Replacing Ontario’s Nuclear Energy?

Photo: Ilker Ender, Flickr, Pickering Nuclear Generating Station 

This blog, prepared by Jack Gibbons of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, is being shared as a guest post to respond to a few CAPE donors who have asked the question: “Where would Ontario get its baseload electricity if it shut down its nuclear plants?”

Guest Post:  Prepared by Jack Gibbons, Ontario Clean Air Alliance, January 2018

For close to 50 years, Ontario has relied on nuclear power to supply a large share of its electricity. In that half century, the cost of nuclear power has climbed steadily, the risk of nuclear accidents has been made terribly real by events in Chernobyl and Fukushima, and no jurisdiction anywhere – including Ontario – has managed to devise a practical solution for dealing with the tonnes of dangerous radioactive waste sitting outside nuclear reactors, including in the heart of the Greater Toronto Area.

In short, nuclear power has largely been a failure. It has never even come close to meeting the claim that power produced from reactors would be “too cheap to meter” and never resolved the inherent dangers of combining highly complex systems with massive failure risks.

It’s little wonder that nuclear is now a “sunset” technology with most places in the world moving rapidly away from a technology that has now been eclipsed by increasingly low-cost renewable energy systems.

Ironically, Ontario was an early adopter on renewable energy with the passage of the Green Energy and Economy Act in 2009. But the nuclear industry and its allies did a good job of blaming costs that were incurred in rebuilding a dilapidated electricity system entirely on the move to adopt a modest amount of green energy. These claims actually never added up, but they made good headlines.

Today, Ontario has reversed course, moving back to a multi-billion dollar emphasis on nuclear and ignoring the fact that renewable power has never been more attractive (prices for both solar and wind set new low records every month it seems) – it cancelled its last procurement round for large renewable projects and just ended its innovative Feed-in Tariff program.

The funny thing is, Ontario actually has a green power advantage many other places can only dream of: proximity to one of the world’s green energy powerhouses. Our neighbour, Quebec, is one of the largest producers of water power in the world. It also has stupendous (and low cost) wind power potential and, like Ontario, more than decent solar power potential. The thing is, by working together, Ontario and Quebec could create a super-powered partnership. Renewable energy works best when distributed over a wide area to compensate for conditions that may not always be favourable everywhere. So Ontario can send Quebec wind power at night or in winter when it is needed by our neighbours, while Quebec can literally store “intermittent” power by using wind or solar rather than water power when those sources are running strong in either province.

Together, we can create a system that is low cost (Quebec has the lowest electricity prices in North America), reliable (through a diverse system that doesn’t leave us dependent on one or two aging nuclear plants), and safe (no waste products or accident risk).

And what can put this partnership over the top is working together to maximize energy efficiency. Energy efficiency has proven to be a very low cost way to keep the lights on in Ontario at just 2 cents per kilowatt hour. If Quebec followed Ontario’s lead in exploiting this tremendous resource, it would be easily able to meet the demand for safe, clean power from both Ontario and a number of U.S. states. It’s a simple recipe for success and Quebec has made it clear it is ready to get things cooking. Now we just have to convince Ontario to get into the kitchen.

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Ontario’s Nuclear Emergency Response Plan is Far from Adequate

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Ontario’s Nuclear Emergency Response Plan Is Far from Adequate

Above: Darlington Nuclear Station on the shore of Lake Ontario, via Óðinn

Nuclear energy provides as much as fifty percent of Ontario’s electricity. It is extremely expensive, produces radioactive waste for which there is no safe disposal or storage, and carries the risk of catastrophic accident (far more serious in Ontario than anywhere else in the world due to our reactors’ proximity to a large population and source of drinking water). Ontario’s nuclear emergency plan is outdated and inadequate.

This summer, the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services will be hearing the public’s comments on proposed changes to the province’s Nuclear Emergency Response Plan. This is an excellent opportunity for health professionals to voice concerns about the safety of the nuclear industry in Ontario, and its emergency response plan in particular.

Pickering Nuclear Station, via ilker

Prepared by Dr. Cathy Vakil, Board Member, CAPE, June 2017

Historically, there has been a major nuclear accident every decade since the 1970s. The most recent one occurred in Fukushima, Japan in 2011 when 400,000 residents living 50 kilometres from the Fukushima reactors were evacuated. Half of Ontarians, and one in six Canadians, live within 60 kilometres of Darlington and Pickering nuclear stations, which is why Ontario needs a robust and detailed emergency response plan.

The tragic disaster in Fukushima demonstrated the critical importance of a strong nuclear emergency plan, the value in having clear measures in place to deal with immediate mass health issues among workers and citizens, and the importance of monitoring to prevent long term health effects. International reports and Japanese officials have stated that none of these conditions were adequately in place in Japan prior to the Fukushima accident. Japanese authorities increased permissible dose limits so that workers’ and citizens’ doses would remain in the “acceptable” range. Many important issues had not been addressed as part of an emergency plan, such as knowledge of emergency responders of decontamination methods, adequate transportation of contaminated patients to hospitals, capacity of local hospitals to deal with incoming patients from hospitals within the primary zone that had to be evacuated, malfunctioning of water and electricity supplies in these hospitals, emergency lodging facilities, and secure food supplies.

In Ontario, we believe the current nuclear emergency plan should be designed to respond to a nuclear accident of the same severity as Fukushima. Instead, the Plan is designed for an accident several times less severe. It does not address the needs of vulnerable populations such as the elderly, hospital patients, and children. Nor are there measures in place for training health professionals to deal with large numbers of contaminated patients who would arrive at clinics and hospitals.

Ontario’s nuclear reactors, which are some of the oldest in the world, are all adjacent to the Great Lakes, the source of drinking water for tens of millions of Canadians and Americans. Large quantities of radionuclides would flow into the Great Lakes in the case of a catastrophic accident, and despite the large volume of water, this could affect safety of the drinking water of millions of residents. An adequate emergency plan must include the provision of clean drinking water for the tens of millions of people presently reliant on the Great Lakes.

Aerial view of Pickering Nuclear Station on the shore of Lake Ontario, via Joe Mabel

Public awareness needs to be improved regarding instructions to follow in the case of a nuclear accident as well. For example, iodine pills, which should be ingested within four hours of radiation exposure and preferably before exposure if possible, are needed to prevent thyroid cancer. In Ontario, they are pre-distributed to residents living within a 10 kilometre radius of the reactors. The pills are available to people living within a 50 kilometre radius but most people are unaware of this important preventative measure. Ontario should consider pre-distribution of pills to all residents living within at least 20 kilometers of a nuclear reactor, in keeping with international best practices, as is the case in New Brunswick for the Point Lepreau nuclear reactor.

In order for Ontario to be ready for a major nuclear disaster, an emergency plan should be implemented that is based on a Fukushima-level accident, that includes training and preparation of emergency responders and health professionals, clear communication with the public on an ongoing basis, adequate pre-distribution of iodine pills, and a plan to provide sufficient clean drinking water to the tens of millions of residents reliant on the Great Lakes for their water.

CAPE urges the Ontario government to create a detailed, comprehensive, and transparent emergency plan to protect the health of Ontarians in the case of a catastrophic Fukushima-level nuclear accident.

Chalk River: Un Projet Très Inquiétant / A Project of Great Concern

A PROJECT OF GREAT CONCERN: CHALK RIVER’S PROPOSED NUCLEAR WASTE SITE

PHOTO Credit: Chalk River CNL, seen from the Ottawa River. Photo courtesy of Padraic Ryan via Wikimedia Commons.

Prepared by Dr. Éric Notebaert, Board Member, CAPE (French version below)

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) recently proposed to the Federal Government, Ontario, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) that it would build a giant nuclear waste site in Chalk River, Ontario. We strongly believe that this proposal must be opposed. Here’s why.

This radioactive waste site would be the largest ever built in the world. It would have an area of ​​11 hectares and be 25 meters in height. It would be build to contain one million cubic meters of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste. If approved, this site would be built on the banks of the Ottawa River at the Chalk River CNL, 100 km upstream from Ottawa.

The proposed site is located in a swamp that flows to many municipalities in Quebec and Ontario. Leaks from this facility could significantly contaminate drinking water downstream. The surface of the site would be constantly exposed to rain and snow until 2070, the date of the planned closure. It is expected that the water would be partially recovered, and returned to the dump, but the tritium would be released into the river. It is pertinent to point out that all landfill projects of this type are currently planned for desert areas and designed with concrete enclosures around the waste. This is not the case at Chalk River.

The Chalk River site is located in the seismic zone of western Quebec. According to Natural Resources Canada, a small earthquake occurs, on average, every five days in this area. The largest of these earthquakes can have a magnitude of 6 on the Richter scale. In the 1990s, elected officials from 50 municipalities in Quebec and Ontario adopted resolutions opposing a radioactive waste storage project in Chalk River because of these characteristics.

In addition to the waste accumulated over more than 50 years of operation of the Chalk River CNL such as demolition debris and contaminated soil, radioactive waste could be transported from across Canada to this site. Mixed waste, which may include PCBs, arsenic and mercury, could also be stored in this facility.

Radioactive waste would be stored over two plastic liners such as those used in municipal dumps. These “geomembranes” are not waterproof. The causes of leakage could be numerous and related to incorrect installation, physical deterioration, perforations by sharp or heavy objects, chemical deterioration, seismic activity, flooding or sabotage. Moreover, the storage is so superficial that one can access the waste by means of a simple shovel (see image below).

The proposed dump has a planned life time of 50 years, while radioactive waste of medium activity remains radioactive for tens of thousands of years. During the 50+ years, the waste would be exposed to rain and snow. Failure of the proposed waste site would result in rapid contamination of the Ottawa River. This waste site is scheduled to be used until 2070, but it is also stated that any monitoring activity will cease in 2100, which makes no sense when it is known that the radioactivity at this site will last for thousands of years. It should be emphasized here that the CNL has arrived at the current solution because it believed that all other safer solutions would be tens or even hundreds of times more expensive.

WHY IT IS IMPORTANT TO ACT NOW

The non-elected CNSC is solely responsible for approving such projects. The CNSC has demonstrated in the past a tendency to favor the interests of the nuclear industry over public safety. Following a request from several citizens and groups, the CNSC has finally agreed to receive public comments until August 16, 2017. We encourage you to offer your comments on their website or by email to Nicole Frigault, Environmental Assessment Officer, at cnsc.ea-ee.ccsn@canada.ca

In summary, CAPE is calling for the cancellation of this proposed project. We believe that the CNL must totally rethink its concept of nuclear waste management. We believe that it is better to store the waste temporarily, rather than creating the illusion of burying them safely for centuries to come. We recently wrote to the Minister of the Environment asking her to intervene. We are currently working with several other Canadian organizations and First Nations groups to try to stop this project from proceeding.

FRENCH VERSION

UN PROJET TRÈS INQUIÉTANT: LE PROJET DE DÉPOTOIR DE DÉCHETS NUCLÉAIRES DE CHALK RIVER

Ci-dessus: Chalk River LNC, vu de la rivière des Outaouais. Photo grâce à Padraic Ryan via Wikimedia Commons.

Préparé par Dr Éric Notebaert, membre du conseil d’administration de l’ACME

Les Laboratoires Nucléaires Canadiens (LNC) ont proposé récemment aux gouvernements du Canada, de l’Ontario, et à la Commission Canadienne de Sécurité Nucléaire (CCSN) de construire un gigantesque dépotoir de déchets nucléaires à Chalk River en Ontario. Nous croyons qu’il faut absolument s’opposer à ce projet. Voici pourquoi.

Ce dépotoir de déchets radioactifs serait le plus grand jamais construit au monde. Il aurait une superficie de 11 hectares et 25 mètres de hauteur. Il contiendrait un million de mètres cubes de déchets radioactifs de faible et moyenne activité. S’il est approuvé, ce dépotoir serait créé sur les berges de la rivière des Outaouais aux Laboratoires Nucléaires Canadiens de Chalk River, à 100 Km en amont de Ottawa.

Le site proposé, pratiquement entouré d’eau, se trouve dans un marécage qui s’écoule vers de nombreuses municipalités du Québec et de l’Ontario. Les fuites provenant de cette installation pourraient contaminer de façon importante l’eau potable en aval. D’ailleurs dans le projet proposé, la surface du site sera constamment exposée à la pluie et à la neige jusqu’en 2070, date de la fermeture prévue. On prévoit que l’eau qui y en ruissellera sera partiellement récupérée et renvoyée dans le dépotoir, mais le tritium sera libéré dans la rivière. Il est pertinent de souligner que tous les projets d’enfouissement de tels déchets actuellement sont conçus dans des régions désertiques, avec sarcophage de béton autour des déchets. C’est évidemment loin d’être le cas à Chalk River.

Le site de Chalk River est situé dans la zone sismique de l’ouest du Québec. Selon Ressources naturelles Canada, un petit tremblement de terre survient à tous les cinq jours en moyenne dans cette zone. Le plus grand de ces séismes peut avoir une magnitude de 6 sur l’échelle de Richter. Dans les années 90, les élus de 50 municipalités québécoises et ontariennes avaient adopté des résolutions contre un projet de stockage des déchets radioactifs à Chalk River en raison de ces caractéristiques.

En plus des déchets accumulés pendant plus de 50 ans d’exploitation des laboratoires nucléaires de Chalk River (débris de démolition, sols contaminés, déchets entreposés), des déchets radioactifs pourraient être transportés de partout à travers le Canada vers ce site. Les déchets dits «mixtes» (qui peuvent inclure des BPC, de l’arsenic et du mercure) pourraient également être stockés dans cette installation. 

Les déchets radioactifs seraient entreposés au-dessus de deux revêtements en plastique comme ceux utilisés dans les dépotoirs municipaux. Ces «géomembranes», ne sont pas étanches. Les causes de fuites pourraient être nombreuses et liées à une installation incorrecte, une détérioration physique, des perforations par des objets tranchants ou lourds, une détérioration chimique, l’activité sismique, les inondations ou le sabotage. D’ailleurs l’entreposage est si superficiel que l’on pourra avoir accès aux déchets au moyen d’une simple pelle (voir graphique ci-dessous).

Le dépotoir proposé à une durée de vie de 50 ans, tandis que les déchets radioactifs de moyenne activité restent radioactifs pour des dizaines de milliers d’années. Durant la période de 50 ans et plus, les déchets seraient donc exposés à la pluie et la neige. L’échec ou un bris de fonctionnement de la station d’épuration proposée pourrait entraîner une contamination rapide de la rivière des Outaouais. On prévoit remplir ce dépotoir jusqu’en 2070, mais on précise aussi que toute activité de surveillance cessera dès 2100, ce qui est un non-sens lorsque l’on sait que la radioactivité sur ce site durera pendant des milliers d’années. Il faut souligner ici que le consortium est arrivé à la solution actuelle car il estimait que toutes les autres solutions plus sécuritaires coûteraient des dizaines voire des centaines de fois plus cher.

POURQUOI IL EST IMPORTANT D’AGIR MAINTENANT

La CCSN, organisme non élu, est seule responsable de l’approbation des projets. La commission a démontré une incapacité à protéger l’environnement et une tendance à favoriser les intérêts de l’industrie nucléaire par rapport à la sécurité publique. À la suite d’une demande de plusieurs citoyens et groupes, la CCSN a finalement permis au public de commenter l’évaluation environnementale du IGDPS jusqu’au 16 août 2017. Nous vous encourageons à offrir vos commentaires sur leur site web ou par courriel à Nicole Frigault, Agente de l’évaluation environnementale, cnsc.ea-ee.ccsn@canada.ca

Nous demandons l’annulation pure et simple du projet et croyons que le consortium doit repenser de fond en comble son concept de gestion des déchets. Il est certainement préférable de les stocker de façon temporaire que d’avoir l’illusion de les enfouir de façon sécuritaire pour les siècles à venir. Nous avons écrit récemment à la Ministre de l’Environnement, Mme McKenna afin qu’elle se saisisse de cette question. Nous en sommes actuellement à définir la meilleure stratégie afin de bloquer ce projet, avec plusieurs autres organismes canadiens, et groupes des Premières Nations.