Thursday, March 17, 2011

Think CANDUs are safer than anything else? Think again.

It is a popular Canadian myth that CANDUs are exponentially safer than other reactor designs. Is nationalistic pride trumping real evidence? Or, has the massively funded PR machine of the nuclear industry convinced an all-too-gullible public with its "Don't worry. Be happy" corporate bullshit? If CANDUs are so safe, why can't AECL turn a profit? One would think a super-safe nuclear reactor would be the obvious choice but even Ontario is leaning away from CANDU heavy water technology and toward other designs.

Greenpeace's Shawn-Patrick Stensil has an excellent Q&A on whether Canada is safe from a nuclear accident. Here's what he tells us about the CANDU.
Canada’s CANDU nuclear reactor is no safer than any other reactor design. 
Following the accident at the American Three Mile Island nuclear station in 1979, an all-party committee of the Ontario Legislature (the Select Committee on Hydro Affairs) investigated Ontario’s nuclear policies.  In its 1980 report to the legislature, the committee concluded that:  
“It is not right to say that a catastrophic accident (in a  CANDU  reactor) is impossible ... The worst possible accident could involve the spread of radioactive poisons over large areas, killing thousands immediately, killing others through increasing susceptibility to cancer, risking genetic defects that could affect future generations, and possibly contaminating, for further habitation, large land areas... 
Accidents, mistakes and malfunctions do occur in [CANDU] nuclear plants: equipment fails; instrumentation gives improper readings; operators and maintainers make errors and fail to follow instructions; designs are inadequate; events that are considered `incredible' happen...no matter how careful we are, we must anticipate the unexpected.”
Additionally, the spent fuel storage pools that must circulate cool water over hot waste for 10-15 years are essentially the same at CANDU facilities as at every other facility. We have no deep geologic repository for spent fuel. All spent fuel in North America is being stored on site at nuclear power plants.

Spent fuel will remain hazardous for 1000's of years past the time when the plant responsible for creating it has ceased production. No production means no income... obviously. Yet today, we have SWAT teams guarding nuke plants to ensure bad guys don't get their hands on spent fuel. Who will be paying for the SWAT team and keeping the SWAT team armed with advanced weaponry 100 years from now? 200 years from now? 250,000 years from now? Remember, the most optimistic lifespan of a nuke plant is 60 years, including refurbishment.

BTW, all of Canada's plants are about the same age as Fukushima's 1971 reactors. They're failing. Pickering's CANDU leaked 73,000 liters of contaminated water into Lake Ontario this week. NB's Pt Lepreau refurbishment is years behind schedule and costing millions and millions more than estimated. Bruce Power's refurbishment is 18 months behind schedule and 100's of millions over budget.

Pro-nuke spinmeisters and vested interests are flailing desperately. It's their death throes. AECL was already on the auction block at a fire sale price with precious few (2) qualified bidders. Right now, I don't think we could give it away.

9 comments:

Al Goodhall said...

CBC Radio's 'The Current' ran an excellent piece on nuclear waste in Ontario and one northern Ontario towns bid to store it. The pro's and con's. Worth a listen.

Here's the link. Probably have to copy and paste.

http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2009/12/23/december-23-2009/

Al Goodhall said...

I can't believe that despite what has been taking place in Japan over the past week I am still reading constant commentary in the MSM that nuclear power is still our best option as a viable 'green' energy alternative.

Makes me want to puke.

JimBobby said...

Thanks for the link, Al. Here's a clickable version.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the nuke industry uses huge amounts of the corporate welfare we taxpayers bestow upon it to lobby politicians, the media and the public with a barrage of hap-hap-happy talk. Clean, safe, reliable. Utter BS.

I've seen a couple of MSM outlets essentially discrediting anti-nuke statements simply because they come from spokespersons who identify themselves at anti-nuke. Yet, they provide a soapbox for the pro-nuke CEO of Bruce Power and he's supposed to be credible. Industry spokesliars have an obvious vested interest in trying to convince us that their facilities are safe.

Does anyone think that the Japanese nuclear operators haven't been feeding the same bullshit to their public?

Nuclear energy is not green, not clean, not safe, not affordable and certainly not reliable.

Here's a good fact sheet. (PDF)

croghan27 said...

JimB - just a comment here ... the Candu reactors, contrary to what is often shown in the press for the Japanese and American reactors does not directly heat water to turn the turbines to generate power.

The core heats a primary circuit that then heats the secondary circuit that boils to make steam to activate the turbines. The water that circulates about the radioactive core, cooling it, never leaves the circuit - it is the secondary water that reaches the turbines.

As for government largess to the nuclear industry ..... what generating system does not receive megga amounts of public monies?? Even the huge hydro-electric developments of Quebec and NL are backed by public funds.

JimBobby said...

Thanks for commenting Croghan. The renewable sector receives about 1/40 what nuclear gets from government subsidies. Yet, renewable energy has brought on new capacity in recent years while nuclear hasn't added a single KW in decades. In fact, due to closures and costly refurbishments, nuclear is delivering less energy now than it was 20 years ago.

The relative safety of the CANDU design is somewhat meaningless when, as we're seeing in Japan, the bigger problem is with spent fuel storage. Plutonium-rich spent fuel from CANDUs is stored in the same way as spent fuel from every other reactor: on site and in water-filled containment tanks. The fuel must be kept fully submerged and cool water circulated into the tanks for more than 10 years after it is removed from the reactors. We are storing tonnes of this material in locations close to high population centres in Ontario.

Just as an aside, the CANDU design was developed as a part of the Manhattan Project as a highly efficient method of turning raw uranium into bomb grade plutonium.

See also:
http://www.paulmckay.com/AA%20in%20D&IC.pdf for info on how Canadian nuclear fuel and technology is contributing to nuclear weaponry worldwide.

Essential Services said...

"BTW, all of Canada's plants are about the same age as Fukushima's 1971 reactors".

The four units at Darlington came on line in the early to mid 1990's.

Pickering B and Bruce B came on line in the early to mid 1980's.

Pickering A and Bruce A could accurately be called "about the same age" as Fukushima, although Bruce A units came online between 6 and 8 years later. I'll give you a generous round-down on those.

Facts matter. Abusing facts diminishes your credibility and the strength of your other arguments, compelling as they might be. "Rounding" ages by a full decade or two is an abuse of fact.

I always admire your blogging and commentary and I think you're better than this. There is an important and necessary debate to be had here, so let's have it, respectfully, honestly and spin free.

Looking forward to more of your thoughts on this important issue

JimBobby said...

You are correct about the age of Canada's reactor fleet, ES. I was wrong. Mea culpa. I apologize for publishing those incorrect figures.

While our reactors are newer than what I reported, they are not holding up as well as expected.

Many of our reactors are either shut down or in various states of refurbishment that threw me off. When the initial budgeting and cost-over-lifetime projections are made for nuclear power reactors, an expected lifespan of 40 years is used to pro-rate costs. Unfortunately for the investors (that's taxpayers and energy customers), the reality has been that refurbishment is required much sooner. This effectively raises the cost-over-lifetime. For example, the Pt Lepreau reactor in NB went online in 1983. It was taken offline for refurbishment in April 2008, 25 years after commissioning. The refurbishment at Pt Lepreau is 3 years behind schedule and about $1 billion over budget. Source

The refurbishment project at Bruce Power is facing similar schedule and cost overruns. The $2.75 estimated cost has been adjusted up to $4.8 billion and, as far as we know, the project is about 18 months behind schedule.

I am going to be posting a follow up to this post but more focused on waste issues.

joseph robinson said...

While I agree that nuclear power in any form is not green and we need to find other forms of electricity, I have absolutely no respect for Greenpeace and I am an advocate for taking care of our planet and being a positive force for the environment. First off you argue about the Candu reactor not being safe and not being green but that is not the basis of the title of the article. Nobody ever said it was safe, ever. Not the government, nor any other agency. They say it is safer. The difference is that there are less inherent risks with the Candu reactor then other reactors because of the way there built. There are redundant safety systems and safety systems that come into effect without any operator intervention. Does this mean a meltdown cannot occur? No of course not, does this mean we should find a better cleaner source of power? Yes. So instead of spreading lies and half-truths and not doing your research try researching your topics and learning about them. Its what makes me so angry about media and the electric car, there has never been a vehicle worse for the environment then the electric car, the power comes from coal, radiation, garbage and methane burning and the batteries once completely who knows how long the waste will pollute the environment for. You want to help and you want to change the world? Start by printing the truth, like there is no form of power that can supply our current needs properly so government, people, and industry need to get rid of patents and make information public so scientists can work together and solve this problem. The future of cars lies in hydrogen so lets figure out how to make an inexpensive fuel cell, lets figure out how to run a hydro electric generating station much more efficiently in natural waterfalls like Niagara falls. And applaud the government for things like the research done on the Pickering wind turbine and say now lets put that to use. And lets figure out what to do with radioactive waste to make it safer so while we do need to use it we don't kill ourselves. Oh and btw, radiation can't kill you right away, wouldn't that be nice, it destroys your cells ability to replicate causing you to die a slow and agonising death that only gets worse with greater exposure not faster. Ask the people still alive from Chernobyl there are many videos about it on youtube.

joseph robinson said...

While I agree that nuclear power in any form is not green and we need to find other forms of electricity, I have absolutely no respect for Greenpeace and I am an advocate for taking care of our planet and being a positive force for the environment. First off you argue about the Candu reactor not being safe and not being green but that is not the basis of the title of the article. Nobody ever said it was safe, ever. Not the government, nor any other agency. They say it is safer. The difference is that there are less inherent risks with the Candu reactor then other reactors because of the way there built. There are redundant safety systems and safety systems that come into effect without any operator intervention. Does this mean a meltdown cannot occur? No of course not, does this mean we should find a better cleaner source of power? Yes. So instead of spreading lies and half-truths and not doing your research try researching your topics and learning about them. Its what makes me so angry about media and the electric car, there has never been a vehicle worse for the environment then the electric car, the power comes from coal, radiation, garbage and methane burning and the batteries once completely who knows how long the waste will pollute the environment for. You want to help and you want to change the world? Start by printing the truth, like there is no form of power that can supply our current needs properly so government, people, and industry need to get rid of patents and make information public so scientists can work together and solve this problem. The future of cars lies in hydrogen so lets figure out how to make an inexpensive fuel cell, lets figure out how to run a hydro electric generating station much more efficiently in natural waterfalls like Niagara falls. And applaud the government for things like the research done on the Pickering wind turbine and say now lets put that to use. And lets figure out what to do with radioactive waste to make it safer so while we do need to use it we don't kill ourselves. Oh and btw, radiation can't kill you right away, wouldn't that be nice, it destroys your cells ability to replicate causing you to die a slow and agonising death that only gets worse with greater exposure not faster. Ask the people still alive from Chernobyl there are many videos about it on youtube.