Subsidies for Canadian nuclear energy

From: “Time for nuclear debate”
Straight Goods
Monday, May 12, 2003
by Joe Comartin, MP

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Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), the federal crown corporation that promotes nuclear power, celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. In those fifty years of touting the CANDU nuclear reactor, AECL has soaked up $17.5-billion in federal government subsidies or an average of $350,000,000 per year. Over the same period of time the average annual federal support for all renewable energy sources has been less than $13-million. Imagine for a moment the leadership role Canada could provide, if the same subsidies allocated to the nuclear industry, were directed to renewable energy sources like wind, solar and hydrogen.

Despite 50 years of consistent financial failure, the Liberal government gave AECL a subsidy of $211.2-million in 2001-2002 – the most it has received in 15 years. The funding is a betrayal of a 1996 budget commitment to cap AECL subsidies at $100- million per year. Recent talk about private sector “investment” in AECL is little more than a transparent attempt to increase its level of feeding directly at the public trough.

There has been much nuclear industry propaganda about a “nuclear renaissance,” but the last nuclear plant in Canada was ordered in 1974. The reason is that nuclear power is at least twice the cost of high-efficiency natural gas plants, and CANDU reactors have proven disastrously unreliable.

Now AECL is seeking a massive subsidy for development of a new reactor known as the Advanced CANDU Reactor (ACR). AECL hopes that it can cut costs in half with this untested prototype reactor and enter a new age of reactor sales. We have heard this story before with other AECL reactor designs. The CANDU-Boiling Light Water Reactor in Gentilly, Quebec (similar in design to the ACR) was a complete disaster and operated less than 200 days. The Slowpoke Energy System, the CANDU 3, and CANDU 9 reactors cost hundreds of millions of dollars to design, but have never found any buyers.

NDP MP Joe Comartin is currently the Deputy Speaker for the House of Commons of Canada. At the time of writing this article, he was the NDP critic for energy, environment and multiculturalism. He represents the federal riding of Windsor-St. Clair, Ontario.

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