Gentilly-2 Movie Makes Fiction Out of Fact

It was reported last week that the recently elected Parti Quebecois intends to shut down Quebec’s reactor, Gentilly-2. Nothing is official until the new government makes it so, but comments from PQ spokesperson, Éric Gamache, have caught some attention.

This has always been the PQ party’s position on Gentilly-2 (G2), so why the stir now?

Timing is everything. A movie called “Gentilly Or Not To Be,” based on a report by the Quebec government’s Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de la Mauricie et du Centre-du-Québec aired last night on Télé-Québec.

The G2 movie uses this report as the basis for their claim that ‘the rate of childhood cancers in the area around the plant is 27% higher than in the rest of Québec.’

To be clear, this is the film maker’s interpretation of the data.

The director of the public health agency that authored the report, physician Gilles W. Grenier, clearly acknowledges the limitations of the municipal data, the very small numbers involved, random variables, the difficulty in interpreting the statistics to determine significance, the need for more detailed study and so on — so the 27% claim is simply not credible.

In fact, according to the CNSC, the Regional Public Health Directorate confirms cancer rates are normal around Gentilly-2. The fluctuations recorded by the documentary filmmakers for the years 2000–2004 are normal, temporary and related to cases located in a relatively remote area from the plant. In fact, such fluctuations are regularly observed in the population and should not be interpreted blindly and recklessly.

To quote Dr. Grenier, when he spoke with the CBC on September 11,

“We’ve been monitoring cancer rates and birth-defect rates for 20 years in a 20-kilometre radius around the reactor, and in all that period, in the zone from five to 10 kilometres out, we’ve never seen a rise in cancer cases against the Quebec average.”

The film also references a German study that alleges increased leukemia risk for people living near nuclear power stations. This is false. The authors of the study and the German Commission on Radiological Protection have determined that the presence of clusters (or concentrations) of leukemia cases near some German nuclear power plants had nothing to do with the radioactive releases. In fact, some years clusters are observed in different regions of Germany whether they have nuclear power plants or not.

Also worth noting, recent British and French studies used the same methodology as the German childhood leukemia study and did not find any increase in risk in their populations.

To be or not to be

The film’s title is a clever play on the opening lines of Hamlet’s soliloquy and clearly signals the intention of the movie, which is to ask the question: do we need nuclear energy?

…Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles…

But who is Hamlet in this scenario, really? What outrageous fortune is it to have a reliable, clean energy source like nuclear? In 2012, nuclear power from G2 helped avoid almost 3.5 million tonnes CO2 emissions in Quebec. The province is fortunate to have immense hydro power but that’s not the case for all provinces or countries.

This is another issue the film failed to address. Nuclear power is a vital part of Canada’s clean energy mix. It accounts for 15% of all electricity generated across the country and almost 60% in Ontario alone. Nuclear is a strong reliable source of base load power that is enabling Ontario to quit coal by 2014 and get renewable sources like wind and solar on the grid. Nuclear power generation can enable Canada to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by reducing dependence on burning fossil fuels, like coal, oil and gas. An energy mix that includes nuclear means a cleaner, greener future.

The film makers feel they are taking arms against a sea of trouble. A sea filled with supposed increased childhood cancer rates and misunderstandings about the safety of this energy source.

People who work at nuclear facilities live near them too. They are knowledgeable about the technology and the science. They understand how safe it is, how responsibly power generation by-products and used-fuel are handled.

They are 800 strong at G2. Ask yourself, would 800 people collectively decide to put their health and their families’ health in harm’s way if there was indeed such a huge risk, as the film makers say?

We don’t think so either.

 

Additional Reading

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission sent a letter from President Dr. Michael Binder to the editor of Le Nouvelliste, a QC paper that has been covering the issue recently. They completely debunk the claims in the film. If you’re still worried, we recommend you read the letter and sleep better tonight.

More from the CNSC on this issue:  Similar to the letter above but with more myth busting facts!

Radiation and health is a complicated issue for us regular folks. AECL, one of the best sources for accurate information about nuclear, has compiled this information and list of resources.

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