Wiseman on Bratt, 'Canada, the Provinces, and the Global Nuclear Revival: Advocacy Coalitions in Action'

Author: 
Duane Bratt
Reviewer: 
Matthew Wiseman

Duane Bratt. Canada, the Provinces, and the Global Nuclear Revival: Advocacy Coalitions in Action. Montréal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2012. xv + 398 pp. $34.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7735-4069-9.

Reviewed by Matthew Wiseman (Wilfrid Laurier University) Published on H-Canada (September, 2013) Commissioned by Jane Nicholas

Wiseman on Bratt, Canada, the Provinces and the Global Nuclear Revival

Although Canada has been involved in some capacity with the international nuclear industry since the 1940s, very little scholarly writing has been produced on the topic. The 1970s saw the introduction of nuclear reactors which, until recently, operated at a level that was monitored but not highly questioned. Nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima (2011) sparked immediate and widespread global advocacy on the dangers of nuclear power generation, yet none of the three disasters halted the forward growth of the international nuclear industry. In a global market that is increasing its demand for electricity, green energy, and fossil fuel alternatives, there remains an extremely high need for nuclear power. It is in this light that Canada, the Provinces, and the Global Nuclear Revival critically examines Canada’s response to and involvement with the contemporary global nuclear power industry.

Using a comparative analysis across four provinces--Ontario, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, and Alberta--political scientist Duane Bratt of Mount Royal University investigates Canadian nuclear policy from historical, political, environmental, and economic perspectives. He argues that Canada is amongst the world’s leaders in nuclear power generation and consumption, and explores the nature and extent of nuclear activities in these provinces to situate Canada’s nuclear policy in the context of the “global nuclear revival.” 

As a work of political science and public policy, this book seeks to measure the impact of the international nuclear community on Canada by attempting to: (1) determine the growth of Canada’s nuclear industry; (2) determine the financial success of Canada’s nuclear industry in the areas of uranium mining and upgrading, reactor refurbishments and sales, and international cooperation in nuclear and nuclear-related research and development; (3) measure the degree of consolidation of Canada’s nuclear industry through foreign and domestic, as well as private and public business means; and (4) measure the degree of public support for Canada’s nuclear industry.  

Bratt uses the advocacy coalition framework--an approach developed by Paul Sabatier and Hank Jenkins-Smith to interpret the influential role of private and public institutions on governmental policy--as a theoretical tool to analyze the impact of the Canadian nuclear sector. In so doing, he highlights the interconnections between state-level and societal-level actors, as well as the impact of elections and socioeconomic trends on long-term policy change, and effectively demonstrates the complexity of provincial and federal nuclear politics. 

In contemporary Canada there exist pro- and antinuclear coalitions. Atomic Energy of Canada Limited is supported by material suppliers, business associations, provincial utilities, unions of nuclear workers, and the nuclear scientific community at large. This pronuclear coalition seeks government support to grow the nuclear sector, but it is strongly opposed by an antinuclear coalition largely made up of environmental groups that seek the reduction and elimination of that same government support. Bratt examines the belief systems of each advocacy coalition in relation to their impact on Canada’s nuclear sector, and also explores the mediating role of policybrokers at all levels of government.

To measure the global effects of nuclear revival on Canada, Bratt's examination of the four provinces centers on their varied exposure to and reliance on nuclear power. He begins his assessment with Ontario, which became the heart of Canada’s nuclear industry following the Second World War. Ontario was originally exploited for its rich uranium deposits at Port Hope and Elliot Lake, but by the 1950s Canada’s nuclear development was focused on designing a reactor for generating electricity. Postwar industrialization enabled Ontario to become a global leader in reactor development, and strong business partnerships between state and private enterprises moved the province forward in such a manner that it became central to Canada’s nuclear industry. In addition to Ontario, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, and Alberta also have important ties to the Canadian nuclear industry, and Bratt’s analysis across all four provinces is equally distributed. He argues that each of the four provinces chosen have seen more political activity by pro- and antinuclear coalitions, more restraining and refurbishing of existing reactors, and more serious consideration for new nuclear reactor construction than have Canada’s other provinces with strong connections to the nuclear sector, namely Quebec and Manitoba.

Although this book is primarily focused on the politics of Canada’s nuclear sector, Bratt’s methodological approach to provincial investigation illuminates purely social aspects of the contemporary response to nuclear activities in the four provinces under investigation. For example, in 2009 the Saskatchewan government released a public consultation report on the future of uranium mining which revealed a staggering opposition to the province’s nuclear activities. Public concerns focused on opposing nuclear power generation and took into account the impact of nuclear activity on the province’s varied population, including First Nations and Métis peoples. Yet in spite of strong concerns, the Saskatchewan government decided to continue to facilitate uranium exploration and mining. A year prior in 2008 the Alberta government had made a similar decision. After appointing the Nuclear Power Expert Panel to investigate and prepare a comprehensive report on environmental, social, economic, health and safety, waste management, and other issues related to nuclear power generation the provincial government decided to further support the industry. In both cases it was determined that there exists no efficient alternative means of electricity generation capable of equaling the output of nuclear power.

Employing case studies in any context often leads to a disconnected narrative, yet Bratt compares and contrasts the nuclear experience of the four provinces in such a way as to highlight continuity across Canada’s nuclear sector. In addition to analyzing governmental investigation of nuclear power generation, Bratt attempts to uncover the social response by describing public reaction to provincial decisions. No approach is able to fully gauge public opinion, but Bratt’s methodological source base is expansive and inclusive, and he deserves credit for his effort to assess continuity and change across the four provinces in his study. Furthermore, although Bratt’s primary focus is Canadian domestic policy in the nuclear sector, he does highlight some of the effects of the global nuclear revival on Canada’s international opportunities. By comparing Canada and the four provinces under investigation with other jurisdictions, Bratt covers uranium mining and exporting in Australia, regulatory processes in North American, European, and Asian countries, and the global impact of nuclear safety guidelines from the International Atomic Energy Agency. His work also compares nuclear energy to other energy sources, including natural gas, oil, coal, biofuels, wind, and solar.

Not unlike other studies that have used the advocacy coalition framework as a theoretical tool to analyze industry impact on Canada both domestically and internationally, qualitative methods are vital to Bratt’s work. He identifies pro- and antinuclear coalitions by examining membership lists of networking organizations such as the Canadian Nuclear Association and the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. From these lists he conducted personal interviews with important individuals of both coalitions, as well as with intermediary policybrokers. His qualitative research methods are supported by an impressive host of primary and secondary sources, including government documents, books, peer-reviewed articles, and news reports. Additionally, Bratt makes use of evidence acquired from personal attendance as both an observer and participant at public and private nuclear-related meetings, forums, and conferences.

This book augments Bratt’s previous work, The Politics of CANDU Exports (2006), which provides a comprehensive examination of Canadian foreign policy by investigating federal and provincial nuclear reactor sales between 1945 and 2005. In both studies, Bratt’s analysis demonstrates the complexity and logic behind Canada’s nuclear policy. In addition to supporting global political efforts to promote nuclear safety, the Canadian government has sought to maintain its national sovereignty, protect human rights, and preserve the environment. All of these efforts have, at times, conflicted with the lucrative financial gains offered by involvement with the international nuclear sector.

Ultimately, Canada, the Provinces, and the Global Nuclear Revival is a book on the industry and politics of nuclear power, and is thus recommended for readers interested in contemporary Canadian politics and relations both domestically and internationally. Historians of Canada’s nuclear industry will find little new in this book. It is significantly less historical than The Politics of CANDU Exports. In addition to providing a comprehensive history of the Canada Deuterium-Uranium (CANDU) reactor that was designed and marketed by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, Bratt’s 2006 publication demonstrates how competing interests--economic, political, national, social, and environmental--impacted Canada’s nuclear and foreign policy at large. Moreover, it covers the emergence and growth of the international nuclear nonproliferation regime, and cooperative international attempts to contain communism and assist in world development during the volatile political era of the Cold War period. To be fair, this book is not meant to be a work of history. It rather is a work political science and public policy concerning the state and impact of the contemporary global nuclear revival on Canada, and should be read accordingly. Those seeking an historical understanding of the impact of the global nuclear sector on Canada’s domestic economy and foreign policy objectives could consult in addition to Bratt’s work, Robert Bothwell’s Nucleus: The History of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (1988) and A Diplomacy of Hope: Canada and Disarmament, 1945-1988 (1991), written by Albert Legault and Michel Fortmann. The nuclear sector exists at the intersection of domestic and foreign politics, economics, and technology, and although these two publications are somewhat dated, they remain invaluable to assess the historical impact of nuclear and nuclear-related industry on Canadian economic growth and foreign policy.

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Citation: Matthew Wiseman. Review of Bratt, Duane, Canada, the Provinces, and the Global Nuclear Revival: Advocacy Coalitions in Action. H-Canada, H-Net Reviews. September, 2013. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=38393

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