Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Nuclear Spill at Chalk River

Does anyone remember back in December 2007 when Stephen Harper overrode Atomic Energy of Canada (causing it's director Michael Burns to resign) and restarted the Chalk River Nuclear Plant? I said at the time that:
"By overriding the concerns of those in charge of nuclear safety Harper has scored a few points, possibly, with those concerned about cancer. By dismissing the concerns of the regulator though Harper takes full responsibility for the outcome - should anything go wrong at chalk river, cancer rates in Ontario and Quebec will surely go through the roof - and that would be the least of our concerns.

Harper has rolled the dice with a nuclear plant that Canada's nuclear regulator found to be unsafe. As much as I would like to see Harper out of office and his party in ruins - if you have anyone that you regularly pray to, pray that he is right on this one."
Well Harper was wrong. There has been a spill at chalk river. It appears to be relatively contained but there was certainly no rush to inform the public (this started on Dec. 5).
"An internal report to federal nuclear regulators shows radioactive tritium was released into the air during the incident at the Chalk River reactor on Dec. 5.

Atomic Energy of Canada officials running the 51-year-old reactor reported they managed to contain another 800 litres of contaminated water now being stored in special drums.

The report states there was no threat to the health of workers at the reactor, and officials say the tritium released into the air posed no significant danger to the surrounding environment.

Nonetheless, after a brief shutdown, the reactor has continued to operate at full power, even though Chalk River officials admit they don't know what caused the leak, and say it could happen again."
Regardless this serves as yet one more warning about the safety of the plant and, as I said over a year ago Stephen Harper and his government must take direct responsibility for this spill. They ignored their regulators and restarted the plant over strong objections. This is their fault.

1 comment:

Themis ~ K.and.M.Berries said...

Good blog. Great topic. Chalk River needs watching. Closely. But...

Consider this.
* Madam Curie killed herself from running around the lab with radioactive isotopes in her bare hands.

* People die from overexposure to the sun.

* Cancers are caused by low levels of radiation and cancers kill.

* Radiation poisoning is one of the most painful injuries and deaths ever witnessed (by the entire world population). (Documentaries, newsreels and books about Hiroshima & Nagasaki)

So accept that it's easy to scare the bejeebers out of people with just a few sentences using the words "nuclear" and "accident".

As regards to anything nuclear, since the 1940s the government and the media has scared the daylights out of the global population to the point where anyone, anywhere in the nuclear industries operates under a cloak of secrecy. This is not good.

The Liberal-appointed, quasi-political entity known as the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) found itself in a political battle as a puppet of certain Liberal politicrats in the mid 2000s. Nevertheless the arguments it made in '06 and '07 for closing Chalk River's National Research Universal 135 MWt Reactor had merit save one significant door that was not closed.

This Chalk River production unit supplied the world with technetium-99m and other significant radio isotopes for nuclear medicine applications.

Because Chalk River Labs/Production units are more than just electric energy generation--it has existed as the world's foremost non-military application nuclear research centre since 1942--there was a global outcry against shutting it down and Steven Harper exploited that to the max and turned Chalk River's NRU back on December 16, 2007.

Chalk river has had a small few publicized accidents since early 1952. Including those rumoured and not publicized they enumerate low by comparison to others in the world and not many considering the extensive number of in-service years of the NRU. Nevertheless, all it takes is a single bad one and an accident at a nuclear reactor can be a human and environmental catastrophe.

Still, the biggest problem with the Candu reactor and the Nuclear Generating facilities of Canada is FEAR.

I think politicians and the media exploit this to no end.

The thought of politicians managing nuclear reactors makes me also think of putting a gun to my head.

The public needs to understand this technology and not fear it beyond a healthy respect. Otherwise 'the people' will get government and public policy birthed in ignorance.

Nuclear energy is not rocket science. ( :o) )

The truth is, we live with a constant of nuclear energy from above and below.

The decay of heavy elements into lighter ones through the emission of fast particles from radioactive elements in some certain types of rock provide the internal heat of Earth.

Above us the sun is a full blown nuclear reaction that supplies almost all of the energy to Earth.

We need to learn to live with nuclear energy and manage it as completely as we can. The best solution to the electrical power generation from nuclear energy conundrum is knowledge, not rhetoric.

Nuclear power generation technology is fundamental science and easy to explain/understand for anyone with a smidgen of modern science and technology acumen.

Because of the fear associated with anything "nuclear", budgets are limited and the advancement potential of Candu or its yet-to-be-spawned derivations dies at the developmental planning level.

But alas, unless someone finds a workable alternative solution to the globe's energy needs, a fully-developed, safe, nuclear, energy solution is the fist choice.

With a world population of 6.76 billion people growing at an unprecedented rate that continues to accelerate exponentially; clean, safe energy is a serious species-survival issue.

We need to build more wind mills. We need more solar power devices. Solar energy collected in space and transmitted to earth sounds exciting. Biomass, fuel cells, ocean energy and photovoltaic systems all sound wonderful, but right now we need to keep the heat and lights on for an ever expanding number of homes on this earth.

Nuclear energy is the here and now of large scale power generation.

Raising awareness; educating the population to at least a minimal understanding; and developing technology with foolproof safety should be the urging of an enlightened electorate and the goal of public policy and it's policymakers. I worry that will never happen as the public, it's educators in the media, and it's policymakers are all clueless on the topic.

We should have built more and better reactors, not sit on lilypads in the stagnating energy swamp moaning and croaking at each other about the clopped-out, over-flogged reactors we built decvades ago and can't possibly shut down today because nothing exists to take their place and keep the lights on.

Good blog. Great topic. Chalk River needs watching. Closely.