Monday, August 10, 2009

Canadian Coalitions of Oxymorons

I am always amused by the Canadian propensity for organizing serious groups whose names are oxymorons. The Progressive Conservatives come to mind as one example. The Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility is another.

Now, before I say anything more, I should warn you that I am employed in the nuclear industry so I am biased, but I feel that so long as I can justify my arguments it should not be a reason to ignore me completely.

The Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility is an organization that is opposed to nuclear power entirely. No exceptions. I feel its an oxymoron because instead of pushing for 'responsible' use of nuclear power as its name suggests, there is no use of nuclear power that they consider to be 'responsible' except those measures to eliminate it entirely. I learned about it after reading an article in the Globe and Mail concerning Canada's nuclear know-how being in danger of extinction.

Or something like that.

The CCNR pushes a lot of theories trying to make nuclear energy look dangerous, even postulating in one article back in the 80s that the chance of a nuclear meltdown in Canada (similar to Chernobyl) is approximately 1 in 15. Since then roughly 20 years have passed so the expected number of nuclear meltdowns in Canada alone should have been 1.33. Since there's been not a single one anywhere in the world in the last 20 years I'd say that their calculations are busted.

The CCNR also argues that Chernoyl like events can happen in Canada, which is a laughable suggestion. Chernobyl occurred because of a massive top-to-bottom failure in training, scientific supervision and common sense. Simply put, the people running Chernobyl decided that they wanted to push the envelope of what was allowed for the reactor's operation. When safety systems kicked in to prevent them from doing so, they manually overrode them one at a time until they had disabled pretty much all their safety systems. They then ran the reactor to the point where they actually had no information about the status of the reactor itself, specifically the reactivity in the core. Little wonder that a few seconds later the whole thing exploded.

The CCNR points to events like the 1958 Chalk River 'disaster' as an example of Canadian-made nuclear Chernobyls. But in that incident too the fault lay with inexperienced operators, human errors and a failure of maintenance on crucial safety systems. Canada learned from the 1958 event however and reactors today in Canada have strong mechanical safety systems. Moreover, ultimately the radioactive 'fallout' from the 1958 event was limited.

So suffice it to say that I'm not someone who thinks highly of the CCNR's opinions on nuclear issues. So when in the article mentioned above the CCNR advocates using accelerators to produce medical isotopes I'm a little skeptical, however from experience I know that it is possible to create medical isotopes from them. But not on the scale that is necessary, moreover the types of isotopes that are possible to be created remain limited and the method untested. So I would be wary of the price tags that are being thrown around.

Still, the CCNR is right about one thing, there's a lot of nuclear reactors around the world that are ultimately going to be decommissioned. That's why I'm feeling confident that my job is going to be around for a long, long time.

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