CANDU reactor schematic

The StarPhoenix had an interesting story posted on Nov. 26 regarding reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. The headline read: “ Don’t delay Saskatchewan fossil fuel cap, environmental groups say,” and the subheadline said, ‘Saskatchewan emissions are way, way out of line with the global community,’ says Saskatchewan Environmental Society’s Peter Prebble.

Well that’s rich. I’ll get into why in a minute.

The StarPhoenix story says, “The consequences of Saskatchewan emissions are very substantial,” said Peter Prebble, a board member with the Saskatchewan Environmental Society. “Saskatchewan emissions are way, way out of line with the global community.”

And it continues, “In 2021, Saskatchewan greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) totalled 67.1 megatonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent. Canada’s total GHG emissions that year were 670 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent. That means Saskatchewan produced approximately a tenth of the national total, despite its population being smaller than other provinces. Manitoba, which has the closest population size, emitted 21.7 megatonnes.”

Yep, that’s right. We have three per cent of the population, but 10 per cent of the emissions. Guilty as charged.

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There is substantial context lacking in the story. In particular:

  1. The article conveniently left out the fact Prebble was a Lorne Calvert-era cabinet minister, a long-serving MLA, and a life-long opponent of nuclear power. Indeed, he was arguably one of the most vocal nuclear opponents in the entire province.
  2. It gets a lot colder in Saskatchewan than other parts of Canada, like the Atlantic or lower mainland of BC.
  3. Saskatchewan does not have much water or elevation to allow it to build massive hydropower like BC, Quebec, or Manitoba. But it does have coal and natural gas, and accessible to abundant more natural gas next door in Alberta.
  4. Every jurisdiction in the world uses the resources they have to the best of their advantage. So that’s what Saskatchewan has done, and will continue to do. If God suddenly grants us mountains and substantial flowing rivers, surely we’d build more dams. But don’t wait for that to happen.
  5. The only real alternative, if greenhouse gas emission reduction is your goal, is massive adoption of nuclear power. I’m talking about building at least nine, and as many as 11 small modular reactors 300 megawatts in size just to meet the power needs of Nov. 24. On that day we produced 3,269 megawatts of power. While wind produced the equivalent of one small modular reactor (337 megawatts that day), and hydro produced 222 megawatts, wind often drops to next to zero.
  6. We could build all those reactors right now, but forget about paying for healthcare, roads, schools or jails. And if we massively adopt EVs, double the number of reactors required, as well as double grid infrastructure in transmission and distribution.

 

You see, Prebble, was an MLA from 1978-82, 1986-91, and 1999-2007, sitting in government three of those four terms.

The government press release announcing his departure from government noted, “He was appointed to cabinet in August 2003 and has had responsibility for a number of portfolios including Corrections and Public Safety, SaskWater, Public Service Commission and the Office of Energy Conservation.”

As a former cabinet minister of several years, he was in a position to do something about our emissions. He was in the room when it happens, to paraphrase the musical Hamilton.

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Oh, yes, he argued for energy conservation, and was the minister in charge of that. That’s around the time SaskPower was encouraging compact fluorescent lightbulbs. Good job.

While he did not hold the portfolio for SaskPower, as a member of the cabinet, he had a significant opportunity to persuade the executive council to wholesale adopt nuclear power. It’s a pretty good bet such words never left Prebble’s lips.

Energy conservation does not create power. It does not keep the lights on. Energy conservation just uses less.

Something has to create the power. And if emissions were so important, and wind and solar will always be unreliable, like in Alberta on Nov. 23, Saskatchewan really has only one option – build nuclear – a lot of it. After all, we produce the uranium.

But Prebble’s mission for much of his political career was to fight nuclear development. In a gushing story about Prebble’s 50 years an environmental activist, the StarPhoenix published April 17, 2023, “In 1979, just a year into his first term, Prebble was the lone MLA to vote against uranium mining during a debate because of its use in manufacturing nuclear weapons.”

In particular, Prebble, threatened to quit cabinet if the province did anything along the line of nuclear power. In a 2005 CBC article, Prebble was quoted as saying, “I would have to step down from cabinet … in the theoretical event that cabinet was to endorse a reactor or a nuclear waste disposal facility.”

Of course, the Calvert government, which was indeed looking at nuclear power, didn’t go ahead. Nor did the Brad Wall government, but current premier Scott Moe is very, very serious about building nuclear reactors.

if Prebble had been an advocate instead of an enemy of nuclear, if he fought for it instead of being the principle opponent, and convinced others within the NDP of the same, maybe Saskatchewan would have built reactors under the Calvert administration.

And if it had, maybe, just maybe, those emissions he’s so worried about now would be a lot lower.

But here we are. Thanks, Mr. Prebble.

 

Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@pipelineonline.ca.

 

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