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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


To the Ottawa Citizen regarding coverage of safety and environmental issues at AECL's Chalk River Laboratories:

(published 2005 February 27)

2005 February 27

To the Editor, The Ottawa Citizen:

Nuclear controversy, like nuclear energy, appears to spring bountifully from a very small amount of material.

In the past five weeks we've seen three front-page stories from reporter Tom Spears on activities at Chalk River Laboratories, all grossly disproportionate to the actual safety or environmental risks involved.

On January 15th a safe and regulated sewage management operation at the nuclear site was translated into "radioactive waste" being "secretly dumped into ditches", managing to commit four errors of fact in the headline alone.

This undoubtedly scared the bejeebers out of thousands of readers, and all for an activity that is commonplace, legal, and probably safer than the spreading of animal manure on farmland.

More recently (February 22) the successful operation of a safety interlock in the NRU reactor last summer was reported as a "fuel leak narrowly averted" and a "loss of coolant accident".

Peace and prosperity in our society is possible because thousands of safety interlocks protect us from the technology that surrounds us, and yet a protection system working as designed on a nuclear reactor makes the front page.

Then on February 23 we read about an incident during maintenance on a reactor that, despite being described by its operators as being "never in a state where it could achieve start-up", is reported in your story as "not fully shut down", and in danger of "revving up accidentally".

This is like accusing a car owner of endangerment because he fails to activate his emergency brake, despite his car being turned off, parking gear engaged, keys removed, gas tank drained, and chocks placed behind the wheels.

It is the duty of the nuclear regulator to be exceedingly concerned, cautious, and conservative. It is the duty of the media, however, to report the facts.

When real safety is not compromised and the environment is protected, implying otherwise in a trusted information medium is unjustified and unethical.


Jeremy Whitlock

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