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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


To the Peace River Record Gazette, regarding further comments and questions about nuclear power in readers' letters:


2009 March 5

To The Editor,
Peace River Record Gazette:

Denis Sauvageau raises several questions about nuclear power that I would like to address.

  1. "Breeder" reactors are being used on this planet as we speak, and many more are planned. These reactors create fuel from otherwise useless rock, and are economically viable in countries without large uranium resources, such as India and Japan. Generally speaking, economic viability is a direct function of need. Likewise, thorium-fuelled reactors are currently of interest in countries like India and Norway that possess more of this mineral than uranium. Running reactors on thorium is not a major challenge: there are reactors on this planet using thorium now, and Canada tested thorium fuel in CANDU decades ago.

  2. I disagree that "if any country in the world would have [resolved the nuclear waste issue] it would be the USA". The U.S. is a highly litigious and politically complex nation that can't necessarily achieve what you might expect because of its size. Nevertheless, the technology of deep geologic disposal exists in the U.S. just like it exists in Canada and many other nuclear nations. Our own Nuclear Waste Management Organization embodies the notion that one should never mistake problems of political implementation with technical difficulty.

  3. It is a fact of nature that nuclear power produces the lowest volume waste than any other large-scale baseload option. The total volume of all spent fuel generated in Canada since the dawn of the nuclear age in this country (1962), would stack on a soccer field to the height of a player. Remarkably, this is less volume than what the City of Toronto produces in municipal waste each day.

  4. Nobody "turns a blind eye to Chernobyl", nor any other accident. Quite the contrary, this tragic event in 1986 lead to the formation a global safety inspection agency, the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), that puts into practice the credo of "watching and learning from each other". My point was that Chernobyl didn't teach Western reactor operators any new lessons in reactor safety. The accident itself could not have occurred in our reactors, including the level of human error (due to protective mechanisms). However, when you know that driving a car over a cliff is a bad idea, you don't need to see someone do it to have proof.

  5. The December "leak" (into containment) at Chalk River Laboratories was immediately reported to the authorities - not "several weeks" later as Mr. Sauvageau reports. All experts, including the regulator, subsequently concluded that the release was negligible and the public was not at risk. End of story.

I can't argue that Canada's nuclear expertise hasn't taken big bucks to develop, similarly to Canada's aerospace expertise, satellite communication expertise, oil sands expertise, railroad infrastructure, etc. Over the last six decades Canadians have invested about 7 billion dollars to develop this world-leading capability, which generates about that much each year in economic activity, employs about 40,000 Canadians, and has saved millions of lives with Canadian-developed nuclear medicine and cancer therapy. Like many Canadians I'm proud of this achievement.


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

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