear accident in Fukushima, OPG has begun supplying Potassium Iodide pills to anyone living within a 50 km radius of the Pickering Generator. Though these pills are expected to protect against cancer in case of a “major accident”, this attempt to control a known catastrophic pollutant hardly qualifies as adequate risk management. Such a downstream approach to public health speaks to the larger issues of sustaining the use of nuclear technology in a populous area. Human rights issues are more connected to OPG than most realize. SNC Lavalin, the Engineering firm awarded two OPG refurbishment contracts has been debarred (http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2013/04/17/world-bank-deb...) by the World Bank “for a period of 10 years following the company’s misconduct in relation to the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project in Bangladesh, as well as misconduct under another Bank-financed project”.

Misinformation abounds in the promotional dialogues surrounding nuclear power. When nuclear companies claim that nuclear energy is “emission-free,” they are neglecting to disclose that the nuclear industry “routinely releases millions of radioactive curies annually” (OCAA, 2016). The cooling water used in nuclear plants seeps into the surrounding, broader ecosystem, contaminating drinking water and fish with radioactive tritium (OCAA, 2016). Tritium is a recognized carcinogen and mutagen, and is especially threatening to developing foetuses (OCAA, 2016). Even low exposures to tritium have been shown to produce toxic effects (OCAA, 2016). There is a strong positive association between low levels of radiation exposure and cancer mortality (American Thyroid Association, 2014; OCAA, 2016). This also belies the cumbersome, costly, and dangerous process of gathering and harvesting nuclear energy. It involves invasive mining procedures that pose grave threats to surrounding communities and natural environments (Isaccson & Phillips, 1990; OCAA, 2016). The tailings and waste of nuclear energy pollute all they come into contact with, rendering water, land, and the natural landscape tainted for generations to come, when containment and safe waste management become issues—which they historically have—as with Chalk River, Three Mile Island, Elliott Lake, Chernobyl, and Fukushima (Isaccson & Phillips, 1990; OCAA, 2016).

On its website, OPG claims that to keep the Pickering Power Generator running would save Ontarians six hundred million dollars (Ontario Power Generation, 2016). This estimation does not reflect past precedent. Firstly, all nuclear power projects that have ever been built in Ontario have had “huge capital cost overruns” that have become taxpayers’ responsibility in the form of corporate subsidies (OCAA, 2016). Furthermore, Ontarians are already paying for the “stranded debt” for past nuclear errors for “years to come” (OCAA, 2016). To rebuild the Pickering A Unit would be five times more costly than originally predicted (OCAA, 2016). In the past, when Bruce Power refurbished two reactors, its budget was two billion dollars higher than originally predicted (OCAA, 2016). Lastly, OPG wants a 30% rate increase to keep the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station open until 2019 (OCAA, 2016).

Ontario has many more and safe and viable options to meet our power needs. Nuclear energy is not necessary to serve as a “base load” because we could remedy many of our energy woes—meeting base load demand—by practicing more efficient and judicious use of power (OCAA, 2016). Ontario is one of the world’s most wasteful places in terms of electricity; we use 50% more energy than New York State—though they have approximately 19 million people and Ontario has only 13 million people (OCAA, 2016). Furthermore, we are not short of electricity in Ontario. In fact, we have been a “net exporter” of electricity over the past seven years (OCAA, 2016). Due to improvements in renewable energy, large, cumbersome, nuclear plants are no longer the most desirable option for bringing power to Ontarians (Etcheverry, 2016; OCAA, 2016). Water from Quebec is low cost and renewable, with several outstanding advantages. For example, over a twenty-year period, waterpower from Quebec would cost 14-52 billion dollars less than nuclear power from the Darlington Nuclear Station (OCAA, 2016).

As the Pickering Nuclear Generator surrounds many fresh waterways, not to mention Lake Ontario, it is valuable to employ to upstream thinking promoted by environmentally conscious scientists. The wise recommendations of the International Joint Commission Internationale outlined in the “Priorities and Progress Under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement” advises taking a precautionary standpoint in respects to our lakes and waterways (1993). To adequately account for responsible risk management decisions, impact assessments, population health, and environmental protection must be taken into consideration (The International Joint Commission/Commission mixte internationale, 1993). An accident at the Pickering Nuclear Station threatens the global network of waterways, while guaranteeing immediate toxic effects for the waterfront, residents, and landscape in its surrounding area.

The late Ursula Franklin described nuclear energy as “war transposed into another key” condemning the repurposing of destructive forces to be used for less combative purposes (Franklin, 2006). Though the application has benevolent intentions, the dangers of such technology cannot be overstated. OPG’s representation of the Pickering generator fails to acknowledge the human, economic, and environmental dangers involved in continuing to support it poses (Ontario Power Generation, 2016).

The issue of nuclear power in Ontario has a strong tie to public health and population health. Nuclear power has potentially inestimable human and environmental costs. The information surrounding nuclear energy is inconsistent, and official dialogues understate the disadvantages of this power source (Nussbaum, 2007). Integrated and cooperating advocates have the power to shift narratives that obfuscate vital truths, enabling communities to act as a collective in the best interests of their family, friends, environment, and future generations.

Further reading:

  1. The Ontario Clean Air Allowance’s cost-benefit analysis of the Generating Station (http://www.cleanairalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/pickering-fs.pdf).
  2. A petition to close Pickering Nuclear Generating Station (http://www.cleanairalliance.org/close-pickering/).
  3. Ontario’s Green Future news and information (http://www.ontariosgreenfuture.ca/nonukesnews.php).


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Franklin, U., & Swenarchuk, M. (2006). The Ursula Franklin reader: Pacifism as a map. Between the Lines.

Etcheverry, J. (2016). Prosperity Strategies for Canada. Lecture, University of Toronto,Toronto, Ontario.

Goldin Rosenburg. (Thursday, July 28, 2016). “Environmental Law and Public Education.” Lecture conducted at The University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.

NGO Copenhagen Alternative Declaration, World Summit for Social Development, Copenhagen, 1996.

Nussbaum, R.H. (2007). “Manipulating Public Health Research in the Nuclear and Public Health     Establishments”. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health. 13  328-330.

Phillips, D (Producer) and Isaacson, M (Director). (1990). Uranium. Canada: National Film Board.

Ontario Clean Air Alliance. (2016). “Help Ontarians make the smart choice”. Pamphlet.

Ontario Clean Air Alliance. (2016). “Nuclear Energy Myths & Facts.” Pamphlet.

Ontario Clean Air Alliance. (2016). “Ontario’s coal phase out: lessons from a massive climate achievement”. Online. Accessed at: http://www.cleanairalliance.org/ontarios-coal-phase-out-lessons-from-a-m... climate-achievement/

Ontario Power Generation. (2016) “Pickering Nuclear”. Online. Accessed at: http://www.opg.com/generating-power/nuclear/stations/pickering-nuclear/P...  

The International Joint Commission/Commission mixte internationale. (1993). “Priorities and Progress Under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement”. Recommendations for the precautionary principle based on a weight of evidence approach.

Preparetobesafe.ca (2015). “Important Public Safety Announcement”. Flyer.