Nuclear Advertising Deception

Sky Generation is one of the signatories to a challenge to the advertising done by the Canadian Nuclear Association. The ads claim that nuclear power is “Safe, reliable, and affordable”. The challenge has been launched with the Canadian Competition Bureau, which has jurisdiction over false advertising claims, that may create an unfair competitive landscape.

Sky Generation is the private sector firm involved in the challenge. The other participants include the Pembina Institute, World Wildlife Fund, Ontario Sustainable Energy Association, Interchurch Uranium Education Co-operative, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and Families Against Radiation Exposure.

A claim to the Competition Bureau must demonstrate harm to another party. The harm to Sky Generation is clearly demonstrable. The ads by the Canadian Nuclear Association are designed to build public support for nuclear power. The public support, or at least lack of public concern, will then translate into political support. Political support translates into government subsidies. Government subsidies for nuclear translates into lower wholesale electricity prices in Ontario, which is the market in which Sky Generation participates. Our governments’ support for nuclear power has harmed the development of other sources of generation, including wind, and has harmed Sky Generation directly.

The subsidies given to nuclear power are huge. They include the Federal Limitation of Liability Act, which provides insurance for the nuclear industry, by transferring risk to taxpayers, instead of forcing nuclear firms to buy insurance in the marketplace. It includes $100 million plus per year in subsidies to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, a Federal Crown Corporation. It includes forgiveness of debt in Ontario, as debt incurred to build nuclear plants was transferred from Ontario Power Generation, and to the Ontario Energy Finance Corporation, another Provincial Crown Corporation. These debts are paid for in part with the much beloved “Debt Recovery Charge” that you pay on your power bill. And taxpayers will most assuredly be on the hook for cost overruns in storing the nuclear waste for hundreds of thousands of years.

The challenge to the ads results in part from a recent study completed by the Pembina Institute, one of Canada’s leading environmental policy research organizations.
Safe. There are about 440 nuclear plants in the world. One has had a complete meltdown (Chernobyl), that killed thousands, and continues to prevent use of a large tract of land, and has lingering health effects. One had a meltdown that was contained (Three Mile Island). The production of uranium has been a highly toxic process, that has left a dreadful and dangerous environmental legacy. And of course, how can you claim that we can safely store toxic waste for thousands of years? We won’t know if it is “safe” until that time has passed. The claim of safe is unsupportable.

Reliable. Reliable is, of course, a relative term. Reliable compared to what? Since they were built, Ontario’s nuclear fleet has had a dismal record of performance. Pickering B, the newest Pickering station, has had a capacity factor of 73.4%. Pickering A, the oldest station, has had a capacity factor of 37.8%. The nuclear industry will claim a higher number, as two of the units have been “laid up” (i.e., they will not be restarted, and will eventually go through the very time consuming and expensive decommissioning process), and two of the units were shut down for 5 years, while decisions were made regarding refurbishment, and while the refurbishment was completed. Bruce A has a 37.5% capacity factor (again, with similar issues with respect to laid up reactors as Pickering A), and Bruce B has had a 78.5% capacity factor. Darlington, the newest station, has an 83.4% capacity factor. Is this reliable? It is not as reliable as most waterpower, nor most fossil units. It is a highly debatable claim.

Affordable. Anything is affordable with enough government subsidies. But that doesn’t mean the underlying technology is affordable. Ontario could get 100% of its power from gerbil flywheels, if we subsidized it enough.

The ads are galling enough because of their misleading nature. But what is particularily galling is that is us – the taxpayers and electricity buyers – who are paying for them. The major members – those with over 1000 employees in the nuclear business – of the Canadian Nuclear Association pay up to $350,000 per year in annual membership. Major members include Ontario Power Generation, Hydro Quebec, and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. All of these are Crown Corporations – that is, they are owned by the taxpayers. And their association is spending our money to convince us to support, or not oppose, nuclear power. And once we are convinced, then their job of convincing the goverment to keep the subsidies in place is much easier.

The subsidies that we pay to support the nuclear industry are also used to influence government policy to get more subsidies.

Something stinks.

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