by Jim Harding Fernwood, 2007
From his student days in the late fifties campaigning for nuclear disarmament to representing the International Uranium Congress in hearings on nuclear-waste disposal in the nineties, Jim Harding has been holding Saskatchewan nuclear proponents to account. This chronicle of battles fought with the political and corporate elites – against uranium-mining ventures, unwanted and unnecessary nuclear reactors and a high-level nuclear-waste storage site in Saskatchewan – is a modern-day David-and-Goliath story.
The nuclear Goliath still dominates the terrain, of course – but the news isn’t all bad. A group of Mennonites stopped a uranium refinery in Saskatchewan in 1980; and in 1989 the Inuit of Baker Lake, Northwest Territories (now Nunavut), rejected a proposal for a uranium mine. And, there is as yet no nuclear reactor in Saskatchewan, despite an all-out attempt by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) in the early nineties to gain support for a CANDU-3 mini-reactor, regardless of the lack of demand for more electrical power. The parallel proposal to create a national, even international, nuclear-waste disposal site has so far met a similar fate. As Harding notes, however, this is no time for complacency, as the idea that Saskatchewan needs a nuclear reactor is back on the table, this time promoted as a way to tap into the Alberta tar-sands boom.
Harding’s lengthy experience with the public-consultation processes around uranium mining is one of the strengths of this book. He documents how these processes “served the interests of the crown and private uranium corporations” – basically afterthoughts designed to manage public dissent. In one case, the project under investigation was already underway as the hearing was called – and practically completed as recommendations were submitted. This frustrating inability to affect outcomes led public-interest groups to boycott some inquiries rather than contribute to their credibility.
Harding also unwraps the cozy relationship between AECL and the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA), the professional association of individuals and organizations involved in the nuclear industry. With the heavily subsidized AECL as one of its major fee-paying members, the CNA has became its promotional arm, always there to “buy us with our own money,” whenever a nuclear-related proposal was in the air, says Harding. “In the communist Soviet Union, most notably during and after the Chernobyl accident, the nuclear industry controlled information through the government. In Canada, a democracy, the industry learns the language of review and regulatory processes without actually entering the spirit of them, and in collusion [with] the corporate ‘media’ distributes its own ‘news’ promotion.”
The well-known failures of government, no matter the political stripe, to address the environmental and social issues around uranium mining; the power of the nuclear industry to influence decision makers; the disregard by all parties for human rights, Aboriginal rights and democratic principles are a black eye to a province otherwise identified as socially progressive. This well-documented account supports Harding’s conclusion that, “The nuclear industry and its political backers inflate the short-term pay-offs of nuclear power, ignore the hidden costs to the taxpayer and push massive ecological costs to future generations.”
This article appeared in the July/August 2008 issue of Canadian Dimension (Food and Hunger).