Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday August 15, 1997
Jolting Hydro into action
The real danger at Ontario Hydro isn’t Candu reactors. The greater risk is in accepting at face value what the provincial government and the Crown corporation’s board of directors say about the troubled utility.The government and board of directors seem to want Ontarions to believe that the problems at Hydro’s nuclear division are in hand. President Alan Kupcis has sacrificed himself, which is appropriate under the circumstances. Managers have been let go, and more heads will roll in the days to come, says Hydro board chair William Farlinger. Seven reactors are being closed and Hydro will improve its performance beginning right away. The inference seems to be: Carl Andognini’s explosive report has exposed the rot in Hydro management, and we can rest assured problems in the nuclear power generating system are being dealt with.
But the truth is that some of the most difficult, sensitive questions about Hydro’s abysmal performance have yet to be answered or, in some cases, even asked.
– Where was Hydro’s board of directors during the years nuclear division management was growing more isolated and ineffective?
To date, the only board member to acknowledge responsibility is Kupcis, who was also chief operating officer. What about the remainder of the board? Were they unaware of the growing problem? Did directors know of the situation, and fail to act? Some of what was uncovered in the scathing review of Hydro’s nuclear operations is new, but other problems are longstanding and have been aired publicly.
Either the board of directors knew about the problems and didn’t act, or it was asleep at the wheel. Either way it’s remarkable and disturbing that this board is being allowed to continue operating the public utility. As corporate governance analyst Richard Finlay says: “The board has to assume responsibility for the enormity of the disaster that has occurred on their watch.”
At the same time as the Harris government oversees the rebuilding of management, it should put in place a capable board of directors. Traditionally, many Hydro board seats have been patronage appointments. Clearly it’s time that changed.
– Should Ontario Hydro reduce or eliminate its nuclear component over time?
When it comes to things nuclear, there are few objective opinions. Thanks to Hydro’s mismanagement, the anti-nuclear lobby has ammunition
for the foreseeable future in its quest to shut down the nuclear industry, but much of what we’ll hear from both camps in the months to come is nothing more than propaganda. Yes, there is reason to question the extent to which Ontario relies on nuclear power. Waste disposal costs, environmental threats, and lingering questions about effective long-term mainten ance on Candu reactors combine to throw a long shadow over the future of nuclear power. That said, most of the evidence points toward the Candu reactors being safe and efficient if properly maintained. Contrary to what some environmental groups claim, there is no immediate danger from nuclear operations if they are properly managed.
The government and private sectors should use this occasion to launch a research and development campaign to test alternate power generation methods with an eye to reducing Ontario’s reliance on nuclear power. Fossil fuels are not an alternative.
– Should Ontario Hydro be privatized?
No. We’re not confident that the private sector will regulate nuclear power properly, and there’s no evidence that the Harris government has the political will to insist on effective regulation. In any case, it’s unlikely a private sector investor would be interested in the financial swamp that is Hydro’s nuclear division.
That said, it’s obvious the time has come to end Ontario Hydro’s monopoly. The government should plan now to allow private sector power generating companies to compete with Hydro. (Source: Hamilton Spectator Editorial)