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Tories favour oil sands going nuclear

[PoliticsWatch updated 4:45 p.m., January 17, 2007]

Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn.

OTTAWA  — On a day the federal government was trying to paint itself as environmentally friendly, the natural resources minister took sides in the politically sensitive field of nuclear energy.

Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn told reporters Tuesday he was keen on using nuclear energy as an alternative to natural gas to power production for Canada's oil sands. 

He made the comments after a reporter asked why the government was still providing tax incentives for oil sands development, which is a major emitter of greenhouse gases. 

"We need to do better," Lunn said about the oil sands. 

"I think there is great promise in the oil sands for nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is emission free. There's no greenhouse gases, there's no pollutants going out."

"There's a great opportunity to pursue nuclear energy, something I'm very keen on."

The minister made similar comments in an interview late last year but they were not widely reported. 

Lunn repeated the comments on Tuesday after the Tories launched the first in a series of announcements expected this week to help improve the government's image on the environment. 

Lunn and Environment Minister John Baird announced $230 million in new funding for clean energy technologies.  

"It's strange," Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said in an interview with PoliticsWatch. "It shows no political savvy whatsoever that Gary Lunn in the new greening of government would wrap himself in Chernobyl to prove how green he is."

She said she believes the core in Natural Resources Canada that promotes nuclear power has "captured" the minister.

May said nuclear power "doesn't cut it" as a solution to climate change because of costs and other environmental issues related to mining and shipping uranium as well as developing heavy water. 

"The reality of nuclear reactors is they carry an inherent risk of catastrophic accidents and the more you build on the basis of probability and risk factor scenarios the greater the risk of another Chernobyl or Three Mile Island."

In an interview with PoliticsWatch, NDP MP Nathan Cullen accused Lunn of "bringing more controversy into controversy" by raising the nuclear issue. 

"They're trying to change the song. The song right now is the Conservatives have totally botched the environment file. By bringing nuclear into the mix maybe that's a distraction, but I think that's going to cause them more problems than solutions," he said. 

"I honestly don't believe that the (nuclear) industry is ready or Canadians are ready to accept the industry." 

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion also has problems with issues surrounding nuclear waste. 

"As long as I have not received a convincing strategy for the waste, I am not able to look Canadians in the eye and say, 'I'm comfortable with the waste,' I will not recommend it," Dion told a business audience in Toronto on Tuesday. 

Nuclear energy is seen by some as an alternative to produce the steam needed to extract oil from the oil sands.  

Last week, the Globe and Mail reported that Husky Energy was looking at nuclear energy to power production.  

And two Alberta businessmen have formed Energy Alberta Corp., which has teamed up with Atomic Energy Canada Limited for a project to build a two nuclear reactors south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, exclusively to provide the steam for oil sands production. 

Energy Alberta Corp. did not immediately return PoliticsWatch's calls for an interview.  

Lunn's promotion of using nuclear energy to tackle climate change comes the same day a group of prominent international scientists moved the doomsday clock closer to midnight. 

One of the reasons cited by the The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was the push to build more nuclear reactors as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

"Yet expansion of nuclear power increases the risks of nuclear proliferation," the group said. "The international community faces a dilemma: How to mitigate climate change without increasing the dangers of nuclear materials proliferation."

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