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Nuclear Industry Survey Shows 86% Public Support for Federal Investment in Clean Energy

More than three-quarters of Canadians see climate change as a serious issue, 57% say it has affected them or their loved ones, and 86% want the federal government to invest in clean energy technology to help address the crisis, according to an Abacus Data report released this week by the Canadian Nuclear Association.

While the survey results contribute to mounting momentum for a green recovery, the release is amplifying concerns about the CNA’s definition of nuclear power as “clean” energy.

“Despite the unprecedented economic and employment turbulence Canada faces due to the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change or global warming ranks as the number one extremely serious issue Canada currently faces by one in three Canadians (31%),” the CNA states in a release. That puts the climate crisis ahead of issues like government deficits and debt, unemployment and economic growth, wealth and income inequality, racism, and access to affordable, nutritious foods.

“88% of Canadians report being personally impacted by climate change, 57% report being significantly impacted,” and 78% “are very concerned about the negative impact of climate change on future generations,” the release adds.

“The fact that we are living through a global pandemic that has literally rocked the stability of the world we know, and yet climate change is currently cited as the number 1 extreme issue of concern, is very profound,” said CNA CEO and President John Gorman. “Despite the severity of other economic and social issues we currently face, the data shows that Canadians want decisive action taken to address climate change, including 86% who believe the government should invest in clean technology.”

And, Gorman added, “as one of the lowest carbon-emitting energy sources, nuclear must play a critical role in Canada’s energy mix to help meet our emission reduction goals.”

The 105-page survey report from Abacus, based on online panels conducted in August, found that serious, very serious, or extremely serious concern about the climate crisis ranged from 68 to 87% across different age groups, from 76 to 79% across all but one province, and 65% in Alberta. Among potential voters for the three leading federal parties, serious to extremely serious concern stood at 66% among accessible Conservative voters, 86% among Liberals and New Democrats.

The research also probed respondents’ knowledge of nuclear energy, with 35% saying they had “at least a pretty good understanding” of the technology—and half of those reporting “that their knowledge comes from what they remember reading or hearing about it many years ago.” After they were told that nuclear is the second-largest source of low-carbon electricity, Abacus reported, 55% were open to supporting its wider use, compared to 10% who opposed or strongly opposed it.

Among the 1,500 respondents, 96% said it was at least somewhat important to increase the use of renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower, 98% wanted industries to adopt cleaner energy technologies, 97% supported a transition to clean energy, 94% wanted fossil fuel use reduced, 93% looked to governments to “implement the necessary policies to change energy consumption behaviours of consumers and industry”, and 88% were prepared to see increased reliance on nuclear as clean energy, Abacus found. When Canadians were asked to pick their top three climate solutions, renewables and adoption of cleaner energy technologies by industry came first and second, at 57 and 48%. Nuclear placed second-last in a field of nine options, with 21% support.

In an interview Thursday afternoon, Gorman said he made the transition to the CNA after 20 years working primarily as a solar advocate out of concern for the “potential catastrophe we’re trying to head off” by addressing the climate emergency. “Thank goodness we’ve got affordable, cost-competitive wind and solar now that have been deployed very aggressively globally, because goodness knows we need it,” he told The Mix. But “despite the remarkable growth of wind and solar, globally we have not made any progress on decarbonizing the world’s electricity grids,” with only 36% of the global grid decarbonized and countries “treading water”.

“I can’t see any pathway to a decarbonized future on the electricity front, let alone electrifying other sectors of our economy, without seeing significant amounts of conventional nuclear and new nuclear,” he said.

Gorman characterized nuclear as a clean electricity source based on its small physical volume of waste compared to coal and its low life cycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to solar and hydro. He said the industry “actually accounts for every aspect of the waste it produces in a safe and responsible fashion,” while pre-paying for the “safe and responsible management and disposal of its waste”.

Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, scoffed at the idea that nuclear is a clean energy source. “Anybody with any scientific knowledge knows nuclear energy produces the most toxic waste of any industry ever conceived on Earth,” he said. “We wouldn’t be planning to spend $23 billion to bury these wastes in the Canadian Shield if it were clean energy. Nor would we have accidents that cause hundreds of billions of dollars in repair and cleanup and decontamination.”

Nuclear waste disposal has been a contentious issue for decades—most recently along the shore of Lake Huron, where Ontario Hydro recently cancelled a multi-billion-dollar effort to store hazardous nuclear waste in underground vaults at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station in Kincardine. But even when nuclear waste gets into a storage facility, Edwards said that isn’t always the end of the story.

“In Germany, they are spending the equivalent of approximately C$5.7 billion to remove radioactive waste from an underground repository to get it back onto the surface,” he told The Mix. “It’s contaminating groundwater and finding its way into surface water, and it’s been doing so for 20 years. And these are the clean leftovers from nuclear energy.”

Susan O’Donnell, an adjunct professor of sociology at the University of New Brunswick and former senior researcher with the National Research Council in Fredericton, recalled a recent conversation with the CEO of one of the companies now calling for introduction of small, modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) in her province.

After O’Donnell and colleagues pointed out that there is no nuclear waste repository in New Brunswick, and the plan for a storage facility in Ontario had recently fallen through, “he looks at us like we’re complete idiots and says, ‘well, there’s going to be one. There has to be one,’” she recounted. “And this is the thing that is just becoming so clear to me: These guys, and they’re mostly guys, they see the challenge of building these things, they love the challenge, and they want to make this happen. But they think it’s someone else’s job to clean up their mess. They don’t see that as their job.”

6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "Nuclear Industry Survey Shows 86% Public Support for Federal Investment in Clean Energy"

#1 Comment By Derek Hill On September 4, 2020 @ 11:33 AM

Why we seem stuck on OLD nuclear when since 1965 there have been much safer, cleaner options like Thorium and liquid fueled Thorium reactors which can be sized small enough to even be trucked to sites shows how either our government is being manipulated by big big business or not fulfilling its responsibility to research new and better greener clean energy. A real comparison to deaths and sickness from coal,oil,or gas are compared to Nuclear it becomes clear that it should be given more support as a solution to the climate crisis.

#2 Comment By angela bischoff On September 4, 2020 @ 4:56 PM

Of course the nuke special interest boyz will spin the story in their best interest. The real story of the poll is that Cdns are overwhelming concerned about climate change, and choose renewables as their #1 solution, with nuclear second to last (out of 9). Canadians are right to mistrust nuclear. The industry has syphoned tens of billions of dollars from the public purse over the decades – and now they’re gunning to rebuild 10 aging nukes in Ontario (~$26 B), waste many more billions in so-called SMNRs (Small modular nuclear reactors), while transporting thousands of truckloads of high level deadly radioactive nuke waste across the country only to bury it in a hole and hope it doesn’t leak, which of course it will. This is the deadliest and most dangerous stuff known to humankind, and that’s why the nuke industry is hemorrhaging around the world with no sales, rising costs, closing reactors, bankrupting companies etc. (see World Nuclear Industry Status Report). Canadians know this and that’s why they choose renewables. We know wind/water/solar is lower cost, lower emission, and lower risk. The world is going renewable and so should Canada.

#3 Comment By Gordon Edwards On September 4, 2020 @ 10:38 PM

Energy efficiency, wind power and solar energy make significant contributions in a single building season. Nuclear power is too slow and overpriced. There will be no deployment of a new fleet of nuclear reactors for at least a decade or more, so new nuclear just kicks the can down the road for 10 or 20 years without addressing climate change TODAY. Nuclear power’s contribution to global electricity has been steadily declining for the last quarter of a century, from 17 percent in 1997 to 10 percent today, and even the most optimistic projections expect nuclear to slump to 5 percent over the next decade. That’s because old reactors will be shutting down much faster than any new ones can be built. Maximum effort should go into deploying the quickest and cheapest energy alternatives — efficiency and renewables — because the problem has to be tackled NOW, not decades from now.

#4 Comment By Brian Beaton On September 21, 2020 @ 6:42 AM

Mixing the data from two different polls makes this article very confusing and misleading. This is made even more complicated when using quote that claims nuclear is a “clean technology” and then data from a nuclear industry poll “After they were told that nuclear is the second-largest source of low-carbon electricity, Abacus reported, 55% were open to supporting its wider use, compared to 10% who opposed or strongly opposed it.” But the poll data from the main Abacus poll unfortunately becomes secondary in this article, leaving me with the false impression that the headline presents an acceptance of dirty nuclear reactors.

But in reality .. “When Canadians were asked to pick their top three climate solutions, renewables and adoption of cleaner energy technologies by industry came first and second, at 57 and 48%. Nuclear placed second-last in a field of nine options, with 21% support.” .. So why is this not the headline story? Why does this article sound more like a promotional piece for the dirty nuclear industry?

#5 Comment By Mitchell Beer On September 21, 2020 @ 7:39 AM

Many thanks for that, Brian. I can understand the confusion, but this wasn’t a story on two polls — it was one poll that pointed toward two different stories.

With the Throne Speech coming up, amid concerns that green recovery will take a back seat to other economic measures the government may be planning, we thought the single most important takeaway — hence our lead — was that a very large proportion of Canadians still support federal investment in clean energy. We saw two back stories, actually — that the poll had defined “clean” energy in ways that some of our readers would definitely support but (I suspect) many more would find objectionable, and that it was just one part of a concerted effort by the Canadian Nuclear Association to rebrand its product as a climate solution. TBH, nuclear placing second-last in a field of nine was something I found interesting and worth mentioning as context, but not new. The issue we plan to follow is whether the introduction of small modular reactors will give the industry a hook to shift that view.

#6 Comment By Brian Beaton On September 21, 2020 @ 10:11 PM

Thanks for the clarification .. Unfortunately I believe everyone needs to be clear about the funding of more VERY expensive, experimental, unproven nuclear reactors that are going to take 10 to 15 years to MAYBE put in place.

I am reading and hearing far too folks in their comfortable urban environments just wanting to maintain their status quo without any concern for the nuclear sacrifice zones being created and planned across the country. There is nothing clean about the nuclear industry as your story points out at the end. But the confusion around semantics might work for some but for rural and Indigenous communities who are the victims of this so-called government-paid for “industry”, there is no time to be playing around with words.

The title of this article today makes it sound like it is promoting the nuclear industry as a clean technology. Government officials are drinking the same kool-aid without any critical thinking or analysis. Nuclear advocates are surrounding and ensuring decision-makers only hear their narrative. That is wrong and misleading and only fits their greedy and selfish corporate desires. This seems to be acceptable to some but I find it offensive.

In New Brunswick we now have two foreign-owned corporations who need millions to continue their efforts to design their nuclear reactor solutions. Our province already wasted $10 million on these corporations who will quickly disappear once the dollars dry up. Instead of investing in local community energy production solutions we get these millions being spent on more centralized, unproven reactors that will produce far more carbon in their construction, maintenance, and ongoing operation for the refurbishment and upgrades to contain their deadly radioactive waste.

The title of the article should be “Clean energy production is supported by Canadians without more nuclear reactors” .. or something that highlights that Canadians do not see nuclear reactors as a clean source of energy ..