Presentation to Public Consultation Process Chair, Dan Perrins, on the
Future of Uranium in Saskatchewan, May 27, 2009
The future of Uranium Development and Nuclear Power in Canada
Political, environmental, economic and moral
by David Orchard
Decisions on the future of uranium development and
nuclear power will have profound and far-reaching
political, environmental, economic and moral
ramifications for our province.
As a fourth generation Saskatchewan farmer with a
long-standing interest in the environment, I have
actively followed the nuclear power issue for
twenty-five years. I was twice a political candidate in
central and northern Saskatchewan, where the uranium
mining and development issue is of central importance.
In 1998 and 2003, I was also a leadership contender for
the federal Progressive Conservative party and grappled
with the question of nuclear power in that capacity.
Saskatchewan has already embarked in a significant
way on uranium mining. Now our government is strongly
promoting the idea of building a nuclear reactor. If
Saskatchewan proceeds with atomic power, we will be
placing ourselves squarely on the nuclear road with all
the implications involved.
One of the first questions to ask is, do we need the
amount of extra power a reactor will produce? If so,
what are the options to get it?
The cost of a nuclear station is so great that major
resources will be channeled towards nuclear energy at
the expense of all other energy options. It is clear
that at this time and for the foreseeable future
Saskatchewan does not need the amount of power an
industrial nuclear reactor is designed to produce. So
the question becomes, do we want to take this major step
in order to generate power for export?
In my view the costs and risks are far too high for
us to do so.
There are other options available for Saskatchewan to
add additional power.
Several Canadian provinces have a surplus of power
they are seeking to sell. Incredible as it may seem,
Canada does not have an east-west electricity grid
connecting our provinces. Prime Minister John
Diefenbaker proposed some fifty years ago that we link
our country east and west, so that the provinces which
needed electricity would have access to those with power
to sell. Instead, most of the provincial electrical
utilities have tied themselves more tightly to the U.S.
states to the south than to their neighbouring
During the 2003 blackout in Ontario, for example, the
lights were burning in Quebec, which had surplus
electricity it was seeking to sell south, but the link
did not exist for Ontario to take the power and it ended
up buying expensive, and dirty, U.S. coal fired
Saskatchewan could take the lead in advocating a
national east-west grid that would give all Canadians a
sense of energy security. With a simple high-voltage
line to Manitoba, Saskatchewan could purchase extra
power when needed, from already existing hydro
facilities, without the high cost of building a nuclear
station. (Manitoba produces many times more power than
it uses.) This is one clear and obvious solution, which
has received very little discussion.
A second option involves looking at alternative
sources of energy. Germany, for example, after a great
deal of study and debate, is phasing out its nuclear
reactors and is developing wind and solar generation.
Saskatchewan has a good deal more wind and solar
resources than most jurisdictions in the world,
including Germany, but has done very little to develop
them. Both wind and solar energy are sustainable
indefinitely and don’t carry with them the large risks
and problems of nuclear energy.
Developing solar and wind capacity, along with access
to neighbouring Manitoba power, combined with a sensible
plan to reduce consumption, could look after our needs
without the addition of nuclear power.
Problems with nuclear power
The first and foremost problem with atomic power is
the nuclear waste it generates.
Reactors in Canada and around the world are producing
highly toxic waste with no functioning, agreed-upon
solution in sight.
Because of its importance I want to look briefly at
the history of this problem. At one point, not that long
ago, drums of nuclear waste were being dumped into the
ocean. The practise was discovered and exposed to the
public by environmental organizations. The resulting
outcry has largely forced a halt to these actions.
Then proposals were made to use rockets to shoot
nuclear waste into outer space. The obvious danger and
resulting public opposition forced an end to this plan.
The idea currently being proposed is to bury the
waste deep underground in solid rock formations.
Manitoba spent many years studying and experimenting
with deep rock disposal at the Whiteshell facility at
Pinawa. It concluded that no matter how solid the rock,
water moves through it.
The cocktail of waste generated by nuclear reactors
is lethal for up to a million years. Any container will
leak long before that time and the buried waste will be
released, irretrievably, into the environment, leaving a
deadly legacy for eternity to future generations on the
Manitoba concluded with a ban on burying nuclear
waste in that province. Virtually every state in the
U.S. has said they do not want it. For two decades, the
Yucca Mountain site in Nevada has been the sole focus of
U.S. government plans to store nuclear waste deep in
solid rock caverns. Over $13 billion has been spent on
this site, but opposition grew steadily across the state
and now both U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu have pronounced the
project dead. So there are now over a hundred reactors
across the U.S. looking for a place to get rid of their
If Saskatchewan builds a nuclear reactor, it will
also need to do something with the waste. Pressure will
increase for a disposal site in our province.
Furthermore, if Saskatchewan agrees to construct such
a site, nuclear power stations from eastern Canada and
across North America will be anxious to send us their
waste. I don’t believe this is a future most of us want
for our province.
Canada is the largest supplier of uranium to the
U.S., most of it from Saskatchewan.
The U.S. military has used hundreds of tonnes of
depleted uranium (DU) munitions in Iraq, Afghanistan and
also during the bombing of the former Yugoslavia in
1999. Upon impact DU hardened missiles often burst into
flames and vapourize. A tiny speck of DU inhaled can be
an agonizing death sentence, as the escalating cancer
rates of the countries mentioned have shown.
The entire subject of the use of DU weaponry has been
virtually taboo, but there is no way that we can pretend
that our uranium is not responsible for massive
suffering, which will go on for generations to come, in
other countries. This is an ethical and moral question
facing us as a province.
We must ask why so many other jurisdictions have said
no to both nuclear power and to uranium mining.
Decades ago, British Columbia, for example, imposed a
moratorium on uranium mining and exploration. If B.C.
does not want this industry, why should we accept it?
During the debate over the proposed Warman uranium
refinery in the early 1980s, the prominent Cree leader,
Senator John B. Tootoosis, spoke eloquently about the
power of uranium, which, he said, had been placed in the
ground by our Creator and which, he told us, should
never be disturbed.
I share Senator Tootoosis’s view and urge you, Mr.
Chairman, to take a long, sober look at the
environmental destruction, the risks, dangers and the
economic costs involved in this industry and make sure
that we go no further down this path.