Tsunami memories in hydro habitat

Though the consequences were far less deadly, Japan two years ago suffered the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986


The long process of renegotiating the international Columbia River Treaty is now well underway, with discussions around downstream flood control, upstream compensation for some of the impacts, and hydroelectric dam development on both sides of the Canada – U.S. border.

It goes without saying that B.C.’s hydroelectric power is a great asset — an ongoing source of electricity that’s easily converted to cash for B.C. and the Columbia River region when spot market prices for energy dictate. As well, it’s for the most part a clean, green source of power. We’re fortunate to live in a place that’s blessed with such great hydro habitat.

Most parts of the world don’t have the luxury of such relatively guilt-free power production. As I write this column, it’s two years to the day after Japan suffered a mega-earthquake and mega-tsunami that wiped out huge swaths of the country, and pushed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into a partial meltdown.

Though the consequences were far less deadly, it was the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986. And predictably, the nuclear power naysayers were in there like a pile of dirty shirts in the wake of the disaster, telling us it is not safe and simply can’t be trusted. Japan and many European countries have since scaled back their nuclear power plans, no doubt setting back their carbon dioxide reduction goals by many megatonnes.

It’s too bad few considered that the Fukushima plant was commissioned in 1971, and is based on technology with such a poor reputation that it’s no stretch to call it the Ford Pinto of nuclear plants. Nuclear power has come a long way since the Cold War era, with modern engineering practices leaving almost nothing to chance, and viable solutions starting to appear around nuclear waste disposal.

We’re lucky not to have such issues to grapple with. As the Columbia River keeps churning out clean and profitable electricity, other provinces in Canada mull over modern nuclear power plans — and that’s an option we shouldn’t automatically dismiss.