The new nuclear reactors — which do not exist, have not been built or tested, and even under the most optimistic scenario cannot be deployed for at least 10 or 20 years (if ever) — are intended by the Government of Canada to be installed in small communities in the north (including First Nations) and to assist industry in plundering northern resources işn Ontario’s “Ring of Fire” (e.g. chromite mines) and the rest of Canada (mining, oil and gas extraction, etc. — much of it impinging on indigenous lands).
Background: Where did the “N” go?
Ottawa calls these new nuclear reactors SMRs, or “Small Modular Reactors”, deliberately leaving out the word “Nuclear”. They should be called SMNRs.
Background: Radioactive Waste
Of course, all nuclear reactors produce highly dangerous long-lived radioactive wastes of many different kinds, and SMRs are no exception.
In fact the “irradiated nuclear fuel” from SMRs will be (for the first thousand years or so) MUCH more radioactive than the irradiated fuel from CANDU reactors now operating. That’s because the SMR fuel itself is much more highly enriched, containing more than 25 times as much fissionable material per kilogram (compared with CANDU).
Background: “Decommissioned” reactors as Radioactive Waste Dumps
In addition, the structural materials of the SMR will also become dangerously radioactive and will remain so for hundreds of thousands of years. Judging by CNL’s current plans to turn existing nuclear reactor sites into permanent radioactive waste dumps by simply grouting the radioactive structures in place with cement, it is likely that every SMR will in time become a permanent radioactive waste repository. If the government has its way these permanent radioactive sites will be scattered all across Canada’s northern territories (and elsewhere).
Background: Tuesday’s Events – November 6
The timing of our media conference on Monday is important, because on Tuesday a three day international conference in Ottawa promoting these new nuclear reactors will be launched, with full government participation and support. At that time (Tuesday noon) there will be a “red canoe” protest march taking place in the streets outside the building (in downtown Ottawa) where the conference will be taking place.
Background: Wednesday’s Events – November 7
On Wednesday, November 7, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources will be publicly released Ottawa’s so-called “Road Map” for SMR deployment, specifically laying out the government’s intentions as to where these new nuclear reactors might be situated. The Road Map may well include the oil sands of Alberta and Saskatchewan as well as the proposed Northern Corridor that would provide easier industrial access to massive resource extraction in the arctic regions, as well as in the Ring of Fire in Northern Ontario.
We are planning to have another small demo with some “street theatre” during noon hour in the Sparks Street Mall just outside the building where the SMR conference is taking place.
If there is a possibility of a representative from your organization attending the Tuesday march, or the Wednesday “street theatre” protest, we would all be delighted.
Cheers, Gordon Edwards.
PS. We are quite skeptical that these Small Modular Nuclear Reactors will ever be successful in a commercial sense, and they certainly cannot address climate change even if they were successful, because the next 12 years are critical and these reactors cannot possibly be available before then. But the government can waste a lot of money and time and political will going down a blind alley — or “barking up the wrong tree”. More importantly, the fantasy of these new reactors is distracting the government away from more important matters, like consulting First Nations and other Canadians about an acceptable plan for safely managing radioactive wastes over the very long term, away from major water bodies. So we think it is important to go on the record now saying that this is counterproductive and irresponsible, and to remind people that government’s first responsibility is towards the health and safety of Canadians, and the safeguarding of the environment — especially our precious waters — for hundreds of thousands of years.
SMRs for Northern Ontario Mining Operations:
Northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire:
Here’s some promotional material from Canada’s Ministry of Natural Resources.
You may have received this before in a previous email from me — my apologies for duplicates.
Generation Energy Dialogue (NRCan)
ON THIS “COVER PAGE” There is NO MENTION of nuclear energy
Canada’s low-carbon energy future, designed by you
Beginning on April 21, 2017, over 380,000 people joined a national dialogue on Canada’s energy future.
Why? To find out how Canadians want to meet Canada’s climate goals, create jobs and keep energy affordable.
You told us that the transition to a Canadian low-carbon economy and society is underway. Luckily, our energy resources and technologies provide a strong platform for long-term growth and prosperity. Canadians told us they want to play an active role in creating this future. They foresee bold leadership and action from all facets of society.
for Nuclear Energy: see Summary Report of “Generation Energy Dialogue”
then Scroll down to the Table of Contents and select “Nuclear Energy”
CANADIANS TOLD US THAT:
- Many Canadians view the role of nuclear as fundamental to achieving and sustaining Canada’s climate change goals and see the technology as a long-term source of baseload electricity supply.
- Small modular reactors (SMRs) will be key to the sustainable development of Canada’s energy and natural resources, such as the oil sands, and can help reduce reliance on diesel generators for remote communities and the North.
- Canadians also view nuclear as a high-cost energy option and are concerned about nuclear waste management. As a result, they called for the selection and promotion of sustainable and low-cost energy solutions.
Social Acceptance for Nuclear Energy: Many Canadians agreed that there is a need to build and maintain public confidence for nuclear technology, with industry and government playing a role. There was consensus that governments have a role in providing certainty (policy, regulatory and funding) to improve investor confidence and deepen relationships with partner governments. Nuclear energy is viewed by many as an important part of Canada’s energy mix now and into the future to help achieve our climate change goals.
Canadians identified the need for scalable electricity generation solutions that provide employment, use existing Canadian skill sets, are sustainable and safe, take advantage of existing infrastructure and help us mitigate and adapt to a changing climate. Accordingly, building public confidence for nuclear energy requires public education to inform Canadians about the role of nuclear energy as part of the mix.
Canadians expressed the concern that education alone is not enough and focused on the need to engage with communities, Indigenous peoples and other partners to determine social acceptance and support for additional nuclear development. There is a need for meaningful and not just obligatory public consultation, and it is important that local communities be engaged in decision- making processes to build public confidence.
Nuclear Waste Management: Many Canadians voiced concern with nuclear energy due to the perceived hazard associated with radioactive waste management and the perceived threat of nuclear disasters. There are concerns among Canadians about the management of Canada’s used nuclear fuel, particularly if the use of nuclear energy increases and more nuclear fuel waste needs to be transported and stored safely. Some Canadians view uranium refining technologies as inefficient due to the creation of large amounts of waste. However, others point out that uranium mining and refining does not have a significantly higher environmental impact than other forms of mining.
Discussions also alluded to a potential shift to thorium as a primary fuel source, as many consider it to be more abundant and it produces less waste than uranium. In addition, the shift to different fuel sources could be complemented with a switch to newer nuclear technologies that some consider to be more efficient and cost-effective for Canadian taxpayers.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR ACTION
- Canada’s nuclear energy sector can provide reliable, affordable and clean baseload power to help Canada achieve and sustain its climate change goals. It is viewed as a core part of Canada’s efforts to decarbonize the energy system and to meet the government’s Paris Accord commitments.
- With increasing global demand for electricity, large and small nuclear power plants provide a viable option to support the achievement of emissions reduction objectives, reduce air pollution and limit land-use concerns related to other energy sources.
- Some Canadians think that nuclear can contribute to the expansion of Canada’s electricity supply, a goal required for decarbonization. It also supports the integration of renewables and storage technology into the energy portfolio.
- In order to tackle climate change and accommodate new nuclear technologies, policy and programming support is needed from federal and provincial governments to position nuclear as an essential part of Canada’s domestic clean energy mix.
- Canada’s nuclear industry is a strategic asset and its long-term success relies equally on business and governments, making continued dialogue between all stakeholders an important priority.
- SMRs and Variable SMRs provide tailored on- and off-grid electricity and co-generation solutions to remote communities, industrial parks and other large energy users. Small modular reactors can also help deliver clean, affordable energy to Canada’s 300-plus remote communities. Some Canadians see SMRs improving the quality of life of residents inhabiting remote communities, as well as helping governments reduce the use of diesel in the North, improving energy access and security and supporting economic development opportunities through the export of technologies to global markets.
- Government and industry engagement on the nuclear file can support export opportunities and build investor confidence.
Due to the importance of science and innovation in providing long-term prosperity for Canada and the potential for small modular reactors to address priorities for clean energy in the North, there is a need for investment by industry and governments in nuclear innovation.
Nuclear energy can serve as a reliable baseload supply of electricity and can help Canada reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and meet climate goals.
Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) can serve to meet demand for affordable and clean energy, specifically in Canadian industry and in Canada’s remote and northern communities.
Ideas expressed in this summary have been gathered from input solicited through Generation Energy
Nuclear technology has a broad range of applications beyond power generation.
The nuclear industry supports more than power generation, as it creates benefits across a wide range of industries (health, security, agriculture, etc.). Additional benefits can be gained by establishing lasting partnerships amongst various players and across sectors (including large companies, utilities, small and medium enterprises, governments, laboratories and academia).
Ongoing development of Canada’s expertise in nuclear can spur innovation, jobs, exports and growth in nuclear science and technology in areas such as health, energy, safety and security and the environment , as well as maintain Canada’s role in international political security and energy dialogues.
SMR – The Second Make-Believe Renaissance
Gordon Edwards, CCNR, September 12, 2018
SMR stands for “Small Modular Reactor(s)”. It also stands for the Second Make-Believe Renaissance, for it is the latest effort by an increasingly desperate nuclear industry to create a “Nuclear Renaissance”. They already failed once before.
Nuclear Renaissance Number 1
In the west, the expansion of the nuclear industry pretty well came to a halt in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. This was provoked in large part by economic difficulties and industry screwups including TMI and Chernobyl. So, around 2001, the industry decided to announce a “Nuclear Renaissance” based on “advanced” nuclear reactors (Generation III) that would be faster and cheaper to build, safer to operate and better able to cope with emergencies including meltdowns, and so forth.
At the time, I jokingly remarked that the industry is looking for a Renaissance because they know that they are still stuck in the Dark Ages. That quip may turn out to have been prophetic.
The planned nuclear renaissance was a huge flop: more hype than substance. The World Nuclear Association reported that nuclear electricity generation in 2012 had sunk to its lowest level since 1999. In 1999 nuclear electricity accounted for more than 17 percent of global electricity production and today (2018) it is less than 11 percent. It is important to realize as well that electricity is only a slice of the global energy “pie”, so that even 17 percent of electricity use is just 3 percent of global energy use. Eleven percent of global electricity is less than 2 percent of worldwide energy use, and that percentage is shrinking.
The originally planned renaissance depended on plants that were larger-than-ever and safer-than-ever. The French company Areva proudly announced the EDF reactor. “The first two EPR projects, in Olkiluoto, Finland, and Flammanville, France, were meant to lead a nuclear renaissance but both projects ran into costly construction delays” . They went so many billions of euros over budget that Areva was virtually bankrupted, but was bailed out by the French government. “Construction commenced on two Chinese EPR units in 2009 and 2010. The Chinese units were to start operation in 2014 and 2015, but the Chinese government halted construction because of safety concerns.”
“March 2017 saw a setback for nuclear renaissance when the producer of the AP1000 reactor — Westinghouse Electric Company — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Four months later the bankruptcy — together with delays and cost overruns — caused cancellation of the two AP1000 reactors under construction at the Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station.”
These quotes are from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_renaissance
The Canadian “Advanced CANDU Reactor” (ACR) never saw the light of day either, and led to the sale of the AECL CANDU division to SNL-Lavalin for a paltry $15 million in 2011. ACR was supposed to be another cornerstone of the Nuclear Renaissance, originally planned for either 1000 MW or 700 MW. It did not make it out of the womb.
The promise of a nuclear renaissance fuelled wild speculation in the uranium market. This led to a spectacular spike in uranium spot prices, which shot up from less than $20 per pound (from 1984 to 2004) to $300 per kilogram in 2007, declining to about $100 per pound by 2010. Driven by these artificially high prices an army of uranium exploration companies rushed to stake claims where no claims had ever been staked before,
By 2011, with the Fukushima triple meltdown and the subsequent closure of all of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors, the uranium bubble burst and spot prices started sliding, reaching the $20 per pound range by 2016. Uranium exploration ceased as the market slumped. In 2018 Cameco, the Canadian uranium mining giant, shut down some of its most productive mines in Saskatchewan and the US, and laid off thousands of workers.
Nuclear Renaissance Number 2
So now the nuclear industry, imagining itself rising from the ashes of its own calamitous failure, is launching a NEW nuclear renaissance based on “Small Modular Reactors” (SMRs). There is no precise definition of an SMR except that it should be no more than 300 MW in power output, and could be as little as 10 MW or less.
“Small modular reactors (SMRs) are a type of nuclear fission reactor which are smaller than conventional reactors, and manufactured at a plant and brought to a site to be fully constructed. Modular reactors allow for less on-site construction, increased containment efficiency, and heightened nuclear materials security. SMRs have been proposed as a less expensive alternative to conventional nuclear reactors.”
There is a bewildering variety of SMR designs, using uranium, plutonium, or thorium in the fuel, using molten salt, liquid metal, or ordinary water as coolant, but all intended to run for a long time with a replaceable core.
The Catch-22 in all of this is that Small Reactors are NOT cheaper than large reactors, quite the contrary! Because of the safety features that must be included in order to be licensed, needed to contain the enormous inventory of intensely radioactive fission products and extremely radiotoxic actinides and prevent them from escaping, these SMR’s can only begin to break even if they are purchased in the hundreds or thousands of units. The economies of scale only kick in when they are mass-produced. So mass-marketing is absolutely essential. Don’t be surprised if your community is targeted!
Already the Canadian government (which has, at least tentatively, bought into this SMR scheme through its adherence to “NICE: Nuclear Innovation = Clean Energy”) is scouring the country for possibilities. In Alberta dozens of SMRs might be employed to “cook” the oil sands in order to extract the bitumen. In the northern regions SMRs might be used to replace diesel generators, especially in arctic and subarctic conditions. In New Brunswick SMRs could be sold to appease those who have over the years clamoured for a second Lepreau.
But it is pretty certain that none of these plans could be realized without very hefty government subsidies. The banks won’t touch them. SMRs will be initially sold at a loss just to “prime the pump” in hopes that a profitable market will eventually materialize. And the SMRs themselves are purely conjectural at this point, none have them have been built or licensed or tested or operated. It will take at least a decade or two to get them up and running, if ever that happens. Meanwhile the economic prospects for nuclear, especially in the west, are dismal, as the senior vice-president of Exelon said recently.
“Due to their high cost relative to other generating options, no new nuclear power units will be built in the US”, an Exelon official said Thursday.
“The fact is — and I don’t want my message to be misconstrued in this part — I don’t think we’re building any more nuclear plants in the United States. I don’t think it’s ever going to happen,” William Von Hoene, senior vice president and chief strategy officer at Exelon, told the US Energy Association’s annual meeting in Washington. With 23 operational reactors, Exelon is the US’ largest nuclear operator.
“I’m not arguing for the construction of new nuclear plants,” Von Hoene said. “They are too expensive to construct, relative to the world in which we now live.”
Von Hoene’s stance includes so-called small modular reactors, or SMRs, and advanced designs, he said. [Note: “advanced designs” is industry code for plutonium-based]
“Right now, the costs on the SMRs, in part because of the size and in part because of the security that’s associated with any nuclear plant, are prohibitive,” Von Hoene said.
“It’s possible that that would evolve over time, and we’re involved in looking at that technology,” Von Hoene said. “Right now they’re prohibitively expensive.”
There is a Moltex-designed “small modular reactor” planned for New Brunswick. The NB government has invested $10 million already. See the article linked below:
“Moltex molten salt reactor being built in New Brunswick, Canada”
The linked article about the Moltex reactor in New Brunswick (above) is fundamentally deceptive in several respects:
(1) it does not disclose the need for plutonium as the most important fissile component of the fuel;
(2) it does not disclose that the full panoply of chemically inert fission gasses are to be released after a planned “hold-up” mechanism that is subject to possible failure;
(3) it does not disclose that fission products such as iodine-129 and technetium-99 with half-lives far in excess of 100 thousand years will be produced and remain in the irradiated fuel;
(4) it does not disclose that the Moltex reactor’s initial load requires reprocessing of irradiated nuclear fuel to extract the plutonium needed for Moltex fuel, thereby creating large volumes of acidic heat-generating highly-radioactive liquid wastes as a left-over;
(5) it does not disclose that the irradiated Moltex fuel, like all irradiated nuclear fuel, will have to be kept out of the environment of living things for hundreds of thousands of years, and proposes no plan for this;
(6) it does not disclose that a terrorist attack or an act of warfare or sabotage can disperse highly radioactive irradiated fuel over a very wide area;
(7) it makes no mention of the extreme security measures including suspension of civil liberties that might be needed in the event of theft or highjacking of the fuel before it is irradiated, due to the plutonium content.
Below is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article about the Moltex design.
Notice that the fuel is 1/3 plutonium, thus raising grave security concerns as plutonium is an immediately nuclear-weapons-usable explosive material, unlike the fuel in any of today’s generation of civilian nuclear power reactors in North America.
“Fuel & materials [for the Moltex Reactor Design]
“The fuel is made up of two-thirds sodium chloride (table salt) and one-third plutonium and mixed lanthanide/actinide trichlorides. Fuel for the initial six reactors is expected to come from stocks of pure plutonium dioxide from PUREX reprocessed conventional spent nuclear fuel, mixed with pure depleted uranium trichloride. Further fuel can come from reprocessed nuclear waste from today’s fleet of reactors.”
By Gordon Edwards, CCNR, September 5 2018.
Here in Canada we are threatened with the “in-situ decommissioning” [“entombment”] of two old nuclear reactors that have both been shut down for several decades.
These two reactors are both owned by the federal government, not by any utility company — the WR-1 reactor on the Winnipeg River in Manitoba, and the NPD reactor (NPD = Nuclear Power Demonstration) on the Ottawa River about 250 km upstream from the Nation’s Capital, Ottawa. These reactors have already been defueled and drained of their coolant, and the solid dry radioactive structures are now ready for decommissioning.
Until a few years ago, it was always understood that the structures of defunct reactors would be carefully dismantled, the radioactive rubble would be packaged and transported offsite for eventual emplacement in a suitable waste repository, and the site would be returned to “green field” status.
But now the decommissioning enterprise has been placed in the hands of a consortium of multinational corporations, and they — using public money — have radically altered the plan. They want to just drop all the radioactive debris into the sub-basements of the reactor buildings and then flood those underground structures with Portland cement, creating a subterranean cement mausoleum (I call it a radioactive outhouse) for eternity.
Item 2 below is a brief that I wrote on behalf of CCNR regarding the NPD entombment project. If you read pages 9-11 of the “Radioactive Outhouse” you will see the nub of our objection to this “entombment” option.
Reactors must be built close to water for cooling purposes. Radioactive waste should be as far away from water as possible. Since entombment uses the same site for both the reactor and its waste, it is a completely unscientific and irresponsible proposition. It turns the reactor site into a radioactive waste disposal site, despite the fact that it was never intended for that and never qualified for that.
I have also included an article (item 1 below) I wrote last week on this subject (i.e. concerning the NPD reactor).
1. Article – Nuclear Waste Dump on the Ottawa River
2. The Radioactive Outhouse (NPD reactor on the Ottawa River)
Gordon Edwards on the Problem of Radioactive Nuclear Waste
Gordon Edwards, scientist and founder of the Institute for Resource and Security Studies, discusses the problem of radioactive nuclear waste.
Edwards argues that there is no solution to the storage of nuclear waste. The earth is a collection of moving dynamic systems, not a lock box where we can deposit plutonium and expect it to stay excluded from the environment.
Edwards explains how we can manage it through a system of rolling stewardship.
This video was filmed by Marilyn Elie of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition
Unanticipated Radioactive Repercussions
I have been asked to provide some facts about radiation from nuclear plants.
A crippled nuclear reactor is dangerous not because it gives off invisible rays, but because it disseminates harmful radioactive pollutants. So I prefer to use the word “radioactivity” rather than “radiation”.
What is radioactivity?
Radioactivity is not a thing, but a property of certain materials. While there are a handful of significant naturally-occurring radioactive elements, there are about 1000 human-made radioactive materials. Most of these were not seen in nature in measurable amounts prior to 1939. With very few exceptions, they are only created in significant quantities as byproducts of nuclear fission.
Each one of these hundreds of radioactive elements has its own particular physical and chemical properties. As a result, each one follows its own distinct ecological pathways through the environment and biochemical pathways through the body.
Every radioactive atom has an unstable nucleus that will eventually disintegrate, or explode, giving off one or two subatomic projectiles. Each such radioactive projectile comes directly from the nucleus, and is one of four kinds: an alpha particle, a beta particle, a gamma ray, or a neutron.
These projectiles are all ionizing, meaning that they are able to break molecular bonds easily, thereby killing or crippling nearby living cells. Crippled cells can sometimes reproduce, leading to a mass of rogue cells years later that we call cancer.
Alpha and beta particles are primarily internal hazards, because they are less penetrating, whereas gamma rays and neutrons are external as well as internal hazards because they are highly penetrating. A large exposure to any of these types of radioactive emissions can cause death within days or weeks, while chronic low-level exposures can cause cancers years later. Damage to eggs or sperm can lead to genetically defective offspring. Such defects can appear in the immediate offspring or several generations after the original cellular damage. Chronic exposure to radioactivity can also compromise the immune system, increase the incidence of cardiovascular diseases, cause a decrease in intelligence among young children, and accelerate the aging process. Young children and women of all ages are more vulnerable than men.
Most sources of radiation within our experience, whether ionizing or non- ionizing, can be shut off with a switch. An x-ray machine, a CAT scan, a microwave oven, a tanning bulb, all these can be turned off quickly, and once they are off they are harmless.
Not so with radioactivity. Radioactivity is a form of nuclear energy that cannot be shut off. That is why meltdowns can occur even after a nuclear reactor is completely shut down. TMI and Fukushima are examples of this. On-going radioactive disintegrations in the core provide enormous heat and drive the temperature of the fuel up to 2800 degrees C, twice the melting point of steel. At that temperature the ceramic fuel begins to melt like candle wax.
Because radioactivity cannot be shut off, the effects of radioactive contamination can be very long-lasting, leaving no-man’s lands – for example around the Chernobyl site, the Fukushima site, the Marshal Islands test areas, and the site of the Kyshtym disaster over 60 years ago in the Ural Mountains of the USSR.
When it comes to radioactive waste, since radioactivity cannot be shut off or rendered harmless, waste “disposal” is actually a euphemism for waste “abandonment”. Nuclear agencies say that waste disposal means that they have “no intention to retrieve” the stuff. But that is a political definition, not a scientific one. In fact there is no scientific definition of disposal. The long- term confinement of radioactive post-fission waste is an unsolved problem of mammoth proportions.
In 1976, British nuclear physicist Sir Brian Flowers wrote a report for the UK Government on “Nuclear Energy and the Environment”. In it he pointed out that if nuclear energy had been deployed in Europe before the outbreak of WWII, large parts of Europe would be uninhabitable today because of WWII. That is because Chernobyl-like meltdowns can be brought about by acts of malice – warfare or sabotage.
It is estimated that the Chernobyl accident released about 80,000 terabecquerels of cesium-137, along with a host of other radionuclides. A becquerel is one disintegration per second, and a terabecquerel is a million million becquerels.
For 20 years after the Chernobyl accident, sheep farmers in Northern England and Wales could not freely sell their sheep meat for human consumption because of radioactive contamination by cesium-137 from Chernobyl. To this day, the meat of wild boars killed by hunters in Germany, Sweden, and Belarus is unfit for human consumption because of radioactive cesium contamination.
Cesium-137 is a beta-emitter, and it is also a powerful emitter of penetrating gamma radiation. Gamma rays are similar to x-rays, but more powerful. Accordingly, ground concentrations of cesium-137 are used to decide which areas need to be evacuated. Around Chernobyl, it is expected that land in a 30- km radius will be uninhabitable for at least 300 years. There are 2.2 million people living within 30 km of Pickering. Can you imagine all those families being permanently displaced, and that land being uninhabitable for centuries?
A single irradiated CANDU fuel bundle, freshly discharged from a Pickering reactor, can deliver a 100 % lethal dose of radiation to any unshielded human, at a distance of 1 metre, in about 20 seconds. There are over 2500 such bundles in each Pickering reactor. Moreover, there are over 400,000 irradiated bundles in the Pickering spent fuel pools, under water, containing at least 4 million terabecquerels of cesium-137. That is 50 times the amount of cesium-137 released from Chernobyl (which, as noted above, was about 80,000 terabecquerels.) These pools are not protected by thick reinforced concrete walls. If severe damage to the pools were to occur for any reason, massive amounts of radioactivity could easily escape into the environment.
To take an extreme example, if a nuclear explosion were to occur near the Pickering plant, the water in the pool would be vaporized by the fireball, the zirconium metal cladding on the fuel bundles would ignite, burning with intense heat, and lofting virtually all of the cesium-137 in the fuel bundles into the atmosphere in the form of radioactive vapours and aerosol particles. That would create a no-man’s land of monumental proportions, releasing 50 times more cesium-137 than the amount released from the Chernobyl disaster.
Because there was relatively little local radioactive fallout from the Hiroshima atomic explosion, that City could be rebuilt after World War II and is now a thriving metropolis. If there had been heavy contamination of the land due to long-lived emitters of intense gamma radiation such as cesium-137, reconstruction would have been difficult or impossible. So major cesium-137 releases from Pickering’s irradiated fuel pools could turn the entire Toronto area into a radioactive wasteland, remaining uninhabitable for centuries.
At Fukushima, seven years after the triple meltdown in 2011, there are some 800,000 tonnes of radioactively contaminated water that the Japanese nuclear authorities would like to simply dump into the Pacific Ocean. The amount is growing every day, as TEPCO builds one new 300-tonne tank every four days, to add to the 1000 tanks it already has. The authorities have used equipment to remove about 70 different kinds of radionuclides from this heavily contaminated water, but they cannot remove the radioactive tritium. That’s because radioactive tritium is chemically identical to ordinary hydrogen.
It is incredibly difficult to separate a radioactive isotope from a non- radioactive isotope of the same element, because chemically speaking they are like Siamese twins. Wherever one goes, the other one goes. Tritium is radioactive hydrogen. It forms radioactive water molecules that are identical with ordinary water molecules except for the fact that they are radioactive.
No municipal water treatment plant can remove the tritium from drinking water, because you cannot filter water from water.
Because hydrogen is one of the most common elements in living things, being present in all organic molecules, including DNA molecules, radioactive tritium becomes incorporated into all living things and some fraction of it is “organically bound” into the body’s molecular structures. It has been known for decades that tritium is at least 3 times more biologically harmful than gamma radiation, per unit of energy absorbed by tissue, but our nuclear regulator, the CNSC, pays no attention to that scientific fact. In addition, two independent scientific advisory bodies appointed by the Government of
Ontario have found that the permissible levels of tritium in drinking water are currently 350 times too high (compared with other cancer-causing agents that are regulated) — but again, our nuclear regulator pays no attention to such inconvenient scientific truths.
The example of tritium points to a larger problem. Nuclear fission creates radioactive versions of many elements that are otherwise non-radioactive, such as cesium, strontium, nickel, silver, cobalt, iron, calcium, and many more. Once these radioactive varieties are disseminated into the environment, they become inseparable from the non-radioactive varieties. While most of the naturally-occurring radionuclides – like uranium, thorium, radium, and polonium – are chemically distinct from non-radioactive materials and can therefore be separated out by chemical means, such is not the case with the deluge of human-made radioactive elements created by fission.
Already it is proving very difficult to find uncontaminated metals with which to fabricate radiation monitors such as Geiger counters. Evidently, if the metal from which the monitor is made is already radioactive, it will interfere with the operation of the monitor – making it increasingly difficult to determine where the radioactive emissions are coming from.
There are many other important topics about radioactivity, but time does not permit. I’ll just mention two:
- (1) Half-lives can be deceptive, as some radioactive materials become more radioactive as time goes on, not less. Examples include radon gas and depleted uranium. Even irradiated nuclear fuel, which decreases in radioactivity for the first 50,000 years, eventually increases in radiotoxicity after that period of time. Plutonium has a 24,000 year half-life, but when it disintegrates it is transformed into another radioactive element with a 700 million years half life. So half-lives can be deceptive.
- (2) Some radioactive materials are very difficult to detect, even in a well- equipped nuclear plant, because they give off non-penetrating alpha or beta radiation – yet they can be extraordinarily dangerous. Examples are beta-emitting carbon-14 dust, which workers at Pickering tracked into their homes in the 1980s, and alpha-emitting plutonium dust, which over 500 contract workers inhaled on a daily basis for almost three weeks at Bruce in 2009.
By Gordon Edwards, PhD.
To read the complete slide show presentation that Gordon Edwards presented during the Fukushima Rememberances in 2017, click the link below:
To visit Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility/Regroupement pour la surveillance du nucléaire, click the link below:
Canada is experiencing decommissioning woes just like the United States and Indian Point in particular. Although the reactors are different the same rules of physics apply to radiation. The page of radioactive isotopes which lists the half lives – or how many thousands of years these substances are lethal -is a good example of this.
The report is entitled “The Radioactive Outhouse – A Concrete Approach to Nuclear Waste?”
Gordon Edwards, PhD, President,
Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.
Except for the preamble and the table of radionuclides on pages 9-10, the content of this latest submission is taken entirely from the CCNR submission on the proposed in-situ decommissioning of the WR-1 research reactor in Manitoba:
“Gordon Edwards was born in Canada in 1940, and graduated from the University of Toronto in 1961 with a gold medal in Mathematics and Physics and a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. At the University of Chicago he obtained two master’s degrees, one in Mathematics (1962) and one in English Literature (1964). In 1972, he obtained a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Queen’s University.
From 1970 to 1974, he was the editor of Survival magazine. In 1975 he co-founded the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, and has been its president since 1978. Edwards has worked widely as a consultant on nuclear issues and has been qualified as a nuclear expert by courts in Canada and elsewhere.
In 1972-73, Dr. Edwards was the Assistant Director of a nationwide study of the Mathematical Sciences in Canada conducted under the auspices of the Science Council of Canada.
Dr. Edwards has written articles and reports on radiation standards, radioactive wastes, uranium mining, nuclear proliferation, the economics of nuclear power, non-nuclear energy strategies. He has been featured on radio and television programs including David Suzuki‘s The Nature of Things, Pierre Berton‘s The Great Debate, and many others. He has worked as consultant for governmental bodies such as the Auditor General of Canada, the Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs, and the Ontario Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning. In 2006, Edwards received the Nuclear-Free Future Award. He has also been awarded the Rosalie Bertell Lifetime Achievement Award and the YMCA Peacemaker Medallion. He is a retired teacher of mathematics and science at Vanier College in Montreal.” – Biography courtesy of Wikipedia (Read the original here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Edwards)