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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


To The Peace River Record-Gazette regarding a previous letter on tritium emissions from CANDU power plants:

(published in the 2008 Jan 15 edition)

To the Editor,

I support a good discussion about the pros and cons of nuclear power and other energy sources, but fear-mongering is a hurtful manipulation.

In his letter of January 1st, Mr. Heinz-Juergen Peter attempts to scare people regarding tritium emissions from CANDU power plants. As Iíve described in various letters and visits to Peace Country, radiation emissions from CANDU plants are negligible compared to background levels. Comparing the Canadian regulatory drinking-water limits (7000 Bq/L for tritium) to that of other countries is like comparing drivers' licence requirements between provinces: different jurisdictions make different administrative decisions.

It absolutely does not matter that the U.S. drinking water limit for tritium is ten times less than the Canadian limit, because itís all thousands of times less than levels where effects of any kind might be observed. Even at the maximum Canadian tritium concentration youíd have to drink 20 tonnes of water to equal your annual background radiation exposure (which itself is benign).

On top of this, CANDU plants typically achieve around 1% of their regulatory emission limits - another reduction by a factor of a hundred. To put this another way, if you were to eat a baked potato and drink a glass of milk, youíd probably urinate more radioactivity per litre than a CANDU plant emits.

In the case of humans the radioactivity would be from potassium, a naturally radioactive element necessary to our bodyís metabolism. As creatures of this planet we have other radioactive elements in our bodies, including uranium, carbon, and even tritium - all naturally occurring. All told, we each contain about 10,000 Bq of radioactive material (thatís 10,000 radioactive decays every second of every day).

Is 10,000 Bq a lot of radiation? No, as radiation goes itís almost none at all. Fortunately for fear-mongerers however, the Becquerel (Bq) is an extremely small quantity and therefore it lends itself to large numbers. For example, a full beer delivery truck contains about 100,000 Bq of radioactivity. A milk truck contains about a million Bq. All natural. We live with radiation and it is part of us.

Of course, none of this is meant to minimize the dangers of radiation at high levels. As your dentist will tell you, those of us who work with high levels of radiation take it very seriously. Fortunately, protection against radiation is relatively simple and hence it is straightforward to keep a CANDU reactorís effect on its surrounding environment to negligible levels.

Those who see the world through Google goggles will try to tell you differently.


Jeremy Whitlock

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