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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


To The Hamilton Spectator regarding an anti-nuclear article:

(published in 2007 Oct 30 edition)

To the Editor,

The opinions expressed by Dave Campanella on nuclear energy ("There’s no easy way out on energy", Oct.23) misrepresent the facts and bear correcting.

When discussing the economics of new nuclear construction in Ontario, one can’t ignore the record of on-time, on-budget CANDU 6 projects around the world since the early 80s, which are the envy of other reactor suppliers. It is this experience that is relevant to any new orders in Ontario, and not the politically ravaged mismanagement of Ontario’s past.

Campanella claims that "nuclear plants have difficulty reacting to emergency shutdowns", with reference to the 2003 blackout. Quite the contrary, the Canada-U.S. taskforce on the blackout concluded that not only did all nuclear stations respond appropriately, but the four Ontario reactors that kept running (unlike most of the provincial infrastructure) played a major role in boosting the rest of the province back on-line.

The recent Japanese earthquake did not cause a "fire in a reactor", and in fact all operating reactors at the station shut down safely, as designed, with negligible off-site releases. This is a good-news story because it happened despite the earthquake exceeding local expectations: the reactors escaped the destruction found elsewhere due to the inherent conservatism in reactor design.

Allegations that nuclear plants use more energy than they consume, or emit more greenhouse gases than other technologies, are mistruths that have been debunked numerous times. The point of nuclear energy is its small environmental footprint (including mining and waste management), due to an incredibly high-density and low-emission fuel source. Studies show that the CO2 released over the life cycle of a nuclear plant, on a per-kWh basis, is comparable to that of renewable sources like wind power.

The mantra that "we have no solution for nuclear waste" does not get truer with repetition. Canada has had a technology for long-term storage of used nuclear fuel for decades, which is similar to technology pursued and in practice in other countries. The federal government has approved a plan of “Adaptive Phased Management” that will take a slow approach to implementing the technology, at the request of Canadian citizens.

Moreover, there is no rush to permanently dispose of used nuclear fuel since it is low in volume and easily isolated on-site. Also, since it contains 99% of its original energy content, it does not make sense to deny future generations this valuable recyclable resource.

With nuclear energy it is easy to get caught by the mountains of false information in circulation. Those of us who live near, and worth with, the technology are satisfied with its safety and sustainable nature, and proud to make it a continuing option available to Canadians.


Jeremy Whitlock

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