Thursday, August 09, 2007

Olaf's Great Debate: Nuclear Power, Yes or No?

Whooee! I was just over to a new site called The Great Canadian Debate where they got a interestin' idea. They get two bloggers to make their case on a topic and then the readers go on a discussion board to comment. Olaf from The Prairie Wrangler is behind the site and I say kudos to Olaf fer a dang good idea.

Today, the debate's on nuclear power. John of Dymaxion World is arguing against nukes. Frank Cybulski is on the pro-nuke side. Since I'm a lazyass and a recycler, I lifted my comment from there and I'm pasting it here.
Frank said: However, it can be assumed from both evidence and logical deduction that those single two incidents are the two blotches on an otherwise flawless safety record,

Chernobyl and Three Mile Island are the two most well-known nuclear accidents. The industry's safety record is anything but flawless. A simple wikipedia search for nuclear accidents would tell even the most casual investigator that there have, in fact, been hundreds of accidents. To suggest that the nuclear industry's safety record is "flawless" is to insult the reader. After reading that genuinely offensive piece of disinformation, I very nearly quit reading Frank's argument.

If I had quit, though, I wouldn't have seen the next falsehood: The main example in favour of nuclear is that of France.

During heatwaves in 2003 and again in 2006, many of France's reactors had to be shut down due to a lack of cooling water. This was at the time when they needed the most energy for AC, refrigeration, fans, etc. In the 2003 heatwave, thousands of French citizens died from heat related problems.

Not enough cool water caused reactors to shut down in Michigan in 2006.

Groundwater in the French Champagne wine and dairy district is seven times more radioactive than EU standards permit. An entire industry, centuries old, faces collapse due to leaking radioactive contaminants.

Here in Canada, we have the Cameco situation. Cameco is a processor of raw uranium into nuclear fuel. Their Port Hope, Ontario plant has been leaking radioactive toxins into the ground and the plant has been shut down while they try to find the leak. They are being forced to drill holes through the sides of their various buildings and structures looking for the source. They've been looking for about three weeks, now.

The notion that nuclear energy production is carbon neutral is flat out wrong. Uranium mining is one of the most CO2 intensive of all mining operations. Transportation and refining of uranium are CO2 emitters. The construction of new nuclear plants takes years and is anything but carbon neutral.

Ontario's Environment Commissioner, Gordon Miller, says we should be looking at smaller, localized sources of power rather than large, centralized generators. The loss of power in transmitting across hundreds of miles amounts to more than 10%. Buyilding those transmission routes is another CO2 emitter and also takes valuable agricultural land out of use. McGuinty has chosen not to take the advice of his environment commissioner.

Frank goes on: Much is made of nuclear waste, but the miniscule amount of waste created by nuclear is insignificant when properly taken care of,
It's not the quantity. It's the toxicity. As far as "properly taken care of", nobody's figured out how to do that, yet. They've been looking for a way to properly take care of this waste for 60 years but, so far, temporary on-site storage is what we're doing. Even industry insiders say this is not a good permanent solution.

Nuclear waste must be guarded 24/7 by armed guards. Why? So terrorists or other criminals don't steal it to use as the dirt in a dirty bomb... or worse. Ontario Power Generation is training its own security force to takeover this responsibility from police.

No nuclear project in Canada has ever come in on time or on budget. The cost over-runs have been in the bilions. Reactor lifespans were said to be 40 years and when the existing Ontario reactors were built, the cost was prorated over 40 years. After 20 years, however, they began to fail. No reactor in Ontario has lasted more than 25 years. This has effectively doubled the cost to the taxpayer. Ontarians pay a charge on every monthly bill for "Ontario Hydro Debt Repayment." This money is entirely going to pay off bad investments in nuclear energy.

Shall I get into the cancer rates (200%-300% above average) in locales near nuclear plants? Shall I note all the times there were accidents and the public was left uninformed of the danger they were in (think way back to the Japan earthquake a couple weeks ago.) Shall I tell how the industry wines and dines local municipal government officials when a plant is proposed (Manitoba councillors flown out east for lobster dinners before a critical vote in which they approved a nuclear application)?

No nukes!



Dr. Stimplove said...

Nice job, JB. That "otherwise flawless record" assertion is especially irksome - and silly. It's like saying that, because you never heard of any mistakes at the local hospital this year, it must be true that none were made. Only worse, because (as you pointed out) only a slight effort at research on the Net would have proven that part of the pro-nuke argument dead wrong.

janfromthebruce said...

"Nuclear waste must be guarded 24/7 by armed guards. Why? So terrorists or other criminals don't steal it to use as the dirt in a dirty bomb... or worse. Ontario Power Generation is training its own security force to takeover this responsibility from police."
JB, our Candue reactors don't use the type of uranium that makes bombs, as the process is quite different than other country reactors.
I think we need a mixed system of energy, and we do need a base load. So far solar and wind are not reliable. I would like to see energy use reduced and see build passive buildings as the future, but taking down energy inefficient buildings also creates emissions, so that is not the way to go.
Just some of my thoughts.

Ron said...

When it comes to deaths per kilowatt hour produced (ebven ioncluding Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, where no one died) nuclear power is still easily the safest.

And storage is a problem, yeah, but so is pitchblend.

JimBobby said...

Thanks fer yer comments, folks.

Dr. Stimplove, the author of that "flawless" assertion now claims that what he was trying to say was that Chernobyl and 3MI were the worst accidents. Thing is... that's not anything like what he said.

Frank also took me to task for citing Wikipedia - not very authoritative, sez he. His own source, which led him to falsely claim the nuke industry has a flawless safety record (other than Chernobyl and 3MI) was "it can be assumed from both evidence and logical deduction." Yeah, assumption and logical deduction are much more authoritative than Wikipedia.

Jan, OPG is now training its own force of armed guards to stand guard over its nuclear waste. I referenced a media piece on that. If there was no need for this, why on earth would our police be wasting their time and why would OPG be investing into training an armed security force? Radioactive waste is generated at Bruce and at every other Ontario reactor. That waste is not highly enriched uranium, as would be needed to make a nuclear bomb. It is, however, radioactive and highly toxic and could serve as the "dirt" for a dirty bomb. Also, Jan, the risks are not limited to what happens at the nuclear generating plant. The Cameco accident shows us the life cycle risks extend to mines, transportation and enrichment facilities.

Ron, latest estimates say that more than 9000 have died or will die as a result of the Chernobyl accident. The immediate deaths of a few workers at the time oof teh accident in no way reflects the real costs of the Chernobyl accident. BTW, the immediate remediation/containment that was performed on Chernobyl is starting to fail. The millions of tons of concrete that wer poured over the failed reactor are cracking. Many more millions of tons of concrete are going to be needed to fix the problem. How long can Ukraine afford to keep fixing this?

Conservative estimates put the death toll at 4000 but that is disputed:

"The new estimates have been collated by researchers commissioned by European parliamentary groups, Greenpeace International and medical foundations in Britain, Germany, Ukraine, Scandinavia and elsewhere. They take into account more than 50 published scientific studies.

"At least 500,000 people - perhaps more - have already died out of the 2 million people who were officially classed as victims of Chernobyl in Ukraine," said Nikolai Omelyanets, deputy head of the National Commission for Radiation Protection in Ukraine. "[Studies show] that 34,499 people who took part in the clean-up of Chernobyl have died in the years since the catastrophe. The deaths of these people from cancers was nearly three times as high as in the rest of the population.

We have found that infant mortality increased 20% to 30% because of chronic exposure to radiation after the accident. All this information has been ignored by the IAEA and WHO. We sent it to them in March last year and again in June. They've not said why they haven't accepted it."

Evgenia Stepanova, of the Ukrainian government's Scientific Centre for Radiation Medicine, said: "We're overwhelmed by thyroid cancers, leukaemias and genetic mutations that are not recorded in the WHO data and which were practically unknown 20 years ago."



Jim said...

Interesting post, JB. I'm not an expert on electricity generation, but you have given me some things to think about.

enviro said...

I think we believe and rely too much on nuclear power to be our main power source in future. We should understand and be aware that renewable power sources can be the alternative to nuclear power despite what the pro nuclear lobby says. We are at the crossroads of that happening now.
We also have to cite the very obvious that we will never have a safe nuclear industry because we live in a world entrenched in crazy ideologies. We are in dire need to have safe cheap power sources and reduce global warming as well and only renewables will in the end do that.
There has been a breakthrough in renewable energy base power production! I refer to solar thermal power using a cheap flat mirror system and storage by the disassociation of ammonia in an endothermic reactor then stored at ambient temperature and used at any later time even during wintertime the sun's energy is not lost being chemically locked up. Then reapplied to an exothermic reactor heat is produced at about 500 degrees to provide steam for power generation. This closed loop system enables 24/7 base power production for industry and it also is able to provide medium or peak power on demand. Not only that the storage system is easy to do and cheap and is based on mature technology and enables the sun’s energy to be stored any length of time without loss so that the energy can be extracted in the wintertime if necessary or any time in the future! No other storage system can do this and it is a real breakthrough. A gigawatt plant is right now being built in America financed by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla who says that solar thermal power is poised for explosive growth because of it’s low costs together with Australian scientist Dr David Mills. In Europe a TRANS-CSP report commissioned by the German government calculates that solar thermal power is likely to become one of the cheapest sources of power including the cost of transmission. Not producing any carbon and it does not have safety issues it’s easy to see why. This is the power that needs to be, and can be sent to third world counties and the rest of Europe via High Voltage Direct Current Transmission lines from solar thermal plants in North African deserts or the Middle East with only 3% loss in transmission. In fact the whole world could use this as a major power source as there are many deserts around. The potential for it to power the world cleanly and safely and reduce greenhouse gasses at the same time is a real bonus. And it is being done now. Lets get on with it and continue! A general understanding and awareness of solar thermal power (CSP) can be seen on and ( and and understanding of the storage system in schematic form can be seen at

Saskboy said...

Janfrom, you're right the CANDU waste won't explode on its own, but when exploded with chemical explosives, it is what Homeland Insecurity calls a "Dirty bomb" or a bomb with nuclear toxic payload that is spread widely.

Dan said...

"Frank said: However, it can be assumed from both evidence and logical deduction that those single two incidents are the two blotches on an otherwise flawless safety record,"

Reminds me of "Other than that how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" And another thing, I don't believe AECL when they say that there won't be another Darlington in terms of delays and cost overruns.