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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


Published in the October 2011 issue of the Canadian Nuclear Society Bulletin, Vol.32, No.3.

The Half Life

by Jeremy Whitlock

Hello Dr. Whitlock. Some time ago you wrote that nuclear folks are a "glass half full" sort. You claimed that the nature of the business tends to weed out anyone with an aversion to bad news.

Yes, I'm glad someone read that article!

Actually I didn't. I only read the first half.

Oh that's good. Very funny.

I'm not kidding, but it wasn't half bad. Anyway, we're wondering how you feel now, since things are going so swimmingly in the industry?

Yes, well, Fukushima has indeed put a damper on the nuclear renaissance for a bit, but things will pick up.

If only those BWRs were half full eh? They were a lot less than half full of coolant it seems...

And imagine: three meltdowns that the world didn't know about for six weeks because of the lack of contamination signature outside the plant. And nobody harmed by radiation. One of the only pieces of energy infrastructure that didn't kill anyone after the tsunami.

That's odd. That certainly isn't what the media is saying about Fukushima.

Your point...?

Okay look, what about AECL and its sell-off. How's that going?

Well first of all it's not being sold off - the government is privatizing the commercial CANDU half.

So AECL is something of a "glass half full" itself now?

Something like that. It's actually a bit of a turning back of the clock: The first CANDU reactor was designed and built by a private company, Canadian General Electric, with help from AECL on the nuclear end of things. CGE then went on to sell a CANDU to Pakistan.

That's funny, I hadn't heard of that.

Well that's because they got out of the reactor vendor business shortly after that. But you get my point.

Which is?

That we've been there before. A national nuclear lab in cooperation with a private Canadian firm building reactors.

So it's all good?

It is what it is. Time will tell.

Ooohh, I see. Glass not so full on that one...?

They'll still need strong government support. They'll need a strong public relations department, and nuclear public relations is a strange puppy - unlike any other line of business. And they'll need to keep abreast of ongoing developments in fuel cycles and safety. There may not be short-term returns to some of this. It's not your typical private enterprise situation.


Time will tell.

New build at Darlington? How's that glass?

Inevitably half full. Ontario's nuclear edge is eroding. We're patching and patching but we need new machines.

But what about shale gas? Some might say we don't need nuclear...

Shale gas isn't all it's fracked up to be.


Thanks. Look, the need for nuclear doesn't go away. There's been constant average electricity growth since the 1950s. All that changes is the timing. And that's as fickle as the latest election. It's why you need strong government support, to maintain the base capability. It's no country for weak hearts.

Or private enterprise?

Time will tell.

Say, it's been ten years since 9/11. Has this half-emptied or half-filled the cup for nuclear power?

Well we spend half our money on security now it seems. There's about half as much public understanding of nuclear technology. Granted, half the population still supports nuclear power, but with only half the commitment I'll wager. Half the population can't remember Three Mile Island, but more than half thinks that Fukushima is killing Japanese civilians like flies. Next year it'll be half a century since the start of nuclear power in Canada and we're still doing a half-arsed job of explaining any of it to the people who paid for it.

Hm, you're not getting crusty as you get older are you?

That's what my better half tells me.

Discussion welcome.

©2011 Jeremy Whitlock

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