New kids on the block scope out our nuclear neighbourhood

Upcoming CBC doc to feature Kincardine

By Kristen Shane

 The concept is simple: take two women who may, in a couple decades, wake up next to a nuclear power plant. Bring them, with all their doubts and fears, to a town where nuclear power has been the economic lifeblood for more than 30 years. Take them to the head of the company planning to build reactors in their backyard and watch the reaction. Will they come away with thoughts of Chernobyl pervading their minds, a newfound CANDU attitude about nuclear power, or something in between?

It’s a question to be answered by My Nuclear Neighbour, an hour-long documentary to air on the CBC’s The Nature of Things with David Suzuki, next Thursday night (Feb. 11) at 8 p.m.

The film’s North York-based director, co-writer and co-producer, Donna Zuckerbrot, wanted to do a documentary on nuclear power, which is seemingly gaining worldwide recognition as a greenhouse gas-free alternative to burning fossil fuel to make electricity.

Zuckerbrot set her sights on Kincardine, the host municipality of the first privately-run nuclear power plant in Canada. But in her early research, she tripped upon Peace River, Alta., a town an almost six-hour-drive northwest of Edmonton where Bruce Power is looking to build two to four new nuclear reactors.

Zuckerbrot travelled there last March and found a community divided over nuclear. At a Bruce Power-hosted community information session, she met Brenda McSween and Lorraine Jensen, friends whose farms are two of the closest properties to the potential new nuclear plant.

“This was literally being proposed in their backyard,” says Zuckerbrot.

“They had done their research, but it was the research that was really based on how this is going to be harmful,” she recalls. “They hadn’t had the opportunity yet to look at the other side of that.”

So Zuckerbrot gave them the chance. She arranged for the women to travel to Kincardine to tour the town and parts of the Bruce Power site, as well as ask questions of its CEO Duncan Hawthorne and local residents – with the cameras rolling. 

Brenda McSween and Lorraine Jensen of Peace River, Alta. meet Bruce Power CEO Duncan Hawthorne during the filming of My Nuclear Neighbour this past summer. (photo courtesy Reel Time Images)

The women agreed. They were apprehensive to step inside a nuclear plant, but felt it was important to do their homework on an industry that could affect their children and their families, says Zuckerbrot.

Jensen and McSween were worried about the effects of radiation and nuclear waste. They quickly found that the nuclear neighbours they encountered were not.

“It’s very hard in Kincardine to ask somebody to tell you something that is bad about nuclear power. It is a company town,” says Zuckerbrot. “Everybody that we talked to in Kincardine was very positive about nuclear power and what it’s done for the community.”

Who’s everybody? People such as Kincardine’s Scottish Shop owners Don and Marilyn Arscott, and Books & Beans owner Rob Millar. Mayor Larry Kraemer toured the women around town.

Then there was the meeting with Hawthorne.

“They felt like this was something that was being forced upon them. They wanted to meet Duncan Hawthorne face-to-face to tell him they thought that,” says Zuckerbrot. “They walked into it with a lot of apprehension. It had a couple of moments that really reflect that, but for the most part it was very civil. It really was a fact-finding mission.”

For its part, Bruce Power officials weren’t afraid to be grilled by worried landowners.

“Bruce Power was going to be central to the story, so we thought it was important for us to get involved,” says company spokesperson John Peevers.

The women toured part of Bruce A and visited a control room, among other locations. The company doesn’t offer site tours to the regular public, but tries to accommodate media inquiries such as this, says Peevers. Bruce Power has previously opened its doors to a couple of Discovery Channel shows, he says.

This also isn’t the first time the company’s rolled out the red carpet for Peace River residents. A delegation of 44 community members travelled to Kincardine to investigate the site, on Bruce Power’s dime, a year ago, according to the Peace River Record-Gazette.

“We’re proud of our business. We’ve got nothing to hide, or nothing to be ashamed of,” says Peevers.

“Generally with people, when they get the opportunity to go through…see how clean it is, see how safe it is…it’s the best advertisement we have.”

It wasn’t enough to automatically flip the minds of Jensen and McSween, according to Zuckerbrot.

But the women did leave Kincardine and McMaster University in Hamilton, where they visited an expert in radiation and health, less fearful than they had been, says Zuckerbrot.

“That gave them the opportunity to give them a different side. It answered some of their questions, and I think it changed things subtly. I didn’t think it changed them in a huge way,” she says. “It really has to do with beliefs. And beliefs change slowly.”

Peace River residents will likely have a few more years to chew on the prospect of a new nuclear neighbour. Bruce Power is doing technological and background work at its proposed site. It hasn’t started into the next step, an environmental assessment, which could take about three years, says Peevers. Alberta’s government publicly stated at the end of 2009 that it would treat a nuclear plant proposal the same as any other new energy project, which Bruce Power has taken as a good sign. The company has been waiting out the recession before making its next move.

My Nuclear Neighbour airs Feb. 11 at 8 p.m. on CBC, and a week later on CBC News Network (formerly CBC Newsworld) at 10 p.m.

I think you're making fun of

I think you're making fun of people. You can't make people get rid of their fears, unless you made them fly at least once in their life. Make them fly upon cities and then, they'll understand better the concept of nuclear power. so all you have to do is to get these 2 women into carnival cruises and let them fly in which city they desire. You'll see that it will open their minds.

Just imagine

In the USA there are proposals for over twenty new reactors and the first 17 combined construction and operating licences for these have been applied for. All are for late third-generation plants, and a further proposal is for two ABWR units. it is expected that 4 to 8 new reactors will be on line by 2020.
This is really interesting topic, I'll write a paper on it or probably just buy essay .