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[cdn-nucl-l] Gobe and Mail Letter to the Editor
- To: "Canadian Nuclear List (E-mail)" <email@example.com.McMaster.CA>
- Subject: [cdn-nucl-l] Gobe and Mail Letter to the Editor
- From: "Patrick Reid" <P.J.Reid@earthling.net>
- Date: Sun, 10 Oct 1999 15:02:48 -0300
- Disposition-Notification-To: "Patrick Reid" <P.J.Reid@earthling.net>
- Importance: Normal
I saw this in Saturday's Globe. I sent in a letter to the editor in
response, which I include at the end of this e-mail:
No margin for error
David H. Martin
Saturday, October 9, 1999
Uxbridge, Ont. -- The Globe and Mail editorial (Oct. 6) on the tragic
Japanese nuclear accident at Tokaimura laid the blame mainly on the workers
("you can't legislate against stupidity"), but concluded that nuclear power
as a whole should not be condemned. The editorial suggested that workers
should adopt a religious devotion to safety, but even a nuclear priesthood
could not eliminate the threat of a nuclear catastrophe.
In the nuclear industry, small errors (no matter what their cause) can
result in very serious accidents. These accidents may have very low
probability, but very great consequences. Nuclear power has been called an
"unforgiving technology" because it demands an unfailingly high degree of
human and mechanical performance. We know from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl
and Tokaimura that this standard cannot be achieved.
Research director, Nuclear Awareness Project
My response was titled "Lots of Margin for Error"
In his October 9th letter, David H. Martin argues that "In the nuclear
industry, small errors (no matter what their cause) can result in very
serious accidents." He goes on to raise the spectres of Three Mile Island,
Chernobyl and Tokaimura. Of these accidents, the only one which has been
shown to have resulted in any fatalities is Chernobyl (although three
workers exposed to high radiation doses at Tokaimura are still in serious
condition). For Chernobyl, the confirmed death toll as of late 1996 was 45,
including 3 deaths due to an increased rate of thyroid cancer in children.
Death tolls in the tens of thousands for Chernobyl, which are often reported
in the media, are estimates based on the assumption that any amount of
radiation dose, however small, will lead to an increased cancer risk. There
is currently a great deal of debate concerning this assumption in the
None of the accidents which Mr. Martin mentioned were the result of "small
errors." At Three Mile Island, a long string of mistakes were made in
responding to the initial accident due to misinterpretation of the reactor's
behaviour. At Chernobyl, an incredibly long string of actions, including
purposely defeating various shutdown systems, combined with a fundamental
design flaw, resulted in about as bad an accident as can happen at a nuclear
power station. At Tokaimura, apparently the company owning the facility
illegally changed operating procedures, making the criticality event
possible. Even then, the "worst nuclear accident in Japanese history"
exposed 37 people to radiation, 3 of them at very high dose levels. This in
an industry which provides Japan with one third of all its electricity!
Compare that to the consequences of coal mine disasters or natural gas
explosions which happen repeatedly all over the world. The only conclusion
which can be drawn is that, in the nuclear industry, you have to make many
huge mistakes before serious accidents can occur. If only all of our
industries were as safe.
Patrick Reid - mailto:P.J.Reid@earthling.net