Go to CNF homepage
The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


Published in the October 1998 issue of the Peace and Environment News (PEN), a publication of the Ottawa Peace and Environment Resource Centre (PERC), in response to author's article "Nuclear Energy: The Green Alternative" appearing in the July/August 1998 issue.

Is Nuclear Energy Green?

by Jan Heynen

Jeremy Whitlock states: "The energy density of nuclear fission (energy available per kilogram of fuel) is the highest of any option today. This reduces both the use of natural resources and the impact of resource extraction." This is very woolly scientific arguing indeed! While the bit about the energy density of the FUEL is correct, the writer then draws a false conclusion. He conveniently forgets that many tons of "stuff" must be moved and refined for every kilogram of fuel. This leaves us with mountains of tailings, plus other refining byproducts.

Mr. Whitlock says: "The waste stream from nuclear energy is the most manageable of any option for large-scale electricity production." The 20 kg spent CANDU fuel bundle may be compact, but we still have to do something with it! It is highly radioactive and will be for centuries to come. The fuel bundle cannot simply be compared with the ash and carbon dioxide of coal-fueled generators. It is like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges.

Mr. Whitlock talks about recycling nuclear fuel. This sounds good. But while you can extract the plutonium from the spent rods, you are still left with other residue elements of varying degrees of radioactivity. The "breeder" creates its own fuel, but that does not mean (as glibly implied) that that is ALL that is bred.

In the end, the only way to get nuclear energy out of heavy elements is to break them down into lighter ones from somewhere closer to the centre of the periodic system. These cannot be changed into Plutonium again without expending the same amount of energy that you gained the first time around.

Nuclear energy should indeed stay an alternative, just like all others, until proven incurably wrong. I believe that residue disposal is the most important of the unresolved issues.

Other aspects of the problem may be easier to solve. I would compare Mr. Whitlock's arguments for nuclear energy with the arguments made in favour of DDT in its time. Admittedly in Mr. Whitlock's case, his arguments are not based on a lack of knowledge. But they are scientifically incorrect because they are less complete than they could be if they considered present knowledge.

Jan Heynen, P. Eng.

Is Nuclear Energy Green?

by Ziggy Kleinau

Jeremy Whitlock conveniently keeps silent on the daily emissions of deadly radionuclides from nuclear reactors. He does not mention the huge amount of lethal liquid waste created while reprocessing nuclear spent fuel.

CANDU reactors are not ordered by foreign countries. They are pushed onto unwary governments and financed with our tax dollars. Plutonium cannot be destroyed, it can only be converted into other even deadlier forms of this radionuclide!

As for calling nuclear energy the "green alternative," can Mr. Whitlock tell us how much CO2 is created by just mining, milling, manufacturing and transporting ONE fuel bundle to the point where it can be irradiated to power an average home for one hundred years? And does he take into account that over 60 percent of that power is used in running all the pumps, valves and electrical equipment necessary to generate this power and distribute it? A lot of the heat generated goes out with the cooling water into the lakes and is therefore wasted.

Solar and wind energy do not need any manufactured fuel and do not leave waste. Best of all, they can be generated at the point of use. No need for mega-wind farms or solar plants. No need for long distance, high-voltage transmission lines!

Ziggy Kleinau
Lion's Head, ON

Author's response to the above two letters, published in the November 1998 issue of the Peace and Environment Newsletter.

Discussion welcome.

©1998 Jeremy Whitlock

[Back to The Canadian Nuclear FAQ]