Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Citizen Opposition to the Proposed Nukes in Peace River

No mention here about the real reason for locating the nukes in Peace River, which is to supply power for Shell in the nearby Grosmont formation for their electric heaters to extract bitumen from limestone.
-Tarpit Pete

Alberta's Peace River area split over bid to build nuclear power plant

1 day ago

PEACE RIVER, Alta. — Dan and Huguette Ropchan stand on the grainy edge of ice-crusted Lac Cardinal in northwest Alberta and worry that in a decade they'll have to raise their wheat and canola in the shadow of monster nuclear cooling towers.

In Peace River, a 15-minute drive down the road, contractors for Bruce Power put the finishing touches on a storefront office.

The walk-in shop, says Bruce Power president Duncan Hawthorne, will give residents the straight goods on the nuclear plant proposal and balance what he calls the misleading data of the intractable "ideological opposition."

Across town, Brenda Brochu of the Peace River Environmental Society distributes statistics that show going nuclear is the surest way to contaminate soil and food, and raises the odds a child will contract blood cancer.

South of Lac Cardinal, area reeve Veronica Bliska fights to keep control of a council that has flipped, flopped and flipped again on an issue that is spawning grassroots protest groups, sparking feuds on editorial pages and turning longtime friends against each other.

Drive the highway through the Peace Country - halfway between Edmonton and the Northwest Territories - and it's evident the land here is linked to livelihood. There are farms, logging trucks, pumpjacks, horse trailers.

Lac Cardinal is 52 square kilometres and shaped like a yanked tooth with the crown facing southwest to British Columbia and two gangly roots pointing to Iqaluit.

It's shallower than a swimming pool and spotted with blue-green algae - not great for swimming but a vital staging area for ducks.

It's the home of Queen Elizabeth Provincial Park and its boating facilities, horseshoe pits, volleyball nets, campgrounds and playgrounds.

Bruce Power - a private nuclear operator that provides more than 20 per cent of Ontario's electricity-has optioned land to build a $10-billion, four-reactor, 4,000-megawatt plant on the lake's northwestern edge.

Two months ago, it applied to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for a site licence that would kick-start an environmental review.

In the meantime, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach's government has struck a four-person panel to review the pros and cons of going nuclear.

Last month, Bruce Power held four open houses in the region. Opponents said officials failed to answer key questions; proponents said anti-nukes hijacked the microphone.

Dan Ropchan attended, and didn't like what he heard.

"I'm not against nuclear research," said the 72-year-old farmer and engineer. "What I am against is using it for generating electricity. I think a nuclear power plant is an atomic bomb under control. You lose control of it, you have an atomic bomb."

The Ropchan clan has farmed the south shore of Lac Cardinal for almost 80 years. Their roots go back to Romanian immigrants. Huguette, 65, often takes her grandson to the lake to play.

She is now writing letters to Stelmach, hoping to find kinship with a fellow northern Alberta farmer who also has roots in Eastern Europe.

When she spoke out against the plant to reporters, longtime friends literally turned their backs when she then went to get her mail in nearby Grimshaw.

"What the heck are you doing?" she remembers them saying. "You're stopping progress. You're stopping emancipation of our small community."

Hawthorne, whose company is headquartered in Tiverton, Ont., said the public relations battle has been all he expected.

"Did I expect there would be people who oppose it? Yes. Did I expect them to be vocal? Yes. Did I expect them to be accurate? No," he said.

"There's no doubt at this stage there's majority support for exploring the option, but it's a community that's really short of facts and good information."

Hawthorne said the reactor type and the configuration of the plant are all up for debate. It may be used to help power the province's multibillion-dollar oilsands industry or provide power to other customers. Or both.

Some estimate the province's roaring economy will require another 10,000 megawatts of electricity in the next two decades.

Hawthorne says if the plant doesn't pass muster - economically or environmentally - it won't get built.

The environmental impact is what concerns Brochu. Contamination of the lake, she said, could easily spread to the adjacent aquifer, which provides drinking water for 7,500.

"The radioactive wastes would be stored on that site, some of those wastes forever," said Brochu.

"Many farmers are very concerned about possible contamination of their land. There's fear it would destroy their livelihoods."

Brochu's group has collected 1,500 signatures urging the province to reject nuclear power. Last November, members rallied on the steps of the legislature.

The project has spawned or re-energized an alphabet soup of protest groups with cross-pollinated aims and members: Nuclear Free Alberta, Citizens Against Nuclear Development (CAND), Stop Poisoning Our Communities (SPOC) and Citizens Advocating Use of Sustainable Energy (CAUSE).

Brochu said she believes the province is "pro-nuclear" - noting one of the members of Stelmach's review panel is a longtime proponent of the industry - but says the fight's not over.

"When there's massive public opposition, you can stop government from doing things they intend to do."

The first level of government she wants to stop is the Municipal District of Peace No. 135 - the northern boundary of which bisects Lac Cardinal.

Bliska - the reeve for half a year but a councillor for a decade prior - has seen her colleagues pitched and tossed over the roiling debate.

Last year, the council wrote a public letter supporting the concept. After municipal elections last October, which saw some Peace country pro-nuclear politicians tossed out of office, the municipality voted to rescind the letter and stay neutral.

Bliska says the municipality has since sent a new letter, saying it supports an environmental assessment and would at least look at the Bruce proposal.

The stakes are high.

A nuclear power plant would bring in massive revenue and economic stability to a region that is seeing many of its young say goodbye to work in the oilsands or seek fortune in the boomtowns of Edmonton and Calgary.

Saskatchewan is shaping up as a potential rival. A recent report for SaskPower suggested Lake Diefenbaker south of Saskatoon or Lac La Loche up north by the uranium mines would be good sites for a nuclear plant. The province is now talking with Bruce Power and others.

As for the Peace River plan, Bliska said her pencil is poised and she's ready to learn. A responsible council, she says, has to have an open mind.

But she stresses her family also drinks the area water. And no one, she vows, will poison the well on her watch.

"This is not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination.

"If it's not right for us, that's fine. We'll move on."


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