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Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt says “transparent public communication” is vital to the nuclear industry in Canada as the Conservative government aggressively pushes its nuclear agenda.
“It’s vital that the industry fully recognizes the value of transparent public communication,” Raitt said in an advance copy of a speech she gave to a reception Wednesday evening to open the Canadian Nuclear Association’s annual trade show.
Public communication became a hot-button issue for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the federal nuclear regulator and for the government in recent weeks as Canadians belatedly learned of a radioactive leak at AECL’s Chalk River research reactor.
Two more minor leaks have since been made public and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has acknowledged it needs to revamp its disclosure policies.
But the need for transparency extends beyond nuclear accidents to nuclear policy itself.
In an unusually forthright speech for a Conservative minister talking about nuclear issues, Raitt told the industry group that nuclear power “will play an increasingly important role” in balancing Canada’s growing energy demands with environmental concerns.
She also stated the federal government is “committed to seeing that the Canadian nuclear industry continues to be a dominant (international) player.”
And without listing all Canada’s numerous international nuclear policy shifts, Raitt acknowledged a little-recognized fact: the Conservative government “has taken . . . decisive action on the nuclear file these past three years.”
It was Raitt’s first detailed speech on nuclear matters since she became the minister last fall. And it marks a major departure for the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which has closely guarded public discussion of nuclear issues since first coming to office in January 2006.
Conservative policy changes include joining a controversial U.S.-led nuclear fuel cycle initiative, dropping Canadian objections to international nuclear trade with India and winning international agreement for Canada to enrich uranium for the first time.
Public details about these policy shifts remain scarce or non-existent.
As recently as last week, the government’s impulse to curtail information was evident in U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Ottawa.
According to the press “gaggle” aboard Air Force One en route back to Washington, White House officials said Obama and Harper “talked about prospects for expanding nuclear power and how you could get public acceptance and have safe nuclear energy.
“The prime minister talked a little bit about the general views on nuclear power in Canada.”
Canadian media briefings by Harper’s officials made no mention of a nuclear discussion. The officials spoke cryptically of a clean energy conversation.
Raitt, however, made it clear in her speech that nuclear power is considered “clean energy” by the government and is a key element in its goal of having “90 per cent of electricity generated by non-emitting sources by 2020.”
She said Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and western Canada are all “moving, or very seriously considering a move” to this kind of clean energy source.
Copyright 2009 THE CANADIAN PRESS