Nuclear reactors in the tar sands
by D'Arcy Hande, Mark Bigland-Pritchard
Proponents of nuclear energy are claiming small nuclear reactors in Saskatchewan will make the Alberta tar sands more environmentally friendly, all in an effort to revive the nuclear industry. Photo: Zinta Avens Auzins
SASKATOON—What do you get when you cross a nuclear reactor with a hydraulic shovel-full of tar sands? The answer, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute, is "Green Bitumen."
The brainchild of the nuclear industry, this novel concept of deploying small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) to replace natural gas is being sold as a solution to the tar sands' reputation for producing the largest carbon footprint on the planet. Nuclear is being touted as an environmentally friendly, "clean" energy source for the extraction process. But in order to make that claim, one must overlook the substantial carbon emissions in the nuclear "fuel cycle," from mining to ultimate disposal; the risks of weapons proliferation; the toxic radioactive footprint; and the legacy of highly radioactive waste left behind for many generations to come.
The nuclear industry, government and academia are pitching "Green Bitumen" to the tar sands industry and anyone else who will listen. Dr. Warren Bell, founding president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, sees wide and grave implications for the environment and public health should this message resonate with its target audience.
"The federal and provincial governments are intent on tying the tar sands to nuclear power. Their forlorn hope is that the putative 'greenness' of the latter will counteract the overwhelming 'blackness' of the former," Dr. Bell told The Dominion.