The nuclear lobby’s controlling voice in the University of Saskatchewan

Follow the yellowcake road  Nuclear power, tarsands extraction, and the co-option of the University ofSaskatchewan Briar Patch magazine, BY D’ARCY HANDE • FEB 28, 2012 In 2011 the University of Saskatchewan went truly nuclear, realizing, in many respects, the loftiest ambitions of the uranium industry and its supporters within the provincial government and the university. On October 14, 2011, the University of Saskatchewan board of governors formally approved the incorporation of the Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation (CCNI) “to stimulate new research, development and training in advanced aspects of nuclear science and technology.”

Although the pieces seemed to come together in just a few short months, the game plan had been coalescing since Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party government was first elected in 2007 (read the full timeline here). Tracing corporate connections and developments behind the scenes shows how a coordinated strategy can be implemented largely outside public purview and beyond generally accepted public accountability……

Early in its mandate, Brad Wall’s government entered into discussions with Bruce Power of Ontario regarding the establishment of a nuclear reactor in the province. In June 2008, a joint feasibility study was announced between Bruce Power and the Crown corporation SaskPower, touting the benefits of “clean electricity” to replace the coal and gas power stations in the province. The proposed Saskatchewan 2020 program would investigate “how best to integrate nuclear energy, which produces no greenhouse gases when it produces electricity, with hydrogen, wind, solar and clean coal technologies to give Saskatchewan a diverse and secure supply of clean energy for 2020 and beyond.”

But clean energy was not the primary consideration. In fact, the proposal builds upon the dubious concept of using nuclear energy to power the extraction of oil from the Athabasca tarsands, oxymoronically termed “green bitumen” by the industry.

Bruce Power is two-thirds owned by Cameco Corporation and TransCanada Corporation, the latter of which operates the Keystone pipeline. It is therefore no surprise that the feasibility report, unveiled in November 2008, deemed there was sufficient demand for a nuclear power station in the province. The report states that “the growth in electricity demand in northeastern Alberta could provide a possible export market for Saskatchewan,” an allusion that could only refer to the tarsands. Thus the Saskatchewan 2020 nuclear power plan was launched.

In late 2008, as part of their strategy to implement the Saskatchewan 2020 plan, the government established the Uranium Development Partnership (UDP), comprising representatives from the nuclear industry, the University of Saskatchewan (U of S), and other supporters. It is striking that the only academic on the committee was designated its chair: Dr. Richard Florizone, a physicist and the vice-president of finance and resources at the U of S, who has long been a proponent of a nuclear research reactor on campus and presumably saw great potential for collaboration between industry and the university.

The UDP report, released in March 2009, contained 20 recommendations for nuclear development in the province, including one for the creation of a nuclear centre of excellence in Saskatchewan. Shortly afterward, the government announced a public consultation process on the UDPrecommendations to be conducted that summer, which was an unexpected public relations disaster: fully 88 per cent of the 2,263 responses rejected the overall strategy of the report. Bill Boyd, then minister of energy and resources, was shaken but undeterred. Boyd interpreted the results to mean, “… it’s neither a green light nor a red light for future uranium development. It’s more like a yellow light – take any next steps with caution.”

Industry, government, and the university unite

What followed was a truly remarkable exercise in pushing the whole nuclear agenda under the political radar. Rather than slowing down and taking a cautionary approach, the government instead began assiduously advancing its program through the University of Saskatchewan, which was apparently a willing partner.

Through its rather clandestine agencies – the newly established Enterprise Saskatchewan and its twin, Innovation Saskatchewan – the government focused on promoting the concept of a U of S nuclear centre of excellence. The government also proposed a nuclear reactor at the university as the means for producing medical isotopes, even though the UDP report acknowledged that a reactor dedicated solely to that purpose would not be financially sustainable. Nevertheless, an application for federal funding was prepared in the summer of 2009 by the university and government. When the application was rejected a few months later, the strategy took off in yet another direction……….

The confluence of industry, government, and university interests was quickly materializing. The concept of a nuclear centre at U of S came one step closer to reality in March 2011, when the provincial government announced a start-up grant of $30 million over seven years. By the end of March 2011, when the establishment of the Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation was announced, Enterprise Saskatchewan (ES) could boast in its annual report, “Eighteen of the 20 recommendations made by the Uranium Development Partnership – which resulted from an ES board recommendation – have now been implemented.”

A nuclear research centre is hatched

The formation of the Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation in October 2011 followed a highly restricted debate of the proposal at a meeting of the university council, comprising representatives from faculty and administration, a few weeks before. The university senate, the branch of university governance representing the community at large, was largely ignored in the process. USSWORD senators (University Senators in Saskatchewan Working to Revive Democracy) attempted to raise their concerns at the fall meeting on October 15, but the governors had already approved CCNI’s establishment – on October 14.

The CCNI business framework clearly states the expectations of the provincial government in funding the centre:

“… the province expects nuclear power to be considered in the range of energy options available for base-load generation capacity in the medium and long term after 2020, and that the CCNI will be able to serve as a source of expertise to inform decisions in this area.”

Although the CCNI will be a university subsidiary, concerns were raised about its governance structure at a university council meeting in September 2011. The university will directly appoint only two of the CCNI’s eight directors, raising questions about how much control the university will have over research priorities and how much control the government and its partners in the nuclear industry will exercise. With the announcement of the board in January 2012, the concerns appear to be warranted. The CEO of Innovation Saskatchewan and vice-presidents from Cameco Corporation and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited are among the appointees……….


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