… Small Modular Nuclear Reactors
a case of wishful thinking at best
… many months of behind-the-scenes meetings throughout New Brunswick with utility company executives, provincial politicians, federal government representatives, township mayors and First Nations, two nuclear entrepreneurial companies laid out a dazzling dream promising thousands of jobs – nay, tens of thousands! – in New Brunswick, achieved by mass-producing and selling components for hitherto untested nuclear reactors called SMNRs (Small Modular Nuclear Reactors) which, it is hoped, will be installed around the world by the hundreds or thousands! …
Small Modular Nuclear Reactors
a case of wishful thinking at best
December 18 2019
By Gordon Edwards PhD, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, Michel Duguay, PhD, professor at Laval University & Pierre Jasmin, UQAM, Quebec Movement for Peace and Artiste pour la Paix.
1- The Three Nuclear Amigos
On Friday the 13th, September 2019, the St John Telegraph-Journal’s front page was dominated by what many gullible readers hoped will be a good luck story for New Brunswick – making the province a booming and prosperous Nuclear Energy powerhouse for the entire world. After many months of behind-the-scenes meetings throughout New Brunswick with utility company executives, provincial politicians, federal government representatives, township mayors and First Nations, two nuclear entrepreneurial companies laid out a dazzling dream promising thousands of jobs – nay, tens of thousands! – in New Brunswick, achieved by mass-producing and selling components for hitherto untested nuclear reactors called SMNRs (Small Modular Nuclear Reactors) which, it is hoped, will be installed around the world by the hundreds or thousands!
On December 1, the Saskatchewan and Ontario premiers hitched their hopes to the same nuclear dream machine through a dramatic tripartite Sunday press conference in Ottawa featuring the premiers of the provinces. The three amigos announced their desire to promote and deploy some version of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors in their respective provinces. All three claimed it as a strategy to fight climate change, and they want the federal government to pledge federal tax money to pay for the R&D. Perhaps it is a way of paying lip service to the climate crisis without actually achieving anything substantial; prior to the recent election, all three men were opposed to even putting a price on carbon emissions.
Motives other than climate protection may apply. Saskatchewan’s uranium is in desperate need of new markets, as some of the province’s most productive mines have been mothballed and over a thousand uranium workers have been laid off, due to the global decline in nuclear power. Meanwhile, Ontario has cancelled all investments in over 800 renewable energy projects – at a financial penalty of over 200 million dollars – while investing tens of billions of dollars to rebuild many of its geriatric nuclear reactors. This, instead of purchasing surplus water-based hydropower from Quebec at less than half the cost.
In a December 2 interview on QUB radio, Gilles Provost, spokesperson for the Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive (Movement against radioactive pollution, a Quebec-based group) and former environmental journalist at Le Devoir, criticized the announcement of the three premiers as ill-considered and premature, since none of the conjectural nuclear reactor prototypes exist in reality. Quite a contrast to the three premiers’ declarations, boldly claiming that “SMRs” (they leave out the “N” to minimize public opposition) will help solve climate change, knowing full well that it will take a decade or more before any benefits can possibly be realized – if ever!
2- “Nuclear renaissance” – clambering out of the dark ages?
These new nuclear reactors are so far perfectly safe, because they exist only on paper and are cooled only by ink. But declaring them a success before they are even built is quite a leap of faith, especially in light of the three previous Canadian failures in this field of “small reactors”. Two 10-megawatt MAPLE reactors were built at Chalk River and never operated because of insuperable safety concerns, and the 10-megawatt “Mega-Slowpoke” district heating reactor never earned a licence to operate, again because of safety concerns. The Mega-Slowpoke was offered free of charge to two universities – Sherbrooke and Saskatchewan – and several communities, all of whom refused the gift. And a good thing too, as the only Mega-Slowpoke ever built (at Pinawa, in Manitoba) is now being dismantled without ever producing a single useful megawatt of heat.
This current media hype about modular reactors is very reminiscent of the drumbeat of grandiose expectations that began around 2000, announcing the advent of a Nuclear Renaissance that envisaged thousands of new reactors — huge ones! — being built all over the planet. That initiative turned out to be a complete flop. Only a few large reactors were launched under this banner, and they were plagued with enormous cost-over-runs and extraordinarily long delays, resulting in the bankruptcy or near bankruptcy of some of the largest nuclear companies in the world – such as Areva and Westinghouse – and causing other companies to retire from the nuclear field altogether – such as Siemens.
Speculation about that promised Nuclear Renaissance also led to a massive (and totally unrealistic) spike in uranium prices, spurring uranium exploration activities on an unprecedented scale. It ended in a near-catastrophic collapse of uranium prices when the bubble burst. Cameco was forced to close down several mines. They are still closed. The price of uranium has still not recovered from the plunge.
Large nuclear reactors have essentially priced themselves out of the market. Only Russia, China and India have managed to defy those market forces with their monopoly state involvements. Nevertheless, the nuclear contribution to world electricity production has plummeted from 17 percent in 1997 to about 10 percent in 2018. In North America and Western Europe, the prospects for new large reactor projects are virtually nil, and many of the older reactors are shutting down permanently without being replaced.
3- Fighting climate change cannot wait
Many people concerned about climate change want to know more about the moral and ethical choices regarding low-carbon technologies: “Don’t we have a responsibility to use nuclear?” The short reply is: nuclear is too slow and too expensive. The ranking of options should be based on what is cheapest and fastest — beginning with energy efficiency, then on to off-the-shelf renewables like wind and solar energy.
As a case in point, Germany installed over 30,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity in only 8 years, after deciding to close down all of its nuclear reactors by 2022. That is an impressive achievement – more than twice the total installed nuclear capacity of Canada. It would be impossible to build 30,000 megawatts of nuclear in only 8 years.
By building wind generators, Germany obtained some carbon relief in the very first year of construction, then got more benefit in the second year, even more benefit in the third, and so on, building up to a cumulative capacity of 30,000 MWe after 8 years. With nuclear, even if you could manage to build 30,000 megawatts in 8 years, you would get absolutely no benefit during that entire 8-year construction period. In fact you would be making the problem worse by mining uranium, fabricating fuel, pouring concrete and building the reactor core and components, all adding to greenhouse gas emissions – earning no benefit until (and IF) everything is finally ready to function. In the meantime (10 to 20 years), you will have starved the efficiency and renewable alternatives of the funds and political will needed to implement technologies that can really make an immediate and substantial difference.
In Saskatchewan, professor Jim Harding, who was director for Prairie Justice Research at University of Regina where he headed up the Uranium Inquiries Project, has offered his own reflection. Here is the conclusion of his December 2, 2019 comment:
“In short, small reactors are another distraction from Saskatchewan having the highest levels of GHGs on the planet – nearly 70 metric tonnes per capita. While the rest of Canada has been lowering emissions, those here, along with Alberta with its high-carbon tar sands, have continued to rise. Saskatchewan and Alberta’s emissions are now almost equal to all the rest of Canada. Shame on us!”
In the USA, engineers and even CEO’s of some of the leading nuclear companies are admitting that the age of nuclear energy is virtually over in North America. This negative judgment is not coming from people who are opposed to nuclear power, quite the opposite — from people lamenting the decline. See, for example, one major report from the Engineering faculty at Carnegie-Mellon University (linked below):
4- Small Modular Nuclear Reactors – costly and hazardous
That Carnegie-Mellon report includes Small Modular Nuclear Reactors in its analysis, without being any more hopeful for a nuclear revival on that account. The reason? It is mainly because a new generation of smaller reactors, such as those promised for New Brunswick, will necessarily be more expensive per unit of energy produced, if manufactured individually. The sharply increased price can be partially offset by mass production of prefabricated components; hence the need for selling hundreds or even thousands of these smaller units in order to break even and make a profit. However, the order book is filled with blank pages — there are no customers. This being the case, finding investors is not easy. So entrepreneurs are courting governments to pony up with taxpayers’ money, in the hopes that this second attempt at a Nuclear Renaissance will not be the total debacle that the first one turned out to be.
Chances are very slim however. There are over 150 different designs of “Small Modular Reactors”. None of them have been built, tested, licensed or deployed. At Chalk River, Ontario, a consortium of private multinational corporations, comprised of SNC-Lavalin and two corporate partners, operating under the name “Canadian Nuclear Laboratories” (CNL), is prepared to host six or seven different designs of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors — none of them being identical to the two proposed for New Brunswick – and all of these designs will be in competition with each other. The Project Description of the first Chalk River prototype Small Modular Reactor has already received over 40 responses that are posted on the CNSC web site, and virtually all of them are negative comments.
The chances that any one design will corner enough of the market to become financially viable in the long run is unlikely. So the second Nuclear Renaissance may carry the seeds of its own destruction right from the outset. Unfortunately, governments are not well equipped to do a serious independent investigation of the validity of the intoxicating claims made by the promoters, who of course conveniently overlook the persistent problem of long-lived nuclear waste and of decommissioning the radioactive structures. These wastes pose a huge ecological and human health problem for countless generations to come.
Finally, in the list of projects being investigated, one finds a scaled-down “breeder reactor” fuelled with plutonium and cooled by liquid sodium metal, a material that reacts violently or explodes on contact with air or water. The breeder reactor is an old project abandoned by Jimmy Carter and discredited by the failure of the ill-fated French SuperPhénix because of its extremely dangerous nature. In the event of a nuclear accident, the Tennessee Clinch River Breeder Reactor was judged capable of poisoning twelve American states and the SuperPhénix half of France.
One suspects that our three premiers are only willing to revisit these bygone reactor designs in order to obtain funding from the federal government while avoiding responsibility for their inaction on more sensible strategies for combatting climate changes – cheaper, faster and safer alternatives, based on investments in energy efficiency and renewable sources.
Here is one story among many having to do with an exceptionally good storage system for electricity. I circulated this story more than a year ago.
Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer who has become a leading nuclear critic, has remarked that he finds it odd that engineers in the nuclear industry proudly assert they can store nuclear wastes for 10 million years, but cannot figure out how to store electricity for a week or two. Some storage systems now available are pumped storage using water or compressed air, high-capacity industrial-scale Tesla batteries, and storage as hydrogen fuel. But better storage systems will be and are being developed. Smart grids can also balance out intermittency by shifting energy from one part of the grid where the wind is blowing strongly to other parts where it is not windy at all.
We all agree that electrical storage is crucial for renewables, because the wind is not always blowing and the sun is not always shining, but some forget that storage is also crucial for nuclear power.
The electricity slice of the energy pie is only so big. Nuclear’s share of global electricity production has slipped from 17% in 1997 to about 10% today. And it is projected to continue diminishing for the next couple of decades. And if we compare that to TOTAL global energy use, most of which is NON-electrical, nuclear has slipped from about 3% of the total to less than 2%. Hardly the solution to climate change!
The only way that electricity can account for a larger slice of the energy pie — for example, through an electrified transportation sector — is with major improvements in storage. BUT!!! Any major increase in storage will benefit renewables far more than it benefits nuclear, because it basically solves the intermittency problem. Same thing goes with using hydrogen as a fuel — that is a form of energy storage, which will benefit renewables far more than it benefits nuclear.
So the handwriting is clearly on the wall. Not only is nuclear in a seemingly catastrophic decline, but the renewables are already cheaper than nuclear and are getting cheaper every year while nuclear gets more expensive every year. The cost curves have already crossed over, and show no sign of changing direction.
Meanwhile, for nuclear to displace a significant fraction of global fossil fuels, major improvements in storage are required — but again, that just makes the renewables even more competitive than they are already.
Tesla big battery defies skeptics, sends industry bananas over performance
By Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy (Australia), 27 September 2018
It’s now been just over 18 months since those famous “billionaire tweets” – between Australian software pioneer Michael Cannon-Brookes and Tesla founder Elon Musk – set in motion a process that would see South Australia install the largest lithium-ion battery in the world.
The Tesla big battery, officially known as the Hornsdale Power Reserve (it is located next to the 317MW Hornsdale wind farm) has defied skeptics, and even the experts, in almost every conceivable way.
They said it couldn’t be done. Batteries can’t be that big. They can’t be built that quick. They won’t work. Ten months on from its installation, the Tesla big battery has emphatically proven its worth – faster, quicker, more accurate, more reliable and more flexible than even the market operator thought possible.
More importantly, it has given a glimpse of the future, how a grid can be effectively managed with a very high share of wind and solar – not just faster, but also cleaner, smarter and more reliable than the dumb and ageing fossil fuel grid we now depend on, and which has become victim to endless market rorting from the industry incumbents.
So much so that it may turn out to be the best value investment that the South Australia Labor government ever made, although their political opponents may be reluctant to admit it.
As RenewEconomy revealed exclusively last Friday, the Tesla big battery is making money that promises a quick return on investment, something not thought possible when the battery was built on time and on budget.
Share listing documents from its owner, the French renewable energy developer Neoen, reveal the construction price ($A90 million), the government contract ($A4 million a year, paid in monthly instalments, for system security), and total revenue of $A14 million in the first six months of 2018.
One day out from the second anniversary of the state-wide blackout that helped trigger its construction – it is worth reminding ourselves just how skeptical everyone – from the market operator all the way through to the rusted on renewable technology deniers – was about the technology.
There’s a lesson in this, and it is that technology developments are happening faster than most people have imagined. And will continue to do so, no matter how attached conservatives and political ideologues are to the technologies of the past. As we noted at the time of the tweets, it signalled the start of the end of the fossil fuel industry.
And it’s not just the politicians who think that a three word slogan is a de-facto energy policy who have gotten it wrong.
Sure, Prime minister Scott Morrison, enamoured with and lacquered by what he calls “fair dinkum power” (i.e. coal), famously and ridiculously compared the Tesla big battery to the Big Banana, or the Big pineapple. Resources Minister Matt Canavan likened it to the Kim Kardashians of the energy market.
But it also stumped the experts. First, the Tesla big battery – at 100MW/129MWh was bigger than most people thought possible.
The Australian Energy Market Operator, for instance, in the same month as the billionaire tweets, published a report which included this graph above – suggesting that the maximum size of a utility-scale lithium ion battery would be 1MW.
The then AEMO chairman Tony Marxsen (and it should be noted that this was before the arrival of CEO Audrey Zibelman) had said just months earlier that utility-scale batteries were about “10 to 20 years away” from providing meaningful contributions to the grid.
That comment, made to the COAG energy council, earned a disbelieving rebuke from then ACT environment minister Simon Corbell. “It was a remarkably conservative and pessimistic view of a technology …. and it highlights some of the challenges we face in the design of our energy markets when that sort of presentation is being made to decision makers at COAG level.”
The battery was also built more quickly than anyone thought possible.
The Minerals Council of Australia, the primary coal lobby in the country whose staff infest many nooks and crannies in the government infrastructure, also had a bleak take on batteries, quoting this graph in a document, citing energy experts, that suggested any utility scale battery – and they couldn’t imagine one bigger than 20MWh – would take at least one year to design and two years to build.
Musk, of course, had different ideas.
He promised that it would be built within 100 days, or it would be free. The 100MW/129MWh facility came in ahead of schedule, and was online and operating by December 1 – that is six months after the billionaire tweets, and just 62 days after Tesla signed the connection agreement with the network owner and market operator.
So what has the South Australia government got for the $A4 million it has committed for the first 12 months of operation, and every year for the next 9. Certainly, the then Labor government got a huge amount of publicity, although not enough to save it from an election defeat.
But there is no doubt it has played a more significant role in grid security that anyone thought it could – from keeping the lights on, intervening in several major “contingency events”, and lowering costs by a significant amount.
The Tesla big battery didn’t have wait long before showing off its wares. It was called into action by AEMO even before its official launch, injecting 70MW of “stored wind energy” into the market on November 30, just as prices soared amid the heat, low wind generation in South Australia and a missing coal unit at Loy Yang A.
And it didn’t take long to show off its wares once officially opened. Two weeks after its official opening it stepped in when a unit at Loy Yang coal generator in Victoria suddenly tripped, just to illustrate how quickly and accurately it could respond.
It did this on numerous occasions, causing AEMO to admire its “speed, accuracy and flexibility” and causing it to mull the idea of changing the market rules to accommodate technology that was so quick.
Numerous other interventions have taken place, and AEMO was so impressed by that reliability, speed, accuracy and versatility – far greater than any coal, gas or diesel plant – that it enlisted the Tesla big battery into its front-line defences – known as its System Integrity Protection Scheme (SIPS) – should a major event threaten system security.
That paid off last month – the day after the mocking Morrison was made prime minister, when two lines connecting Queensland and NSW tripped simultaneously after twin lightning strikes, causing widespread outages in three states, and the grids in Queensland and South Australia to be islanded.
Queensland, as it turned out, suffered a few issues with hydro plants and coal generators that struggled to respond, and either tripped or were pulled out of service.
In South Australia, AEMO acknowledged that the Tesla big battery played a key role in keeping the lights on and ensuring no generators were tripped and no load lost by sudden swings in frequency. South Australia was the only state to emerge from this “emergency event” unscathed.
There is also no doubt that the presence of the Tesla big battery has slashed prices, particularly in the FCAS market where the local gas operators had a cosy little cartel running.
Various private estimates have suggested that the big battery has slashed prices in key markets, and AEMO has acknowledged this and provided estimates of the battery’s own earnings.
That was confirmed by the details of Neoen’s share offer documents, which provision of frequency control and ancillary services (FCAS) and in time shifting the output of wind power and arbitraging the surge in wholesale prices. It made more than $14 million in the first six months of 2018, putting it in line for a healthy return for the year.
So what has the South Australia government got for the $4 million it will spend in the first 12 months of the Tesla big battery? For a start, a $90 million investment in a new facility, a significant reduction in prices (possibly a ten-fold reduction over the cost), and a significant boost to grid security.
Not that Liberals want to get too carried away. “The former Labor government’s failed energy policies results in a rushed, chaotic and expensive fix to South Australia’s power problems, state energy minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan told The Advertiser, when asked about the battery pricing details.
Van Holst Pellekaan may have been right about the money spent on the diesel generators, which have yet to be switched on (apart from maintenance), and maybe could have been leased rather than purchased outright.
But there can be no doubt that the Tesla big battery – and the other batteries that are following – will give the government confidence as the state’s share of wind and solar leaps from 50 per cent now to more than 73 per cent by 2021 and 100 per cent by 2025. (Those are AEMO forecasts).
That is a key point. Tesla has been a path finder for the battery storage industry, proving that it can deliver energy security, can lower costs, can find revenues, and identify what it needs to be changed so that the full value of battery storage can be realised.
The market for battery storage is not yet developed, as Tesla has outlined and AEMO has recognised, and crucial changes to the settlement period that might favour battery storage (to 5 minute price intervals instead of 30 minute) have been delayed until 2021 under intense pressure from the coal and gas lobby.
But, thanks to the Tesla big battery at Hornsdale, and the investment from Neoen, more battery storage is on the way:
The Dalrymple North battery in South Australia, next to the Wattle Point wind farm, will come on line soon and has already displayed an ability to “island” the Yorke Peninsula and guarantee power to locals even if there are outages elsewhere.
The Ganawarra battery – another Tesla installation – is due to start commissioning in the next week and will be the biggest battery to be paired directly with a large scale solar farm.
Another battery at Ballarat will be the largest to be installed next to a critical network point in Victoria, while yet another Tesla/Neoen partnership is to be be built at the Bulgana Energy Hub near Stawell, to store energy in a 20MW/34MW battery from a 190MW wind farm, to deliver 100 per cent renewables to Nectar farms and the country’s biggest vegetable glass-house.
And there’s more. in South Australia, Sanjeev Gupta is planning an even bigger battery at Whyalla, a 10MW battery is being added to the new Lincoln Gap wind farm, a 50MWh battery at the Lake Bonney wind park and another battery at the Snowtown wind farm which will also see a solar farm added.
In Queensland, Windlab is installing a battery for its unique wind-solar-battery hybrid at Kennedy, and almost everywhere you turn, another battery is being proposed with yet another new wind and solar farm, including at the new South Mortlake wind farm.
Utility-scale battery storage come a long way, bigger, faster and more efficient than anyone would have thought.
A report from our friend Gordon Edwards.
The industry is petitioning the government for permission to dump a vast amount of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.
“Water, Water, Everywhere
And Not a Drop to Drink!”
– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Marine
Here is a link to a TV News interview I gave this morning on CTV. It’ s about 1000 huge tanks of radioactively contaminated water at Fukushima Japan, and the fact that the industry wants to dump it all into the Pacific Ocean!!
Note: to hear the interview, you may have to “unmute” the sound.
South Korea has insisted that its Olympic athletes in attendance at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics must have their own kitchen and food preparation because the Korean gov’t does not want its athletes eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated beverages.
The focus of the interview has to do with the ever-growing legacy of radioactive water left over from the triple nuclear reactor meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi more than 8 years ago. The plant’s owner is seeking permission from the government to dump this contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean, much to the dismay of local Japanese fishermen and the government of South Korea, both of them fearing the viability of their fishing industries.
The three crippled reactor cores still have to be constantly cooled to prevent over-heating — and the water used for this purpose becomes heavily contaminated with dozens of radioactive pollutants created during the nuclear fission process. These dangerous radioactive poisons are inevitably “flushed” out of the melted cores when coming into contact with the cooling water.
Already there are 1.1 million tonnes of contaminated water stored on-site in about 1000 huge tanks, some of them 10 metres high, each holding 1000-1200 tonnes of radioactive liquid. In the next 4-5 years, another three-quarters of a million tonnes will be added to the inventory.
Although dozens of radioactive materials have been removed from the contaminated water, there is no technology readily available to remove the radioactive tritium. The water is very heavily contaminated with tritium. Moreover, since no removal technology is ever 100 percent Perfect, there are residual amounts of many other radioactive poisons still to be found in the treated water — radioactive cesium, radioactive strontium, radioactive iodine, and many many more. In many cases the residual levels exceed the maximum legally permissible concentration levels for drinking water.
Tritium is radioactive hydrogen. Since a water molecule is H2O — two hydrogen atoms combined with one oxygen atom — the water molecules themselves become radioactive when the ordinary hydrogen (H) is replaced with radioactive hydrogen (T = tritium). But radioactive water molecules are identical with non-radioactive water molecules, except that radioactive water molecules will suddenly explode (“disintegrate”) giving off damaging radiation that can cause cancer, damage reproductive cells (sperm or eggs), depress the immune system, and cause other kinds of biological damage. Tritium cannot be removed from water because it IS water. You cannot filter water from water.
Because water is essential for life, radioactive water freely enters into all living things. Because hydrogen is one of the basic building blocks of all organic molecules, including DNA molecules, some of the radioactive hydrogen (tritium) becomes “trapped” in organic molecules of all kinds. In this way tritium can internally irradiate fish, animals and humans from inside their bodies.
Coincidentally, at Chalk River on the Ottawa River, the consortium of multinational companies that operates Canadian Nuclear Laboratories is planning to release a significant amount of tritium into Perch Lake, a body of water that drains into the Ottawa River. The levels of tritium involved (up to 360,000 becquerels per litre) are as much as 51 times greater than the maximum permissible concentrations of tritium for drinking water in Canada (7,000 becquerels per litre) — a standard that is in itself 350 times greater than the more stringent standard that was recommended by two independent panels of toxicological experts commissioned by the Ontario government (20 becquerels per litre). Overall, the CNL tritium effluent concentrations are as much as 18,000 times the maximum recommended by the Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Council ( www.ccnr.org/GE_ODWAC_2009_e.pdf )
This document was written in response to questions from First Nations people in Manitoba. www.ccnr.org/Entombment_WR1_2019a.pdf It deals with the proposed “quick and dirty” decommissioning of a research reactor by “entombment”.Nevertheless, there is much of importance to the entire spectrum of radioactive waste issues. I hope it proves to be of value to others as well.
To Dr. Gordon Edwards
Please answer these questions BELOW with relevant research. Thanks.
1. Please share any expertise you might have in terms of safe disposal options for nuclear reactors — specifically, one located near Whiteshell on the Winnipeg River. They [Canadian nuclear authorities] said they would like to encase it in concrete, which apparently gives 300 years of safe storage.
2. Are there any other known physical options for safe disposal of nuclear waste? The concrete method just seems so simplistic. is this just an easy way out, or if science actually has something better than this?
Any assistance or insight would be appreciated.
Dr. Edwards’ reply:
Thank you for your email regarding radioactive waste issues at the closed-down Whiteshell Nuclear Research Establishment near Pinawa, Manitoba, on the Winnipeg River. That site is currently undergoing extensive decommissioning activities involving a wide variety of radioactive waste materials.
Questions regarding radioactive waste in Manitoba
In particular, the questions you have sent me from a First Nations source seem to be focussed on industry plans for the “in-situ decommissioning” of an old shut-down nuclear research reactor (called the WR-1 reactor) located at that federally-owned site, near the edge of Whiteshell Provincial Park.
By the “Atomic Energy Board” I presume the questioner is referring to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), which is Canada’s current nuclear regulatory agency. (The predecessor of the CNSC was the Atomic Energy Control Board, or AECB.)
I have written two submissions on this topic for the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR). They were submitted to the CNSC in 2017 and 2018. These submissions are highly critical of current industry plans to “entomb” the WR-1 reactor entrails in concrete, and leave that concrete radioactive mausoleum near the shore of the Winnipeg River as a permanent radioactive waste dump – despite the fact that this site was never chosen to serve such a purpose, and despite the long-held view in the nuclear field that radioactive waste should never be left (abandoned) near circulating water.
The proponent of the concrete entombment of the Whiteshell reactor is Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), owned and run by a private consortium of multinational for-profit corporations. In their licence application to the CNSC they say that the concrete will safely contain the radioactivity for 300 years, despite the fact that most concrete structures have an expected lifetime of 50 years or less. In its own report, CNL gives a partial list (Table 7.2.1-1) of some of the many human-made radioactive materials that are in question. They do not mention the half-lives of these materials. The half-life of a radioactive substance is the time it takes for half of the material to disintegrate.
Of the 22 radionuclides indicated in Table 7.2.1-1, eleven of them have half-lives of over 100 years, nine of them have half-lives over 1,500 years, seven of them half half-lives over 15,000 years, four of them half half-lives over 100,000 years, and one of them has a half-life over 15 million years. In my own report for CCNS, I separated the half-lives into two columns — less than 100 years, and more than 100 years.
Anishinabek Nation and Iroquois Caucus Working Group
In Ontario, the heartland of Canada’s nuclear industry, the Anishinabek Nations’ Union of Ontario Indians (comprising 40 First Nations located throughout Ontario) joined forces in 2017 with the Iroquois Caucus to form a Radioactive Waste Working Group, which meets from time to time to assess radioactive waste matters in the province from a First Nations perspective and to coordinate activities. Chiefs involved in this Group issued a Joint Declaration on the transport and abandonment of radioactive wastes that encompasses five important principles for the responsible long-term management of radioactive waste of all kinds. The Assembly of First Nations passed a resolution along the same lines later that same year in Winnipeg.
The 5 principles from the Joint Declaration of the Anishinabek Nation & Iroquois Caucus are:
1. No Abandonment: Radioactive waste materials are damaging to living things. Many of these materials remain dangerous for tens of thousands of years or even longer. They must be kept out of the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the land we live on for many generations to come. The forces of Mother Earth are powerful and unpredictable and no human-made structures can be counted on to resist those forces forever. Such dangerous materials cannot be abandoned and forgotten.
2. Monitored and Retrievable Storage: Continuous guardianship of nuclear waste material is needed. This means long-term monitoring and retrievable storage. Information and resources must be passed on from one generation to the next so that our grandchildren’s grandchildren will be able to detect any signs of leakage of radioactive waste materials and protect themselves. They need to know how to fix such leaks as soon as they happen.
3. Better Containment, More Packaging: Cost and profit must never be the basis for long-term radioactive waste management. Paying a higher price for better containment today will help prevent much greater costs in the future when containment fails. Such failure will include irreparable environmental damage and radiation-induced diseases. The right kinds of packaging should be designed to make it easier to monitor, retrieve, and repackage insecure portions of the waste inventory as needed, for centuries to come.
4. Away from Major Water Bodies: Rivers and lakes are the blood and the lungs of Mother Earth. When we contaminate our waterways, we are poisoning life itself. That is why radioactive waste must not be stored beside major water bodies for the long-term. Yet this is exactly what is being planned at five locations in Canada: Kincardine on Lake Huron, Port Hope near Lake Ontario, Pinawa beside the Winnipeg River, and Chalk River and Rolphton beside the Ottawa River.
5. No Imports or Exports: The import and export of nuclear wastes over public roads and bridges should be forbidden except in truly exceptional cases after full consultation with all whose lands and waters are being put at risk. In particular, the planned shipment of highly radioactive liquid from Chalk River to South Carolina should not be allowed because it can be down-blended and solidified on site at Chalk River. Transport of nuclear waste should be strictly limited and decided on a case-by-case basis with full consultation with all those affected.
Last year a delegation of 5 chiefs from the affected First Nations in Ontario, accompanied by three others, went to the United Nations in New York City to communicate their positions on the subject of radioactive wastes. A video of this event, held on the occasion of the 17th Session of the UN Permanent Forum on indigenous issues, is posted on the web site of the United Nations and will be there for at least 3 years.
Nature of the radioactive waste problem and alternative approaches
Ever since the dawn of the nuclear age in Canada, the federal government and the Canadian nuclear industry have promised that all dangerous radioactive byproducts created by the industry would be safely stored and kept out of the environment for countless thousands of years – a period of time that dwarfs the span of recorded human history.
Many people, scientists and non-scientists alike, regard the long term management of radioactive waste as one of the major unsolved problems of the human race. Many ideas have been proposed, but all have proven to have serious pitfalls or drawbacks. Dumping in the oceans, now forbidden by international law. Burial in the antarctic ice fields, likewise forbidden. Shooting it into outer space, regarded as far too dangerous due to rocket failures and explosions.
See LONG TERM MANAGEMENT METHODS RECEIVING INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION (NWMO)
High-Level Radioactive Waste – Geological Disposal
For example, the long-term management of irradiated nuclear fuel, called “high-level nuclear waste”, is still an open question as there is as yet no licensed and operating repository to store such waste anywhere in the world. The nuclear industry has long advocating burying this waste is a “deep geological repository”, and eventually abandoning it there But there have been eight attempt in the USA to situate such a repository, and all eight attempts have failed.
In 1978, the Ontario Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning published a report (A Race Against Time) that recommended a ban on new nuclear reactors unless such a high-level waste repository solution is found by 1985. That same year, Quebec banned any new reactors in the province. At the same time, the governments of Canada and Ontario launched a $700 million research project that lasted 15 years to demonstrate the concept of deep geological disposal of high-level waste. The Underground Research Laboratory was built near Lac du Bonnet in Manitoba (not far from Pinawa) to “validate” the concept of geological disposal, but no radioactive materials were allowed to be emplaced in that experimental repository, and Manitoba subsequently passed a law forbidding the import of high-level radioactive wastes into the province for the purpose of permanent disposal.
Following a ten-year environmental assessment process with public hearings in five provinces conducted by an independent panel, the government of Canada told the waste-producing utilities in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, to establish an industry-owned agency, the Nuclear Waste Management Agency (NWMO), to find a “willing host community” somewhere in Canada that would be prepared to accept all of Canada’s high-level nuclear waste for eventual deep geological disposal.
That search is still ongoing, with only five out of the eleven original candidate communities still in the running. Each of the remaining five communities, all in Ontario, typically with a population less than 1000, receive $300,000 per year just for participating. The estimated cost of the ultimate disposal of irradiated nuclear fuel underground in Canada is estimated to be about $26 billion dollars. Many believe the true cost is likely to be double or triple that amount, and some (including myself) are skeptical that the plan will succeed, given the failures that have already occurred elsewhere.
Low-Level and Intermediate-Level Radioactive Wastes
Even after the intensely radioactive high-level waste (the irradiated nuclear fuel) has been removed from the reactor, the entire core area of the facility (where the fuel was housed) and the primary cooling system (the pipes, pumps, condensers, and other equipment used to circulate the coolant through the core to prevent the fuel from overheating and “melting down” at a very high temperature) has also become radioactive waste.
Moreover there are gloves, mops, filters, fuelling machines, cranes and other materials which have become so radioactively contaminated that they too must be stored as radioactive waste and must not be recycled for commercial use for fear of introducing radioactive wastes into the marketplace. All such wastes are called “low-level and intermediate-level wastes” in order to distinguish them from the much more intensely radioactive irradiated fuel.
In Ontario there are 22 electricity-producing nuclear reactors (18 of which are still operating). Ontario Power Generation is hoping to get approval from the government of Canada to put all of the low-level and intermediate-level radioactive waste from all of its 22 reactors into a deep underground storage facility less than a mile from Lake Huron. Inspired by the idea of a geologic repository for high-level waste, this underground repository (700 metres deep) is intended to host a bewildering variety of radioactive wastes in many different kinds of physical and chemical forms. When filled the repository would be sealed and abandoned, following a lengthy period of consolidation and monitoring.
This proposal has elicited a storm of protest and the final decision has been delayed for years. Over 100 Great Lakes Mayors and top elected officials have joined forces in calling on the Canadian government to reject OPG’s proposed nuclear waste repository. The Saugeen Ojibway First Nation has not yet given its approval and OPG has promised that it will not proceed against the wishes of that First Nation. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has withheld any federal government decision, pro or con, for the OPG project, until the Saugeen FN declares itself on this matter.
Much of the motivation for such protests has to do with dramatic failures of underground repositories for low-level and intermediate-level wastes in the USA and Germany that have occurred in recent years. The German government has formally admitted that the emplacement of similar radioactive wastes in the deep underground Asse-2 facility, an abandoned salt mine, has been an unmitigated disaster. They have now ordered the radioactive waste to be removed from the facility and brought back to the surface, an onerous task that is expected to take at least 30 years and cost at least two billion dollars. It has emerged that radioactive materials were leaking from the Asse-2 facility for over ten years before the industry alerted officials to the problem, presumably because to admit the waste was leaking would be bad public relations and would constitute a major embarrassment to Germany’s nuclear industry.
Another deep underground repository for low- and intermediate-level wastes at Morsleben, in Germany, also appears to be failing, as the entire repository seems to be sagging and collapsing. So far the government has not decided what to do in the case of Morsleben, but Germany admits it seems to be another case of very questionable practices when it comes to the long-term confinement of radioactive waste.
The only deep geological repository for radioactive wastes in North America is located near Carlsbad New Mexico. It is called the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP). In 2013, scientists and engineers from OPG, NWMO, and CNSC, all praised the WIPP facility in sworn testimony as an example of state-of-the-art safe storage of low and intermediate level radioactive waste in a deep underground repository. Then, in February 2014, one sealed drum of radioactive waste stored in a deep underground chamber at WIPP exploded and turned into a flame-thrower, spreading plutonium-bearing radioactive dust throughout the underground shafts and chambers. The dust rose 700 metres vertically upwards to the surface where it contaminated 22 workers, then drifted downwind to lightly contaminate the town of Carlsbad. The facility had to be closed for over two years and required over a billion dollars of decontamination efforts before it could be “opened for business” again.
Decommissioning of Nuclear Reactors
There is at present no federal government policy on the decommissioning of defunct nuclear reactors, nor is there any proposed repository or other facility to receive the large volumes of radioactive rubble from such decommissioning activities. The proposed deep geological repository for high-level radioactive wastes currently planned by NWMO specifically excludes decommissioning wastes, as well as all other low and intermediate level wastes. The OPG deep underground facility for low and intermediate level wastes at Kincardine on the shore of Lake Huron also excludes decommissioning wastes, as well as any radioactive wastes from other provinces.
So what is one to do with the decommissioning wastes?
When it comes to the long-term management of radioactive structural materials and radioactively contaminated equipment left over from old, shut-down nuclear reactors, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) has always in the past advocated the dismantling of such facilities, with all radioactive materials carefully packaged and labelled and eventually shipped off-site to be placed in some specially designed radioactive waste storage facility. The reactor site itself would be completely decontaminated and returned to “green field” status, meaning that it would be able to be safely and freely used for any other purpose whatsoever. Conceptually, the site would be returned to pristine condition, as if the nuclear reactor had never been there.
See for example AECL-6332, “Decommissioning of CANDU Nuclear Power Stations”, by G. N. Unsworth, https://www.ipen.br/biblioteca/rel/R42114.pdf
The Age of Nuclear Power is Winding Down,
but the Age of Nuclear Waste is Just Beginning
But in recent years, things have changed. Due to dwindling prospects for sales of new nuclear power reactors, the Stephen Harper government sold the CANDU nuclear reactor division of AECL to the highly controversial and scandal-ridden company SNC-Lavalin in 2011 for a mere $15 million. SNC has subsequently been awarded billions of dollars in contracts to refurbish old CANDU reactors in Ontario and overseas, without having been saddled with any of the voluminous and costly radioactive waste liabilities that remain the property and the sole responsibility of AECL and the Canadian taxpayer. The Auditor General of Canada has estimated the federal government’s radioactive waste and decommissioning liabilities at $7.9 billion.
The Harper government subsequently – in 2015, just prior to the election of Justin Trudeau’s government – put SNC-Lavalin and four other profit-oriented multinational corporations based in other countries (the USA and the UK) in charge of all federally-owned radioactive waste, nuclear reactors, and nuclear research facilities (i.e. Chalk River in Ontario and Whiteshell in Manitoba), with a mandate to “reduce” the federal radioactive waste liabilities as quickly and cheaply as possible. That consortium of multinationals, operating under the name “Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), has been receiving close to a billion dollars a year from the federal taxpayer, all of it funnelled through the coffers of the crown corporation AECL, whose staff has been slashed from about 3600 to only 40 individuals. The original consortium members were SNC-Lavalin, CH2M, Fluor, W.S. Atkins, and Rolls-Royce.
Two years earlier, in 2013, SNC had been barred for 10 years from bidding on any projects financed by the World Bank because of well-documented fraudulent and unethical conduct overseas. This criminal behaviour by SNC-Lavalin was known to the government at the time. Recently, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s first indigenous person to be appointed as Canada’s Attorney General, and the first woman to hold that post, resigned from cabinet in a swirl of controversy surrounding criminal charges that have been laid against SNC-Lavalin for alleged corrupt activities in Libya. Criminal charges are also pending for SNC-Lavalin, involving tens of millions of dollars in bribes related to the building of the McGill Superhospital in Montreal.
The consortium that owns and operates CNL is now made up of four multinationals, as SNC-Lavalin in 2017 acquired (purchased) one of the other players – W.S. Atkins based in the UK. It turns out that SNC-Lavalin is not the only scandal-ridden company involved in the consortium. In fact, all four consortium partners have been found guilty of unethical and/or criminal activities in the field of radioactive waste management in other countries.
The current “quick and dirty” plan by the consortium to “entomb” the Whiteshell reactor in concrete and abandon the radioactive remains beside the Winnipeg River is completely at odds with all previous promises from AECL. A letter signed by several retired AECL scientists and engineers from the Whiteshell Nuclear Research Establishment expressed great concern over this in-situ abandonment scheme as upsetting and scientifically unjustified.
It is also worth noting that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), with headquarters in Vienna, has clearly declared that the entombment of a defunct reactor is NOT an acceptable strategy except in extreme circumstances. The following paragraphed is copied from the IAEA in-line glossary of nuclear industry terms:
“Entombment. The encasing of part or all of a facility in a structure of long lived material for the purposes of decommissioning. Entombment is not considered an acceptable strategy for decommissioning a facility following planned permanent shutdown. Entombment may be considered acceptable only under exceptional circumstances (e.g. following a severe accident).
In this case, the entombment structure is maintained and surveillance is continued until the radioactive inventory decays to a level permitting termination of the licence and unrestricted release of the structure.”
The IAEA position stated above is completely in accord with all previous Canadian thinking on decommissioning of nuclear reactors. For example, on page 4 of a glossy 7-page OPG insert that was published in the National Post, under a banner headline entitled “Decommissioning in Canada’s Near Future”, we read:
“. . . entombment is only used under exceptional circumstances, usually when there has been a severe accident. It involves building a concrete structure to encase the plant, preventing the possibility of any radioactive leaks. The Entombment strategy removes the need of ever having to transport the radioactive materials away from the plant, but the site can never be regenerated.”
Health Dangers of Radioactivity
Radioactive materials are made of unstable atoms. These unstable atoms continually disintegrate, or explode, giving off dangerous subatomic projectiles in the form of “atomic radiation”. Such invisible emissions are totally undetectable by our five senses, and they are harmful to living things. Since radioactivity cannot be shut off, these waste materials must be kept out of the environment of living things for as long as they pose a hazard. As it turns out, that corresponds to many thousands of years.
Cancer, leukemia, and damage to reproductive cells (eggs and sperm) are among the harmful biological effects that may be caused by chronic exposure to radioactive materials, whether externally (from contaminated soil or buildings) or internally (by eating contaminated food, drinking contaminated water, or breathing contaminated air).
Chronic exposure to atomic radiation will also compromise the immune system by adversely affecting the most radio-sensitive blood cells, thereby making the individual more vulnerable to infectious diseases of all kinds. In addition there is evidence of increased cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes) associated with chronic exposure to radioactivity.
Here is a link to background document on the subject of health effects caused by radioactive exposure that I wrote for the Pikwakanagan Algonquin First Nation whose traditional unceded territory includes the AECL/CNL Chalk River site on the Ottawa River in Ontario, just about 250 km upstream from the nation’s capital.
At present, there is no solution to the problem of sequestering long-lived radioactive waste in a permanently satisfactory way — one that would allow for the safe walk-away abandonment of the dangerous material. Such is the case for all long-lived human-made radioactive waste, whether it is high-level waste (irradiated nuclear fuel), low-level and intermediate-level waste (from nuclear reactor operations), or decommissioning waste (from defunct nuclear reactors).
Therefore, placing such wastes beyond human control will leave future generations powerless to deal with the consequences of eventual leakage and radioactive contamination of food, water, soil and air. While nuclear proponents want to limit their own financial liability by claiming that the problem has been addressed once and for all, the long-term protection of the health and safety of people and the environment is a never-ending concern and must take priority.
Accordingly, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR) advocates an entirely different approach called Rolling Stewardship – an intergenerational waste management concept whereby each successive generation passes on the relevant knowledge and provides the necessary tools and resources to the next generation, so that these human-made radioactive wastes are never placed beyond human control and are never left completely unattended.
We have no way to eliminate radioactive waste materials altogether, or to render them harmless, but we do know how to package them in leak-proof containers that will prevent them from getting out into the environment of living things for decades, perhaps even for centuries. But not forever.
Therefore ongoing routine monitoring is needed, to alert society to any failures of containment. For this reason, our descendants need to be fully informed about the nature of the radioactive waste and empowered to improve upon our own clumsy attempts to deal it. They need to be able to monitor the waste and retrieve it when necessary. If leakage occurs, they need to be able to detect the problem and take corrective action in a timely manner – perhaps by repairing the original containers or by repackaging the waste in new, greatly improved containers. For this to be a possibility, the waste must be segregated into categories, carefully documented, and stored neatly in a recoverable form.
Rolling Stewardship is not intended as a mere caretaker operation, but as an active, fully involved societal effort to continually improve security by retrieving, recharacterizing and repackaging the waste in ever more protective ways, until such time as a genuine solution to the radioactive waste dilemma is found – perhaps in the guise of a new hitherto non-existent technology that can destroy the waste, or render it harmless, or remove it permanently from the Earth.
The Official Plan for WR-1 – An Alternative to Entombment
Entombment is a radical departure from past practice. The consortium seeks permission to dump the radioactive components of WR-1 into the sub-basement, then flood the subterranean workings with a liquid mixture of sand and cement, ultimately abandoning the congealed mass as a permanent radioactive waste dump right beside the Winnipeg River.
CCNR maintains that incorporating the radioactive remains of the WR-1 reactor in an enormous subterranean concrete blob that will eventually crumble and allow migration of radionuclides into the groundwater and the Winnipeg River is unacceptable. If and when things go badly wrong, how are future generations expected to redress the situation?
Not only is entombment completely at odds with OPG and IAEA warnings that such an approach is not acceptable, but it also flatly contradicts the current AECL decommissioning plan that was fully reviewed, approved, and licensed in 2002. The approved AECL plan calls for a return of the WR-1 property to green field status. The radioactive structure is to be carefully dismantled, and all radioactive waste materials are to be neatly packaged and labelled in robust leak-proof containers, to be eventually removed from the Whiteshell site and emplaced in a suitable off-site radioactive waste repository designed to safely store those materials indefinitely (i.e. for eternity).
In its 2017 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the consortium – operating under the name Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) – argues that since there is as yet no designated radioactive waste repository to receive decommissioning waste, the official 2002 plan has to be scrapped. This is not necessarily so. The radioactive remains of the WR-1 reactor can be packaged as prescribed and stored on site until such a repository is ready, which may not be in the foreseeable future, if ever. It is an ideal situation for employing the principle of Rolling Stewardship. Manitoba citizens, including First Nations people with no links to the nuclear industry, could be employed, educated, and trained in the necessary techniques to monitor the waste and safeguard it in an ongoing intergenerational way.
By contrast, the SNC-Lavalin (et al.) entombment plan has not yet been reviewed, approved or licensed. It is evidently designed more for the convenience of the consortium than for the security of future generations. Nevertheless, the CNSC approvals process has already begun, based on the 2017 EIS. On what basis and with what rationale will the already approved AECL plan be set aside? Clearly, the CNL proposal would make Rolling Stewardship virtually impossible.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC)
The CNSC is widely regarded as a captured regulator, playing a supportive role to the nuclear industry. As stated in the Final Report of the government-appointed Expert Panel on Impact Assessment (section 3.1.1):
“A frequently cited concern was the perceived lack of independence and neutrality because of the close relationship the and have with the industries they regulate. There were concerns that these Responsible Authorities promote the projects they are tasked with regulating. The apprehension of bias or conflict of interest, whether real or not, was the single most often cited concern by participants with regard to the and as Responsible Authorities. The term “regulatory capture” was often used when participants described their perceptions of these two entities.”
It is a sobering fact that, in the entire 19-year history of the agency, CNSC Commissioners have never once refused to grant a licence when requested to do so by one of its licensees.
In 2008, when CNSC Chairwoman Linda Keen tried to enforce a safety-related regulatory requirement related to the NRU nuclear reactor at Chalk River, she was fired by the Harper government. The episode was tinged with inappropriate pressures, similar to those recently used on Jody Wilson-Raybould when she was Attorney-General of Canada. SNC-Lavalin reportedly played a role in coaxing the government to fire Linda Keen as head of this “independent agency”.
The CNSC reports to the Minister of Natural Resources (NRCan), a federal cabinet member whose job it is to support and promote the expansion of the nuclear industry. Witness for example the NRCan Road Map for deploying Small Modular Reactors in Canada, released in November 2018. The Road Map details federal government plans to subsidize the private development of an entire new fleet of nuclear reactors that could be deployed to accelerate resource depletion in the North and also to be sited in remote small communities including indigenous communities. The Whiteshell and Chalk River properties would be made available to private industry as “testing grounds” for these Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMNRs). The Ontario First Nations Chiefs in Assembly passed a resolution opposing the initiative. Is the CNSC going to go against the avowed policy of the Minister to which it reports by not licensing these SMNRs?
Lack of a Federal Government Policy on Decommissioning Waste
There is no federal government policy regarding decommissioning waste or indeed any radioactive waste produced by nuclear reactors, except in the case of irradiated nuclear fuel (which is covered in the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act). The “Radioactive Waste Policy Framework” on the NRCan web site consist of exactly 143 words, equivalent to four tweets, and is entirely vacant on the subject of decommissioning.
CCNR has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to initiate a wide-ranging public consultation process with First Nations and other Canadian citizens in order to develop a policy on the long-term management of radioactive wastes that we can all be proud of.
At that time CCNR, given the existing policy vacuum on radioactive waste, asked the government to halt the ongoing environmental assessment for three projects, all of them conceived by the CNL consortium : entombing the WR-1 reactor on the Winnipeg River, entombing the NPD reactor on the Ottawa River, and creating an enormous five-to-seven-storey high “megadump” at Chalk River, right on the surface, covering 70 hectares of land surface, less than one kilometre from the Ottawa River.
The proposed Chalk River megadump would hold up to one million cubic metres of mixed radioactive waste from Chalk River, Whiteshell, and other sites. It has recently come to light that CNL is planning over 2000 shipments of radioactive waste from Whiteshell to Chalk River – shipments that would be passing through Northern Ontario close to the Great Lakes (especially Lake Superior and Lake Huron) and through the traditional territories of many First Nations communities.
CNL admits that the contents of the proposed Chalk River megadump will remain radioactive for over 100,000 years. The waters of the Ottawa River flow downstream from Chalk River, through the capital city of Canada and then on down to Montreal, where it joins the St. Lawrence. This River provides drinking water to millions of people. Over 130 municipalities in Quebec – including each of the 82 municipalities of the Montreal Metropolitan Community (MMC) – have passed strongly-worded council resolutions opposing the proposed megadump.
CCNR believes that, for our government to proceed with such irreversible projects that can affect the health and safety of future generations for thousands of years to come, without benefit of a federal policy on radioactive waste that is firmly rooted in a societal consensus and based on extensive consultation with First Nations and other Canadians – in order to arrive at a scientifically and ethically acceptable approach to the management of long-lived radioactive waste materials – amounts to an abdication of responsibility.
There has been no satisfactory response from Ottawa to the CCNR letter.
If I can be of further assistance do not hesitate to contact me. I will be happy to answer any questions.
Gordon Edwards, PhD, President,
Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility,
Scientific Advisor to Physicians for Global Survival.
Ironically, the CANDU reactor is one of the few commercial reactor technologies available that does not require any uranium enrichment. Theoretically, it would be possible to eliminate uranium enrichment altogether in the civilian nuclear power sector if CANDUs were the only reactor available for nuclear generated electricity. In fact, just as a thought experiment, it would be conceivable to have a world free of nuclear weapons without any uranium enrichment or plutonium separation, and still have nuclear generated electricity using CANDU reactors and a once-through fuel chain. In this way no weapons-usable fissile materials — neither highly enriched uranium nor separated plutonium — would be readily available to anyone for the building of nuclear weapons. In such a world, any effort to enrich uranium or to separate plutonium would clearly telegraph a military motive and the world community could act, with timely warning, to thwart those military intentions.
For the Canadian Government to champion a whole new generation of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors that require enriched uranium or plutonium as fuel is moving in the exactly wrong direction, especially since success of such a venture will require spreading thousands of these devices all over the world, thereby creating an increased global demand for uranium enrichment and/or plutonium handling. It is inevitable that other countries will sooner or later demand the right to produce their own enriched uranium or to produce their own plutonium stockpiles, rather than depending on the nuclear ”fat cats” to monopolize the right to control energy supplies by restricting access to the fuel. A slippery slope.
The earth is in peril. There are lots of dire warnings about global warming and what we must do, as a species, to avert it or mitigate it. Climate scientists are leading the way in ringing the alarm bell loud and clear. They do what they can to make sure their voices are heard and that humanity is alerted.
Nuclear annihilation is also a global threat, but nuclear scientists are generally as quiet as little mice on that topic. There is no expressed sense of urgency — especially not from nuclear industry people — regarding the absolute need of getting rid of all nuclear weapons arsenals. Our nuclear scientists sit back and watch Iran and North Korea being portrayed as international pariahs and criminals for even thinking of nuclear weapons, while India, Pakistan and Israel, are regarded as good guys and loyal allies who can surely be trusted with the fate of the earth no matter what regime may eventually come to power. Meanwhile the five permanent members of the UN bask on the glow of their own nuclear weapons arsenals, a situation that no one in the nuclear industry seems willing to challenge.
As long as our nuclear scientists spend their efforts defending and promoting nuclear technology and hatching plans to build thousands of more nuclear reactors, enriching more and more uranium and producing ever-increasing stockpiles of plutonium, without addressing the urgent need to create a world free of nuclear weapons, I don’t see much hope. Our nuclear scientists seem more interested in capitalizing on the climate change crisis to expand their own industry, rather than sounding the alarm to humanity over extremely dangerous trends in nuclear weaponry.
To the best of my knowledge, neither the Canadian Nuclear Association nor the Canadian Nuclear Society nor any other organization of nuclear industry scientists have ever said “boo” about nuclear weapons. They were totally silent when India and Pakistan detonated nine or ten nuclear weapons in a matter of weeks. They have never commented on NATO’s problematic nuclear weapons policies. They say nothing about the trillion-dollar modernization of nuclear weapons systems, nor about the ripping up of nuclear weapons agreements like the ABM Treaty, the INF Treaty, or even the Iran deal. It’s as if these things are of no concern to them and has nothing to do with the business they are in, nor do they seem to feel any responsibility as privileged and highly educated members of society to speak out about the dangers to the entire planet.
It is rare when top-notch highly prestigious scientists take the trouble to sound the alarm loud and clear on this subject. Two admirable example of such warnings are (1) the Flowers Report of 1976, written by Sir Brian Flowers, an eminent nuclear physicist who worked in both the civilian and military aspects of Britain’s nuclear establishment, and (2) the amazingly frank Granada TV Program of 1976 – transcript found at www.ccnr.org/Peaceful_Atom.
For most it seems to be a case of “promotion uber alles”. For example, the IAEA’s primary mandate is to promote and expand the use of nuclear technology worldwide, while a distinctly secondary consideration for the IAEA is to see that nuclear facilities and materials are not diverted to military use, “so far as it is able” to do so. (See the IAEA Statute at https://www.iaea.org/about/
The abolition of slavery in the USA would never have occurred if the status quo continued to be “respected”, where some states are entitled to have slaves and others are not, and the only objective is to stop the expansion of slavery. No. First you abolish the slave trade, then you abolish slavery. That’s what gets the job done. Nothing else works.
With nuclear weapons, hypocrisy is the order of the day. The double standard is alive and well. NATO maintains that nuclear weapons are essential to its own security, thereby providing a perfect rationale for every nation in the world to acquire such weapons. As with the gun mentality in the USA, “the only thing that will stop a bad guy with a nuclear weapon is a good guy with a nuclear weapon”. In fact, if every citizen has the right to bear arms, every citizen should perhaps have his own personal nuclear weapon. Why not? Then we will all be much more secure.
It is a fool’s paradise to think that surely no one would be so “irresponsible” as to use a technology that they have spent trillions of dollars on, and invested enormous amounts of intellectual effort, political will, and elaborate infrastructure on for so many decades.
“Don’t be alarmed folks, it’s just a security system, that’s all it is.” Sure. After all, those who should know, the nuclear scientists, don’t seem too perturbed. Quite complacent in fact.
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)