One of the more unfortunate synergies related to the #OccupyWallStreet inanities here in Saskatoon was the emergence of the University of Saskatchewan Senators Working to Revive Democracy, or USSWORD. This group of narcissistic nincompoops, which includes Marxist professors, militant hippies, anti-nuke demonstrators, and underworked anthropology grad students, “occupied” a recent meeting of the University Senate in protest of alleged conflicts between the university, government and industry.
The Senate, incidentally, is a public-relations exercise ostensibly created to provide a voice to various stakeholders of the university. It is a reasonable sounding board for ideas or issues for members of the community, but it really has no power or influence. These anti-everything activists make up a small but tiresome fraction of the Senate body.
The biggest burr in their bonnet is the fact that the chair of the university’s board of governors, Nancy Hopkins, is also a board member of Cameco, the big uranium mining company based in Saskatoon. This, apparently, creates a conflict of interest because, in their words:
By teaming up with the uranium industry (primarily CAMECO), and with strong inducements from the Saskatchewan Party Government, it appears that the University of Saskatchewan has become increasingly corporatized, enticed by short-term promises of lavish donations and directed funding.
You can see how these relations work in this easy-to-understand infographic:
For interests of disclosure and sanity, I’ll note that I work for Cameco, or, as USSWORD refers to us, “CAMECO”. I can only speak on behalf of myself and as such my opinions on this matter ought not be considered that of my overlords (who are too busy counting shekels and kicking puppies to notice what their underlings are up to on their time away from their caged cubicles).
Now, I cannot refute the above organizational flowchart — an airtight argument as ever devised — but frankly, in my arrogant opinion, their concerns might be a bit slightly overblown.
Take this little piece of investigative wizardry from one Mary Jean Hande, part-time U of S Senator and anthropology grad student at York University. In between stints at “activist organizations” and “social justice movements”, Senator Mary Jean rolled up her sleuthing sleeves and googled that Cameco has — wait for it — given money to the university. She cited the 2006 donation of $3 million for the name of a small plaza on campus. Of course, she neglected to mention that the bulk of this money went toward mentorship programs for aboriginal students, an NSERC chair for women, a chair in environmental toxicology, and the university in general. Another recent donation went to the Royal University Hospital. The fiends! There is (or at least was when I was a geophysics studnet) a Cameco-sponsored chair in the department of geological sciences because — hang on to your seat — Cameco is a mining company and the geology department produces geoscientists who enable mining to occur, but I’ll come back to this in a moment.
Of course, Cameco is not alone in donating large sums to the university. PotashCorp gave $5 million toward upgrades to the football stadium. Kay Nasser, the former engineering prof and local real estate developer, gave the university $12 million worth of property. Crown-owned SaskTel gave a million to the school and RUH. Les and Irene Dube donated $10 million toward health sciences. None of these donations are under scrutiny by the well-honed geniuses of USSWORD, even though any one of these donors could influence university research energies toward their own special interests just as easily as Cameco.
What sets Cameco apart, obviously, is that Cameco is in the nuclear industry and the nuclear industry, as anyone who enjoys The Simpsons can tell you, is evil. This has been the case since the Cold War when uranium was used to counter the Communist threat, a big no-no among activist crowds.
Senator Mary Jean makes her position on the nuclear industry very clear:
Over the last several years there has been a push to increase nuclear research facilities on campus. In 2009 the Uranium Development Partnership (UDP), chaired by the one of the University’s vice-presidents Dr. Richard Florizone, explored the feasibility of building a nuclear reactor on campus. While much talk was made of using such a facility to produce medical isotopes, the UDP report warned that a research reactor on campus would instead primarily serve the purpose of training personnel for a large-scale, power generating reactor located elsewhere in the province.
And then Senator Mary Jean starts making some specious allegations involving the Sask Party yadda yadda yadda and the university is wholly corrupted. No wonder she studies at a different university rather than at that which she serves as a senator.
Another anthropology enthusiast, Dr. Alexander M. Ervin, also contributes a rambled, conspiracy-laden diatribe on the disgusting way the nuclear industry has the temerity to exist and give back to society. He compares the university to soviet republic, with its own “politburo” and sham form of democracy. (How the university was ever meant to be a democracy is beyond me. It’s an institution of higher learning, not a government, and as such I fail to understand why democratic decision-making would make it more effective.)
One of Dr. Ervin’s pedagogical pursuits is the importance of methodology to research, but count the errors, omissions or slurs in this sentence: “Note that the ‘Cameco’ Chair in Geology has supported the notion of a nuclear waste dump in the Williston Basin where he does research.”
- It’s actually called the “Cameco-NSERC Research Chair in Aqueous and Environmental Geochemistry”
- Dr. Ervin obviously doesn’t know the chair’s name, or else he would have named Dr. Hendry like he did all his other targets
- It’s not a “nuclear waste dump” being considered but a spent fuel repository, which will be specially designed in part to retrieve used fuel bundles should reprocessing technology becomes more economical
- Although he doesn’t cite exactly how Dr. Hendry “supports the notion” of a nuclear waste facility, he also fails to note that Dr. Hendry is an expert on the how uranium mining interacts with groundwater and, thus, has contributed to lessening the industry’s overall impact on the environment
- Dr. Hendry’s research is based in the Athabasca Basin, not the Williston Basin
- The three communities which have expressed interest in the nuclear facility — Creighton, English River First Nation, and Pinehouse — are all located in the Canadian Shield, which is neither the Athabasca Basin nor the Williston Basin
Furthermore, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization was developed under the federal (not provincial) Nuclear Fuel Waste Act which mandates nuclear power generators — not Cameco — to come up with a solution for spent fuel that is safe, environmentally sound, and socially acceptable. Simply put, Dr. Ervin’s whole implication that somehow Dr. Hendry is a paid stooge working to get the NWMO facilty built in Saskatchewan is false. False, and stupid.
Is Cameco behind Dr. Florizone’s plan for a nuclear research facility or power reactor at the U of S? I don’t know. It’s doubtful. I’d guess that we weren’t, and I’ll tell you why. Despite Cameco’s minority ownership of one of Bruce Power’s reactor units, the company is a mining company, not a power generator. While pretty much everyone who works at Cameco would be supportive of the nuclear industry in Canada, our target customers are in the states, Europe, Asia and, we hope someday, in India and China. In particular, it’s in our interest that the latter two nations conduct some serious plant construction in the near future. One piddly little plant in Saskatchewan would be a reliable provider for the province’s electricity needs provided the economics were sound, but I assure you, that plant would hardly be a major contributor to the corporate bottom line.
Personally, I think a new nuclear research institute would fill an increasing void in nuclear know-how in this country. A research reactor would work very well together with the Canadian Light Source synchotron on the same campus, and there is no reason to believe that nuclear energy and technology is going to go away anytime soon. But that’s just me.
I can understand why some of these fear-mongers would be concerned with an increased corporate presence on campus. After all, corporations, which contribute a significant portion of the province’s operating budget, might balk at funding such esoteric pursuits of social justice advocates like Dr. Ervin or Senator Mary Jean. I mean, I’m sure anyone could find some sort of value in Senator MJ’s effort to “get a better understanding of the role of media, online social networking, political and spiritual rhetoric, and the economy of hope that fuel this movement,” but I got to think that that value would trend significantly toward the “qualitative” side of the qualitative-quantitative spectrum.
In any case, I’m looking forward to my own name being sketched into the USSWORD’s lovely infographic collage. I also hope that the USSWORD group keeps their chins up and fighting the tough fight. It might take this idiocy to finally draw attention to next spring’s Senate elections, which might be the only good thing to come out of that useless group.