THUNDER BAY – Editorial – It has been a year since the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Northeastern coast of Japan created a nuclear disaster in Fukushima and impressed in the minds of a global audience the inherent risks of this industry. Nuclear power is at best misunderstood and at worst creates fear and anxiety due to its association with its use in atomic weapons and incidents like Three Mile Island (USA), Chernobyl (USSR), and more recently Fukushima (Japan).
The Nuclear Safety Question
It is within such background that the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) invited media representatives from Northern Ontario to an on-site visit to the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station and a meeting with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in Ottawa to get the facts on nuclear generation, disposal and regulation in Ontario and Canada. As a business columnist for Netnewsledger and other media over the years (Northern Ontario Business and Thunder Bay Source), and a former Budget Coordinator for the Northwestern Ontario Hydro region, I was invited to attend.
Obviously, this is not just a business issue as it covers the whole gamut of economic, moral, environmental and social issues. It is indeed a complex matter, and one that I did not feel one hundred percent comfortable with for a number of reasons that I will explain.
First, the trip was paid for by the NWMO and even though trips to Toronto and Ottawa now a days are not that expensive due to fierce competition in the airline industry, comments like ‘junket’ by some opposed to nuclear waste disposal in Northwestern Ontario were not helpful in setting the stage for a healthy debate.
Yes, we were treated to some sandwiches and veggies during the half-day long meetings at the NWMO offices in Toronto and the Nuclear Safety Commission in Ottawa, and one regular dinner the one night we stayed over in Toronto, but I think I share the sentiments of the other media representatives who attended, that there is a lot more to this issue than we have heard or read about and that a couple of sandwiches and a trip to Toronto is not going to influence our reporting.
The second reason was that as a former Ontario Hydro employee, I might be perceived as not being totally neutral. I mean, I haven’t worked for Ontario Hydro since 1995 and we did not have nuclear generation in Northwestern Ontario, so I was not directly involved, but I am familiar with the cost of production of the various forms of power generation, be they coal, hydroelectric, nuclear, as I spent six months in head office in Toronto in the controllership office.
Upon further reflection however, I decided that this issue is too important for the region, the province and the country to gloss over and that the best possible way I could be useful was to provide as much accurate and objective information to the public and let the process and hopefully the healthy debate that is the cornerstone of a true democracy take its course.
Northwestern Ontario has already been identified as having suitable sites and willing communities for nuclear waste disposal. The NWMO is preparing to engage the public and communities through an exhaustive consultation process. There is no doubt this is going to be a controversial issue and the debate will likely range from pure fear mongering to only focusing on the economic or job benefits. Within this spectrum, there are many, many other issues that an informed public will want to raise and consider. Safety and security will probably be a major one. The whole issue of continuing (or not) with nuclear power within the context of the Fukushima incident will also be raised as this debate is currently being waged in Japan and Germany. Germany has placed a moratorium on nuclear power production raising some major implications for the environment and the economy.
There are many more issues that I am committed to covering in the most comprehensive and balanced way. I am neither for nor against nuclear power. I will provide the facts in the most objective way possible, and if I venture on providing my personal opinion, I will say so unequivocally. I believe our region, our communities and the public have the right to know.
Frank Pullia is the Principal of Pullia Business Consulting and a frequent columnist for NetNewsledger and other local and regional media. He can be reached at 767-6579 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the first in a series of articles on nuclear power in Ontario and Canada and waste disposal in Northwestern Ontario. Other articles, views and opinions are welcome. Contact us at Newsroom@netnewsledger.com