News & Noteworthy

A special section to keep you up to date on events, research, and stories relevant to the NWMO’s proposal to site the Deep Geological Repository in South Bruce. It will be updated regularly. Sign up for updates here.
  • The Women of Three Mile Island

    BY Karl Grossman

    Radioactive: The Women of Three Mile Island is the title of a newly-released documentary feature film directed, written and produced by award-winning filmmaker Heidi Hutner, a professor of environmental humanities at Stony Brook University, a “flagship” school of the State University of New York.

    With greatly compelling facts and interviews, she and her also highly talented production team have put together a masterpiece of a documentary film.

    It connects the proverbial dots of the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear plant disaster—doing so brilliantly.

    The documentary has already received many film awards and has had a screening in recent months in New York City—winning the “Audience Award for Best Documentary” at the Dances With Films Festival—and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Sarasota, Florida; Dubuque, Iowa; Long Island, New York; First Frame International Film Festival in New York City; the Environmental Film Festival in Washington D.C., and is soon the featured film at Kat Kramer’s #SHEROESForChange Film Festival in Los Angeles and the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, California, as well as the Uranium Film Festival in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. And there will be tours across the U.S.

    Resident after resident of the area around Three Mile Island is interviewed and tells of widespread cancer that has ensued in the years that have followed the accident—a cancer rate far beyond what would be normal. Accounts shared in the documentary are heartbreaking.

    Continue reading this article at CounterPunch →

  • Letter: Maybe we could store nuclear waste at Saskatchewan legislature

    From: Murray Marien

    A reader points out a means to dispose of nuclear waste remains elusive and that Canada continues to store the most per capita.

  • The long and dirty legacy of nuclear power

    By Patrick O'Brien

    In the normal course of events, you’d know when you were financing a dodgy venture. It’s hard to imagine your money being ploughed into an enterprise doomed from the start and being ignorant of the fact.

    So how many of us knew we’re bankrolling an outfit with a boat in the Irish Sea embarked on a mission guaranteed to be a very bad idea all round?

    The craft in question operates with a simple instruction: to blast off underwater seismic guns - to the certain detriment of dolphins and porpoises - as part of a madcap exercise to find a subterranean cemetery for large amounts of lethal radioactive waste from Cumbria’s Sellafield nuclear site.

    I refer to pollutants that, for the last 70 years, have contaminated seas off vast coastal areas of Wales and Ireland, and parts of England, with radioactive substances that take, literally, tens of thousands of years to decay.

    Let me introduce Nuclear Waste Services, an entirely taxpayer-funded public body under the wing of the UK government, which is engaging marine geological surveyors to comb the seabed for an out-of-sight-out-of-mind repository for the terrifying remnants of a dangerous and long discredited system of energy-generation.

    Continue reading this article at Cambrian News →

  • We want honesty about nuclear waste, says Saskatchewan reader

    Re: “Don’t mislead on waste plans: Canadian Nuclear Society,” (The Hill Times, April 5, p. 8).

    Neil Alexander and Guy Hotte claim that Kevin Philpupillai’s March 13 story is misleading, but they are also quite misleading.

    We understand the planned deep disposal and have followed closely previously failed attempts to secure a repository. We know that Finland is opening what might be the first functioning such disposal in the world. We have followed the research concerning containment vessels for the waste. Not only do we want safe stewardship of the waste—maybe more than the nuclear industry—but we would like honesty.

    No one is proposing to “dig that big hole and throw all the waste in.” However, here is where reality comes in: the “carefully placed used fuel in a network of engineered placement rooms” is no longer in solid rock. It is in disturbed, hollowed-out, and tunneled-through rock.

    They must think that the public is stupid. Radioactive waste is not like cadmium, niobium, arsenic or any other pollutant. It is forever changing, and what is put into storage today will not be the same as it will be in 100 years.

    It is unbelievably presumptive for anyone to say that a Deep Geological Repository (beside the Great Lakes) will never be breached in the lifetime of the human race.

    Dale Dewar
    Wynyard, Sask.

  • Don’t paper over level of risk from nuclear waste: Air Alliance director

    Re: “Don’t mislead on waste plans: Canadian Nuclear Society,” (The Hill Times, April 5, p. 8).

    More happy talk from nuclear advocates is not what Canadians need when it comes to understanding the issue of how to deal with the hundreds of thousands of highly radioactive bundles currently stored in pools and warehouses at Canadian nuclear plants.

    In their April 5 letter, two nuclear advocates from the industry-aligned Canadian Nuclear Society trot out the usual assurances that this waste can be safely stored underground for hundreds of thousands of years. That no country has actually done this, and that the industry-owned Canadian Nuclear Waste Management Organization is still struggling to identify a “willing host” community for such a facility in the face of adamant community and First Nation opposition, is blithely ignored.

    There have been nuclear power operations in Canada for more than 60 years now, yet the industry still has not managed to execute on its preferred dump-and-run strategy. Comparing deadly radioactive waste to materials like niobium and cadmium is like comparing the likelihood of surviving a multi-vehicle car crash with falling off your bicycle. No one ever died from standing next to a wind turbine magnet.

    Trying to paper over the level of risk involved in handling, transporting, and disposing of waste that must remain completely isolated for hundreds of thousands of years just exposes how the nuclear industry would prefer to avoid hard questions about why it has been allowed to carry on without having an implementable plan for dealing with its deadly toxic waste. What other industry is given a huge free pass like this?

    Angela Bischoff
    Director, Ontario Clean Air Alliance
    Toronto, Ont.

  • Can We Trust Our Regulator

    To the editor,

    Of the 40 studies having been conducted or to be completed on the viability and benefits of the deep geological repository (DGR) to South Bruce, one is notable by its absence: can the nuclear industry and its regulator – the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) – be trusted to establish and maintain the highest possible safety standards for this first-ever deep level storage facility for all of Canada’s high-level nuclear waste?

    A special report by the Globe and Mail (“Nuclear reactor pressure tubes are deteriorating faster than expected. Critics warn regulators are ‘breaking their own rules’” – Jan. 5, 2023) raises this question, as it investigated degradation of faulty pressure tubes in some of the nuclear reactors at Bruce Power – and more importantly, how the CNSC has allowed utilities to operate tubes beyond the licensing limits, a crucial concession for the aging reactors.

    The tubes contain the nuclear fuel bundles and heavy water for cooling operation. They are the heart of the CANDU nuclear reactor operation. Issues with these tubes can lead to serious implications. The CNSC has safety requirements that a licensed operator must meet to continue the safe operation of the reactor.

    During the 2022 refurbishment process at Bruce Power, the company found that the tubes had deteriorated much faster than had been expected. The CNSC knew that risk of the tubes breaking had increased with age, as a memo found in a freedom of information request stated, “But the rate of increase was not expected to be this much.” In fact, the hydrogen levels, at the tube’s outlet end were nearly two times higher than expected and beyond the CNSC imposed levels.

    And while Bruce Power had been violating the terms of its operating licenses unknowingly – the concern was that Canada’s entire fleet of CANDU reactors were also aging and therefore also at risk of the same violation.

    As a layman, a taxpayer, and a consumer of nuclear power – one would expect that to mean that the CNSC would demand that the tubes be replaced. Being the industry’s regulator, Bruce Power and the operators of all aging CANDU reactors would be forced to comply.

    No. Instead the CNSC fixed the tube problem by a work around. According to the Globe and Mail, Blair Carroll – “a specialist in the CNSC’s operational engineering assessment division” – was concerned that the inspection of all tubes in all the reactors at Darlington and Pickering would “involve a very significant effort.” He recommended a work-around that might be the best approach to solving the problem. His comment was, “I don’t think there is anything in the [licence] that would be violated with a shift to demonstrating that cracking is not a concern.”

    This is an argument I might expect from the nuclear industry, but not the regulator in charge of setting safety standards – and ensuring they are met. Yet, it is the regulator providing this advice to the industry – the reason is not about safety, but costs.

    And this is not the only time. At an international conference this summer, a question was raised whether Canada would be changing the regulated safety limit for radiation dose on our eyes (the International Commission on Radiological Protection had recommended reducing the upper dose from 150 millisievert to 20), the CNSC answered with this “stakeholders expressed significant concerns about the costs of implementing and managing exposures to the lens of the eye below the average dose of 20 mSv per year.”

    By “stakeholders” the CNSC really means the nuclear industry, and I assume that doesn’t include the power workers who would most immediately benefit from the increased safety standards.

    As summarized in the Globe investigation, “The episode demonstrates that regulatory limits for Canada’s nuclear industry can be remarkably elastic when it comes to facilitating the continued operation of Canada’s aging reactor fleet.” I’d also add once the nuclear industry and its regulator set a safety standard, the cost of meeting it (or raising it) trumps the standard itself.

    As residents of South Bruce decide whether to host the industry’s DGR, we should be concerned that once the facility is built, safety standards set, and nuclear waste delivered and buried, that both the industry and its regulator cannot be trusted to keep their promises to the community.

    Nuclear power plants will eventually shut down, but the DGR project is a forever event. The safety standards required for a DGR must therefore be much higher than power plants, but what is the use of any standard (an industry term for “promise”) if the industry and its overseers collaborate to break them.

    Since there is no DGR operating anywhere in the world, there is no experience to judge how effective any standards will be in managing the risks and the safety of the project. The industry is relying on computer generated models and assumptions which may not stand the test of time. We already know that they underestimated the lifespan of fuel cell tubes in a span of less than 60 years. How can we be sure that their safety predictions for the DGR implementation, which must last for tens of thousands of years, will prove to be adequate or accurate?

    Advocates for the DGR need to prove that the industry and the regulator can be trusted. Ignoring their own science is not a good start.

    Bill Noll

    Stittsville, ON

    Continue reading this article at Midwestern Newspapers Corp. →

  • Nuclear reactor pressure tubes are deteriorating faster than expected. Critics warn regulators are ‘breaking their own rules’

    By Matthew McClearn

    The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has allowed utilities to operate tubes beyond licensing limits, a crucial concession for the nation’s aging reactors

    Early in the summer of 2021, Canada’s nuclear safety regulator received alarming news.

    Inspections had revealed that two pressure tubes from different reactors at Canada’s largest nuclear power plant, the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, had deteriorated far more quickly than expected. This meant the station’s operator, Bruce Power, had violated the terms of its operating licence. The revelation put the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in a tight spot. How were its leaders to respond?

    Pressure tubes are commonly described as the heart of the CANDU reactor, Canada’s homegrown nuclear reactor design. The tubes contain uranium fuel bundles and heavy water, which serves as coolant.

    Each of Canada’s 19 operating CANDU reactors – including the eight at Bruce – contains several hundred pressure tubes. They deteriorate as they age, gradually increasing their propensity to fracture. So the industry has developed elaborate systems to monitor that deterioration, and mathematical models to predict when tubes will no longer be fit for service. CNSC officials have reassured outsiders that this approach is systematic and thorough.

    But the news from Bruce Power revealed that the system had broken down. In an e-mail to colleagues written shortly after the discovery, Vali Tavasoli, director of the CNSC’s operational engineering assessment division, noted that the regulator already knew pressure tubes absorb deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen) more quickly as they near the end of their lives, making them brittle and more prone to failure.

    “But the rate of increase was not expected to be this much,” he wrote.

    Inquiries from elected officials and the media soon followed. This was a delicate matter: More than half of Canada’s CANDUs had already exceeded their original 30-year design lives.

    Continue reading this article at The Globe and Mail →

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  • Dismantling Sellafield: the epic task of shutting down a nuclear site

    by Samanth Subramanian

    Nothing is produced at Sellafield anymore. But making safe what is left behind is an almost unimaginably expensive and complex task that requires us to think not on a human timescale, but a planetary one

    If you take the cosmic view of Sellafield, the superannuated nuclear facility in north-west England, its story began long before the Earth took shape. About 9bn years ago, tens of thousands of giant stars ran out of fuel, collapsed upon themselves, and then exploded. The sheer force of these supernova detonations mashed together the matter in the stars’ cores, turning lighter elements like iron into heavier ones like uranium. Flung out by such explosions, trillions of tonnes of uranium traversed the cold universe and wound up near our slowly materialising solar system.

    And here, over roughly 20m years, the uranium and other bits of space dust and debris cohered to form our planet in such a way that the violent tectonics of the young Earth pushed the uranium not towards its hot core but up into the folds of its crust. Within reach, so to speak, of the humans who eventually came along circa 300,000BC, and who mined the uranium beginning in the 1500s, learned about its radioactivity in 1896 and started feeding it into their nuclear reactors 70-odd years ago, making electricity that could be relayed to their houses to run toasters and light up Christmas trees.

    Sellafield compels this kind of gaze into the abyss of deep time because it is a place where multiple time spans – some fleeting, some cosmic – drift in and out of view. Laid out over six square kilometres, Sellafield is like a small town, with nearly a thousand buildings, its own roads and even a rail siding – all owned by the government, and requiring security clearance to visit. Sellafield’s presence, at the end of a road on the Cumbrian coast, is almost hallucinatory. One moment you’re passing cows drowsing in pastures, with the sea winking just beyond. Then, having driven through a high-security gate, you’re surrounded by towering chimneys, pipework, chugging cooling plants, everything dressed in steampunk. The sun bounces off metal everywhere. In some spots, the air shakes with the noise of machinery. It feels like the most manmade place in the world.

    Since it began operating in 1950, Sellafield has had different duties. First it manufactured plutonium for nuclear weapons. Then it generated electricity for the National Grid, until 2003. It also carried out years of fuel reprocessing: extracting uranium and plutonium from nuclear fuel rods after they’d ended their life cycles. The very day before I visited Sellafield, in mid-July, the reprocessing came to an end as well. It was a historic occasion. From an operational nuclear facility, Sellafield turned into a full-time storage depot – but an uncanny, precarious one, filled with toxic nuclear waste that has to be kept contained at any cost.

    Nothing is produced at Sellafield any more. Which was just as well, because I’d gone to Sellafield not to observe how it lived but to understand how it is preparing for its end. Sellafield’s waste – spent fuel rods, scraps of metal, radioactive liquids, a miscellany of other debris – is parked in concrete silos, artificial ponds and sealed buildings. Some of these structures are growing, in the industry’s parlance, “intolerable”, atrophied by the sea air, radiation and time itself. If they degrade too much, waste will seep out of them, poisoning the Cumbrian soil and water.

    To prevent that disaster, the waste must be hauled out, the silos destroyed and the ponds filled in with soil and paved over. The salvaged waste will then be transferred to more secure buildings that will be erected on site. But even that will be only a provisional arrangement, lasting a few decades. Nuclear waste has no respect for human timespans. The best way to neutralise its threat is to move it into a subterranean vault, of the kind the UK plans to build later this century. Once interred, the waste will be left alone for tens of thousands of years, while its radioactivity cools. Dealing with all the radioactive waste left on site is a slow-motion race against time, which will last so long that even the grandchildren of those working on site will not see its end. The process will cost at least £121bn.

    Compared to the longevity of nuclear waste, Sellafield has only been around for roughly the span of a single lunch break within a human life. Still, it has lasted almost the entirety of the atomic age, witnessing both its earliest follies and its continuing confusions. In 1954, Lewis Strauss, the chair of the US Atomic Energy Commission, predicted that nuclear energy would make electricity “too cheap to meter”. That forecast has aged poorly. The main reason power companies and governments aren’t keener on nuclear power is not that activists are holding them back or that uranium is difficult to find, but that producing it safely is just proving too expensive.

    Strauss was, like many others, held captive by one measure of time and unable to truly fathom another. The short-termism of policymaking neglected any plans that had to be made for the abominably lengthy, costly life of radioactive waste. I kept being told, at Sellafield, that science is still trying to rectify the decisions made in undue haste three-quarters of a century ago. Many of the earliest structures here, said Dan Bowman, the head of operations at one of Sellafield’s two waste storage ponds, “weren’t even built with decommissioning in mind”.

    As a result, Bowman admitted, Sellafield’s scientists are having to invent, mid-marathon, the process of winding the site down – and they’re finding that they still don’t know enough about it. They don’t know exactly what they’ll find in the silos and ponds. They don’t know how much time they’ll need to mop up all the waste, or how long they’ll have to store it, or what Sellafield will look like afterwards. The decommissioning programme is laden “with assumptions and best guesses”, Bowman told me. It will be finished a century or so from now. Until then, Bowman and others will bend their ingenuity to a seemingly self-contradictory exercise: dismantling Sellafield while keeping it from falling apart along the way.

    Continue reading this article at The Guardian →

  • Don't hold your breath

    By Malone Mullin

    In Baie Verte, N.L., a mine that once brought prosperity now symbolizes pain, suffering and death. Nobody knows how to get rid of it.

    This is Part I of a three-part series on contaminated sites in Newfoundland and Labrador.

    In Émile Zola’s 1885 novel Germinal, a French mining town, filled with families dependent on coal, is plotting a strike.

    It’s not an idyllic existence, living in 19th-century Montsou. Workers and their families sleep in shacks, eat mostly bread and rarely embrace leisure.

    Eventually, they’re consumed by the massive beast whose tendrils reach deep underground.

    The mine, named Le Voreux, holds such sway over the townspeople’s lives that it transforms into a character in itself; figuratively speaking, by the end of the book, it eats its servants alive.

    Conditions have improved since Zola’s scathing portrait of the extraction industry.

    But for workers who toiled somewhat more comfortably a century later — afforded lunch breaks, pensions and good salaries — in the now-defunct Baie Verte Advocate Mine in central Newfoundland, Germinal’s vicious ending, at least for some, still rings true.

    Continue reading this article at CBC News →

  • Is Nuclear Energy a Solution to Climate Change?

    By Javier Yanes

    “My opinions on nuclear technology and nuclear power have changed drastically over the decades. I used to be an anti-nuclear leader.” Brice Lalonde headed the French branch of the Friends of the Earth organisation, created by and for anti-nuclear activism. In 1973, he was arrested by the French navy on board a ship attempting to block his country’s atomic tests in Polynesia. In later years, he became environment minister under President François Mitterrand and founded one of France’s four environmentalist parties. But as he told Nature magazine in September 2022, his perspective changed in 1988 with the creation of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Like him, many people today argue that an energy source without greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can be an ally to help break the dependence on fossil fuels. Many people, but not all.

    From 1954, when the Soviet Union commissioned the Obninsk nuclear power plant, the first to be connected to the electricity grid, this energy source embarked on an explosive expansion that continued until the beginning of the 21st century, despite a turbulent history of nuclear incidents and accidents. The earliest ones, in the USSR and the United Kingdom, occurred only three years after that first Soviet power plant was switched on. Then came Three Mile Island in the USA (1979) and Chernobyl in Ukraine (1986), but not even the massive catastrophe of the latter could deflate the growth of nuclear power. This did happen after the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011, but it was only temporary; although the second most serious accident in history led the following year to the biggest drop in production since this technology has existed, and even to the rethinking of energy policy in several countries, it bounced back in 2013.

    Continue reading this at OpenMind: BBVA