Becoming Radioactive: The University’s Nuclear Alliance
A University serves many purposes. Among these—what is arguably most critical and important – is the independent, publicly funded research and teaching conducted there. A university is neither a technical institute nor a corporate think tank. Unfortunately, this distinction between public and private is becoming increasingly blurry at the University of Saskatchewan. In recent years its reputation has been mired in dubious, yet everincreasing, entanglements with the corporate sector—particularly Cameco in Saskatoon, the world’s largest uranium producer and a provider of processing services required to fuel nuclear power plants. Recent developments at the University, and questions raised at the April 2011 UofS Senate meeting about the inordinate influence that Cameco exercises in its administration, all generate great unease over what has been happening behind closed doors in University board rooms.
Cameco has a keen economic interest in forging a solid and involved relationship with the University of Saskatchewan. In the process the University’s reputation as a public and independent institution is in danger of compromise. A simple Google search of Cameco’s involvement with research and development at the University yields a slew of results. Over the last 15 years, Cameco has contributed millions to the UofS, sometimes in unprecedented large sums; in 2006, its donation of $3 million to the UofS constituted Cameco’s largest corporate donation ever. Just within the last 5 years, UofS President Peter Mackinnon unveiled the “Cameco Plaza” and the “Cameco Skywalk” on campus.
Cameco’s association with the UofS doesn’t end there. 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.
Despite this, promotion of nuclear industry’s agenda continues unabeited. Just recently, the Provincial Government tagged $30 million to help establish the UofS “Centre for Study of Nuclear Medicine and Science,” a donation that raised concerns at the recent UofS Senate meeting. “Is it appropriate for the Saskatchewan Government to earmark funding for specific university programming in this way?” asked Senator Sandra Finley. Member at Large and environmental lawyer, Stefania Fortugno drew attention to conflicts of interest in the University Administration, stating in a related later, “Any time that the University of Saskatchewan enlarges the role of the nuclear sciences on campus…share prices of Cameco Corporation correspondingly increase.” A particularly glaring conflict is the fact that the Chair of the Board of Governors, Nancy Hopkins, also sits on the Board at Cameco Corporation. As Chair of the Board of Governors, she will
Chair the Presidential Selection Committee, as Peter Mackinnon finishes his term as UofS President. At least two candidates under consideration for the position of next UofS President have ties to the nuclear industry in Saskatchewan. Thus questions arise around how appropriate it is for Hopkins to take this highly important leadership role. To dismiss any doubt as to the conflict of interests, Fortugno’s letter details Hopkin’s pecuniary interests in Cameco Corporation in 2009 as over $1 million.
Fortugno’s letter has recently been sent to the Board of Governors and the University Secretary in which Fortugno calls for Hopkins’ resignation from the Board of Governors. A copy of this letter can be found here: Stefania's Letter
In light of Cameco’s heavy-handed involvement with the University of Saskatchewan and Hopkins’ conflict of interest, Fortugno’s letter asks a number of timely questions as to the direction of the UofS and its fragile reputation as an independent learning and research institution. It is vital that these issues be raised and public scrutiny be invited. Despite recent trends, corporate control over the University is not inevitable. We, the
Saskatchewan public, must reclaim future direction of the University and demand more accountability from our Provincial Government and the University Administration.