Monthly Archives: December 2007

Leadership Meltdown

Yesterday was the fifty-fifth anniversary of the world’s first nuclear meltdown. The reactor that experienced the major “accident” was called NRX, and was located in a small town in Ontario named Chalk River. The organization in charge of the reactor at the time was Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.

On Tuesday, our elected Parliamentarians celebrated the occasion a day early. In an emergency late-night session, they decided that the 50-year-old nuclear reactor at Chalk River, which had been shut down after it was discovered that it was operating in violation of its conditions of license and in the absence of required safeguards, should be restarted. They did this against the advice of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, an “independent federal government agency that regulates the use of nuclear energy and material to protect health, safety, security and the environment.”

Linda Keen, the head of the CNSC, was called to testify at the late-night session, where she said that “the government didn’t consult with the CNSC about the bill and, earlier Tuesday, removed the commission’s legal counsel so that it couldn’t dispute the legislation.” The safety watchdog’s director general said that the reactor was missing a “key upgrade” that is “key to nuclear safety” and is required to make sure that “the core doesn’t melt down.” The legislation to restart the reactor suspended the authority of the CNSC and turned the facility over to the authority of AECL, the same organization that presided over the previous Chalk River meltdown.

With that decision, Canada becamethe only nation operating nuclear reactors—other than renegade Iran—where the fox has been put in charge of the henhouse.”

Every single elected party supported this decision. Every single one.

And, in a town notorious for taking years to pass even mundane legislation, this bill was rushed through both the lower and upper houses before most Canadians even realized what was going on. Senator Elane McCoy writes of the decision, “what it boils down to is this: we’re taking a gamble that no accidents will happen in the short term…let’s hope the gamble pays off.”

At least Senator McCoy understands that much. Our prime minister, who made a loathsome attempt to suggest that the nuclear safety experts at the CNSC weren’t competent simply because some of them had been appointed by a previous government of a different colour, has somehow deemed himself capable of assuring this nation that “there will be no nuclear accident.” I wonder if any of his aids pulled him aside afterwards to tell him what the word “accident” means.

Now, regardless of what you think of this decision, at least three burning questions remain. One, next time there’s a question of safety at a nuclear power plant, will the CNSC have the authority to speak out, or have they been completely undermined? Two, given the dismal reliability record of most nuclear reactors, as well as the age of the Chalk River reactor, how is it possible that the government didn’t have a plan for this inevitable eventuality? And three, how much of this whole saga actually has to do with providing medical facilities with radioactive isotopes (it remains unclear how much of the demand could have been met by ramping up other suppliers, and how much effort was put into investigating those possibilities), and how much of it has to do with the government’s desire to protect the sale price of AECL in preparation for its privatization?

Those questions (and others regarding AECL’s mismanagement in the lead-up to this crisis) are worthy of an inquiry. We’d all be able to sleep a lot better if they were answered.

Video: Bali Ballyhoo

Here’s the video of my appearance on CH News last Tuesday evening with Lorrie Goldstein from the Toronto Sun, debating the role Canada is playing in Bali. (As in, we don’t even seem to agree on the reality of what Canada is doing and saying, let alone if their actions are positive or not.)

You’ll note that Lorrie repeatedly claims that “no one” is saying that all countries should reduce their emissions by the same percentage on the same timeline. I guess he hadn’t seen this news story before we went to air (which is convenient, since otherwise he would have had to admit he disagrees with the government):

A Canadian environmental group says leaked federal document shows Canadian negotiators in Bali are under explicit instruction to undermine a fundamental principle of the Kyoto Protocol.

Climate Action Network Canada, an alliance of environmental groups, says the move is guaranteed to derail momentum as the Bali negotiations enter their critical final week.

“The leaked instructions direct Canadian negotiators to demand that poorer nations accept the same binding absolute emission reduction targets as developed nations,” the alliance said in an e-mail to The Canadian Press.

You’ll also note that Lorrie agrees with me at the end of the video when I say that the test of success in Bali will be whether or not countries agree to the level of reductions that the science tells us is necessary. Again, it turns out that Lorrie disagrees with the Conservative government on this point. Yesterday, John Baird reiterated that his government will not support a reduction in emissions greater than 20% from today, which doesn’t even come close to our modest Kyoto commitment, let alone the levels the IPCC and others say are necessary to avert massive climate destabilization.

Of course I agree that “every country must be part of the solution.” No one’s arguing against that. But soundbites notwithstanding, that’s very different from the strategy being pursued by the Conservatives. I remain convinced that the prime minister and the minister of the environment have no understanding of the science of climate change or its grave implications (and, conversely, its opportunities). If they did, their actions would be monstrous. And I’d much rather think of my prime minister as an ignoramus than a monster.

Green Party Has Boost In Support

Their headline, not mine. News Staff
The Conservatives and Liberals remain locked in a tight race but the Green Party has shown a slight boost in support, according to a new poll.

The latest Strategic Counsel survey, conducted between Dec. 6 and Dec. 9 for CTV and The Globe and Mail, found that neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals have managed to take a strong lead.

When respondents were asked who they would vote for, the results showed little difference from a few weeks ago (percentage-point change from a Nov. 12-13 poll in brackets):

  • Conservatives: 32 per cent (-2)
  • Liberals: 29 per cent (-2)
  • NDP: 16 per cent (same)
  • Green Party: 13 per cent (+5)
  • Bloc Quebecois: 10 per cent (-1)

In other words, we remain the only party with momentum, and we’re pulling support from all of the status-quo parties. The regional breakdowns are also interesting to note. Check out the huge jump in the west, where we appear to have hit the Conservatives where it counts.

The Conservatives appear to be losing ground in Quebec and are now slightly trailing the Liberals, although the Bloc remains a dominant force (percentage-point change from a Nov. 12-13 poll in brackets):

  • Bloc Quebecois: 40 per cent (-3)
  • Liberals: 20 per cent (+4)
  • Conservatives: 18 per cent (-7)
  • NDP: 11 per cent (+3)
  • Green Party: 11 per cent (+3)

The Liberals have fallen the same amount of percentage points in Ontario as the Conservatives have in Quebec, although they remain ahead of the other parties (percentage-point change from a Nov. 12-13 poll in brackets):

  • Liberals: 37 per cent (-7)
  • Conservatives: 33 per cent (+3)
  • NDP: 17 per cent (same)
  • Green Party: 13 per cent (+4)

Possibly hinting at voter displeasure with the government’s performance in Bali during the United Nations climate change conference, the Conservatives seem to have bled support to the Greens in the West (percentage-point change from a Nov. 12-13 poll in brackets):

  • Conservatives: 41 per cent (-7)
  • Liberals: 26 per cent (same)
  • NDP: 17 per cent (-3)
  • Green Party: 16 per cent (+10 per cent)

Live-ish At 5:30

Just got back from taping an appearance for tonight’s not-so-appropriately-named “Live at 5:30” news program on CH Hamilton (which I’m told is channel 11 most places, including Toronto). The Toronto Sun’s Lorrie Goldstein and I debate (again, “ish”) what’s going on in Bali and what Canada’s role should be. Lorrie keeps rightly pointing out how complex the issue is, which probably means it shouldn’t be dealt with in 8-minute television double-enders, but there you have it. If you miss it at 5:30, it re-airs at 11:30 (at which time, I’m assured, it’s still called “Live at 5:30”).