Nuke pursuit anything but PowerWise

— Article from by David Suzuki —

As Canada’s industrial centre, Ontario needs a lot of electricity. At one time, it got most of this power from water-driven turbines, hence the name Ontario Hydro. But the name has changed to the Ontario Power Authority, an indication of the province’s increasing reliance on other sources of electricity, especially nuclear power.

Because Ontario’s demand continues to grow, it’s assumed that supply must also continue to grow – and nuclear has been touted as the most reliable source of that increasing power.

I’ve always thought it was crazy to plan on steady growth forever. It can’t be maintained in a finite system such as our biosphere. Energy conservation makes a lot more sense, and it has been proven to be effective. After the rolling brownouts engineered in California by Enron in 2001, the state embarked on a conservation program that slashed usage and saved billions of dollars.

With that in mind, I approached Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty last year and told him that, with enough inspiration and information, the public was ready to do its part. He directed me to PowerWise, the province’s energy-conservation program, and I agreed to appear in a series of TV spots and billboards for PowerWise. (Neither I nor my foundation received any payment for my participation.) We took a humorous approach to encourage viewers to do things such as add insulation to their homes or replace wasteful incandescent light bulbs with efficient CFLs to conserve energy and save money.

I’m proud of the ads. They were immensely popular and were even used by conservation programs in other provinces. And according to PowerWise, they worked.

So it’s with great disappointment that I’ve decided to stop appearing in them. I’m doing this to protest the Ontario government’s intention to pursue nuclear power.

Building new plants will be incredibly costly. Every nuclear power plant built in Ontario so far has had huge cost overruns, has been behind schedule, has failed to deliver the amount of electricity promised, and has had a shorter lifespan than promised.

It gets worse. About half of Ontario’s power plants have had serious problems that have led to shutdowns. So taxpayers paid even more to repair the plants and to purchase electricity from other regions during the shutdowns. Nuclear energy has turned out to be the most expensive form of electricity in Ontario by far. (And that’s not even mentioning the usual concerns, such as terrorism risks and radioactive waste!)

If Ontario’s nuclear power plants were any other kind of high-priced product, customers would demand a refund and complain to the Better Business Bureau. And you can bet they wouldn’t be hoodwinked into making the same purchase again.

Yet, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Energy analysts have shown that Ontario doesn’t need to build more nuclear power plants and, in fact, could replace the energy provided by existing facilities with a combination of energy-conservation programs and expanded green-power projects. The government can get a jump-start by replacing its aging nuclear reactors with alternative green energy sources now. In March, Ontario’s energy and infrastructure minister will have to decide whether or not to rebuild the aging Pickering B nuclear station or to mothball it. I think he should close it and invest the money saved in alternative green-energy generating facilities.

By focusing on renewable energy, Ontario could create a huge number of sustainable jobs and put clean energy onto the grid immediately. It could retool the manufacturing sector and retrain workers to be part of an innovative green-collar workforce. It could export these products and expertise to other parts of the world.

It’s already starting to happen … just not here.

Some European countries have transformed their economies and workforces by pursuing renewable energy. U.S. president-elect Barack Obama will undoubtedly follow their lead.

Ontario has the opportunity to become a leader in this growing field, and use its influence as Canada’s most populous province to inspire other provinces. But the province is falling behind by relying on outdated, dangerous, and expensive nuclear power.

And we all know what happens to players in the global economy who fail to innovate, implement cheaper and more efficient solutions, and create new industrial sectors.

They get left behind.

David Suzuki, co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, is a scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster