Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Going nuclear

One of the policy questions which was bound to become a flashpoint in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race is the issue of nuclear power generation. And as Buckdog points out, Dwain Lingenfelter has made his move to frame the issue on his terms:
(N)either I nor the New Democratic Party enter the debate about our energy future with a closed mind toward nuclear power or any other potential energy source. It is clear to me that Saskatchewan will need a renewed commitment to energy conservation and a mix of both renewable and conventional energy sources to meet our energy needs in the immediate future. Even the European Union, whose member countries are global leaders in the area of renewable energy, envision producing only 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. Therefore, while renewable energy options such as solar, wind, geo-thermal, and biomass are an important part of Saskatchewan’s future energy plans, some conventional generation of electricity will remain necessary for the foreseeable future.

However, I do not support the construction of a nuclear reactor to generate power within Saskatchewan’s borders unless a public, transparent study has been conducted by a blue ribbon panel of independent experts, showing the people of Saskatchewan that such a project could be sustainable, from both the financial and environmental perspective. This blue ribbon panel would hold public hearings around the province so that every citizen could have their say on the future of electrical generation in Saskatchewan. The panel would explore the costs and benefits of nuclear power compared to both renewable energy options and conventional electrical generation sources such as coal, natural gas and hydro. The energy options we choose for the next twenty years will impact everything from our provincial finances to our economic growth, from our population’s health to our quality of life. These decisions cannot be made without full, public input and understanding.

The Wall government has refused to let the people of Saskatchewan help plan their own energy future. It has stumbled and bumbled into a flawed process that clearly favours a single new energy source, provided by a single, private sector player, while freezing out the people of Saskatchewan.
In sum, Lingenfelter's position is that he'd be fine with nuclear power generation under some circumstances, but not under the process set up by the Sask Party. And by keeping most of his focus on the latter issue, he looks to be setting up exactly the distinction that he'll want to highlight: it shouldn't be hard for most NDPers to agree that Wall's handling of the issue has been unduly secretive and likely to lead to the enrichment of Bruce Power at the expense of Saskatchewan's citizens.

However, it's far from clear that Lingenfelter is on safe ground in assuming he can speak for the party on the more fundamental question of whether nuclear power should be under serious consideration in the first place.

After all, Ryan Meili's environmental policy calls for investing in renewable energy "rather than...nuclear power". And while Yens Pedersen's platform doesn't mention nuclear power specifically, it's hard to say that he's open to "any...potential energy source" when he's promising a phase-out of coal-based generation.

By using phrases like "closed mind" to represent the opposite position, Lingenfelter is apparently looking to marginalize any disagreement. But it should be obvious that there's some real debate on the issue - both inside the party, and among parts of Saskatchewan's left which the NDP should be looking to bring on board. And it wouldn't be surprising if Lingenfelter's attempt to get out in front of one of his weaker issues only serves to motivate his opponents' supporters.

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