Eco-PR vs. Power Producers
Nuclear energy is still one of those loaded topics that is driven more out of fear than facts. Even when simply weighing the environmental risks and benefits of this supposedly ‘Green’ energy source, people’s defense mechanisms still lock themselves into rigid and even fearful frames of mind that invariably leave no room for rationale debate. Even while we continue to burn coal and oil at an ever-accelerating rate of global destruction, the subject of atomic energy remains mired in taboo, and dogmatic diatribe that has stunted it’s development in North America for decades now. This confounding ecological paradox leaves one tempted to consider the possibility that Big Oil would indeed be willing be support the propaganda efforts required to maintain the negative Public profile that has dogged ‘nuclear’ for this long!
As things go, the clearly polarized and often narrow views held by so many on the subject of nuclear power might very well decide the future fate of Humanity…Depending on how we collectively decide to see things here in the Present.
Unfortunately it seems that between the Mainstream Media’s thirst for scandal and disaster stories continues to play directly into the hands of the Public Relations experts behind certain ‘Eco Groups’. Self appointed stewards of our environmental issues who often seem more suited to advancing their own agendas through PR spin, rather than in tabling suggestive solutions that would work now, rather than make vague allusions to an unrealized Future.
Let’s start with Just the facts, and see where things go…
In 2005, Bruce Power applied for and received permission from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to refurbish its nuclear facility in Tiverton. But last April 2010, the utility asked the commission for a change to its refurbishment license. The utility now wants Studsvik, a Swedish company that specializes in decommissioning nuclear power plants, to reprocess their contaminated steam generators instead.
Basically, Studsvik will separate the radioactive metal from the largely uncontaminated materials of the generators. It will then sell the clean metal on the scrap metal market, and send the remaining radioactive material back to Canada for storage. This means shipping contaminated materials out of Canada, across the Atlantic, and then back again. Needless to say, some members of ‘The Press’ had a field day with this story by running with the dramatic environmental angles that were provided to them by various anti-nuclear groups and environmental coaltions…
In one particularly lopsided article from the CBC on Sept 28/10, Bruce Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR) was heavily quoted saying, “This is just the tip of an enormous iceberg…The Canadian government should immediately work out a policy to prevent the export of nuclear waste”, he warned.
Note that the reporter and Editors at the CBC didn’t bother to qualify the improper use of the word “nuclear waste”, and easily allowed people to associate these steam generators, with the reactor “waste” (ie. spent fuel) that most people have come to see as the main drawback of nuclear power.
Although this plan was tabled back in April, these remarks from Edwards of the CCNR are timed to coincide with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission hearings in Ottawa on Bruce Power’s application to refurbish its nuclear generating plant on the shores of Lake Huron, which included this controversial shipment plan.
Duncan Hawthorne, is Bruse Power’s chief executive officer, said that he’s aware that Bruce Power is going against public opinion, but told commissioners the plan is the “environmentally sound thing to do. The reason that the public anxiety level is so high is that “they’ve been provided with misinformation, and some of it’s pretty irresponsible,” Hawthorne said.
The story ends by briefly stating that the resulting waste material will be shipped back in a container the size of an oil barrel, without putting this amount into the much larger context of the enormous size of the steam generators that this “waste” was was recovered from to begin with.
Although we can expect a decision by mid-November on Bruce Power’s application, it’s clear that the Bruce Power is more concerned with assuring the safety of their tasks at hand, rather than playing Public Relations games in the Media. The CCNR on the other hand did a much better job of feeding the Press with frightening PR materials to satisfy a style of journalism, rather than a more fully researched piece on the state of nuclear energy here in Canada.
What was missed by the Press:
- What’s wrong with re-cycling clean parts from nuclear power plants?
- Referring to the contaminated material as “nuclear waste”, rather than as large steam generators with a very small number of contaminated components that will be separated and returned to Canada in a container the size of a single oildrum.
- No explanation of why there isn’t a local provider of such highly specialised separation/recycling services. Canada couldn’t support such services with only domestic demand, but if Canadian firms been better able to leverage their established leadership in nuclear energy and medicine development, then we might have been servicing the world ourselves, rather than deferring to Sweden’s expertise.
- The environmental risks of shipping extremely robust steam generators are greatly outweighed by the toxic risks of the cargo ship itself being sunk. ie. fuel oils and other toxins introduced into the eco-system, compared to any sealed generators waiting for salvage.
- Far mora hazardous materials are trucked and transported on our highways every single day!
Fear vs. Facts
So in short, the Canadian Media missed a chance to champion a homegrown industry, and also educate audiences to the security and safety measures that exist around nuclear power and it’s various systems components. It seems that rather than show nuclear energy to be the cleanest and source of enormous baseload energy, with the smallest environmental footprint of all other sources, we’ve instead been provided with another example of how fear sells more papers than facts.