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Will UDP Consultations Enable The Public's Voice To Be Heard?

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Public consultations about the Uranium Development Partnership (UDP) started with Saskatoon stakeholder meetings May 27th and 28th. It's too bad no one from the Sask Party government was there to listen. Only presentations from nuclear companies, and organizations associated with the UDP, supported the UDP's recommendations. Others were critical and called for non-nuclear, renewable energy options. Saskatoon media living in a "pronuclear PR bubble" seemed surprised that 27 of the 31 presentations wanted non-nuclear options.

It's notable that non-nuclear sentiment was so strong in the city that headquarters the uranium giant Cameco. Consultation Chair, Dan Perrins, may find himself between a rock and a hard place as this trend continued at Yorkton, Estevan, Swift Current and Regina meetings. In his letter inviting public participation he said he'll "lead an independent consultation process, focused on the recommendations made by the UDP", while stressing that he's "not to be an advocate for the UDP report, but to provide opportunities for Saskatchewan people to share their feedback." The process, however, is backwards for it forces people who support nonnuclear options to do this by way of criticizing the pronuclear UDP report. It would have been better to have an open inquiry, about all energy options, in the first place.

The consultation also has a limited mandate. The Terms of Reference given April 8th by Minister Lyle Stewart say that Perrins is to review "all written submissions from stakeholders and individuals" and to summarize "public input and feedback from stakeholders and citizens gathered through the Public Consultation Process." If Perrins does this in an accurate and professional manner he‚ll have to report the criticisms of the nuclear industry and indicate the magnitude ofsupport for renewable energy. Yet the Terms of reference say Perrin "is not an advocate for or against the key findings or recommendations contained in the UDP Report", and "will not make recommendations for further action except to recommend further public consultations".

Are Perrin's hands therefore tied? Even after holding public meetings to find out what the grass-roots thinks of the pronuclear UDP, Perrins won't be able to recommend on matters of energy policy, which is what these meetings are about. Also, the Workbook where people write comments on UDP recommendations is totally open-ended and the magnitude of non-nuclear views can easily be obscured.

It looks like the Sask Party government wants to appear to give the public a chance to comment on the UDP, but isn't that interested in what people say. Prior to forming the UDP, in a September 2008 interview with the engineering and geoscientist journal, The Professional Edge, Minister Cheveldayoff said, "Part of the business plan for nuclear power in Saskatchewan would definitely have to include the export of power. We are talking to business partners and other provinces about the feasibility of that." Below he continued, "if we were to export power we'd have to upgrade the external lines as well. How much would that cost and would it be worth it? Those are some of the questions we'll ask Bruce Power."

Clearly the decision to partner with Bruce Power to consider a private nuclear power export industry was in the works before the UDP even existed. Because of growing public pressure to democratize energy policy, the Sask Party government created this public consultation process, but it is so restrictive that a widespread call for non-nuclear options could be ignored. The billion dollar question is: will the grassroots find a way to make their voices heard?

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