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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


To the Peace River Record Gazette, regarding comments and questions about nuclear power in readers' letters (published 2009 Feb 19):


2009 February 19

To The Editor,
Peace River Record Gazette:

Some good questions were raised here about nuclear power, which I will attempt to address:

  1. It would be a great idea, indeed, to use the waste heat from a nuclear reactor to heat homes or businesses, and this has been done in some parts of the world (including in Ontario, where the Pickering reactors once heated commercial greenhouses on the side). Itís not a lot of heat (in terms of temperature) since thermal stations are very efficient at extracting what is industrially useful, but there certainly are a number of low-grade applications that could benefit.

  2. Uranium is one of the most abundant minerals in the earthís crust. At present usage rates we have about 200 years of economically available reserves. After that, there is about twice this amount in currently uneconomic reserves, and about 400 times this amount dissolved in seawater. Multiply everything by a factor of 100 to get the effect of fast breeder reactors. Now letís talk about thorium, a nuclear fuel that is three times as abundant as uranium. Simply put, there are many thousands of years of nuclear fuel on this planet - more than enough to get us to the next good energy invention.

  3. Nuclear "waste" (not really waste at all since it can be recycled as fuel in fast breeder reactors - see above), is one of the greatest advantages of nuclear power. It is smaller and more manageable than the waste from any other currently available baseload power source. The technology for storing or disposing of nuclear spent fuel has been around for decades, and the government has recently approved a long-range plan to implement it, which relieves future generations from the burden of dealing with it. It is very likely that no other major industry deals with its waste as effectively and responsibly as the nuclear industry.

  4. Chernobyl is absolutely irrelevant to CANDU reactors, or any other reactor designed in the non-Communist world. Thankfully, however, they fixed the biggest problems with that design with Western help, and are not building any new ones.

  5. Chalk River Laboratories is a national treasure that helped invent cancer radiation therapy, and today saves thousands of lives every day with the nuclear medicine it creates. However it has some older facilities that occasionally spring internal leaks, which are all contained and do not discharge to the environment - unless in a much later, controlled process under the regulations of Health Canada, the Ministry of the Environment, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. The fuss you heard recently concerned a small amount of vapour emission that amounted to less than a thousandth of the regulatory limit. Simply put, everyone reading this who drives a car has more negative impact on the environment. So why all the fuss? Because nuclear is a political beast, easily exploited by the media, and widely misunderstood.

Which is where I come in. I will continue to challenge mistruths and answer questions about this topic (even from darned Ontario), in the hope that objective-minded individuals can satisfy their curiosity.


Dr. Jeremy Whitlock
"The Canadian Nuclear FAQ": www.nuclearfaq.ca

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