nuclear power

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Note: This article is a stub. It only provides rudimentary information about the subject and should be expanded.

types of "nuclear power"

The generic term nuclear power almost always refers to neutronic nuclear fission generated electricity and not to hot nuclear fusion (experimental and undeployed), cold nuclear fusion (unproven as a practical method) or to aneutronic nuclear fission (unproven in principle). Today's nuclear reactors use heat from neutrons generated by splitting atoms of heavy radioactive materials (uranium and sometimes also plutonium) that move through water (including heavy water) at high speed, heating it up to extremely high temperatures to run steam turbines. The tanks, water, tubes and facilities required to control this nuclear reaction become reliably radioactive. Some very obsolete designs such as the graphite-moderated Soviet design at Chernyobyl are actually in a state of runaway reaction by default and if mistakes are made can go into a China syndrome or nuclear meltdown runaway where the heat of the reaction melts the containment and releases masses of radioactive material. Some estimates are that up to one million people died prematurely because of the meltdown of one of Chernobyl's four reactors in 1986. [source]. US and European designs do not have this particular failure condition, but the Three Mile Island incident in 1977 proved that US enriched-uranium reactors do have risks of radioactive material release. The Canadian CANDU design is immune to such failures as it uses unenriched natural uranium, but does generate significant amounts of radiation in its ordinary use and persons performing specific tasks reliably die prematurely as a result (for instance from scrubbing the inside of the heavy water containment tank in which fuel rods reside). The CANDU design also produces significant amounts of plutonium useful for nuclear weapons and was actually used for these purposes by India and Pakistan recently.

'next generation' reactors

Nuclear reactors are used by various militaries (mostly US and Russian) to power ships including submarines. Morbidity data on these is not available due to military control of information. These reactors generally do not employ steam turbines but instead use solid thermal conduction and thermocouples to generate electricity - in theory less efficient but also much smaller and easier to contain as no liquids whatsoever are involved in processes. Human intervention in the workings of these reactors is generally not possible in the field so they are monitored and controlled purely electronically, and are believed to be relatively easy to jettison and dump to the bottom of the sea in case of emergencies.

Small commercial reactors based on the military designs have been advertised especially by Hyperion but none has ever been commercially deployed. They would use a radically different fuel supply cycle in which reactors would be buried for five or ten years at a time, controlled and monitored entirely electronically, and be quite difficult to dig up without triggering alarms and responders. Their failure conditions might render them a useless hunk of metal and irradiate the ground and perhaps groundwater for a few meters in every direction, but it is not believed that such reactors could generally cause explosions that would disturb the surface, as they work on relatively low temperatures without steam.

These reactors would almost certainly be deployed in remote insensitive locations (such as the Antarctic stations) where the risks to life of interrupted fuel and food supplies are much greater than the risk of a nuclear incident. They will be irrelevant to any developed nations' energy and infrastructure decisions until such time as they are proven in such use.

While research has continued on 'aneuronic' fission and 'cold fusion' since the 1980s, none of the experiments have yielded convincing evidence of a practical source of electricity. Of the two, aneuronic fission would be 'cleaner' insofar as it would not generate neutron-radiating waste materials. The 'cold fusion' (palladium cube, sonofusion, etc.) approaches generate small quantities of such waste, many thousands of times less per watt generated than a conventional steam turbine nuclear power plant. Accordingly it is not quite exactly correct to say that fission generates nuclear waste while fusion does not - this 'depends'.

fission vs. fusion

More promising than any of the other new approaches is the large scale hot fusion reactor now being built in France: Using magnetic containment to force hydrogen atoms together to form helium, releasing a similar level of energy to that released in hydrogen bombs but so reliant on the containment to continue the reaction that it cannot result in an explosion: Typically the magnetic containment requires so much power that no electrical power can be generated to feed the grid. The purpose of the French experiment is to prove 'breakeven' and accordingly practical use of hot fusion can be achieved in the next 20 to 30 years in developed countries (with the technology to support such complex deployments).

Some fusion reactors designs have been proposed that, like the Hyperion thermocouple fission design, would work on a much smaller scale and be deployable to remote locations. In general these proposals rely on fusing helium into carbon (He + He + He = C) or lithium (a metal) and helium into boron (Li + He = B) or fusing hydrogen with a metal (lithium or beryllium) or boron to generate the next element on the periodic table. These ideas are all promising in principle as some of them could be executed with only 2.6 Gigagauss power magnets. Industrial magnets are already in production with close to this maximum capacity. However, like aneutronic fission or sonofusion, these are proposals not plans.

Because of the long development cycle, hot nuclear fusion is unlikely to have any impact on climate or other current energy concerns for decades. Conservation approaches will dominate for now. None of these approaches could compete in principle with conservation or even photovoltaics which tend to become more efficient almost as fast as electronics does.

Is lots of cheap power anywhere a good thing?

Even if they worked, the potential to generate large bursts of electrical power reliably in remote locations would have as many negative environmental and health effects as good ones: bombs, particle weapons, arbitrary drilling or logging or roadbuilding anywhere on Earth, and the other effects of being able to power human habitations in far remote areas. Accordingly these approaches are not as likely to get political support as conservation or relatively reliable low-power generation approaches (photovoltaics, geothermal, biomass or sewage power) is. The enthusiasm for large bursts of power on demand is also driven partly by military demands and partly by the fact that energy demand management historically was very difficult, though it has now become extremely easy, cheap and legally mandated - see US National Broadband Plan, power grid terms, rural BPL and other pages.

today's proven nuclear power plant designs have no real future

For various industrial, economic, technical and political reasons, nuclear fission plants of the type currently deployed (large buildings using nuclear heat to drive steam turbines) will also play no real role in responding to climate concerns. The average number of watts generated by nuclear fission has been flat for decades and is going down sharply in recent years. There is no possibility whatever of accelerating new builds or even new approvals to a degree that would offset this trend. This is partly because technical talent has not, in any developed country, been attracted into the nuclear power industry since the late 70s.

The critical statistics, which no competent debate on nuclear power could fail to mention:

  • over one-third of the US nuclear power technical work force will have retired by 2016 or so
  • the cost of generating a watt of nuclear fission has gone up significantly and steadily over its entire history from the 1950s to present, while all other generation has gone down (an astonishing reversal of the usual technical competency trend of cheaper power over time)
  • the costs, construction delays and delivered power capacities of nuclear fission plants of all designs all over the world have reliably gotten worse over the history of the technology
  • the total number of watts generated by nuclear fission plants has been flat since the 70s, with as many plants going offline as coming online, and many more going offline in the 2010s
  • a 'nuclear renaissance' has been incorrectly predicted and failed to materialize in every developed country and some developed countries, often multiple times under multiple regimes
  • there is still no long term storage facility or plan for nuclear fission waste; US plants continue to store all depleted fuel onsite in the hopes that some solution will be found some day; The Obama administration cancelled the Yucca Mountain long term storage project

While there is no reason to believe uranium total supply is a limiting factor, uranium is mined in only a few countries (Canada, Australia, Russia, South Africa) all of which have significant political alliances that preclude their supplying non-allied regimes with any material useful to make weapons. Accordingly countries that might pursue nuclear fission (Iran, North Korea, Syria) for combined military and commercial purposes, cannot do so in the expectation that uranium will be readily available. This further restricts the appeal of nuclear fission and increases suspicion that power projects are merely fronts for bombs (as they were in India and Pakistan which acquired CANDU for these reasons, not for power).

AECL is dead

AECL, the CANDU vendor, is for sale, so the future of probably the least controversial and dangerous reactor technology is in grave doubt. AECL has been plagued by cost overruns and controversy. New Brunswick's attempt to refurbish a CANDU reactor has been very expensive, and there are no customers anywhere in the world for its 'Advanced CANDU' prototype project.

While South Korea has operated CANDU plants effectively and there may be potential to sell AECL to South Koreans, the addition of plutonium waste streams and missile targets to an already volatile Korean peninsula would probably be politically unwelcome to G8/G20 nations.

There is accordingly no obvious buyer for AECL that would continue developing CANDU. US or European or Russian reactor designs are absolutely dependent on enriched uranium facilities operated by the military establishments. Accordingly only reliable allies of those nations can seriously consider becoming dependent on those designs. This leaves all major nuclear fission reactor technologies either politically, institutionally or technically non-viable.

costs and risks of nuclear power

Nuclear power is often called the most expensive way to boil water ever invented.

The costs of nuclear power include uranium mining, transportation and refining, fuel rod manufacturing, building, maintaining and refurbishing plants with inevitable, unquantifiable cost overruns, waste containment and monitoring, human, animal, marine and environmental health effects, costs to public health care systems and untenable human suffering.

According to Dr. Rosalie Bertell, founder of IICPH, the International Institute of Concern for Public Health nominated for Nobel Prize, recipient of the MacBride Peace Prize and Right Livelihood Award, nuclear power is neither green, economical nor safe.

In her article Going Green Too Expensive?, she reports that when "the danger and cost to present and future generations from nuclear contamination of the environment and the containment of mountains of nuclear waste are added, in all conscience, the idea of energy from new nuclear must be abandoned." Rather than acknowledging the need to abandon nuclear power, Bertell reports that "neither the US or Canada seem to be prepared to look at the alternative opportunities" and that "the idea of conservation measures to cut down on the need for electricity is given lip service but very little meaningful action."

By looking at the entire life cycle, including uranium exploration, mining, refining and construction of reactors, Canada’s nuclear system releases half a million tonnes of CO2 per year. Increasingly, the cost of generating nuclear power continues to escalate; five existing nuclear reactors in Ontario cost more than twice their original estimates, performed at about half of what was expected, had many sudden shutdowns that created further reliance on coal-powered generation and led to a $19.4 billion debt that Ontario consumers are still paying off on their monthly bills. Added to the arguments are the overwhelmingly bad health effects caused by nuclear technology and the connection to nuclear weapons. The final costs and relative success of the refurbishment of New Brunswick's Point Lepreau reactor was undetermined as of 2010, but appears to follow the negative economic path already set under the Ontario example.

With regard to human and environmental health, lessons learned from the accidental explosion of the Russian Chernobyl power plant in 1986 provide a baseline for assessing the dangers of nuclear power plants. To clean up the site after the incident, about 600,000 men were conscripted as Chernobyl ‘liquidators’ and therewith exposed to huge doses of radiation. An organization of former liquidators at the Centre for Radiation Research near Kiev reports that 13,000 of their members had died - almost 20 percent of which deaths were suicides along with about 70,000 members estimated to be permanently disabled by 1995. Many former liquidators are now scattered throughout Russia without the benefit of the organization’s special hospital or of a survivor organization; they are known as the ‘living dead.’

The International Commission on Radiological Protection [ICRP] serves in practice largely to play down the effects of radiation on human health and shield the nuclear industry from compensation claims from workers and the public. The International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] was set up by the United Nations in the late 1950s to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and promote the peaceful use of atomic energy - two contradictory objectives.

Both organizations have come to serve the industry rather than the public by allowing the radiation protection industry to underrate the ill-health caused by nuclear power by insisting on extremely restrictive definitions as to what qualifies as radiation-caused illness. For example, non-fatal cancers, those that are accelerated or promoted by exposure to radiation are not counted in the IAEA’s figures. Likewise, leukemia and radiation-damaged embryos or fetuses which result in miscarriage, stillbirth and birth defects are not counted in IAEA’s figures. Dr. Bertell notes that "even if radiation causes a lung cancer, it does not count if the person smokes - in fact whenever there is a possibility of another cause, radiation cannot be blamed" and that this is the same "technique used to dismiss the sicknesses of Gulf War veterans who inhaled particles of ceramic uranium which stayed in their lungs for more than two years."

The European Committee for Radiation Risk (ECRR) uses a system of calculation which gives results that are in agreement both with the mechanism of radiation action at the level of the living cell and observation of disease in exposed populations. The ECRR considers the present risk model of the ICRP essentially flawed and "concludes that the ICRP justifications are based on outmoded philosophical reasoning, specifically the averaging cost-benefit calculation of utilitarianism.” In her article “Can the ICRP be Trusted to Set Radiation Standards?” Dr. Rosalie Bertell states, “The regulations are not a demarcation between safe and unsafe. They are just an arbitrary decision as to how much the public should be willing to tolerate for the benefit of the activity”.

Nuclear Power Plants all emit radioactive substances into the air and water in small amounts, but frequently, adding to "background radiation" that is already present in soil, air and water. The so-called “background radiation” includes residuals from the testing and deployment of atomic bombs, nuclear accidents, the mining, refining and transportation of uranium, the use of radioactive weapons such as depleted uranium, and from myriad nuclear power plants around the world.

In June, 2010, Advertising Standards Canada found the Power Workers Union had contravened its code by calling CANDU reactors “emission free,” after its investigation determined the statement to be inaccurate and unsupportable.

“The Eleventh Hour”, a January 1988 report of the Standing Parliamentary Committee on Forestry, Energy and Environment informed that CANDU heavy water reactors such as those used in New Brunswick, Québec and Ontario nuclear power plants regularly emit tritium into the air and into surface water. CANDU reactors release over 100 times more tritium and 40 times more Cesium-141 than other reactor designs. Tritium easily binds with organic molecules and can concentrate in the DNA.

Nuclear Power plants also produce dangerous nuclear waste, including solid waste, used fuel rods, contaminated equipment and protective clothing. There is no secure long-term means of disposal for those waste materials plus the plant structures, when finally decommissioned. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) was set up to find a solution but did not, in the opinion of IICPH, produce a safe solution because "there is none." Nuclear waste can reasonably be assessed as the Achilles heel of the nuclear industry.

In the second edition of The Petkau Effect, Ralph Graeub writes:

“Almost twenty years ago when I published the book The Gentle Killers: Nuclear Power Stations Unmasked“, the nuclear establishment contemptuously branded me as a lone wolf in the wilderness. Since then, the wilderness has fortunately become much more populated, thanks to the many concerned scientists that have joined the battle against the threat of nuclear power all over the world, mobilized first by the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 and then the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Today, one survey after another indicates that there has been a complete turnaround in public opinion, so that both in the United States and other countries, those opposed to nuclear power have become a significant majority”. The mounting evidence of the health effects of low-level ionizing radiation and unreasonable financial cost warrant a change in direction away from the use of nuclear power generation.

The use of nuclear power is responsible for about 21 million victims while there have been both military and civilian nuclear accidents producing 16 million and 15 million more victims respectively.

This gives a grand total of 1.2 billion victims of the nuclear age - 36 million are related to nuclear reactors.

Point Lepreau

Point Lepreau Generating Station is a single 680 MWe CANDU-6 nuclear reactor unit. Located on the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, Canada, it achieved full operational power in 1983 and is owned by NB Power. SNC-Lavalin Nuclear performed the initial site studies, designed the Balance of Nuclear Steam Plant (BNSP) including main steam supply to the turbine and electrical distribution system for Point Lepreau and provided project and construction management, commissioning and operating plant services.

SNC-Lavalin Nuclear also designed the reactor, service and turbine buildings, the pump house and most of the service and turbine building process systems for Gentilly 2, a 675 MWe CANDU-6 reactor unit located near the village of Gentilly in the Province of Quebec, Canada. Gentilly 2 was built for Hydro Quebec and went into service in 1983.

The Point Lepreau station has been undergoing refurbishment under the direction of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL). The refurbishment has been repeatedly delayed for a number of reasons.

The federal government under Stephen Harper has offered AECL for sale. It is not known how the sale of AECL will affect the refurbishment and operation of the Point Lepreau generating station.

The province of New Brunswick has yet to undertake comprehensive assessments of the risks and costs associated with the operation, maintenance and existence of their nuclear power facilities. Risks of the continued operation of Point Lepreau include those to financial and human health. An inquiry, presided over by a judge such as in the case of the Walkerton Inquiry, to review evidence given by a broad spectrum of independent expert witnesses, concerned citizens and impartial professionals concerning the public health and safety of nuclear power plants and long term economic and environmental viability is required to satisfy the imperatives of the public's democratic right to full disclosure.

Despite the lack of comprehensive assessment of the risks and costs of continuing to rely on nuclear power, Gaetan Thomas, an interim president of NB Power at the time, said that [1] New Brunswick is fertile ground for construction of a new reactor, investors are constantly looking at the possibility and that it's a matter of time until the utility lands power agreements with willing customers in Canada or the United States. Thomas was formerly [2] vice president of NB Power [3] nuclear (NUCLEARCO) and [4] Distribution and Customer Service Corporation (DISCO) and was involved with the utility's [5] [6] [7] controversial $747 million Coleson Cove refurbishment project and Dalhousie and Belledune Generating Stations.

[8] Thomas was hired at the height of the Orimulsion scandal after NB Power spent $747 million to refurbish the Coleson Cove power plant without a signed contract for the fuel from Venezuela and also ran the utility when it reached an out-of-court settlement with Venezuela over unmet fuel supply.[9] While project manager for the Coleson Cove refurbishment, Thomas maintained that orimulsion was the cheapest option and that it's safe and environmentally friendly. [10] Environmentalists denounced the use of orimulsion entirely, citing numerous risks to human, animal and marine life including releases of heavy metal particles, sulphur dioxide (SO2) and sulphur trioxide (SO3), "gender-bender" phenols and complete failure of containment of orimulsion spills.

[11] New Brunswick recorded the largest percentage reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada in 2008; Environment minister Rick Miles stated that he was confident that emissions would continue to decline. Despite the success of the conservation efforts, Thomas maintains that more nuclear power is essential to meet future emissions targets. The Conservation Council and the Green Party of New Brunswick have urged the government to rely on energy conservation and efficiency and renewable energy instead of increased reliance on nuclear and fossil fuel generation.


[12] Advertising Standards Canada decision it is inaccurate and unsupportable for Power Workers Union to advertise CANDU reactors as “emission free”

[13] Going Green Too Expensive? by Dr. Rosalie Bertell, Ph.D., GNSH

[14] Victims of the Nuclear Age, “The Ecologist” November 1999 (Volume 29, No. 7) from pages 408 to 411 by Rosalie Bertell, Ph.D., GNSH

[15] Nuclear Power is NOT OK! by Marion Odell

[16] [17] "Health Effects of Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation: BEIR V National Academy Press, 1990: ISBN 0-309-03995-9

[] No Immediate Danger: Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth by Rosalie Bertell. Available through IICPH

[18] Carcinogenic, Mutagenic, Teratogenic and Transmutational Effects of Tritium. fn2. Tritium, Properties, Metabolism, Dosimetry

[19] [] X-Ray Exposure and Premature Aging, Rosalie Bertell, Roswell Park Memorial Cancer Institute, Journal of Surgical Oncology, Vol. 9, 379 – 391 1977

[20] [21] [22] The Petkau Effect

[23] Making Nuclear Clear by Marion Odell

[24] WHO/IAEA/UNDP Press Release on Chernobyl

[25] “How Many Bystander Effects Are There?”

[26] IICPH reports on Tritium

Point Lepreau - The Nuclear N-former

Orimulsion - Wikipedia

MAKING STATIC: January 2010 Save NB Power Blogspot

CEO says it's time to move on Daily Gleaner

Orimulsion debate over Coleson Cove heating up New Brunswick Environmental Network

The Oil Drum | Drumbeat: March 29, 2010

New Brunswick Losing on the Environment

Our Management Team - About - NB Power