New Brunswick

Saint John environmentalist walks back opposition to nuclear power

In the face of a climate change crisis, Saint John environmentalist Gordon Dalzell is reversing his stance on nuclear power.

As 2nd reactor is proposed for Point Lepreau, Gordon Dalzell says nuclear power can fight climate change

Clean air advocate Gordon Dalzell has reversed his position on nuclear energy. He now says it can help in the fight against climate change. (Connell Smith, CBC)

Gordon Dalzell may be Saint John's best known environmentalist, but the climate change crisis has pushed him into uncharted territory to adopt a new philosophical stance.

"I hope my environmental friends won't disown me," he said at the end of an interview with CBC.

Dalzell, who is on record as being an opponent of nuclear energy, is now walking back that position in light of the climate emergency facing the planet.

For decades, the East Saint John resident has fought for clean air in a city where heavy industry lives side by side with subdivisions and residential streets.

The world is really at a disastrous tipping point and we need to really seriously consider nuclear power as a viable option, because we know how serious it is.- Gordon Dalzell, environmentalist  

He's a frequent intervenor in favour of tighter regulation when local industries apply to renew their approval to operate.

But while the retired child protection worker says all countries must push forward urgently with energy efficiency and renewable energy sources like wind and solar, he no longer believes those measures alone can contain the growth of greenhouse gases — particularly as energy demands climb from developing countries like India and China.

"The world is really at a disastrous tipping point and we need to really seriously consider nuclear power as a viable option, because we know how serious it is," he said.

A change of heart

A recent United Nations report gave the world's politicians just 12 years to make drastic change to avoid a climate crisis.

Dalzell says his change of heart developed gradually over several years while researching nuclear energy.

In 2011, he filed a brief with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission objecting to an application by NB Power to reload fuel and restart the Point Lepreau nuclear power station.

Topping that list of concerns: the Fukushima meltdown in Japan, at the time a raw, recent tragedy.

But Dalzell says that experience and others taught him respect for the work of the commission.

He's particularly impressed by the CNSC's Regulatory Oversight Report on Canadian power generating sites that can be found online.

Dalzell says he now has "faith and confidence" in the regulatory process.

He's prepared to allow the commission to do its work overseeing potential applications from small modular reactor companies now partnering with NB Power and the provincial government to develop a second unit at Point Lepreau.

About the Author

Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726