EDMONTON — Alberta is officially open for nuclear business.
Provincial Energy Minister Mel Knight made the pronouncement Monday.
He says consultations with Albertans, particularly a recent phone survey that found two-thirds are OK with building nuclear power plants, drove the decision.
“We need to keep all power generation options open so we can respond to future constraints on carbon emissions,” Knight told reporters at a news conference.
But he stressed that the government won’t help companies pursue nuclear projects, subsidize them or promise to buy the energy produced.
And he said that while the federal government regulates the industry, the province will not allow any project to go ahead that threatens health or the environment.
“Albertans’ main concerns — health, safety and environmental standards — would be met by any application. We’re not abrogating anything.”
Knight released the results of recent consultations with Albertans on the issue, citing in particular a phone survey of 1,024 people in July that suggested 64 per cent urged the province to consider the plants, at least on a case-by-case basis.
Nuclear power has been a contentious issue in Alberta, particularly in Peace River, in northwest Alberta, where Ontario’s Bruce Power has been considering a nuclear plant.
The issue has divided residents there, some of whom don’t want the safety or health risks. Others say the plant would provide needed jobs and keep youth from abandoning the region to work in the bigger cities to the south.
Steve Cannon, spokesman for Bruce Power, said the company was heartened by Knight’s announcement.
“Given that the Alberta government has confirmed it would consider nuclear energy as part of its energy mix going forward, we can take a really good look at the commercial case and make our decisions from there,” said Cannon in an interview from the company’s headquarters in Tiverton, Ont.
Opponents said the province has abandoned its responsibility.
Rachel Notley of the NDP said the survey results show widespread concern over nuclear power, not a wholehearted endorsement.
“If this government was really interested in listening to Albertans, they would close the door (to nuclear power), and they would say, ’We haven’t had it up till now, we don’t need it going forward. And they would join with Nova Scotia, Manitoba, B.C. and move forward on a moratorium.”
Paul Hinman of the Wildrose Alliance said his party is “neutral” on nuclear power, but said the government has not thought through the outcomes, such as how to decommission the plants.
“It just seems like again there’s no forethought into this. They don’t ever follow through on what are the unintended consequences.”
Lindsay Telfer of the environmental group Sierra Club Canada said without a public subsidy no nuclear projects will be cost-effective enough to proceed.
“We will make sure that the government of Alberta stands by this promise,” said Telfer in a news release.
Cannon of Bruce Power said he was fine with no public subsidy.
“We’re not looking for government investment in any potential project.
“We’re a competitive company, a commercial company. We’ll look at what the market conditions are. If we see there are customers for the power, that will be one of the factors we’ll consider.”
Opponents have also said they’re concerned about safely storing the radioactive waste. Premier Ed Stelmach, on his recent, interactive Web TV question and answer session with Albertans, said they’re confident that in the years it would take to get a nuclear plant approved and running in Alberta, the problem of storing the radioactive waste would be solved.
Last spring, a government panel exploring the pros and cons of going nuclear said the science was a safe energy alternative that has a smaller physical footprint than hydroelectric and wind power.
Critics said the report soft-peddled the health and safety risks, including low-level radiation and water contamination.
The issue of responsibility is key for Alberta. With its sprawling oilsands operations, the province has been criticized globally for contributing to environmental degradation and greenhouse gas emissions.
There are 22 nuclear reactors operating in Canada, but no new ones have been built since 1992.