[Date Prev][Date Next]
[cdn-nucl-l] Letter to Canadian Geographic
Text by Elaine Dewar
Photography by Wolf Kutnahorsky
Canadian Geographic, May/June 2005
Reviewed by: Randal Leavitt
The article "Nuclear Reaction" in the 2005 May/June issue of Canadian
Geographic poses an intriguing question:
Why has the nuclear power industry enjoyed increasing business and
popularity despite the persistent efforts of environmentalists who
want to shut it down?
The article explores the history of the industry in Ontario, and
summarizes some interviews with various people involved in one way or
another - Duncan Hawthorne from Bruce Power, Jake Epp from OPG, and
Jeremy Whitlock who maintains "The Canadian Nuclear FAQ" website. In
the end the author, Elaine Dewar, reaches the gloomy conclusion that
we have to keep the nuclear industry alive so we will have enough
trained physicists to guard the hole that we are going to throw all
our radioactive rocks into. I must admit that I cannot tell if this
conclusion is a sarcastic jibe, or a fatalistic admission of defeat.
However, I think the question is important and merits a better answer.
So let's take a fresh look at the facts.
To begin to understand this phenomenon you have to know that:
The operation of a CANDU reactor does not produce any radioactive waste.
Let that sink in for a moment. This fact is the key to the mystery.
If you understand it you can see where the nuclear industry is headed,
if not then the nuclear industry will always be a puzzle.
So, just to be really clear, the needed insight is:
CANDU reactors do not release any highly radioactive waste.
OK - everybody knows that uranium is fed into a CANDU reactor,
resulting in generated electricity and used once fuel bundles. Isn't
that used once fuel "waste"? The answer is no.
Waste is something worthless that you throw away and hope to never see
again. The word is associated with sewage, and the good old days when
we used to dump our detritus in the river and send it down stream out
of our lives forever. Waste is bad.
CANDU reactors are clean. They do not release any waste. They do not
release green house gas pollution. They do not release any
radioactive waste. Nothing. They just output electricity and used
once fuel which is all accounted for, kept on site, and causes no
problems for anyone.
OK - but what should we do with that little bit of used once fuel that
is slowly accumulating at our reactor sites? The answer is that we
should handle it with great care and respect. It is worth billions of
dollars. We can use it in fast reactors to produce electricity. The
first pass through a CANDU reactor consumes about 3% of the energy
potential of the uranium. The remaining 97% is sitting there in that
used once fuel, all nicely mined, prepared, packaged, and ready to
use. We have enough stored up to power Canada for more than a century
- carbon dioxide free, no new mine tailings, nothing. We have a huge
energy reserve sitting there right under our noses and all we have to
do is use it. No oil wars needed, no pipelines through aboriginal
lands, no problems.
CANDU reactors are really clean, and really valuable. They can give
us a high standard of living, lots of employment based on the power
they give our industries, and a hope that we can get through the
global warming crisis.
CANDU reactors are waste free.
OK - are fast reactors also waste free? The answer is no. When
uranium is consumed in a fast reactor it is broken down into elements
that cannot break down further due to fission, mostly cesium and
strontium. These elements are radioactive, but have very short half
lives. We can throw them into that hole that Ms Dewar wants to
anxiously monitor and after two hundred years the radioactivity levels
will be less than the normal background level of the planet. The
millions of years of toxic pollution concept that is so threatening
for environmentalists has gone away. The problem is solved, there is
hope, and we can live in a better way.
As people begin to see this picture, their opinion about nuclear power
becomes more positive. Lots of clean energy, warm houses in winter,
cool ones in summer, quiet electric cars, employment resulting from
energy wealth, a scientific and engineering based economy - it all
starts to sound pretty good. Of course the popularity of nuclear
power is increasing.
So we have the first part of an answer to the question in place.
Let's look at another factor: cost. Get ready for another surprise.
Nuclear power is inexpensive.
Think about it for a moment. Much fuss is made about costs. Yes,
nuclear reactors cost a lot, but they also produce a lot. When you
divide the total cost by the total amount of energy produced, nuclear
reactors are a good deal: as cheap as, safer, and cleaner than coal.
The truth is that it costs about the same as using coal because we do
not fine coal-using companies for their pollution, while we do charge
nuclear plants in advance for handling used once fuel. So costs are
influenced by many factors, but even in this uneven contest nuclear
power looks good.
We have a technology that is clean, safe, inexpensive, Canadian, and
it provides us with something really useful: energy. Perhaps we can
begin to understand why Canadians like it, and why its use is expanding.
Randal Leavitt gnupg public key: bbbad04d
Registered User 267646 at http://counter.li.org/