Canada's Nuclear Dilemma -- Edwards, 1982

Canada's Nuclear Dilemma:

Footnotes and Bibliography

by Gordon Edwards, Ph.D.

Special Issue:
"Energy, Ethics, Power, and Policy"

Volume 13, Numbers 1 and 2, 1982
University of British Columbia



  1. "When fuel bundles are removed from the reactor, they are very hot, very radioactive and extremely dangerous. An individual standing one metre from a fresh spent fuel bundle would receive a lethal radiation dose of about 200 000 rem per hour." (Ontario, 1980b, p. 3).

  2. "Almost 4 percent of the oceanic volume would be needed to dilute the wastes on hand at the year 2000 to levels specified in the Radiation Concentration Guides; this volume is almost double that of fresh water in global storage in lakes, rivers, ground water, and glaciers. Even after a million years, the volume of water needed . . . is significant." (Bredehoeft et al., 1978, p. 2).

  3. Directed by the Legislature to do so, in 1976 the California Energy Commission undertook a thorough investigation of geological disposal; in June 1977, an Interim Report identified hundreds of unanswered technical questions on the subject (California Energy Commission, 1977). By January 1978, it was concluded that "scientific evidence is lacking even to confirm the feasibility of waste isolation in geologic formations." (California Energy Commission, 1978, p. 209). See also Bredehoeft et al. (1978).

  4. "A number of [town] councils have opposed any research in their area.... We have lost some time ... in marshalling the effort required to get the program underway." (Hatcher, 1980).
    "The main concerns with continuing delays are that they erode public confidence . . . increase public confusion . . . and add to the overall cost of research." (Ontario, 1980c, p. 8).

  5. Over 80 percent of the radioactivity in the ore is left in the tailings, with an effective half-life of 76 000 years (Landa, 1980).

  6. Most of the radioactive isotopes in uranium tailings emit alpha radiation. Recent scientific evidence indicates that at low dose rates, alpha radiation is more effective at causing cancer (per unit dose) than at higher dose rates (Woollard and Young, 1979, 1980; Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation, 1980, p. 242).

  7. Thousands of homes and schools in the southwest United States were built from uranium tailings; similar problems have occurred in Canada (Metzger, 1972; Sanger, 1981).

  8. "About 9800 premature deaths [from radon-induced lung cancer] are predicted over the period 1978 to 3000 in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, from tailings that would be generated by the full operation of mills in existence in the United States in the year 2000" (Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 1979, p. 5).
    "A US Public Health Service study shows increased bone cancer in communities with 4.2 [picocuries per liter radium-226] in drinking water as compared to communities with 1 [picocurie per liter]. [This concentration] is about 6.5 times less than ... the proposed maximum acceptable concentration . . ." (Woollard and Young, 1980, p. 9). See also Landa (1980).

  9. CCNR (1980a, p. 8); NRC (1979, p. 15).

  10. At Elliot Lake, extraction of two pounds of uranium yields a ton of tailings. The price of uranium, down from $40 per pound to $27 per pound (US $), is still dropping (Northern Miner, January 1981). If disposal costs are high, say $30 per ton or more, uranium mining may not be economically justifiable.

    . . . back to Nuclear Wastes

  11. The contracts guarantee $2 billion in profits for the mining companies, while exempting them from the cost of tailings disposal.

  12. U.S. funding for high-level waste research "was in the order of $160 million to $180 million this past year; in Canada it was $16 million." (Ontario, 1978/81, 24 January 1980, p. 31). As for tailings disposal, "there seems to be an impasse on research.... The national program has not begun." (Ontario, 1980c, p. 33).

  13. "A good deal of the information is . . . not subjected to the normal process of scrutiny by the scientific community.... If you have no connections ... it is impossible to get the information." (Ontario, 1978/81, 24 January 1980, p. 19).
    In AECL documents, officials "are pleased to acknowledge the work of the many participants in the program and their cooperation in providing access to, as yet, unpublished information." (Boulton and Gibson, 1979).

  14. "On June 5, 1978 a joint statement was tabled . . . in the House of Commons and . . . in the Ontario Legislature.... research on immobilization and disposal [of spent fuel] was assigned to AECL as a federal responsibility." (Ontario, 1980b, p. 13).
    This statement, based on Ottawa's green paper (Canada, 1977), was announced before the Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning or the Standing Committee on National Resources and Public Works had a chance to deliver recommendations on the subject . See note 87.

  15. "AECL compounded its credibility problem by its one-sided, overly positive and broadly pro-nuclear presentations of information." (Ontario, 1980b, p. 26). A classic example of AECL's public relations material is a booklet entitled "Radiation Is Part of Your Life," satirized in the Ottawa Citizen on 9 May 1981 ("Why Worry About Something You Can't Escape? -- AECL" by Don Butler).

  16. Canada (1979). "One of the major problems AECL must overcome is the public's perception that its entire program . . . is biased by its commitment to nuclear power and consequent desire to show that waste disposal is not an insuperable problem." (Ontario , 1980b, p. 26).

  17. "At its inception the program appeared to enshrine the right of any community to veto a proposed repository in its vicinity.... [However], it is most likely that government will ultimately have to choose . . . the siting of what will be perceived as a garbage dump for frightening nuclear poisons." (Ontario, 1980b, pp. 24-25).

  18. "The waste disposal aspect ... cannot be dissociated from the fuel program.... Plutonium is an extremely useful material and we will be dealing in it." (AECL, 1977a, Concluding Remarks by President John Foster). See also Science Council of Canada (1979, pp. 46-50).

  19. In Atikokan, AECL claimed "community approval" without ever holding a balanced public meeting; a petition calling for public hearings and a referendum, signed by 17 000 local people, was totally disregarded (Miyata, 1980) as was an earlier petition signed by 18 000 people in the Thunder Bay area (Canada, 1977/78, Issue No. 37, p. 17).
    "Visits to M.P.s and M.P.P.s are carried out under the guise of 'informational briefings'. . . . [Those] briefed were unaware that their questions and comments were being noted as indicative of 'community approval' " (Ontario, 1980b, p. 24).

  20. Archie Aikin, ex-Vice-President of AECL and principal author of the government's green paper (Canada, 1977), was one of these (Edwards, 1978a, p. 1).

    . . . back to Nuclear Wastes

  21. After AECL boycotted an ambitious three-day Conference on Nuclear Waste Management, the Temiskaming Municipal Association (representing 43 townships) voted overwhelmingly against allowing any AECL research to take place in the area.

  22. "There are no criteria .. . no established procedure ... no assurance [of adequate] public hearings . . . no decision on the ultimate responsibility . . . no officially accepted realistic program schedule....
    "Even the best and most unbiased public information program is bound to appear weak and confused. It can only reflect the true state of the program." (Ontario, 1980b, pp. 27-28).

  23. The Canadian Geoscience Council is "a group representing the major earth science societies in Canada; it is made up of . . . 12 societies . . ." (Ontario, 1978/81, 24 January 1980, p. 5).

  24. Dr. MacQueen of the Geological Association of Canada: "The problem . . . is unique in the history of engineering and science.... it will be necessary to make very long-term predictions . . . acceptable to the scientific and engineering community, in which there is at present considerable skepticism towards nuclear power.... There are major uncertainties...." (Canada, 1977/78, Issue No. 11, Appendix NR-8). "People ... who know about these things . . . should be party to the decisions . . . and they should be . . . referees of the material that is produced. Is it good stuff . . . acceptable . . . scientifically valid . . .?" (Ontario, 1978/81, 24 January 1980: Dr. Strangway.)

  25. "The politics of the situation . . . have partly locked us out of the soft-rock option. We are gambling that the hard-rock option will pay off, . . . it is a gamble . . . not worth taking" (Ontario, 1978/81, 24 January 1980, p. 27: Dr. Barnes).

  26. "Each of the American witnesses . . . pinpointed the lack of criteria . . . as the glaring weakness of the Canadian program. In the words of one, 'developing a proposal without criteria is like drawing the target around a dart after it has been thrown'." (Ontario, 1980b, p. 33).
    The British Columbia Medical Association has called for "significant medical input" (Transitions, June 1978). "Canadians cannot continue to allow vested interest Ministries and regulatory bodies to promulgate maximum permissible [radiation] dose limits." (Woollard and Young, 1980, p. 277).

  27. Dissenting Opinion on the transportation of nuclear wastes (Ontario, 1980b, pp. 34-36). See also Hamilton and Resnikoff (1980).

  28. AECL did some immobilization of liquid wastes 20 years ago. Immobilization of spent fuel is an entirely different problem, on which research has barely begun (Boulton and Gibson, 1979, pp. 19-21). Since AECL plans to eventually separate plutonium (note 107), however, half of AECL's current immobilization budget still goes to the glassification of liquid wastes.

  29. Accidents during immobilization or emplacement can cause severe contamination, making subsequent human access dangerous (note 90).

  30. Prior to the green paper (Canada, 1977), AECL never advocated irretrievable storage (Edwards, 1978a, pp. 35-36).
    "Many experts . . . have severe reservations about the safety of [geologic] disposal operations.... Many feel that it will be extremely difficult, and some would go so far as to say that it is impossible, to obtain the guarantees which would be necessary to justify highly active waste being allowed to pass beyond control." (OECD, 1973, pp. 1173-74).

    . . . back to Nuclear Wastes

  31. "The long-term impermeability of tailings basins ... cannot be guaranteed....
    "The Board finds little . . . confidence in the use of synthetic membranes, asphalt, cement or chemical means . . . to inhibit water infiltration in the long term." (Ontario Environmental Assessment Board, 1979).
    In 1978, Eldorado Nuclear Ltd. proposed "a bentonite-sand blanket ... with an overlay of 1.7 meters of fill.... There was no evidence that this would ensure the integrity of the blanket.... The effects of freak weather situations . . . cannot be determined without extensive field testing" (Canada, 1978b).

  32. Fixing tailings (the slimes) in cement or asphalt is briefly considered by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (1979, pp. 8-24).

  33. Difficulties here include "loss of tailings dust during loading, shipment, and unloading"; and avoidance of ground-water contamination. Lining the pit would be costly, "from $100 million to $140 million," and perhaps ineffective. (Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 1979, pp. 8- 17).

  34. Removing the thorium and radium from the tailings would drastically reduce the scale of the problem (Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 1979, pp. 8-24).

  35. "Dramatic examples of large radiation releases from tailings areas in the past [include] the desolated environment around the closed Rum Jungle uranium mine in the Northern Territory of Australia . . . the elevation of Radium-226 levels and acidification of lakes in the Elliot Lake region . . . [and] the failure of the 'state of the art' uranium tailings dam [in Churchrock, New Mexico] in 1979" (Woollard and Young, 1980, p. 90).

  36. International marketing arrangements used to "fix" the price of uranium in the early 1970s (Stewart, 1980) could finance an international program of tailings disposal research by adding a surcharge to the international price of uranium.

  37. "It is difficult to assess the allegations of some critics of nuclear power that the cost of waste disposal will be sufficient to compromise the currently assumed advantage of nuclear power over coal. The Committee could not find in any of the agencies currently responsible for pieces of the program satisfactory and complete answers on financial details." (Ontario, 1980b, p. 21).

  38. See Rubin (1980).

  39. The real return to capital invested by Ontario Hydro is approximately 3.5 percent (after inflation). In the private sector it is about 7.5 percent. The Treasury Board recommends the latter figure to evaluate federal investments, so that the public sector does not compete unfairly for scarce capital. But with a large enough return rate, nuclear power becomes uncompetitive with coal. Gibbons (1981) argues that 7.5 percent is large enough.

  40. "A comprehensive international control system for the [strategic materials associated with] civilian nuclear power ... would be possible only in a climate of general disarmament." (United Kingdom, 1976, paragraph 166).
    The CANDU is considered the most dangerous power reactor on the world market from a proliferation perspective (Nuclear Energy Policy, 1977, p. 279; Edwards and Dyne, 1979).
    See also Kistiakowski et al. (1976).

    . . . back to Conclusion

  41. Extensive contamination already exists in some parts of Canada (Sanger, 1981; Ontario, 1976).

  42. "One could well view the allowable exposure to the public from nuclear facilities as [tantamount] to allowing an industrially-induced epidemic of cancer." (Woollard and Young, 1980, p. 283).

  43. "Nuclear power is by its very nature potentially dangerous, and, therefore, one must continually question whether the safeguards already in place are sufficient." (Kemeney et al., 1979, p. 9).

  44. CANDU reactors routinely release large quantities of tritium and carbon-14. "Carbon-14 and tritium are of comparable and special concerns for similar reasons. First, they each have long half-lives: 5,730 years for carbon-14 and 12.3 years for tritium. Long half-lives allow them to accumulate in the environment around a reactor and in the global biosphere. Second, they are easily incorporated into human tissue." (Ontario, 1980d, p. 15).

  45. "If nuclear power . . . had been in widespread use at the time of the last war . . . some areas of central Europe would still be uninhabitable." (United Kingdom, 1976, p. 124). See also Fetter and Tsipis (1981).

  46. To avoid bankruptcy, Duke Power cancelled a three-unit nuclear station on which $440 million was already spent. Carl Horn, Chairman of the Board, said "We simply cannot reasonably afford to build them.... It's not my function to liquidate the company." (New York Times, 8 March 1981).

  47. An accident in a multi-reactor complex (Pickering or Bruce) could cause prolonged blackouts ("A Reactor Blockage," Globe and Mail 23 January 1981).

. . . back to Table of Contents


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