New plants need people power

23 August 2007

Australia's prime minister has said he supports the idea of local votes on potential new nuclear power stations and in Alberta, Canada, the ground is being prepared for just such a poll.

As pressure mounts in advance of the Australian general election, nuclear energy has become something of a political football. The Liberal coalition government's pronouncements in support of uranium sales to India - in advance of several negotiating steps - was said to be a ruse to provoke the opposition Labor party into slighting India. Meanwhile, pressure from Labor on prime minister John Howard's support for nuclear power has prompted him to first declare future nuclear power siting decisions to be commercial matters, and now to voice support for votes in areas nearby proposed sites despite the fact that nuclear power in Australia remains at least a decade away.

In Canada, plans to build two new nuclear power plants in Alberta will be subject to a poll of residents in Woodlands County, where Energy Alberta has bought land. The company would like to build two AECL ACR-1000 reactors to supply electricity directly to oil sands extraction enterprises in the north of the province. Energy Alberta believes there is potential for up to 11 such machines for industrial and domestic power supply in the province.

Woodlands Country Council voted on 21 August to conduct a poll after earlier retracting a letter of support for Energy Alberta's plans. Council members have said they still support the development, reported to be worth C$6.2 billion ($5.8 billion), but need more information. Another area, Peace River, has also expressed interest in the project.

The news of such direct community involvement in nuclear decisions comes after a telephone poll of Americans living near nuclear power plants. The poll, sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute, showed that the majority supported the plants, and accepted their operation as safe. Some 71% said they would think it acceptable to build a new reactor at their plant if it were needed to supply electricity.

Local support for established sites has been known to the nuclear industry for many years, although the response of populations to new nuclear ventures is less well tested. Industry observers suggest that direct political involvement of the public would greatly increase the legitimacy of nuclear planning decisions - albeit at the cost of increased risk during early planning.

Further information

Energy Alberta

WNA's Australia's Uranium and Who Buys It information paper

WNN: US nuclear neighbours not nimby
WNN: Austrlia want suranoium trade with India