TIME TO STOP AND THINK
to Pierre Elliot Trudeau
by Gordon Edwards, Ph.D., CCNR President,
May 27 1977
The CCNR Petition
The Call For a Moratorium
Reprocessing and the Plutonium Economy
The debate over nuclear energy is not going to disappear. It involves some of the gravest issues ever faced by Canada or by the world community:
- the threat of uncontrolled nuclear proliferation, leading to a global holocaust through nuclear warfare; 
- the danger of accidental poisoning of our global ecosystems with lethal radioactive substances equivalent to the fallout from thousands of atomic bomb explosions; 
- the long-term stability of our national economy, which may be seriously jeopardized by huge inflationary investments in the nuclear industry -- an industry which creates fewer jobs per dollar invested than any other industry in Canada,  and yet may not offer a long-term solution to the energy crisis; 
- the prospect of eventual societal collapse resulting from continued exponential growth in the consumption of energy and resources -- a kind of growth which many consider to be both unnecessary and unwise, but which is the chief justification for nuclear power expansion; 
- the gradual emergence of a technocratic bureaucracy which cannot be held publicly accountable by any normal democratic process. 
In Britain, the United States, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, and Austria, there have been official public inquiries, ambitious public education programs, and independent technical reviews of these and other issues relating to nuclear technology -- all sponsored by the respective national governments.  Without some comparable initiative in Canada, it seems clear that increased frustration, polarization, and confrontation will be the inevitable result.
Sir Brian Flowers, a well-known British nuclear physicist, last year authored a report on nuclear energy under the auspices of the U.K. Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. When interviewed by the New York Times, Sir Brian made the following simple statement:"I'm saying, 'Please ask yourself if that's the path down which you want to go. Stop and think before you take the next major step. Stop and think.'" This brief is an urgent appeal to give Canadian citizens time to stop and think about Canada's nuclear commitment before it is too late.
The Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, representing over 100 citizens' groups from coast to coast in Canada, has been calling for a public commission of inquiry into Canada's nuclear policies for the past year and a half. Thousands of Canadians in every province of Canada have signed our petition, which calls upon you, Mr. Prime Minister, to launch an inquiry at the national level "to acquaint the people of Canada with the hazards and the benefits of nuclear energy development".
The CCNR Petition
This petition has been endorsed
- by General Burns and General Carpenter
of the Canadian Armed Forces;
- by Premier Campbell of Prince Edward Island,
Premier Regan of Nova Scotia, and
Premier Schreyer of Manitoba;
- by Joe Clark and Ed Broadbent,
leaders of the two major opposition parties;
- by the Liberal Party's own Policy convention;
and by a great many prominent Canadians, including
- the Reverend E.F. Scott,
Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada;
- Dr. David Suzuki,
Canadian geneticist and media educator;
- Maurice Strong,
Chairman of Petro Canada Limited;
- Pierre Berton,
well-known author and commentator;
- Senator Maurice Lamontagne,
Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Science Policy;
- David Crombie,
Mayor of Toronto;
- Dr. Ursula Franklin,
Chairperson of the Conserver Society Project
for the Science Council of Canada;
and others too numerous to name.
The President of Eldorado Nuclear Limited, Nicholas Ediger, and the Chairman of Ontario Hydro, Robert Taylor, have stated that they would welcome a public inquiry.
This being the case, Mr. Prime Minister, we respectfully request that such an inquiry by initiated without further delay. Suggested terms of reference may be found in Appendix A.
Originally, the CCNR was simply asking for a public inquiry. However, because of recent developments (detailed below), we are now convinced that there must be a complete halt to all nuclear development in Canada until such an inquiry can be conducted. Accordingly, the Coalition is calling for a moratorium on the licensing, construction and sale of nuclear reactors and related nuclear facilities (including all new uranium mining and refining operations), and a moratorium on all plans for reprocessing and disposing of high level radioactive wastes.
The Call for a Moratorium
Such a moratorium will give the people of Canada an opportunity to assess the social, environmental, economic, and political implications of a rapidly expanding nuclear industry, before decisions have been cast in concrete. Such a pause will also give our nuclear technologists a much-needed breathing space, in which they can try to resolve a number of urgent safety questions which are still unanswered -- despite 30 years of research costing billions of dollars. At the same time, alternative energy strategies can be evaluated and implemented which will cost less, create more jobs, and give much quicker relief to our immediate problems than nuclear energy can possible do at the present time. [51, 54]
The CCNR's change of stance -- from inquiry to inquiry-plus-moratorium -- has been precipitated by a number of important discoveries which have been made in the past 18 months on the nuclear future of Canada.
For years, nuclear advocates in Canada have pointed to the use of natural uranium as one of the great advantages of the CANDU reactor. Among other things, this meant that we in Canada did not have to reprocess our spent fuel in order to recover the fissionable plutonium -- an extraordinarily deadly substance which can also be used as a nuclear explosive. Since the summer of 1976, however, the Canadian nuclear establishment has made it plain that it wants to get into reprocessing as quickly as possible, and hopes to have funds committed for a demonstration plutonium reprocessing plant by this time next year. 
1.Reprocessing and the Plutonium Economy
This changes everything. Canada may find itself on the brink of a plutonium economy within two years if nothing is done to prevent it. 
Elsewhere in the world, reprocessing has proven to be extremely hazardous. Large quantities of high level liquid radioactive wastes are produced and must be stored and cooled for years before there is any possibility of solidifying them.  A single gallon of this liquid waste is sufficient to ruin an entire city's water supply, yet in the United States, hundreds of thousands of gallons have already leaked out of steel tanks which could not withstand the corrosive effects of radiation, heat, and concentrated nitric acid.  Just before Christmas (1976), the storage tanks at the Windscale reprocessing plant in Britain were also found to be leaking. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has recently informed New York State officials that tanks containing 600,000 gallons of high level liquid wastes from the West Valley reprocessing plant in upstate New York could spring leaks at any time.  And in addition to the liquid waste problem, there is no technology in hand to safely contain all the radioactive gases which are routinely released into the atmosphere from reprocessing plants. 
Reprocessing also poses unprecedented security risks, since it produces separated plutonium which can be diverted or stolen by criminal or terrorist organizations. Separated plutonium is easily transported and is worth more than either gold or heroin by weight, even on the open market. Black market plutonium will be worth more.  A second year undergraduate physics student last year proved that a home-made atom bomb the size of a beach ball and having a yield comparable to the Hiroshima bomb can be built for about two thousand dollars using separated plutonium, information which is available in the open literature, and hardware which can be purchased anywhere.  It is also possible to construct simple plutonium aerosol devices which would be capable of killing large numbers of people by inhalation of plutonium dust.  The United States recently announced security measures costing hundreds of millions of dollars to safeguard reprocessing plants and other nuclear facilities against illegal intrusions. 
So far, reprocessing has been uneconomical wherever it has been tried. There are three commercial reprocessing plants in the United States, none of which are operating. The West Valley plant was deserted by its owners, who could not afford to continue operating it. The State of New York has been told that it might cost five or six hundred million dollars just to solidify the high level liquid wastes and ship them off site.  In Illinois, General Electric decided to abandon its $75 million investment in a newly built reprocessing plant before it had ever operated, just because the economic prospects were so poor.  (The economics of the Barnwell plant had already come under strong attack because of the operators' intentions to pass along all costs for solidification and disposal of high level radioactive wastes to the taxpayer!)  There are no profit-making commercial reprocessing plants operating in Europe at the present time.
Economic considerations, domestic security, worker safety, environmental protection, and international morality all combine to reinforce our conviction that a moratorium on all reprocessing plans would be well advised.
In the past year and a half, soothing reassurances have been given by the Canadian nuclear establishment concerning the impracticality of making atom bombs from reactor-grade plutonium. These reassurances are now known to be completely unfounded and seriously misleading, as the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission have recently admitted. To quote Victor Gilinsky, one of the N.R.C. Commissioners:
2.International Safeguards"There is an old notion, recently revived in certain quarters, that so-called 'reactor- grade' plutonium is not suitable to the manufacture of nuclear weapons . . . . The fact is that reactor-grade plutonium may be used for nuclear warheads at all levels of technical sophistication. . . . Whatever we might once have thought, we now know that even simple designs, albeit with some uncertainties in yield, can serve as effective, highly powerful weapons -- reliably in the kiloton range." This is in flat contradiction to numerous public statements which have been made by AECL spokesmen, most recently by A.J. Mooradian, Head of Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories. 
It has become known that international safeguards agreements are unable to prevent the diversion of plutonium from power reactors to military purposes.  In fact, it is entirely possible for a foreign power to produce reactor-grade plutonium from CANDU reactors, and to fabricate all the warheads necessary for a complete nuclear arsenal, without breaking a single international agreement! Such a country could then announce its intention to withdraw from any agreements which it had signed with Canada, and have a fully equipped nuclear strike force ready to go within days. 
To make matters worse, the CANDU reactor is the best power reactor available on the international market for conversion to military purposes. It produces more than twice as much plutonium as a comparable American light-water reactor. It also runs on natural uranium, thus eliminating the need for expensive enrichment facilities or dependence on a foreign fuel supplier. Moreover, the CANDU's unique feature of on-line refueling makes it possible to push the fuel through a CANDU reactor ten times as fast as normal without shutting down the reaction, thereby producing a steady stream of the highest quality weapons-grade plutonium on a production-line basis. 
A moratorium on the sale of CANDU reactors abroad is imperative if the world community is to achieve some effective international control over nuclear proliferation. (And, if Argentina is any example, we might even save money by not selling reactors!) Harmonizing with President Carter's recent announcements, it would also be appropriate to declare a moratorium on reprocessing as a significant gesture towards world peace and stability, for if we do not exercise self-control in such matters, there is no chance that we will be able to induce other nations to forego reprocessing in the interests of global security.
The Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB) has excused itself on its inadequate resources to protect the Canadian public and Canadian workers from the effects of radioactive pollution caused by the uranium industry. So far, the AECB has only responded to crises instead of anticipating them (Despite forewarning!) and the response itself has often been disappointing.  The situation in Port Hope, Elliot Lake, and Uranium City, involving radioactively contaminated homes and schools as well as improperly maintained radioactive dump sites, remains uncorrected.  The extensive radioactive pollution of the entire Serpent River system as a result of uranium mining activities in Ontario has been disgracefully ignored.  Moreover, recent scientific evidence from Europe indicates that the lung cancer risk to uranium miners may still be far too high, despite the reduced exposure to radiation, and should not be tolerated.  So far, the record for protecting the public health is not very good, since each of these situations was known and documented at least ten years before any action was taken.
Present plans for rapid expansion of the uranium mining and refining industry in Canada should not be allowed to proceed until satisfactory methods have been found for safeguarding the health of miners and safely disposing of the huge piles of sand- like uranium tailing which are left as a byproduct of the industry. These tailings continuously emit large quantities of radioactive radon gas into the atmosphere, besides polluting rivers and lakes with radium, which is one of the most dangerous radioisotopes known to man.  Radium concentrates in the food chain like DDT and mercury, and may well prove to be worse than either as an environmental pollutant. The tailings problem is further complicated by the fact that these piles will remain dangerous for about 100,000 years!  (It is unlikely that the mining companies will remain in business that long, since uranium supplies are expected to be exhausted within decades.)
A two-year moratorium would give the AECB time to catch up on its homework and formulate sound guidelines for the safe operation of these kinds of nuclear facilities. It would also give AECB a chance to develop some expertise in reprocessing, which they do not have at present, and an opportunity to rectify some of the inadequacies in current radiation standards.
These inadequacies include the "double standard" for radiation workers, which has been so rightfully attacked by James Ham, (author of the Ham Report),  as well as the serious discrepancy between the maximum permissible levels of radiation exposure for members of the general public Canada and the United States. Recent regulations announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will reduce permissible radiation exposure in the U.S. to one-twentieth of that permitted in Canada by the AECB.  Before the nuclear industry is allowed to expand any further, the Atomic Energy Control Board must know what standards it is going to adopt and, more importantly, how to enforce them. The radioactive substances produced in a reactor are billions of times more dangerous than those associated with uranium mining; no carelessness can be tolerated.
Despite reassurances from industry spokesmen, the CCNR has learned that there are serious unresolved questions concerning the safety of the CANDU system. In a $500,000 study complete in November 1976, Ontario Hydro has admitted that, in the event of a major pipe break, the emergency core cooling system cannot be counted on to prevent fuel ruptures which would spill radioactive gases and iodine into the reactor building.  This violates the principal safety design objective laid down by the AECB for the emergency core cooling system, and it also contradicts earlier assurances given to AECB.
If fuel failures do occur during a loss-of-coolant accident, the AECB has argued that radiation exposure to the surrounding population from iodine emissions could exceed the "maximum permissible levels" associated with such accidents (250 rads to individual thyroids, which by anybody's standards is a large dose). These calculations assume a partial loss of containment through the ventilation system of about one percent -- but all other safety systems are assumed to function perfectly; that is, exactly as designed. 
These safety systems include the scram systems for fast shutdown, without which a very nasty runaway accident could result because of the power surge that accompanies any loss of coolant in the CANDU system; the emergency core cooling system, which might be rendered less efficient because of residual steam pressure in the channels or ballooning of the fuel rods; and the vacuum building, which is a separate structure of unknown reliability designed to remove 90 percent of the radioactive steam, inert gases, and iodine promptly and without leakage from the reactor building. 
Extensive recalculations have been done by Ontario Hydro in an effort to show that, even with fuel ruptures, releases of radioactive iodine into the environment can be kept acceptably low (under 1200 curies). But these calculations are suspect because of a number of shaky assumptions.  Other safety questions revolve around the adequacy of the scram systems;  the reliability of the vacuum building;  the consequences of an exploding pressure tube;  the effects of earthquakes;  and numerous other concerns as well. 
Until these fundamental questions of public safety are adequately resolved, Mr. Prime Minister, a two-year moratorium on the licensing and construction of reactors would be a sensible move - - at least until the current dispute over whether or not to retrofit existing reactors with additional safety systems has been fully resolved, and the criterion of "no fuel failures" has been satisfied. 
The Canadian nuclear industry is hoping to establish an experimental geological facility for high-level radioactive waste within the next two years. Instead of searching in the remote regions of Canada for such a project, they have been keenly studying six sites in Eastern Ontario -- one of them just outside Madoc, Ontario, not far from Peterborough.  On March 16, 1977, approximately twelve hundred angry citizens of the region crowded into a school auditorium in Madoc to tell the AECL representatives that they wanted nothing whatsoever to do with a high a high level radioactive waste repository sitting on their doorstep. When questioned, the AECL spokesmen did not deny the possibility that there might eventually be a reprocessing plant, plutonium fuel fabrication plant, and high level waste repository, all at the same site. They seemed somewhat shocked at the unwillingness of the local citizens to even contemplate such a scheme. 
Atomic Energy of Canada Limited does not have the expertise to embark on a geological storage scheme at the present time. They have demonstrated that they do not presently possess the technical competence necessary to address this problem with the extreme scientific rigor which it demands. A number of highly questionable assumptions have appeared in print, which do nothing to inspire confidence in the men who are in charge of the waste management program (who are, admittedly, not geologists, geochemists, or mineralogists). These assumptions have to do with
both of which are extremely dubious.  If experimentation is to be done involving such a high degree of uncertainty, it seems foolish to even consider conducting such research in a populated area such as Madoc. But the political miscalculation involved in choosing Madoc as a site for such research indicates a much more fundamental miscalculation as to the gravity of the problem itself.
- the suitability of serpentinite rock as a possible host for high level waste, and
- the supposed chemical inertness of the glasses to be used in the solidification of the wastes
In his report on Nuclear Energy for the U.K. Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Sir Brian Flowers concluded that "there should be no substantial expansion of nuclear power until the feasibility of a method of safe disposal of high level radioactive wastes for the indefinite future has been established beyond a reasonable doubt. . . . We are agreed that it would be irresponsible and morally wrong to commit future generations to the consequences of fission power on a massive scale unless it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that at least one method exists for the safe isolation of those wastes for the indefinite future."
In consideration of the possible disposal of high level wastes in hard crystalline rock, Sir Brian writes: "A deep disposal facility on a small uninhabited island would be particularly advantageous, if one were chosen that was separated hydrogeologically from the mainland. Any leakage of radioactivity into the island's ground water would be easily detected, and in that event the dilution by sea water would provide a further line of defence."  The discrepancies between Sir Brian's attitude and the AECL attitude are revealing, and somewhat alarming.
In 1971, Dr. Alvin Weinberg, then Director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, announced U.S. plans to dispose of high level radioactive wastes in an abandoned salt mine in Lyons, Kansas. He referred to it as "one of the most far-reaching decisions any technologists have ever made, since these wastes can be dangerous for up to a million years." Within two months, the project was abandoned as being clearly unsafe, despite fifteen years of study and one hundred million dollars in research money spent by U.S. scientists. These men, who are no fools, had been fooled. Clearly, the disposal of high level wastes is not a simple technical matter. 
Yet on October 4, 1976, a Vice President of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited told the Ottawa Branch of the University Women's Club that high level waste disposal was really a public relations problem, and not a technical problem. The CCNR respectfully submits, Mr. Prime Minister, that this is an inappropriate attitude with which to approach such an awesome problem.
We must demand that the highest standards of scientific know-how be combined with the utmost caution in seeking for a solution to the waste disposal problem here in Canada. In particular, all questionable points should be openly and frankly discussed so that the entire Canadian scientific community can have an opportunity to contribute towards a solution. It is precisely this spirit of free inquiry and open publication of results that has always been the hallmark of good scientific research. A two- year moratorium would give AECL a chance to involve independent scientists and engineers from academic and consulting circles. For example, it might be thought worthwhile for Canada to host an international symposium on high level waste disposal so that our scientists and technologists can have the benefit of other nation's experiences in this field. It must also be borne in mind that the nature of the problem and the range of feasible solutions depends significantly on fundamental questions of nuclear policy, such as reprocessing versus no reprocessing, or continued expansion versus gradual disengagement. 
Financial mismanagement within Atomic Energy of Canada Limited has been well-documented by the Public Accounts Committee in recent months. Not only are AECL officials unable to adequately account for some $18 million in agents' fees, but they are also unable to explain their failure to record unpaid interest totaling over fifty million dollars on outstanding loans. Nor has there ever been an adequate explanation given for the flat loss of at least $130 million on the Argentine sale. 
Meanwhile, the excessive capital requirements of nuclear technology have begun to cast a pall over investors, and may seriously distort the Canadian economy if allowed to continue unchecked. The capital costs for CANDU reactors are considerably higher than those for comparable American light water reactors,  and these costs seem to be spiraling out of control. Albert Labbé, project director of the Gentilly-2 nuclear plant now under construction in Quebec, was quoted in the Montreal Star of May 15, 1976 as stating that the cost had escalated from $385 million to $612 million, during a period of time in which normal inflation only accounted for a $67 million increase. Thus, $155 million has to be considered as an "unaccountable rise" in rector costs. Similar chronic cost escalation has been experienced at the Point Lepreau nuclear plant now under construction in New Brunswick.
Is it wise to invest so much precious capital in a technology which may be obsolete by the turn of the century? Couldn't the money be more advantageously invested in energy conservation, renewable sources of energy and liquid fuels, and a more rational, less highly-electrified energy mix? 
There has never been a complete and honest cost-accounting for nuclear electricity, which should include:
- two billion dollars worth of research and development money, paid for by the Canadian taxpayer;
- the annual operating budgets for AECL and AECB, amounting to over a hundred million dollars per year, paid for by the Canadian taxpayer;
- artificially low interest rates charged on AECL loans which are designed to encourage reactor sales, paid for by the Canadian taxpayer; 
- decommissioning costs, which will likely be in excess of a hundred million dollars per reactor, to be paid for by the Canadian consumer; 
- reprocessing plus solidification and geological disposal of high level radioactive waste, which promises to be an expensive combination, to be paid for by the Canadian consumer;
- security costs, which will multiply at a staggering rate if reprocessing becomes a way of life, also to be paid for by the Canadian consumer-taxpayer.
A two-year moratorium will allow time for reflection on whether such massive sums lavished on the nuclear industry are necessarily the best use of a very limited resource: investment capital for Canadian industrial development.
The Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility has advocated a variety of alternative energy strategies which could be pursued instead of nuclear power. These strategies, which are based on energy conservation through more efficient energy use and a rapid shift toward renewable energy sources, have a number of important advantages: 
- they require less capital investment, comparatively, than nuclear power does;
- they create more jobs and have a more stabilizing effect on the economy than nuclear power does:
- they do not result in the creation of large quantities of poisonous substances, as nuclear power does;
- they do not pose the threat of a large scale catastrophic accident, such as nuclear power does;
- they do not require massive injections of taxpayers' money to support a technocratic bureaucracy, such as nuclear power does;
- they offer the hope of providing a permanent, safe solution to the energy crisis, which nuclear power does not;
- they do not exacerbate international tensions or threaten global security, as nuclear power does.
For more detail, consult the CCNR brief to the Quebec Parliamentary Commission on Natural Resources, dated February 11, 1977, as well as the twenty-six recommendations included in our brief of last August, entitled: "The Consumer and Nuclear Energy: A Luxury We Can No Longer Afford".
We believe that a public inquiry into nuclear energy must be conducted at the national level as soon as possible, since the implications of a nuclear-powered future are still not well understood by the Canadian public or by Canadian decision- makers. We also believe that a two-year moratorium is essential to prevent this nation from being rushed into premature nuclear commitments which may have drastic repercussions domestically and internationally. These repercussions may well be irreversible. In other words, if things do not go as planned, there may be no possibility of turning back the clock or undoing the damage that has been done.
When you fear that you may be speeding out of control, the sensible thing is to try the brakes -- at least to see if they are still working!
In the interim, money which would have gone into nuclear expansion programs can be wisely invested in long-term energy conservation measures such as re-insulation, peak load management, and increased end-use efficiencies.  Such investments will actually require less capital than the equivalent nuclear investments, since a kilowatt saved is much cheaper than a kilowatt expended. The benefits will also be more immediate, both in terms of jobs created and energy requirements alleviated. Consideration should also be given to the implementation of renewable energy supplements to the existing energy budget wherever practicable.
A recent study conducted by Dr. Alvin Weinberg, a prominent U.S. nuclear scientist, concluded that the economic implications of a nuclear moratorium in that country would be insignificant. A similar study, dealing with the economic implications of a nuclear moratorium in Canada, is currently underway at the University of British Columbia under the guidance of Dr. John Helliwell. Preliminary indications are that we can well afford to have a two-year moratorium, and our economy may in fact benefit from it.
By the time the moratorium period has expired, Canada should be in a much better position to chart a course for the future in terms of nuclear policy. Our technologists will have had a breathing space, our politicians will be better informed, alternative policies will have been more thoroughly explored, and the Canadian citizenry will be much more conscious of the nature and the magnitude of the problems which are encountered in charting any future energy strategy.
If we are to meet the challenge of the next few decades as a unified nation, with a clear sense of priorities, what we need most of all is time -- time to stop and think.
- Granada Television has published a remarkable booklet, The Threat of Nuclear War, available from CCNR. It is the transcript of a television program transmitted on the British Independent Network on March 28 1976. It is an eloquent statement of concern by five top-ranking U.S. scientific advisors:Other participants in the program, who ardently supported Herbert Scoville's plea, were:
"These weapons will soon fall into many hands in many corners of the world -- into the hands of unstable national governments,aggressive military cliques or irresponsible terrorist groups -- with incalculable consequences for us all. This danger is the direct result of the uncontrolled growth of the nuclear power industry, which is making widely available the materials needed for such weapons. The peoples of the world must recognize the danger of what is going on and act to protect this and future generations." (emphasis added)Herbert Scoville,
Former Head of Scientific Intelligence,
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA);
Former Assistant Director of Science and Technology,
Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
- Dr. George Kistiakowsky,
Head of Explosives Division,
World War II Atomic Bomb Project;
Special Assistant to President Eisenhower for Science and Technology;
Member of the President's Science Advisory Committee under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson;
Professor of Chemistry at Harvard University.
- Dr. Theodore Taylor,
Former Nuclear Weapons Designer,
Los Alamos Laboratories;
Former Deputy Director,
Defense Department's Atomic Support Agency;
Professor at Princeton University.
- Dr. George Rathjens,
Former Director of Weapons Systems Evaluation;
Former Chief Scientist,
Advanced Research Projects Agency,
Department of Defense;
Professor of Political Science, MIT.
- Dr. Bernard Feld,
Assistant Director of Critical Assembly Group,
World War II Atomic Bomb Project;
Former Secretary of the American Academy;
Head of Department of Nuclear and High Energy Physics, MIT.
Each year, there is more radioactive strontium, iodine, and cesium produced inside a single medium-sized reactor than has been produced by all the fallout from all the atomic bomb tests conducted to date. This material is extremely toxic, and it is known to concentrate in food chains in much the same way that DDT and mercury are concentrated and transmitted by living organisms. See The Nuclear Fuel Cycle (1975) by the Union of Concerned Scientists, published by MIT Press in hard-cover and paperback form.
This is true even in the United States, where nuclear plants require comparatively less capital investment than the CANDU system requires. The Edison Electric Institute's publication "Questions and Answers about the Electric Utility Industry" (1973) gave the following data:Investment per Employee (1968 data) Electric Utilities . . . . . . . . . . . . . $173,370 Petroleum . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150,230 Motor Vehicles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41,660 Chemicals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36,420 Primary Metals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29,990 Food and Beverages . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21,780 Stone, Clay, and Glass . . . . . . . . . . . 19,210 Lumber and Wood Products . . . . . . . . . . 16,210 Rubber and Plastics . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15,720 All Manufacturing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22,240The same pamphlet points out that in 1971, capital investment per employee in electric utilities was $224,230 -- which was $20,710 more than in 1970. A dollar invested in electricity production creates fewer jobs than the same dollar invested almost anywhere else; and with nuclear power it's even worse, since nuclear facilities have an even higher capital investment per employee.
Uranium reserves are measured in decades, and many commentators are predicting serious uranium shortfalls in the 1980's or 1990's. (See the CCNR Brief "On Energy" to the Quebec Parliamentary Commission on Natural Resources, February 11, 1977.) Even A. J. Mooradian, Head of Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories, admits that"unless the world's reasonably assured reserves increase at a lively pace, we could be facing a shortfall in uranium supply early in the next century.The CANDU thorium cycle, which is still unproven, will not make any significant difference to the rate of uranium usage for the next several decades, "in which period the currently estimated reserves of high grade uranium may well all be consumed," according to a report prepared by the U.S. Argonne National Laboratory in December 1975 entitled A Brief Survey of Considerations Involved in Introducing CANDU reactors into the United States. b
The Limits to Growth by Denis and Donella Meadows, the First Report to the Club of Rome; Mankind at the Turning Point by M. Mesarovic and E. Pestel, the Second Report to the Club of Rome.
Weinberg, Alvin, "Nuclear Energy and Social Institutions", Science, December, 1972.
Dr. Weinberg, Director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, argues that we need a "scientific priesthood" to guarantee the absolute social stability necessary to make nuclear power feasible into the distant future, using breeder reactors and plutonium recycling to overcome the uranium fuel shortage. Dr. Weinberg was the first to use the phrase "Faustian Bargain" in relation to nuclear power.
Victor Gilinsky, Commissioner of U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in a speech entitled "Plutonium, Proliferation and Policy" given at M.I.T. in November 1976 said:
"It was too long before we perceived the dangerous implications of our various overseas customers' moves towards domestic reprocessing and national stockpiling of plutonium extracted from spent reactor fuel. And we might not have seen it yet had the Indian explosion not compelled the public to peer into the private world of the small nuclear export bureaucracy. For twenty years it had been freewheeling through the domains of diplomacy and international commerce -- out of public view, and under the protection of a myopic Atomic Energy Commission and its own congressional committee. These nuclear technocrats took as their text Atoms for Peace and as their authority the 1954 Atomic Energy Act's mandate to encourage the development of nuclear power. They dispensed their technological largesse worldwide, secure in the knowledge they were carrying out the policies of the United States." (emphasis added)
(Mr. Gilinsky's speech has been printed in the February 1977 issue of Technology Review.)
See: Flowers, Sir Brian (1976), Nuclear Energy and the Environment, Sixth Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Government Printing House (London, England); Fox, Justice (1976), Report of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry, Government Printing House (Canberra Australia).
In the United States in 1976, three high level engineers resigned from the U.S. General Electric Nuclear Division because of the safety hazards which are widespread throughout the industry. Since then, two top officials of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission have resigned for similar reasons. Numerous occupations, class action suits and organized protests have forced the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently to introduce a temporary moratorium stopping the issuing of any new licences on nuclear plants in the U.S.
In Sweden following an 18-month nuclear moratorium and public education program in 1973/74, the subject of nuclear power became an important election issue, virtually causing the ouster of the governing party. The new government was given a clear mandate to limit the use and halt the further development of nuclear power in favour of a policy of conservation and renewable energy sources.
New Zealand is currently embarking on a Royal Commission of Inquiry into nuclear energy, and Austria recently announced a large-scale public education program on the same subject.
Kilborn, Peter T. (1976), an interview with Sir Brian Flowers on October 23 in London, England, reported in the New York Times.
At the annual meeting of the Canadian Nuclear Association in Toronto, in May 1976, an AECL spokesman outlined the plans:
The CCNR estimates that a demonstration reprocessing facility would cost about $1 billion minimum -- $500 million to build and another $500 million to operate.
- by 1978, funds should be committed for a demonstration reprocessing plant (3 tonne per year capacity) for extracting plutonium from spent fuel;
- by 1979, funds should be committed for a demonstration fuel fabrication plant for the manufacture of "mixed oxide" fuel (which means uranium or thorium spiked with plutonium);
- by 1985, both of these plants should be in operation;
- by 1986, at least one reactor in Canada should be operating on mixed oxide fuel.
In other countries, plutonium recycle has been the subject of intense national and international scrutiny. In Britain, a large-scale public inquiry into plans for a plutonium extraction plant at Windscale will begin June 14, l977, at the insistence of Peter Shore, Secretary of State for the Environment.
In the U.S., President Carter's recent ban on commercial reprocessing and breeder reactors is, in effect, a ban on the commercial use of plutonium. As background to President Carter's announcements, the Mitre Corporation recently completed a comprehensive review of the U.S. nuclear policy, concluding that:"there is little or no economic incentive to use plutonium.... A U.S. decision to proceed despite disincentives would induce other countries to follow suit and undermine efforts to restrain proliferation. We believe that the reprocessing of spent fuel, even on a demonstration basis, should be deferred as a matter of national policy, until it is clearly necessary on a national scale. (emphasis added)
The preceding quote is from the so-called "Ford/Mitre Report", entitled Nuclear Power: Issues and Choices. It is the report of the Nuclear Energy Policy Study Group, sponsored by the Ford Foundation, administered by the Mitre Corporation, published by Ballinger Publishers in 1977.
In Canada, an independent scrutiny of the nuclear industry's plans for using plutonium is essential, since the international and the domestic repercussions may be irreversibly hostile to peaceful government.
In a reprocessing plant, spent fuel is cut up and dissolved in nitric acid, so that the plutonium can be separated by chemical means. The entire operation takes place by remote control, behind heavy shielding, because of the intense radiation caused by the fission products. The liquid waste which is left behind is very hot, highly corrosive, chemically active and seething with turbulence caused by the non-uniform deposition of radioactive sludge in the storage tanks.
As of June 30, 1974, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission had created over 200 million gallons of such high level radioactive liquid waste, primarily as a byproduct of the production of plutonium for military purposes. These wastes are stored underground in four states, in large tanks made of steel and concrete, each provided with its own cooling system. The tanks have an expected lifetime of about 20 years; the wastes are expected to remain dangerous for at least 600 years. (Ford/Mitre Report, page 250 ff.)
"Experience with the storage of high level waste has not been encouraging. From 1958 to 1974, eighteen leaks, totaling 429,400 gallons, were detected at Richland (i.e. the Hanford Reservation in Washington State). In l973, a leak involving the loss of 115,000 gallons went 48 days before being noticed." (Ford/Mitre Report, p.250)
The West Valley reprocessing plant was shut down in 1972 because of its inability to meet standards on radioactive effluents. The owners have since abandoned their investment (without even recovering the original capital cost), leaving 600,000 gallons of high level radioactive liquid waste as a legacy to the State of New York.
("Investigating an Unsafe Nuclear Recycling Plant: Too Hot to Handle", The New York Times Magazine , Sunday, April 10, 1977. See also the Ford/Mitre Report.)
All of the radioactive krypton-85 and tritium contained in the spent fuel rods is routinely released into the environment from reprocessing plants, as are small amounts of strontium-90 and radioactive iodine. Over a period of time, the accumulated build-up of these materials released could constitute a significant danger. (Nuclear Power: The Fifth Horseman by Denis Hayes).
This frightening prospect was identified in the 1960's, and little has happened since then to ameliorate the situation.
"It seems inevitable that a world market for special nuclear materials will develop. With such a market, we can expect development of a black market and attempts for terrorists and insurrectionist groups to turn these materials to their own purposes."Clarence Larsen, AEC Commissioner, speaking at the Los Alamos Safeguards Conference in 1969, said:(AEC publication WASH-1076 (1966) ).
"Once special nuclear fuel is stolen in small quantities, a market for such illicit materials is bound to develop. Such a market can surely be expected to grow once the source of supply has been identified. As the market grows, the numbers and size of such thefts would be expected to grow with it, and I fear such growth would be extremely rapid once it begins. Such a threat would quickly lead to serious financial burdens for the industry and a threat to national security."
It was agreed at the symposium that losses of plutonium of at least 1% to 2% are inevitable. At that time, plutonium was valued at more than $5000 per pound.
The man's name is John Phillips, a second-year undergraduate Physics student at Princeton University. When interviewed by Peter Gzowski on "Ninety Minutes Live", Mr. Phillips emphasized that anyone with a reasonably good knowledge of undergraduate physics could have done what he did, using only information which is available in public libraries.
There is no known way to denature plutonium so that it cannot be used for explosive purposes. Although large bombs (in the kiloton range) would require the use of plutonium metal, even plutonium oxide powder (produced in a reprocessing plant) can be used to fashion a crude device, yielding as little as ten or a hundred tons of TNT energy (see Albert Wohlstetter, "Spreading the Bomb Without Quite Breaking the Rules". Foreign Policy, Winter 1976/77).
"Toxicity of Plutonium and Some Other Actinides" , in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September 1976. This is a survey of all the scientific research done to date on the toxicity of plutonium, written by Dr. John Edsall, a Professor of Biochemistry at Harvard University.
The Curve of Binding Energy by John McPhee (Ferrar, Straus & Giroux 1974) gives many details concerning the inadequacy of U.S. security measures intended to prevent plutonium diversion. The amount of plutonium presently unaccounted for in the United States is sufficient to construct hundreds of Nagasaki-size bombs. Here in Canada, plutonium is produced only in spent fuel rods, which are so intensely radioactive that they are virtually burglar-proof. To transport a spent fuel rod would be a major undertaking, and to separate the plutonium would be costly, dangerous, and would require massive facilities.
Once this dirty work has been done, however, (in a reprocessing plant) the separated plutonium can be easily transported, and easily diverted. Dr. Theodore Taylor, one of America's most experienced bomb designers, recently pointed out that even after the separated plutonium has been fabricated into fresh reactor fuel, it can still be extracted again using simple chemical processes involving no sophisticated equipment. "It's easier than making LSD," he says, "and lots of people have made LSD at home."
To begin reprocessing in Canada would carry with it grave security risks which we have so far been able to avoid. In fact, many observers both inside and outside of the nuclear industry believe that this may be the Achilles heel of the whole nuclear program.
"Investigating an Unsafe Nuclear Power Plant: Too Hot to Handle", The New York Times Magazine, Sunday, April 10, 1977. See also the Ford/Mitre Report, p. 321.
The Ford/Mitre Report, p. 322. General Electric would have to invest at least $35 million more to make their reprocessing plant operational. The projected cost of the Barnwell plant increased by "at least a factor of ten" over its original estimate of $70 million, according to the Ford/Mitre Report.
"Plutonium, Proliferation and Policy", by Victor Gilinsky, Technology Review, February 1977.
The first documented instance was on March 9, 1976, when a Vice-President of AECL (Archie Aiken) told an audience at the Unitarian Church in Ottawa that plutonium from a CANDU power reactor could not be used to make bombs because of the plutonium-240 content.
This misinformation was repeated even more emphatically by an AECL spokesman (Ian MacKay) in testimony to the P.E.I. legislature on March 30, 1976. More recently (April 1977), A.J. Mooradian, Head of Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories, said that plutonium from Canadian reprocessing plants could be diluted sufficiently to prevent it from posing a potential weapons threat. This is categorically untrue.
Ibid.: Mr. Gilinsky states:"In assessing the dangers associated with possible misuse of plutonium or highly enriched uranium. we were influenced in the early days by the assumption that nuclear weapons and development required long and costly programs and that even separated plutonium or highly enriched uranium could not easily or rapidly be turned into military explosives.
"This led to other careless assumptions: for example, that the technique of reactor safeguarding already in place -- inspections and audits -- would be adequate to provide the vital early warning of illicit attempts to divert separated plutonium, when it eventually began to accumulate in stockpiles; and also, that warning well in advance of illicit bomb fabrication was perhaps not really essential.
"These miscalculations, combined with the fact that the problem was not an immediate one, are the key to difficulties we are now experiencing in curbing further proliferation. . .
"... In following this course we have finally arrived at a situation in which a country can come arbitrarily close to going nuclear with our materials without violating any agreements.
"These are the consequences of taking for granted the future utilization of plutonium and regarding reprocessing as a perfectly legitimate commercial activity, and also of taking for granted the efficacy of 'safeguarding'. While it is a cliché of the inspection trade that diversion cannot be prevented by inspection safeguards, there is nevertheless a general human tendency to relax and assume protection once they are in place. Calling the inspections 'safeguards' contributes to this illusion. (emphasis added) "
Albert Wohlstetter, "Spreading the Bomb Without Quite Breaking the Rules", (Foreign Policy, Winter 1976/77), writes"It should make suppliers thoughtful that their nuclear exports might bring a non-weapon state closer to exploding a plutonium bomb than the United States was in 1947."He scornfully dismisses the glib rationalizations which are offered to make the threat appear minimal:
- about denatured plutonium . . .
"It is surprising that the faith in denaturing of plutonium, however plausible initially, could have survived for more than three decades. . . . The uncertainties of surviving ground attack, of penetrating air defense, and of delivering weapons on target are cumulatively larger than the uncertainties in the yield of a bomb made with power-grade plutonium . . . The lowest yield of such a weapon can by no stretch of the imagination be called 'weak' -- its yield would still be in the kiloton range."
- about cost . . .
"If one already has paid for an electric power reactor, the relevant economic figure is not the total, but the marginal or extra cost to get the bomb material, given the fact that one has already paid for the reactor. . . . This would be small by comparison with the expense of a program to produce and separate plutonium exclusively for weapons. . . . The more important costs are political for any program designed overtly to get plutonium for a weapon. This could be why the Pakistanis, the Koreans, the Taiwanese, and others deny that they are doing any such thing. It would hurt them militarily, economically, and politically. They can more easily get the financial and technical assistance and trading relations necessary for a power reactor."
- about safeguards . . .
"Safeguards cannot be effectively applied to fissile material only a few hours away from a bomb; such 'safeguards' cannot give timely warning."
- about inevitability . . .
"Even if such a development were, as it is claimed, inevitable 'sooner or later', later would be better than sooner, and less would be better than more. . . . In a conventional war, it takes a very long time or huge resources to kill the number of people that would be destroyed by a few nuclear weapons in a matter of hours."
Wohlstetter (ibid.) points out that leaking fuel rods are regularly discharged early from a power reactor, even under normal operating conditions, leading to a significant quantities of weapons-grade plutonium.This is particularly true in the case of on-line refueling, as in the CANDU system.
"In India, as of September 1975, 97 percent of the fuel discharged from its Tarapur reactors had leaked. . . . Since it is neither illegal nor uncommon to operate reactors uneconomically, governments may derive quite pure plutonium-239 with no violation nor much visibility."
See The Atomic Energy Control Board by Bruce Doern, commissioned by the Law Reform Commission of Canada (1976).
AECB has already done considerable work in removing radioactive materials from Port Hope homes. Much more work will be undertaken this year and next in Port Hope, Elliot Lake, Uranium City, Ottawa, Bancroft, Haley station (Ont.), East Baintree (Man.), and Surrey (B.C.), at a cost of more than $5 million. Unfortunately, this mammoth cleanup may seriously hamper AECB's effectiveness in regulating the rapidly expanding nuclear industry -- particularly in dealing with the far more dangerous technology of plutonium reprocessing, where the wasted are billions of times more toxic than those encountered in uranium mining and refining.
It is discouraging to see how quickly AECB can lose interest in rectifying an extremely unpleasant and unsafe situation. After announcing plans to spend $10 million to remove radioactive materials from the Port Granby dumpsite near Port Hope, the AECB decided that this would be too expensive and is now trying to extend the license of the Port Granby dumpsite for another 18 months. Since the dumpsite is situated on a bluff overlooking Lake Ontario, and since radium is known to have been migrating from the dumpsite to the lake in concentrations which are more than 70 times as great as the maximum concentrations permitted by law, this decision is extremely difficult to understand.)
Knights, G.B., Atomic Energy Control Board Memorandum 15-2-83, July 6, 1975 (p.5)
In 1964, an Inspector for the Ontario Ministry of Health found that Elliot Lake and Quirke Lake had concentrations of radium which were well above the maximum permissible levels. Very little has been done about the problem since then. Last year, a CBC National News story told of a middle-aged couple who had purchased a resort on one of the lakes of the Serpent River system only to find that the water was too radioactive for human use.Department of the Environment Report
(quoted in the Toronto Star, March 1977.)
Health Physics, Permagon Press, Vol. 30. June 1976; pp. 433-437. "Lung Cancer in Uranium Miners and Long-Term Exposure to Radon Daughter Products".
Radium-226, which has a half-life of 1600 years, is a potent carcinogen which lodges in the bones. Experiments in radiotoxicology indicate that it is more than ten times as dangerous as strontium-90. When radium-226 disintegrates, it produces radon-222, a radioactive gas, which as a half-life of about four days; and when radon-222 disintegrates, it produces the so-called "radon daughters', which are responsible for creating excess lung cancers in uranium miners. Recent studies indicate that the deposition of radon daughters on leafy plants as a result of radon gas emanating from uranium tailings may ultimately prove to be the most significant source of radioactive pollution from uranium mining.
Thorium-230, which has a half-life of 76,000 years, is the main culprit here. Thorium-230 produces radium-226 as a byproduct, so that the supply of radium in uranium tailings will not be significantly reduced for many thousands of years. Meanwhile, the radium-226 is a constant source of radon gas. Thus the health risks will last for many millennia. At the present time, there are no adequate provisions whatsoever for the long-term disposal of these wastes! See the Report of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry (1976), by Justice Fox, available from the Government Printing House in Canberra Australia.
Ham, James (1976), Report of the Royal Commission on the Health and Safety of Workers in Mines, Office of the Attorney General of the Province of Ontario (Toronto).
Nucleonics Week, 13 January 1977. These new regulations limit the exposure to members of the general public from any nuclear facility to 25 millirem, instead of the 500 millirem allowed by the AECB. Although AECB has an unofficial "guideline" of one percent of the maxim permissible exposure (i.e. 5 millirem), experience has shown that the guidelines are conveniently forgotten whenever they are exceeded.
Ontario Hydro LOCA Report (1976); this report, which was completed in November 1976, is not in the public domain. Although it has been requested by MLA's in the Ontario Legislature, it has not been released "for security reasons". Does this mean that CANDU reactors are more easily sabotaged than we have been led to believe? Or what?
The design base accident (as it is called) assumes a loss of-coolant accident coupled with a partial loss of containment through the ventilation system. These events are treated as being independent, which seems to be a dubious assumption, since the steam pressure caused by a major pipe break would put an extraordinary strain on the containment system and could help to precipitate a loss of containment. See the Bruce Safety Report for details regarding the calculations which are made. This report is not in the public domain.
The Bruce reactor's two independent scram systems must operate together to limit fuel failures in the event of a design base accident. However, the Pickering reactors have only one scram system, which raises the possibility that fuel failures may be excessive in the event of a design base accident at Pickering. AECB has been considering whether or not to require an additional fast shutdown system to be installed in the Pickering reactors. For more details, see the BRS [Bruce Reactor Safety] Notes, a series of documents produced by AECL in response to questions and comments raised by the AECB and its Reactor Safety Advisory Committees on the Bruce Safety Report. These documents are not in the public domain; AECB and AECL have so far refused to allow CCNR representatives to review them.
The assumptions in question have to do with sheath uniformity and the possibility of centerline melting -- as well as possible obstructions to the flow of emergency coolant.
A major loss-of-coolant accident may be uncontainable if the fast shutdown systems fail, especially because of the positive void coefficient of reactivity. Most existing commercial CANDU's in Canada have only one fast shutdown system, and another may be required to satisfy normal reliability criteria. AECB is considering the possibility of requiring retrofits of an additional fast shutdown system for another reason -- that even if the first one works properly excessive fuel failures may still occur. See Note 36.
The pressure relief valves associated with the vacuum building (like the emergency core cooling system) have never been tested at full scale. For the vacuum building to work, these valves must not have a common-mode failure; and, to limit radioactive releases, the vacuum pumps must shut off promptly. It is uncertain whether both of these requirements will be met under accident conditions.
It is not certain whether the sudden failure of a pressure tube might propagate to other pressure tubes or calandria tubes, as in the experimental reactor at Lucens, Switzerland, which was totally destroyed in 1969 as a result of just such an accident. Both the initial tube failure and propagation might be enhanced by neutron embrittlement and by the higher pressures of the newer CANDU designs.
An earthquake during on-load refueling could cause a small loss-of-coolant accident. Since CANDU structures are generally larger than corresponding LWR structures, the seismic integrity of the calandria itself is uncertain, as well as that of the vacuum building and the primary containment system.
It must be said that the really difficult questions about CANDU safety have never been addressed at all. For example, there has never been a study on the possibility of a major uncontained meltdown in a CANDU reactor. There has never been a study of the of the possible health consequences of such an accident at Pickering, which is reputed to be one of the most poorly sited power reactors in the world from a safety point of view. There has never been a study of the probabilities associated with various types of large-scale accidents in a CANDU reactor; instead, Canadian nuclear authorities unblushingly quote American figures which have no bearing whatsoever on the CANDU design. There has never been a thorough review of the computer programs which are used in safety calculations or the safety implications of computerized control. See Note 36 for the retrofitting issue, and the LOCA Report for the "no fuel failure" criterion dispute. The BRS Notes contain many additional safety questions, as does the Argonne Report (December 1975) -- a special report on CANDU prepared by the U.S. Argonne National Laboratory.
The high level radioactive waste which has already been produced is going to have to be disposed of in some fashion. The issue is not whether to dispose of it, but how and where. The answer to these questions, in turn, depends on a number of fundamental policy decisions:
In any event, it seems unwise to establish a preliminary experimental project involving wastes of this toxicity in a populated area such as Madoc, Ontario, at a site which apparently violates some of the criteria laid down by the Atomic Energy Control Board for such facilities.
- Are we going to dispose of the spent fuel with or without reprocessing it? In the United States, top priority is being given to find methods for permanently storing the spent fuel without reprocessing it. However, the Canadian nuclear establishment is proceeding on the assumption that there will be reprocessing and the technical problems involved are quite different.
- Are we going to continue with nuclear power plants into the indefinite future or not? If nuclear power is going to be a continuing feature of our society, the waste disposal facility will be continuously receiving new waste to be stored alongside the old waste which has already been stored; consequently there will always be a substantial quantity of high level waste which is not permanently stored, but is either in transit or in the process of being stored. Moreover, economic considerations (such as transportation costs) will dictate that the waste facility be located in populated areas relatively close to the nuclear reactors themselves. On the other hand, if nuclear power is going to be phased out, we can afford to dispose of the waste once and for all in a tightly sealed permanent fashion in some remote and inaccessible region.
This meeting was reported widely in the press, and was also filmed for subsequent use on television.
There are other dubious assumptions as well, of a truly fundamental nature. Here are two of the most important:
- It is assumed by AECL that reprocessing makes ultimate waste disposal easier (Managing Nuclear Wastes, by Peter Dyne, AECL 1976) Recent evidence from the United States indicates that reprocessing may make ultimate waste disposal considerably more difficult.
This information can be found in the USNRC GESMO testimony of March 4, 1977 by the California Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission, and in a detailed 1977 study by the International Technology Project, Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Waste Management (Institute for International Studies, University of California at Berkeley).
- First of all, reprocessing substantially increases the volume of the wastes which must be treated and disposed of as high level wastes -- including spent fuel cladding, transuranium-contaminated wastes from mixed-oxide fuel fabrication, and miscellaneous transuranium contaminated liquid wastes and hardware.
- Secondly, vitrification concentrates the main heat-producing isotopes into a fraction of their original volume, causing troublesome operational problems -- as in the recent heat-induced buckling of the salt deposits at Asse, West Germany, where high level wastes have been deposited for some time.
- Thirdly, the long-term radiological hazard from plutonium is only reduced about seven-fold, rather than 200-fold as is often claimed.
The alternative to reprocessing fuel is to "overpack" it -- put it in stainless steel cans -- after an initial period in cooling ponds. Whatever method is suitable for disposing of vitrified high level waste will also be suitable for disposing of overpacked spent fuel. More information available on request.
- AECL assumes that 17 years of wet storage gives a good indication of the long-term stability of the glasses used for high level waste storage.
- the gradual build-up of helium gas inside the glass blocks;
- thermal stresses which will be more severe with dry storage than with wet storage;
- possible devitrification of the glass as a result of long-term radiation damage to the crypto-crystalline structure;
- chemical reactions which could occur between the glass and the granite enclosure; and
- fracturing of the glass blocks themselves.
Flowers, Sir Brian (1976), Nuclear Energy and the Environment, Sixth Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Government Printing House (London England). Sir Brian Flowers is not a geologist and his proposal may not be acceptable either. Nevertheless, he is obviously concerned about keeping any waste management projects far removed from human populations, since even the best-laid plans have a way of going astray.
See Peter Metzger's book The Atomic Establishment (Simon and Schuster 1972) for a good account of the "Salt Vault" project. It is arrogant and irresponsible for AECL spokesmen to claim that they have a "proven, safe method" for disposing of radioactive wastes, when they cannot support such claims scientifically. Let them make their assertions formally to the world scientific community, and submit to the judgment of their peers. As Hannes Alfven, Nobel Prize Winner in Physics, recently said:"It is, for instance, often stated that reactor safety and waste disposal problems will be more or less automatically solved with increased experience. However, one should keep in mind that these extremely difficult and sophisticated problems are now coming into the hands of people who often do not belong to the elite which developed the nuclear technology in the past. In fact, it was in part this elite which early discovered the dangers of nuclear energy, and publicly opposed it -- or left it quietly."Invited Address to the International Atomic Energy Agency Conference on Nuclear Power and Its Fuel Cycle, May 9, 1977, Salzburg, Austria.
See note 43.
Minutes of the Proceedings and Evidence of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts; June, 1976; and November 18, 1976 to January 27, 1977.
In June 1976, it was observed by Mr. Chatelaine, Deputy Auditor General, that"As of March 31, 1975 unrecorded interest accrued from the in-service dates on these two generating stations amounted to $53 million; $28 million for Douglas Point and $25 million for Gentilly-1. . . .
"In the meantime, interest is accruing at the rate of approximately $9 million per year without being recorded in the accounts of the Corporation.
"In the past year the Public Accounts Committee has questioned AECL on the following points:
The Auditor General of Canada has concluded that
- Carrying values of prototype nuclear power stations in excess of estimated realizable value .
- Failure to accrue interest on loans from Canada .
- Payments to agents inadequately documented, and .
- Failure to provide for loss relating to Argentine contract.
"an urgent need exists to broaden the role of financial management and control in AECL. . . "
The Argonne Report (A Brief Survey of Considerations Involved in Introducing CANDU Reactors into the United States, December 1975) and the U.S.A.E.C. CANDU Report (An Evaluation of the Potential of Heavy Water Reactor Plants in the United States -- Phase Two, January 1975), both indicate a capital cost penalty of about $150-$175 per kilowatt installed in CANDU reactors were to be built in the U.S. under U.S. financial conditions. AECL calculations indicate a smaller cost penalty, largely due to the artificially low interest rates which are used by Crown Corporations in Canada -- one of the more subtle "hidden subsidies" to the nuclear industry.
In his article "Exploring Energy-Efficient Futures for Canada", Conserver Society Notes vol. 1 No. 4 (Science Council of Canada 1976), Amory Lovins discusses such a non-nuclear future, without cutting back on projected economic growth and without requiring major changes in lifestyle. The Office of Energy Conservation has recently confirmed that Lovins' energy efficiency objectives can be easily met. See also "Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?" by Amory Lovins, Foreign Affairs, October 1976.
One of the more humorous incidents was a recent $2.3 million loan by AECL to pay for the sales tax on the heavy water for the Gentilly-2 reactor now under construction in Quebec. They had hoped to get away without paying any tax by calling the D2O "distilled water" -- which, however, didn't wash with the Quebec government! Recent cost estimates for Canadian reprocessing cited at the Salzburg Conference of the I.A.E.A. (May 1977) used an interest rate of four percent!
The reprocessing plant at West Valley New York (see Note 13) is expected to have decommissioning costs which are in the hundreds of millions of dollars, with some estimates running as high as a billion dollars.
Decommissioning costs are generally underestimated. Environment Magazine (January 1977) points out that long-lived radioactive isotopes (with a half-life around a quarter of a million years) are created in the reactor vessel due to intense neutron bombardment, making the problem of decommissioning more difficult and costly than previously thought. The same article describes a research reactor that was decommissioned at a cost of $100 million. More recently, a request for $100 million was made to the New Jersey government to decommission a power reactor in that state.
See the CCNR brief "On Energy" to the Quebec Parliamentary Commission on Natural Resources; (February 1977); the CCNR brief presented by Ian Connerty to Prime Minister Trudeau ("The Consumer and Nuclear Energy -- a Luxury We Can No Longer Afford", august 1976); and the ENERGY PROBE / CCNR brief submitted to the Federal Cabinet ("Energy Policy and Inflation, Unemployment, Environmental Quality, and National Unity", February 1977).
See the ENERGY PROBE / CCNR brief referred to in Note 54.
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