This weekend the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership will meet in Vienna, Austria to discuss a new era and international agreement governing the use of nuclear fuel.
The conference and partnership are being dubbed as an effort to "promote and safeguard the industry". What it is in fact is an attempt to redraw the lines of responsibility for the management of nuclear waste. The heart of the plan is a new agreement stating that all used nuclear fuel be returned to its country of origin for disposal.
Canada is the world's largest uranium exporter.
The proposal was brought forward by President Bush, and its motivation is clear. As a leader in nuclear energy use, the US is looking for ways to offload the costs of nuclear energy and waste management to other nations while continuing to enjoy the benefits - you know, like being wed to a massively subsidized, polluting, and expensive energy source that burdens the next million generations with toxic risk.
But by shear accident, Bush has stumbled into the polluter pays principle. If Canada is forced to be responsible for the toxic legacy of what we pull from the ground, then suddenly the apparent economic 'benefits' of nuclear mining will need to be weighed against the long-term costs of waste disposal for the first time - a prospect that will not sit well with Canadian voters.
Just as it is the oil company's responsibility to lead the global warming effort by endorsing plans to reduce emissions, just as it is the forestry industry's responsibility to engage in sustainable forestry, Canada has an equal responsibility in the nuclear age. If Canada is to continue to be the world's leader in producing uranium fuel, then it is our responsibility to be the world's leader in disposing of its waste.
If that is a responsibility that we are not prepared to bear, then we shouldn't be producing nuclear fuel in the first place.