Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Alberta tar sands, nuclear power proposals connected, says Calgary-based journalist

Alberta tar sands, nuclear power proposals connected, says Calgary-based journalist
DAMIEN WOOD - Herald-Tribune staff
June 16, 2009

The issues surrounding oil production from the tar sands and nuclear power plants being proposed in Alberta are integrally woven together, says journalist Andrew Nikiforuk.

The Calgary-based business journalist was in Grande Prairie Thursday to give a presentation at the Golden Age Centre based on his latest book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of the Continent.

Sponsored by the National Farmers Union, it followed similar presentations in Dawson Creek, sponsored by the Peace River Organic Producers Association, and in Peace River, which was sponsored by the Peace River Environmental Society.

The issues surrounding the tar sands and the nuclear power proposals weave together, said to Nikiforuk, as he believes one is motivating the other.

Nikiforuk opened by stating the tar sands have changed Alberta forever.

“We’re a very different place than we were 10 years ago. You can’t have 700,000 people pour into the province, and come here not to make a living but to make a killing, and not have that change the nature of things,” said Nikiforuk.

He said the province started at 600,000 barrels of oil in the mid-1990s, is at 1.3 million barrels now, and there’s talk of about jumping to 3.5 million, if not higher (5 or 6.5 million barrels), in the future.

He said this would bring the province close to Saudi Arabia, where production is nine million barrels a day.

The amount of energy used for this level of production is staggering, and not currently coming from sustainable sources.

“Every day, we use enough gas to heat 6,000,000 homes, and to replace that natural gas consumption would take 20 nuclear reactors, according to the Canadian Parliament and their report ... in 2007,” said Nikiforuk.

“Of course, there’s another solution – slow down and don’t produce as much. That doesn’t seem to be on the table, but that should be part of the national discussion,” he later added.

Nikiforuk cited multiple reports that seem to suggest fossil fuel production could well be headed toward nuclear in Alberta.

One of those, from a 2007 presentation in Japan, suggested a requirement of a 30% increase in energy to match the major ongoing expansion of the tar sands, stating nuclear reactors are proven large-scale thermal energy producers.

But Nikiforuk pointed out, based on material from contrary reports, the shift to nuclear to power operations in the tar sands is problematic.

He questions Alberta’s ability to deal with nuclear waste.

He also questions the costs associated with maintenance, and other, peripheral items such as security at nuclear power plant locations.

He also brought up Chernobyl.

“The legacy of that is still ongoing ... you have an accident – something goes wrong – and you’re living with the consequences for a long, long time. It is not an oil spill – it is something totally different,” said Nikiforuk.

But the main question Nikiforuk raised at the end of his nearly two-hour presentation is the very one he wants those who come out to listen to him speak to start asking was where are the reports on renewable power, economic risk and the alternatives of solar power, wind power, biomass or whatever else?

He said thus far, we have only seen the reports on nuclear power.

“We’re going to become the world’s first country to use nuclear power not to get off fossil fuels ... but we want to use nuclear power to accelerate bitumen production. I would argue that there is a huge reputational risk to doing that,” said Nikiforuk.

“The first country that uses nuclear power to accelerate fossil fuel production won’t be welcome in the global community for long.”

Some of those in attendance have been trying to generate awareness of their own, and see Nikiforuk’s visit as a much-needed additional voice.

“He’s got credentials,” said Tyler Cruickshank, a member of the local activism group, Stop Poisoning Our Communities.

“The people see SPOC as just a bunch of kids who are just kind of trying to rebel.

“The way I see it, he’s the bridge between the business people and the people who are environmentalists ... we’re always fighting at each other ... and he’s just like ‘this is the brass tax – these are the facts.’ ”

Cruickshank said his attendance was as much about getting educated as anything else.

“He might be able to help us understand something, so that we can make others understand it a little bit better ...” said Cruickshank.

“I eventually want to be up there speaking to people, because I’m passionate about what I believe in. If you don’t fight for it, nobody else will.”



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