MARY JEAN HANDE
Many of you have probably heard about the potential development of nuclear power in Saskatchewan.
After an extensive province-wide consultation process this summer, conducted by the Uranium Development Partnership Committee, an overwhelming 84 per cent of Saskatchewan citizens opposed the reactor. Most people opposed the creation of dangerous nuclear waste, the disposal of nuclear waste in our province and the high costs of nuclear power. They expressed interest in developing more renewable forms of energy.
While it is clear that the vocal majority in Saskatchewan are not in favour of nuclear development, there seem to be mixed feelings about a research reactor or commercial isotope production here on the University of Saskatchewan campus.
A lot of the interest has to do with our government. Brad Wall wants to go full speed ahead with nuclear development despite public opposition and, indeed, despite what the UDP (a committee created by his own government) recommended. He got his foot in the door even before the consultation process was completed. How? By submitting a proposal to the federal government for a research reactor, using the global isotope shortage as an excuse.
The UDP clearly states that the main purpose for a research reactor on campus would be to train personnel for a large-scale, power generating nuclear reactor. The question must then be posed: if the main purpose of building a research reactor is to train people to work at a nuclear power reactor, and yet we don’t want a Canada Deuterium Uranium reactor, why would we build one?
Furthermore, the UDP discourages the construction of a research reactor for isotope production because isotope production cannot generate enough money to justify the construction of the facility.
In other words, it is completely economically inviable.
One could conclude that the U of S would have to pick up the tab.
There are already tongues wagging on campus about the ever-increasing operating budget of the synchrotron and the impact its cost is having on other academic programs. To make things worse, by the time a nuclear facility is up and running for isotope production, the isotope crisis will be over.
If the government and university were really serious about cost effectiveness and timely production of medical isotopes they would be looking at a particle accelerator (such as the one proposed by the Tri-University Meson Facility at the University of British Columbia) instead of a nuclear reactor facility. However, it looks like Brad Wall has been able to cloud the issue by capitalizing on public concern about the medical isotope crisis.
Another reason why people seem to be in favour of a research reactor, as opposed to a Canada Deuterium Uranium reactor, is because they believe that it will attract leading scholars, scientists and professionals and result in a Nuclear Centre of Excellence for Saskatchewan. Although this is very possible, Shannon Dyck, a student in the School of Environment and Sustainability at the U of S and former USSU executive member, warns that marrying scholarly research with industry has a number of implications for post-secondary education.
However, she points out that since the provincial government and the university are so intent on combining the energy sector with post-secondary education, why not focus on transitioning away from non-renewable energy by placing more resources into renewable energy research?
Saskatchewan’s wind and solar energy capabilities remain vastly underdeveloped and pale in comparison to Germany’s renewable energy sector. To date, windmills in Germany provide power and electricity to 10 million homes and employ over 84,000 people in the renewable industry. Saskatchewan, on the other hand, has even more potential for this kind of renewable production, but harnesses a mere fraction of possible wind power.
The U of S has the opportunity to lead this type of research and development. We should capitalize on that.