Plutonium and Nuclear Power:
Exploding the Myths

reprinted from

Encompass Magazine
March 2001

by Gordon Edwards

Nuclear power was once portrayed as peaceful, clean, safe, cheap and abundant. It was even described as miraculous. Disney's animated documentary film "Our Friend the Atom" promised that nuclear power could end world hunger, eliminate poverty, and bring about an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity. For decades, the Canadian Nuclear Association distributed a public-relations comic book which concluded with these words:


"The benefits of nuclear radiation that we know today are nothing when compared to what we may reasonably expect in the future.

"Food may be preserved in its original fresh condition for long periods of time. Nuclear-powered ships may ply the oceans; trains may cross continents many times on only a few ounces of nuclear fuel; power reactors may help open up remote areas such as Canada's North....

"In time it is possible that nuclear power may lead to temperature-controlled, germ-free cities, and a better life for all mankind."

Today the rhetoric is more muted, but nuclear power is still touted as a saviour of sorts: it will save us from global warming, help us eliminate nuclear weapons, meet the world's burgeoning energy needs. And Ottawa's nuclear decisions remain as inscrutable and unaccountable as ever.

So far, Ottawa has spent over 13 billion (in 1997 $) of taxpayers' money building dozens of nuclear facilities, paying thousands of salaries, creating entire towns to house workers, and spreading Canadian nuclear technology to India, Pakistan, Taiwan, Korea, Argentina, and Romania. Through all this, Ottawa never resorted to public consultation, parliamentary debate or any form of open democratic process. Public approval was taken for granted. It still is.

Jean Chrétien likes nuclear power. He doesn't mention it during election campaigns. It can't be found in the Liberal Party's red book of promises. But M. Chrétien uses his office to back the Canadian nuclear industry to the hilt:

Despite all this, the nuclear industry is moribund. Not a single power reactor has been ordered in North America for the last quarter-century, and there are no prospects at all. In western Europe nuclear expansion has also ground to a halt; Germany, Sweden and Switzerland are phasing out nuclear power, and France's aggressive nuclear program is at a standstill. Only in Eastern Europe and in parts of Asia are there any markets for nuclear reactors, and most of them require heroic financial incentives from the sellers.

I think the clearest indication that this industry will not survive is its dread of open debate, independent scrutiny, or public accountability. For over two decades, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited has had a policy of refusing to debate in public with knowledgeable critics. AECL frequently boycotts public meetings, as well as radio and TV shows where both sides of the issues might be adequately represented, in hopes that the events will be cancelled (which they frequently are). I like to think that such an industry cannot long endure.

Let us now turn to the main myths of nuclear power:

Myth 1. ''Atoms for Peace'' and ''Atoms for War'' have nothing in common.

Myth 2. Plutonium extracted from dismantled warheads can be destroyed by burning it as fuel in civilian reactors.

Myth 3. Nuclear Power can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Myth 4. Nuclear Power is Clean and Safe.

It is important for people from across the country to insist that nuclear power be phased out in Canada and that no public money be used to finance any expansion of this industry. The Ottawa-based Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout coordinates such resistance to nuclear development:, (613) 789 3634,

And for more information on topics related to the nuclear industry, visit the web site of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility at