Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Economist on Conservative leadership failure on nuclear energy issues

Well done, Conservatives. Is this what you meant about bringing Canada back? The respected Economist examines recent events and the upshot is not so good: "Canada's troubled nuclear industry: Ending a dream, or nightmare." Teneycke's irresponsible remarks on AECL get attention. For all the plaudits Mr. Teneycke receives, that was a doozy of an example of foot-in-mouth disease. Especially, as the Economist points out, because it's a tenuous time for AECL with competition from abroad.

Some other excerpts that point the way for us to what is a growing consensus that the Conservatives have got it wrong on this issue for Canada. Excerpts:
Critics worry that the government is getting out of the nuclear business just when concerns about fossil fuels are prompting its renaissance. They believe that demand will rise not just for medical isotopes but also for Canada’s CANDU reactors, which use a different technology from many elsewhere. Canada led the world in the development of radioactive isotopes for medical diagnosis and therapy, says Jacalyn Duffin, a medical historian at Queen’s University in Ontario. “Why quit now?” But supporters of privatisation such as the C.D. Howe Institute, a think-tank, say that AECL is too small to survive, and the sale of its potentially profitable parts is the only way a nuclear resurgence in Canada is possible.

Canada’s dream of being a nuclear power began in 1943 when Mackenzie King, the prime minister, agreed with Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt to co-operate on nuclear research. But government backing for peaceful nuclear operations later withered, a casualty of deficit-reduction under the past two Liberal governments and the Conservatives’ preference for smaller government. With a stimulus package driving the federal budget’s forecast deficit up to C$50bn this fiscal year, Mr Harper does not want to add to the C$1.7 billion his government has given AECL since coming to power in 2006.

Health officials in the United States are seeking an American supplier of medical isotopes, having decided that Canada is no longer a reliable source of molybdenum-99, which when processed into technetium-99m is used in two-thirds of all diagnostic medical-isotope procedures south of the border. As long as AECL was working on two replacement reactors, American processing firms were content to wait. But Canada cancelled the replacement programme last year when the new reactors, already eight years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget, failed tests.

In Canada the isotope shortage has become a liability for Mr Harper. Lisa Raitt, the minister responsible for AECL, apologised to cancer patients after she was caught on tape discussing how her career might benefit if she solved the “sexy” isotope crisis. Leona Aglukkaq, the health minister whom Ms Raitt also criticised in the taped conversation, says she has arranged for new supplies from Australia. Yet Australia has problems of its own with its single, albeit newish reactor, and has recently been importing isotopes from South Africa. Capitalising on government disarray, Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal leader, demanded more information on isotope supply as one of several small concessions he extracted from Mr Harper in return for keeping the government in office by agreeing to back it in a confidence motion on the budget due for debate in the House of Commons on June 19th.
Yes, abandon Canada's long history of striving for leadership in this industry all under the guise of deficit management, deficits that they've heavily contributed to through their mismanagement. I suspect they're going to have problems answering for their policies here, whenever that election campaign comes round. It's the lack of leadership and vision thing that's the rub.

They're just not good for Canada. Dig?

Update (6:20 p.m.): For those who continue to twin the Liberals and Conservatives, here's an indication of the Liberal position on this issue.

For more on this topic, see: Blog Post Index: Medical Isotope crisis & Chalk River shutdown.