Elizabeth May Asks Tough Questions on AECL, NRU, Maples, Chalk River

Green Party leader Elizabeth May posted a blog item yesterday dealing with the recent announcement that Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL) is scrapping the development of the Maple 1 and Maple 2 reactors. The reactors were intended to replace the 50 year old NRU at Chalk River. The NRU was at the centre of last December’s “Isotope Crisis” and reportedly supplies 40% of the world’s supply of medical isotopes used in cancer tests.

Ms. May is asking some tough questions.

For any enterprising journalists who want to build on this mess with some content-rich investigations, here are a few questions that beg for response:

  1. Why was CNSC President Linda Keen fired from her role and yet no one at AECL is apparently facing repercussions for this waste of hundreds of millions of taxpayers dollars?
  2. Urgent question to the Government of New Brunswick. Are you sure you want to buy a reactor from AECL that so far is only at the design stage? That’s what the MAPLE reactors were. Reactors on paper. Why would anyone have confidence in AECL? Why go with a nuclear reactor when New Brunswick has so many other options?
  3. What are the contingency plans for the next NRU malfunction/shut-down? A malfunction or shut down is not a hypothetical. It is a certainty. Where will the medical community get its diagnostic radio-nuclides? Chalk River’s NRU reactor makes about 40% of the world’s supply of Molybdenum 99. Isn’t it time to start alerting the producers of the other 60% that they would be well advised to boost production, just in case? Or is government more concerned with the commercial reputation of MDS Nordion and AECL than with the security of supply of Molybdenum 99?

The Chalk River nuclear situation has been mis-handled for decades, but to Gary Lunn and the Harper government go the unique distinction of shooting (and firing) the messenger while rewarding the agency which has so blithely failed to serve the public interest.

The rest of Elizabeth’s blog post is a good read, too. In 2006, the Government of Canada entered into a 40 year contract under which we are obligated to supply medical isotopes to MDS Nordion, a for-profit corporation that markets isotopes to healthcare providers. The NRU is limping along and is 10 years past its “best before” date. The Maples were to have replaced NRU in 2000.

How are we going to honour that 40 year contract with NRU?

Commenter Erich Jacoby-Hawkins adds two interesting points. He notes that it is not only New Brunswick that should be skeptical of AECL but also Ontario, which has earmarked $40 billion for nuclear development. Erich also points out that the NRU needs Highly Enriched Uranium to manufacture its isotopes. This is bomb-grade uranium which must currently be imported from the US under a special export permit.


Dion’s Carbon Tax

Unless you’ve been living in a cave or off on another planet for the past week, you’ve been hearing about “Dion’s carbon tax.” Stephane Dion, who has previously spoken out against a carbon tax and made assurances that he would not impose a carbon tax, has apparently changed his tune. Now that Dion has embraced this long time tenet of Green Party fiscal policy, he’s being conferred ownership of the idea. It’s “Dion’s” carbon tax, according to the media.

So, maybe a few Greens might feel like Dion “stole” a top plank in our platform. What can be done about it? Even if we stage an all-out campaign to remind people that the Green Party has embraced a carbon tax for years, it’s doubtful the media or anyone else will cease and desist with the label or the notion that the carbon tax is Dion’s baby.

Already, even before any hard details of the Dion version have been disclosed, the debate is raging. Nearly all of CTV’s Question Period on Sunday morning was devoted to the carbon tax. The Canadian blogosphere and op-ed pages are abuzz with pro’s and con’s. The parties are staking out their positions. We hear that Dion plans to spend the summer getting the word out and selling “his” carbon tax.

Fine. Let him sell it. Let the Grits sell Green Party policy. There are more of them, they’ve got more money than we do and they seem to be prepared to do the hard selling. Either we sold it to them or they took it from us. Now, they can sell it to Canadians and I propose that they get not too much help from us. They’ve got everyone from Andrew Coyne to David Suzuki in their corner, after all.

With all due respect to and notwithstanding Elizabeth’s unique non-compete deal with Dion; there are 306 ridings in which Greens will be competing with Liberals. Even though they have embraced one of our big policies, they are not the Green Party. At least one prominent Canadian Liberal blogger has divvied up the prospective vote and thinks the Liberals can use the carbon tax to siphon off 50% of our Green Party support.

Not long ago, Elizabeth posted an excellent blog item defining the uniqueness of the Green Party. She listed 31 policies that were GPC-only. I’m taking the liberty of quoting those here.

  1. A carbon tax, an indispensable step in getting the prices right in energy choices and allowing reduced income and payroll taxes.
  2. “Income-splitting” to reduce the tax burden on middle class couples.
  3. A continuing role in Afghanistan but within a transformed U.N. mission, legalizing and regulating the poppy trade for medicinal use, and bringing in more Islamic nations into the peace-keeping, security efforts in Southern Afghanistan through the U.N.
  4. An end to asbestos mining and export to developing countries. (truly outrageous that for all the talk about asbestos, only the Green Party is prepared to call for banning mining and export.)
  5. The phase out of nuclear power and uranium mining.
  6. The reform of the Divorce Act to make family law less of a battleground.
  7. To launch a national dialogue toward a Guaranteed Livable Income.
  8. The legalization of marijuana, to be controlled, regulated and taxed.
  9. The six month notice to get out of NAFTA with immediate re-negotiation of key provisions.
  10. Support for open source software and net neutrality.
  11. National shift to GE-free, organic agriculture and regional food self-sufficiency.
  12. A moratorium on new projects in the tar sands.
  13. Creation of a federal Department of Tourism
  14. Protect drinking water at its source (no other party will do this–the BC NDP jailed citizens for trying to protect drinking water).
  15. Amend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to enshrine the right of Canadians to an ecological heritage that includes breathable air and drinkable water.
  16. Pass federal legislation to prohibit bulk water exports.
  17. Establish a National Parks completion budget; protect at least half of Canada’s Boreal Forest in a network of large interconnected protected areas as called for in the 2003 Boreal Forest Conservation Framework
  18. Zero waste, including laws requiring lifetime stewardship of products
  19. A cancer prevention strategy that includes a toxic-free Canada — taxing toxics and pollution; ending the production and use of the most dangerous toxic chemicals by 2012.
  20. Pan-Arctic waste management strategy.
  21. Shift funding from mega-freeway projects like Pacific Gateway that encourage urban sprawl and use the funds instead for public transit.
  22. Implement Genuine Progress Indicator (or Index of Well-being)
  23. Enact “living will” legislation to give person the choice to die with dignity.
  24. Explore establishing a new crown corporation to bulk purchase and dispense generic drugs – to bring down the costs of pharmacare.
  25. Pass pay equity legislation; immediately implement full pay equity for women employed in the federal sector and develop tax incentives for companies to meet gender and pay equity.
  26. Press professional societies to remove unnecessary barriers recognizing the professional credentials of immigrants.
  27. Canada must support and implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  28. Revamp CIDA to focus on developing community-based green economies, poverty alleviation and programmes to combat and adapt to climate change.
  29. Declare Canada a nuclear free zone.
  30. Reform WTO, IMF and the World Bank, placing these under the authority of the UN General Assembly and shift the direction of international trade away from free trade to fair trade.
  31. Scrap the SPP (Security and Prosperity Partnership).

And they call us a one-issue party!

We can strike the top item off of the list of uniquely GPC policies but there’s plenty more meat on that bone. There is a wide gulf between Green Party policies and Liberal policies despite attempts by opposition parties to portray us as peas in a pod. We need to be ready to define the differences and convince voters that there is a lot more to the GPC than one purloined policy.

The so-called Red-Green deal applies to one riding only. It indicates a high level of mutual respect between the two party leaders. Neither Red-Green nor Dion’s carbon tax change the fact that there is myriad of issues on which GPC and the LPC are diametrically opposed. Dion is not pulling any punches when he woos would-be Green voters. Here’s a quote from the March 17th by-elections.

In a news conference, Dion acknowledged the Green party’s gains in Vancouver Quadra.

“It took a lot of our vote. And to me it’s a very welcome challenge. It’s for us to show that the best way to be green at the next general election will be to vote red.”

(Source CBC)

The carbon tax is how he’s attempting to show that. A cynical type might think Dion is merely fishing for GPC votes with his new conversion. Liberal commitment and follow-through are not exactly their strong points, so it will be up to environmentally conscious and concerned voters to determine if Dion’s embrace of a carbon tax is sincere or merely a vote grab aimed at getting half of the GPC’s 10% support. Thankfully, now that the Liberals have adopted this policy, we can count on the Conservatives and NDP to remind voters of Dion’s flip-flop and those “13 years of Liberal inaction” we’re always hearing about. Even if Dion can successfully sell the idea of a carbon tax, he still needs to convince voters that he’ll “get it done.”

While the old-liners are busily tossing mud at one another, we can remind voters, when necessary, that a carbon tax has been central to GPC policy for years (no flip-flopping) and that it is just one good Green policy among many.

Some of our unique positions will resonate better than others and some may appeal strongly to specific regions. Here in Haldimand-Norfolk, for example, we have the Nanticoke generating station. The idea of building a new nuclear plant to replace the coal-fired station is being actively pursued by local councils and Bruce Power. Our unique stand on nuclear power will win votes in this riding.

In certain ridings, our marijuana policy may be the clincher. In manufacturing regions, our position on the SPP, NAFTA and our push for green collar job creation may be the best selling points.

If Dion is able to sell his new policy to voters, he’ll have pre-sold one Green Party policy. We can thank him for that and proceed to sell the other ones ourselves.

This article was also posted to my Green Party blog.

Food Crisis Blame Game: Plenty to Go Around

As the world slips into a food crisis of epic proportions, analysts, politicians, producers, investors, purveyors, scientists, economists and pundits are weighing in with opinions on causes. Faced with the morbid spectacle of millions upon millions of deaths by starvation, many special interest sectors are eager to point the finger of blame. Those fingers are generally not pointed back at themselves.

Who are the blameholders? It depends on who is doing the blaming.

George Bush threw an additional $770 million at the problem just last week. In doing so, he pointed the finger of blame squarely at India’s rising middle class and their newfound ability to add a bit of meat to their still largely vegetarian diet. As one might expect, Bush’s finger-pointing isn’t going down too well in India.

The Indian press is pointing the finger of blame right back at the US and its push for biofuels. Indeed, 30% of the 2008 US corn crop is destined for ethanol production. Government-mandated ethanol content in auto fuel has, unarguably, been one factor in the rise of global grain prices.
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