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The StarPhoenix, Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Strong opposition against nuclear power in Saskatchewan: UDP report

By James Wood

REGINA — Public consultations on the government's Uranium Development Partnership saw an "overwhelming response" against nuclear power and other aspects of the industry, widespread concern over health, safety and environmental impacts and skepticism towards the UDP itself, according to the report prepared by a former top civil servant and released Tuesday.

The Saskatchewan Party government said the report by Dan Perrins will not necessarily halt development but it does signal the province to be careful in how it proceeds.

"It's neither a green light nor a red light for future uranium development," Energy and Resources Minister Bill Boyd said in a news release Tuesday.

"It's more like a yellow light — take any next steps with caution. Saskatchewan people are saying, 'Take your time, get it right, consider all the options.' I think that's wise counsel."

Boyd has said in the past the government will need time to study the report and it will be a matter of weeks before it issues a formal response.

The UDP was appointed by the Saskatchewan Party government to explore ways to "add value" to the province's world-leading supply of uranium. Its report in April recommended a nuclear reactor be incorporated into the province's energy plans and touted the possibility of nuclear waste storage, among other actions.

Perrins, formerly deputy minister to NDP premier Lorne Calvert, was appointed to head public consultations. Meetings during the spring were dominated by those raising concerns about nuclear development.

In his report, Perrins said he received 2,263 responses, with some representing multiple submissions by individuals and organizations.

Of those responses, 1,403 were related to nuclear power, with 84 per cent of those responses in opposition. Other major themes, in order of magnitude, were health, safety and environment concerns, opposition to nuclear waste disposal and storage, the cost of uranium development, support for alternative energy sources, concerns about the UDP report itself and opposition to current and future mining activities.

Underlying most submissions was a need and desire for more information from the public, said Perrins in his report.

"Who provides the information, what information is provided, how the information is provided and whether it can be trusted are all questions that people asked through the process," he wrote.

Along those lines, Perrins makes a number of recommendations, including that the government develop a consolidated report on all power generation options for the province and that SaskPower publicly release any existing work it has done on the province's power needs.

With Ontario-based Bruce Power eyeing the province for a potential nuclear reactor, the Opposition NDP has accused the government of stacking the deck in favour of nuclear development. While the two sides spar, an all-party legislative committee will hold hearings this fall on the province's energy future and its various options, it was announced last week.

Perrins also calls for the government to commission a study to review the current research on health impacts of nuclear power and that that study be made public.

In addition, he recommends that the government initiate a public information campaign regarding the production and use of medical isotopes.

The government and the University of Saskatchewan have already gone ahead in putting a proposal in to the federal government for a $500-million to $750-million research reactor that produces medical isotopes, which was also recommended by the UDP.

Premier Brad Wall and Boyd have said that the province had to meet a federal deadline for the proposal and it could be scrapped if there was clearly no appetite for the project from the public.

Perrins found that there was little support for uranium research and development but responses were divided on the issue of medical isotopes.

"Many people who expressed support for the production of medical isotopes stipulated it should occur without the use of nuclear fission," he wrote.

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