Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Nuclear NIMBY

Unlike many opponents to nuclear power use in the Alberta tar sands, I am not anti-CANDU.

I support the use of CANDU as the safest low volume residue reactors in the world. That their need for continuing capitalization for maintenance is what has been problematic in the case of the industry in Ontario. Had the world adopted CANDU disasters like Three Mile Island or Chernobyl would never have occurred, because the technologies are different.

That being said, as a power engineer I oppose the use of Nuclear power in the Tarsands, as inefficient and not cost effective, because it will be used for steam injection of bitumen rather than for production of electricity. This will take up larger volumes of water, and further pollute the existing Athabasca river with heated effluent.

Nuclear power might be all the rage for some interested parties in Alberta's oil patch, but others question the need for such controversial power generation in an industry that requires more steam than electricity.
And let's understand that is what is being proposed for the tarsands, not just an electrical plant but one for steam and electrical production needed for bitumen production.

He was one of a small delegation of community leaders from Peace River, interested in visiting New Brunswick’s nuclear power plant. Whitecourt and Peace River are in the running to host Western Canada’s first nuclear plant, putting it about an hour’s drive from the B.C. border. It’s proposed for northwestern Alberta due to the presence of bitumen trapped in rock west of the main oilsands deposits.

Nuclear power may soon run deep electric heaters to extract that rockbound oil, reduce emissions for conventional oilsands extraction and perhaps light northeastern B.C. homes. It would spur the proposed pipeline to deliver the black gold to the west coast at Kitimat and on to Asia, and further cement the merger of Alberta and B.C. into Canada’s western super-province.

The prize Royal Dutch is chasing is bitumen trapped in hard-rock limestone, rather than the conventional oil sands around Fort McMurray where bitumen is mixed with dirt and sandstone.

The Anglo-Dutch energy giant is the likeliest customer for a nuclear power plant proposed by Energy Alberta Corp., a private company working with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.Unlocking the multibillion-barrel bonanza encased in limestone requires an astounding amount of electricity.

The resource has been known for decades but efforts to recover it have failed.

Royal Dutch is working on electric heaters below ground to loosen up the gooey bitumen to draw it to the surface through wells.

The firm is trying to commercialize what it calls a "novel thermal recovery process" invented by Shell's technology arm.

But because companies in the oilsands are now becoming conservationists due to the provinces carbon tax, they are finding alternatives to nuclear power in other fuels they generate as waste.

oil companies are already moving rapidly towards cheaper, more efficient technologies than those used for the past 20 years, one representative said.

''Nuclear may be an option in five to 10 years from now, but in the meantime, people are already moving off of natural gas and moving on to other things,'' Greg Stringham, with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said.

In the meantime, gasification of asphaltines, the dregs of the bitumen barrel, is one process being piloted in the oil sands as an alternative fuel, and underground fires fueled by oily air is another revolutionary technology being piloted to reduce costs in the oil sands, Stringham said.

So the guy who once was the leader of the Young Conservatives in Alberta now has to find a different market for his nuclear power plant. While still hoping to sell it to the oil companies as a possible mode for steam injection processes.

Energy Alberta, with partner Crown corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., originally targetted the energy-hungry oil sands in its sales pitch, but has moved on to focus on Alberta in general. ''The purpose of this plant is to produce electricity only,'' spokesman Guy Huntingford said. ''Obviously hydrogen and steam are byproducts of it, but that's not why it's being built; it's being built purely for electricity, so we can place the plant anywhere.''

Nuclear power production of electricity is cleaner than coal, even when considering the environmental impact of both its energy source; uranium mining and fresh water, and its waste problems. It is also less environmentally damaging in comparison to the impact of hydro plants.

In fact nuclear power was one alternative source that M.K. Hubert recommended when offering alternatives to oil consumption in his Peak Oil theory.

The Green NGO's and their campaigners target nuclear power because they equate it with two false premises; fear of radiation, and fear of nuclear war.

They equate peaceful nuclear power with the military industrial complex, and they play on peoples fear of radiation.

There are all kinds of other problems with nuclear energy, including safety (even if technology has improved there is no such thing as a 100% accident proof anything, and a nuclear accident is the stuff of nightmares), dangerous waste (there is no way to get rid of nuclear waste at this time and the plant to be built would store all waste on site), environmental concerns (water would be drawn from the Peace River and that could mean pollution or an effect on local ecosystems), security (governments say nuclear power and nuclear waste are potential terrorist targets), and scarcity (uranium is a limited, non-renewable resource).

Facing reality
Editorial - Monday, June 18, 2007 @ 08:00

Not in my backyard. The call is going out loud and clear. In fact, it has been reverberating in both political and community circles ever since it was realized nuclear energy generates waste that must be stored somewhere.

As recorded in Saturday's Nugget, Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota has grave doubts about the whole concept of burying nuclear waste.

Rota is both a cancer victim and survivor. He cannot be thanked or commended too much for having the courage to admit his experience with cancer, and always being at the forefront in every effort to fight this dreaded disease.

Nuclear waste is radioactive. Radiation causes cancer. Rota speaks for millions of Canadians who are afraid of the stuff and do not want it in their backyards
Radioactive waste is the trouble with nuclear power says the right wing Green NGO Energy Probe which opposes nuclear power because they are shills for King Coal.

Dealing with the waste produced by nuclear reactors is one area that constantly dogs the nuclear power industry. Norman Rubin, director of nuclear research for the anti-nuclear organization Energy Probe, believes the waste is the primary problem with the technology.

The real problem is that with Canada's state funded CANDU, uranium industry and its provincial funded utilities,etc. the control lies with a closed group of state sanctioned corporations like Atomic Energy Canada, which have no public transparency, with no public representation on the board; union, consumer, engineering associations, MP's, etc.

The licensing of more reactors would also be a great boon, at potentially greater public expense, to Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd, which has received subsidies of $17.5 billion over 50 years, according to the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout.

Widespread distrust of existing agencies led Canadians to call for a new independent, non-partisan oversight body to keep tabs on how both government and industry handle nuclear waste.

This message means that top elected officials in Ottawa and the provinces must "revisit the mandates of existing oversight bodies in the nuclear field," concludes the report. Bodies like the federal regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, will need to have a "very public face."

Where our concern has to be is the privatization of nuclear power, it is when plants like that at Three Mile Island or worse; Hanford, are built by Westinghouse and contractors in a P3 with the State that slip shod construction and maintenance leads to critical problems.

The same kind of cronyism that saw the MIC in the U.S. build nuclear power plants was the kind of cronyism that occurred when the Soviet State built its MIC nuclear power plant in the Ukraine. After all Ukrainians were expendable just like the nice folks around Hanford, or those who live in the Nevada desert.

CANDU was a state sponsored engineered and maintained nuclear power process plant different from the Westinghouse and other designs. It was during the Harris and Martin governments rush to privatize and cut back public sector funding that resulted in the Bruce plant in Ontario running into problems.
Bruce is now operated by a more public corporation which includes the Power Workers Union.

But in the Post-Kyoto era all that has changed. Those who once talked about selling off government assets now embrace them and are promoting them not only in Alberta but internationally.

Stephen Harper would seem an unlikely pitchman for nuclear power. When the Prime Minister launches into his familiar spiel about Canada as an emerging "energy superpower," we all think we know what he's talking about -- he's an Alberta MP, after all, and his father worked for Imperial Oil. Yet in a key speech last summer in London, his most gleeful boast was not about record oil profits, but about soaring uranium prices. "There aren't many hotter commodities, so to speak, in the resource markets these days," Harper joked to the Canada-U.K. Chamber of Commerce crowd. Then, noting that Britain is among those countries poised to begin buying new reactors for the first time in decades, he added: "We'll hope you remember that Canada is not just a source of uranium; we also manufacture state-of-the-art CANDU reactor technology, and we're world leaders in safe management of fuel waste."

And in response to the key criticism of waste storage these leaders in the 'safe management of fuels", a state sanctioned private conglomerate of nuclear power companies, have blown the dust off another old proposal from the seventies; using the Canadian Shield to store radioactive waste. Not much of a different plan than that used by the US. And one opposed by the Canadian public.
Canada's Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn announced Friday the Harper government's endorsement of nuclear power and its approval of going ahead with storing high-level radioactive waste underground.

The Conservatives' announcement allows existing reactor sites to continue accumulating waste indefinitely, and it initiates a search for an "informed community" willing to host a "deep repository" for burial of wastes. It will also explore moving wastes to a central location for temporary, shallow underground storage and recycling of nuclear fuel.

As Susan Riley writes in today's Ottawa Citizen, "Apart from the experimental nature of the proposed solution, many hurdles remain — notably, finding a community desperate enough to become a nuclear dumping ground. It has been long supposed that some remote northern town would be the lucky winner, given the technological preference for disposing of the waste deep in the Canadian shield. But recent research suggests the sedimentary rock underlying much of southern Ontario would also be suitable. That said, the prospect of a bidding war between Oakville and Rosedale appears unlikely."

Lunn said the planned depository would cost billions of dollars but said the cost would be borne by the nuclear industry.

It would take 60 years to find a location, build the facility and then transport in the used fuel.

The Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB) regulates this waste, which is currently stored safely and economically in water-filled pools or in dry concrete canisters at the nuclear reactor sites. While there is no technical urgency to proceed toward disposal right away, the issue needs to be addressed partly because the volume of the waste is growing, and partly because the Government has recognized a public concern that a disposal option needs to be identified. In 1978, AECL began a comprehensive program to develop the concept of deep geological disposal of nuclear fuel waste in igneous rock of the Canadian Shield. AECL, assisted by Ontario Hydro, subsequently developed the detailed proposal that is the subject of a public environmental review process by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Public hearings began on March 11, 1996, and are expected to continue until the end of the year.

Subsequently, in 1978, the Governments of Canada and Ontario established the Nuclear Fuel Waste Management Program “to assure the safe and permanent disposal of nuclear fuel waste”. In this program, the responsibility for research and development on disposal in a deep underground repository in intrusive igneous rock was allocated to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL).

As it stands, the AECL concept for deep geological disposal has not been demonstrated to have broad public support. The concept in its current form does not have the required level of acceptability to be adopted as Canada’s approach for managing nuclear fuel wastes.

Ignoring a 1998 recommendation by a federal environmental panel (the Seaborn Panel) to create an impartial radioactive waste agency, the Chretien government in 2002 gave control of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization to the nuclear industry - namely Ontario Power Generation, Hydro Quebec and New Brunswick Power. Also in 2002 the federal Nuclear Fuel Waste Act gave NWMO a three-year mandate to choose between (a) "deep geological disposal in the Canadian Shield"; (b) "storage at nuclear sites"; and (c) "centralized storage, either above or below ground". NWMO must make its final recommendation to the federal government by November 15, 2005.

The Nuclear Fuel Waste Act results from the response of the Canadian federal government (December 1998) to the recommendations of the report of the Environmental Review panel (March 1998) on AECL's nuclear fuel waste management proposal. The report concluded that the plan for Deep Geological Disposal is technically sound, and that nuclear waste would be safely isolated from the biosphere, but that it remains a socially unacceptable plan in Canada. The report makes several recommendations, including the creation of an independent agency to oversee the range of activities leading to implementation. The scope will include complete public participation in the process. (See also the author's March 1998 editorial on this subject, and a detailed critique by industry observer J.A.L. "Archie" Robertson, published in the Bulletin of Canadian Nuclear Society, vol. 2 and 3, 1998)

Over a study and consultation period of three years the NWMO was mandated to choose among three storage concepts and propose a site:

  • Deep underground in the Canadian Shield
  • Above-ground at reactor sites
  • Or at a centralized disposal area

The final report of the NWMO was released in November 2005, recommending a strategy of "Adaptive Phased Management". The strategy is based upon a centralized repository concept, but with a phase approach that includes public consultation and "decision points" along the way, as well as several concepts associated with centralized storage (vs. disposal), and the ability to modify the long-term strategy in accordance with evolving technology or societal wishes. The approach of Adaptive Phased Management was formally accepted by the federal government on June 14, 2007.

The NWMO is financed from a trust fund set up by the nuclear electricity generators and AECL. These companies were required to make an initial payment of $550 million into the fund: Ontario Power Generation (OPG), contributed $500 million, Hydro-Quebec and New Brunswick Power each paid $20 million, and AECL contribute $10 million. The participants are also required to make annual contributions ranging between $2 million and $100 million (one-fifth of their respective initial contributions).

Another important component of the disposal plan is the transportation of nuclear fuel to the disposal site. In Canada this aspect is the responsibility of the Ontario utility, Ontario Power Generation Inc.. Special transport casks have been designed that are able to withstand severe accidents. The battery of tests applied to these casks include being dropped 9 metres onto a hardened surface, exposure to an 800 degrees Celsius fire for 30 minutes, and immersion in water for 8 hours. The development of such specialized containers has proceeded in parallel with efforts in other countries. Sandia Labs in the U.S., in particular, has published some remarkable photographs of severe crash tests performed on one such design.

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