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Nuclear – a failing technology, example Canada’s risky CANDU reactors

Ontario Clean Air Alliance The Star By Angela Bischoff, March 3, 2020

Ask yourself: Would we build a massive nuclear power station in the middle of Canada’s largest urban area today? The answer, of course, is a common sense “no.”

It’s common sense because nuclear energy, despite its boosters’ assurances, is not without risk. And while the risk of something going wrong may be small, the consequences could be catastrophic. Just ask the people of Japan.

There is a persistent myth that there is something “special” about CANDU (Canada’s nuclear) technology. But that’s just wishful thinking. CANDU’s are just as prone to risk as any other type of system for splitting atoms.

In fact, the inability of nuclear engineers to address some of the risks built into the CANDU process led to the shelving of both the CANDU 6 “advanced” reactor design and the Maple small reactors that were to supply medical isotopes (a role that is now being increasingly filled by non-nuclear technologies). Those failures cost us billions in wasted taxpayer dollars.

Furthermore, with their miles and miles of corrosion-prone piping and complex designs, CANDUs are notoriously hard to maintain, and all our reactors have had to undergo significant rebuilding well before reaching the end of their promised lifetimes………

The total radioactivity in Pickering’s spent nuclear fuel is 200 times greater than the total radiation released to the atmosphere by the Fukushima accident in 2011.

Maybe the risk involved in storing 15,000 tonnes of radioactive waste next to the source of our drinking water and surrounded by millions of people would be worth it if we had no alternatives. But we have plenty of options to keep our lights on and our beer cold. What we don’t have is any viable solution for the long-term storage of highly radioactive waste that will have to be kept absolutely secure for hundreds of thousands of years.

There’s no shortage of happy talk about deep geologic waste disposal or even miraculous waste-consuming mini breeder reactors (a technology long since dismissed by countries around the world due to its horrendous risk profile). What you won’t find are any actual operational solutions — or even any ready-to-implement plans on the near horizon.

And then there’s the danger to your wallet. Nuclear power — with risks so huge that no commercial insurance industry will touch it for any amount of premium — is no bargain. Today, Ontario Power Generation is charging 9.5 cents per kilowatt hour for nuclear power; within 5 years that will jump to 16.5 cents as OPG deals with the huge cost of rebuilding Darlington’s reactors.

That is three times the cost of renewable power we could secure from Quebec, twice what Ontario was paying for wind power (and about equal to solar) four years ago, and eight times what we pay to help our industries and businesses improve their energy efficiency and reduce their need for power (and their bills).

So, the calculus is simple. On one hand we have a fading technology — nuclear now generates half the power it did worldwide 10 years ago — with rising costs and security concerns, and a long history of bringing in projects behind schedule and massively over budget.

On the other, a 100 per cent renewable system where costs continue to plummet, technology — including storage — is leaping ahead, and safety is about making sure workers wear harnesses, not radiation monitors. Which one would you choose for your neighbourhood?

March 5, 2020 - Posted by | Canada, safety

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