Thursday, May 08, 2008

Gang Warfare

Gang Warfare; Saskatchewan Style©

By George Epp

Reading the paper over breakfast is a routine that can make or break your day. This morning, I read an editorial in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix that didn’t do much for my mood. The headline said: Anti-nuke gang won’t carry day in province now. The gist of it was that Saskatchewan has come to its senses since it turned down a proposal to build a uranium refinery back in the 1970s, supposedly as a result of the work of the “anti-nuke gang.” One paragraph pretty much sums up the argument:

Had the radicals not knocked Saskatchewan out of the game, first in the 1970s and again in the 1990s, this province could have been a world leader not only in extracting raw uranium but in milling and refining and processing it and using nuclear power to generate electricity. It also might have meant this province would be the world leader in the most lucrative side of the business—finding a secure location in the stable Canadian Shield to permanently store the wastes.

Later, in coffee row, the conversation turned to the decimation of the BC forests by the Mountain Pine Beetle. Someone said that the outbreak had started in a national park and environmentalists had successfully lobbied against spraying and that dealing with the pest at that time would have prevented what we are seeing today. Someone else said, “Those damned environmentalists!”

Are people who actively promote the protection of the environment really “damned?” Do they run around in “gangs?” Is common sense on the side of economic growth, or is it on the side of the protestors? Today, I felt attacked. Well, call me sensitive!

Environmentalists and assorted “tree-hugging” activists are as likely to make foolish errors in judgment as anybody else. The criticism leveled in the StarPhoenix appears to be that nuclear energy is a clean, safe way to make a pile of money, and we’d be stupid not to buy into the concept. Ergo, the “anti-nuke gang” has foolishly sabotaged the happiness of the entire province.

(For the “anti-nuke gangs” of a few decades ago, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island were fresh in memory, and they can surely be forgiven for not wanting to put the label “safe if used as directed” on any nuclear facility.)

But are proponents of nuclear energy justified in declaring it safe now? Are there good reasons to believe that the Canadian Shield provides a safe place for disposing of nuclear waste? These questions still have to be answered to my satisfaction.

Nuclear power plants are terribly expensive to set up and maintain . . . and to decommission. How many wind generators could be purchased for the same amount, I wondered. So I searched the web for information and found some. For instance, is a web page that allows you to enter your location and energy-use information, after which the viability of setting up your own wind generation facility is calculated.

I learned this: Rosthern is a good place for wind generation; to set up my own small wind generator would cost about $16,000 complete; this generator would provide me with half my current electrical needs. Downside: the cost recovery period would be about 52 years. The life expectancy of such a wind generator would be about 25 years.

What if the provincial government were to subsidize the cost of these generators to make them more viable for individuals? Say, with a $10,000 initial grant and a yearly maintenance subsidy of, say, $200.00. That would make it cost-effective for individuals. Suppose they coupled this with an aggressive conservation program. (I’m sure I could cut my electrical needs in half if you put a taxation gun to my head.)

Mind you, the spectacle of a wind generator 30 meters above every house in Rosthern would be . . . odd.

Add solar panels, water power and you’d have a province where energy production left no carbon footprint whatsoever. Well, except for the oil we will be extracting in the future tar sands project up near La Loche.

There’s another gang forming. The powers that be should take note. It’s an anti-growth gang, and they may soon be hard to stop. They’re much like the anti-nuke gang except that they will argue convincingly and loudly that the economic growth mentality is not only destructive, but unnecessary. “Unsafe” for them won’t just mean the possibility of accidents; it will mean the far greater danger of feeding a feverish economic growth shibboleth to the point of insanity and planetary ruin.

We don’t need to grow more energy; in particular, a nuclear energy alternative for Saskatchewan is a want on the part of the “economic growth gang.” It is not a need of the population. But given our current “free enterprise” government, we will likely see an all-out verbal battle between the two gangs, after which the growth gang will undoubtedly defeat those “damned,” dreamy environmentalists.

Or maybe not.

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