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Regina Leader-Post, Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Heated opposition to nuclear option
Sask. Party government vows to proceed 'with caution': Boyd

By Angela Hall, Saskatchewan News Network

The Saskatchewan Party government isn't putting the brakes on the possibility a nuclear power plant could come to the province, but its foot is "off the accelerator," says Energy and Resources Minister Bill Boyd.

Boyd made the comments Tuesday as the government released a report that found an overwhelming response against nuclear power from the people who participated in the recent public consultation process on the findings of the Uranium Development Partnership (UDP).

"When I look at this report, it's neither a green light nor a red light for future uranium development," Boyd said. "It's more like a yellow light -- take any next steps with caution."

Boyd acknowledged the government isn't as warm to the idea of nuclear power as it was a year ago, citing cost concerns that have pushed some Ontario nuclear projects to the backburner. He also emphasized the government wouldn't participate in any nuclear project that puts taxpayers at financial risk.

"My foot is off the accelerator, if that's what you're indicating," Boyd quipped, when asked whether the government was proceeding cautiously or actually coming to a stop on the nuclear power issue.

The report compiled by Dan Perrins, who chaired the consultation process, summarized more than 2,200 written or verbal responses to the recommendations of the UDP, a 12-person panel struck by government to look at uranium mining, refining, research, nuclear power and waste storage. Many people who wrote in or attended meetings voiced concerns about various aspects of the uranium industry, with particular emphasis on health, safety and environmental impacts of nuclear power as well as financial costs.

Many people also expressed reservations about the UDP process itself, believing the work of the panel to have been limited in scope, the Perrins report said.

However, Boyd said even though 84 per cent of the 1,400 responses about nuclear power received in the consultation process were negative, opinion polls in Saskatchewan have also shown there's support for nuclear projects.

More work needs to be done for the government to decide by the end of December on whether to signal the province is open to nuclear power, the time frame Premier Brad Wall previously indicated would be appropriate, Boyd said.

As well, the Perrins report will be submitted to a legislative committee holding hearings later this month on how the province can best meet mounting needs for electricity.

"I think that we can embark upon any kind of further consultation process in a fairly aggressive fashion in terms of polling or focus testing and have it accomplished by the end of the year to meet the needs of the premier," said Boyd.

A spokesperson for Bruce Power, the Ontario company examining the possibility of locating a nuclear power plant in Saskatchewan, withheld comment Tuesday.

Steve Cannon said officials want to first read the Perrins report in detail.

The Opposition says the only decision the government can make on nuclear development by the end of December is not to proceed, said NDP MLA Sandra Morin, arguing more time is needed if the Sask. Party wants to do a comprehensive review of all the options.

The Saskatchewan Environmental Society said it hopes the government takes the report as a signal to stop pursuing nuclear power and instead turn its attention to renewable energy options and energy efficiency, saying that approach can be more economically attractive than a reactor.

"I think the potential is enormous," said Peter Prebble, the society's director of energy and water policy.

However, Steve McLellan of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce urged the government to keep in mind the people who participated in the UDP consultation process don't represent the views of everyone in the province.

McLellan said the government needs to continue to do due diligence on the possibility of nuclear power to see if it's viable, as it studies other options as well.

"They need to move forward because pretty quickly in this province we're going to turn light switches on and there's going to be no light. We're not going to have the power," McLellan said.

Perrins said people who attended the public consultations shared a desire for more information, regardless of which side of the issue they were on.

He recommended the government make available to the public a report outlining all power generation options, costs and comparisons, as well as a review of all the current research on the health effects of nuclear power.

Perrins also recommended the government launch a public information campaign about medical isotope production, as the province contemplates construction of a research reactor in Saskatoon.

"The need for better information, I think, would be something I could say is absolutely present," Perrins said.

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