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Saskatoon Shines

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

Cobalt-60 machine

Sylvia Fedoruk and Dr. Harold Johns with an early cobalt-60 machine.

Northern Saskatchewan has been leading in nuclear technology since the early 1950s.  That’s when researchers at the University of Saskatchewan pioneered cobalt-based therapy for cancer.

One of those researchers was a student named Sylvia Fedoruk, the medical physicist and oncologist who also contributed to the development of nuclear medical scanning systems.

Today, the Saskatoon-based Fedoruk Centre for Nuclear Innovation funds a wide range of research initiatives in nuclear technology, many of them in the health sciences.

Fedoruk centre

The 2014 nuclearFACTS event on November 20.

Last week the Fedoruk Centre hosted two back-to-back events.  On November 20, nuclearFACTS presented funded projects in nuclear research, development and training in Saskatchewan in the areas of nuclear medicine, nuclear energy and safety, materials  research and environmental studies.  It drew a total of about 80 participants.

And the following day, the Accelerate workshop, which CNA proudly sponsored, provided a day of discussion of nuclear research, innovation and financing.  The researchers shared knowledge of fields from veterinary medicine to applied physics to venture finance.

Accelerate workshop

The inaugural Accelerate workshop on November 21.

A central theme coming out of this wide-ranging discussion was that nuclear technologies are “both new and old.”  Like steam engines in the 1820s, electricity in the 1920s, or telephony in the 1980s, nuclear today has been around for decades – yet may be just beginning to find its most powerful applications.

 

Environment Nuclear Safety Waste Management

The Deep Geologic Repository and Canadian Nuclear Safety

By Dr. John Barrett
President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association

Now that it has closed the record on its extensive public hearings, the Joint Review Panel appointed to examine OPG’s Deep Geologic Repository (DGR) can get on with the final phase of its work – developing recommendations.

The panel faces a difficult task. Should it recommend that the project proceed? Or should it prefer that low- and intermediate-level waste remain stored in concrete trenches and warehouses above ground?

It’s not an easy choice, because either approach yields the same result – safe, secure storage of radioactive materials.

In two appearances before the review panel, the Canadian Nuclear Association expressed confidence in OPG’s proposed repository. The company has developed a credible case for moving its waste underground – a plan developed with input from many specialists from a wide variety of disciplines.

OPG concluded—and I have seen no persuasive evidence otherwise—that the repository will likely not cause significant adverse environmental effects.

It’s significant that three federal departments, as well as the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), all reached the same conclusion upon reviewing OPG’s case.  In short, OPG has more than satisfied the need to assess properly the risks posed by the DGR.

There exist four waste-management options. Two require storage above ground, and two below ground. A review by a panel of independent experts has shown all four options, including the proposed DGR, can be carried out safely and securely. Any one of them would do. The real question is whether any option is inherently better than the others.

The answer finds its roots in our sense of moral responsibility. My generation, and yours, benefitted from the use of nuclear-generated electricity. We also bear responsibility for the waste. We should manage it. The DGR provides a way to do so safely and securely. In the end, the joint panel will assess whether the repository provides a responsible improvement on current practice.

Observers should not fail to note the broader issue – that the nuclear industry, alone in the energy sector, takes full responsibility for managing its waste. We do so safely and securely, using ample detection and alert systems to ensure public and environmental safety.

Could we do better? Certainly. We can always improve safety. At the same time, let us recognize that the Canadian nuclear industry enjoys an impressive safety record.

In fact, the nuclear regulator recently concluded that no fatalities related to radiation safety have ever occurred in the Canadian nuclear industry. How many industrial activities of any kind–let alone of nuclear’s scale and complexity–have this kind of record?

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Advancing Health Care: An Inside View

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

CNA is reaching out this fall to users of nuclear technology across Canada’s health care sector. It’s part of the Nuclear Leadership Forum’s work toward a Nuclear Innovation Agenda – making sure Canada retains its world leadership in nuclear in decades to come.

The Ottawa Hospital’s Chair of Nuclear Medicine, Dr. Lionel Zuckier, invited CNA to visit this large hospital’s radiochemical laboratory on October 29.

Dr. Lionel Zuckier (right) illustrates the value of PET imaging to CNA’s Dr. John Barrett.

Dr. Lionel Zuckier (right) illustrates the value of PET imaging to CNA’s Dr. John Barrett.

Dr. Zuckier and his colleagues explained how advances in molecular imaging are constantly making treatments more personalized and accurate. This has greatly reduced each patient’s radiation exposure while making treatments faster, less intrusive, and more effective.

Yanick Lee (right) and Ran Klein (centre) show off the Ottawa Hospital’s cyclotron.

Yanick Lee (right) and Ran Klein (centre) show off the Ottawa Hospital’s cyclotron.

The Ottawa Hospital hosts impressive molecular medicine facilities: a cyclotron, hot cells, chemistry modules, a dose preparation “clean room,” and many imaging and treatment machines.

Like others in the health community, Ottawa Hospital leaders express concern about the supply-demand picture for medical isotopes around 2016. Many say that immediately following the end of the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor’s molybdenum production, alternative supplies will not be sufficient to cover patient needs.

Yanick Lee demonstrates a small hot cell, where freshly produced isotopes are received from the cyclotron.

Yanick Lee demonstrates a small hot cell, where freshly produced isotopes are received from the cyclotron.

Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists (CAMRT) President Francois Couillard blogged about this issue in September.

Yanick opens up a chemistry module, where isotopes are processed before going to the dose preparation room.

Yanick opens up a chemistry module, where isotopes are processed before going to the dose preparation room.

According to the hospital’s Ran Klein, Cardiac Imaging Core Lab Manager at the National Cardiac PET Centre, “More than 100,000 Canadian patients each year get technetium scans that are crucial to their diagnostic and prognostic accuracy – especially for cardiac patients (40% of all nuclear imaging is cardiac imaging). What are we going to do in 2016? We are not ramping up to deal with that.”

Dr. Klein continued that even in the longer term, there are serious supply issues. “I have nothing against India, South Africa, or Pakistan (some of the alternative supplying countries) but you are losing control of the supply chain, and you are losing control of the regulatory structure around it.”

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What’s it like discussing nuclear energy with some climate activists?

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

Imagine you’re a freshman math student, and you’re meeting the head of your university’s mathematics department.

You ask him to set a tough problem for you.

“Well,” he says, “we’re in great need of a number to put between twelve and fourteen. It has to be the sum of ten and three, and it also has to be half of twenty-six.”

2+2

You pause before replying, wondering where the trick is. “Um. Wouldn’t that be thirteen?”

“Don’t say that.”

“What?”

“What you just said.”

“Thirteen?”

“Ssshhh.”

“Why not?”

“It’s bad.”

“Why?”

“Always been. Inherently dangerous number. Killed thousands. Toxic legacy. That question’s settled. Now back to our problem.”

“Okay,” you say. “Where do we stand so far?”`

“I’d like you to take a look at four and a half. There’s a big constituency for four and a half around here. Always has been. We think it can be the solution… just needs a bit of work.”

“What kind of work?”

“We think some help from eight will be enough.”

“Four and a half with help from eight?  Isn’t that twelve and a half?”

“We don’t put it that way.”

“Why?”

“That would be almost you-know-what, and we’re just not going there. Anyway, now we’re getting a subsidy for eight, so we really want to keep eight in the picture.”

“Do you really think four and a half with help from eight is going to satisfy the specifications of the problem?”

“It’s between twelve and fourteen.”

“Well, yes, but it’s two numbers, not one. It’s not equal to ten plus three, and it’s not half of twenty-six.”

“I understand your point, but there are bound to be a few gaps. We think users of the number system are ready for change. With education, lots of them will accept four and a half.”

“What if they don’t? What if they only care whether it works? They’ll expect it to equal ten plus three. They’ll expect it to be half of twenty-six.”

“What would you suggest, then, smart guy?”

“I suggested thirteen a while ago.”

find x“SSSHHH!  You trying to get us both in trouble? Listen, maybe you have a point. But we need to keep this department working as a team. This you-know-what, it’s too divisive. We can’t shake them up like that.”

“How about you let me work on you-know-what, as long as I don’t say it?”

“No need. A bunch of us are already working on it.”

“Thirt—”

“SSSSHHHH! Yeah, that. We’ve got an action team. Anytime anyone mentions it, we tell them it’s bad.”

“Are they developing mathematical proofs that show it’s not between twelve and fourteen? Or that it’s not equal to ten plus three, or that it’s not half of twenty-six? You said something about it killing thousands, something about a toxic legacy – how about a straight-up factual comparison between you-know-what and four and a half?”

“We could, but we don’t need much of that.”

“Why not?”

“People have been hearing it’s bad all their lives. We’re mathematicians. They’ll take our word for it.”

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The Thousand Islands Energy Research Forum

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

The Thousand Islands Energy Research Forum took place at the University of Ottawa this past weekend. CNA took advantage of this great opportunity to present the recent Hatch life cycle emission study, which had been launched on October 8 at our Toronto fall seminar.

John Stewart presentation

TIERF, an annual academic event that mixes energy policy and technology, drew about 40 university, government and industry participants this year. They brought presentations and technical posters on energy technology research, ranging from shale gas to geothermal to nuclear.

CNA director of research and policy John Stewart delivered a summary of the Hatch study along with CNA’s key messages from it. While nuclear is roughly as clean-emitting as wind for power generation, wind cannot stand alone due to its intermittency, and any assessment of wind’s environmental effects must include the impact of managing that intermittency.

In Ontario today, new wind farms are only generating about 20% of their capacity, and when the wind fails to blow, the difference is generally made up by burning natural gas, a fossil fuel. This means that building new wind capacity means building in more, not less, GHG emissions to Ontario’s supply mix – undoing some of the benefits of the province’s successful exit from coal.

CNA’s presentation on October 25 was preceded by an excellent analysis by u of O’s Olayinka Willliams on “The Integration of Wind Power Generation with Hydroelectricity in an Electric Grid,” which expounded the many problems of bringing randomly intermittent wind power into a grid, even when hydro is available to back it up.

GHG emissions by energy type

According to the Electric Power Research Institute, “the existing electric power grid, especially its distribution systems, was not designed to accommodate a high penetration of distributed energy resources while sustaining high levels of electric quality and reliability.” (“The Integrated Grid,” February 2014). Bollen and Hassan’s 2011 engineering text Integration of Distributed Generation in the Power System says the problems include increased risk of overload and increased losses; increased risk of overvoltages; increased levels of power-quality disturbances; and impacts on power-system stability and operation.

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Nuclear Fear is Unscientific

Nuclear energy is safer than most people think, yet a fear factor persists.

A great new talking point in the media and politics in recent years has been the use of the term “evidence-based” policy.

The concept of evidence-based policy is taken from the scientific and medical world and argues that all government, social and economic policy should be based on rigorous empirical study, not popular public opinion.

The hope or belief is that such a method will result in the best possible public policy outcomes.

Perhaps no technology has to deal with the lack of evidence-based policy like nuclear energy.

Nuclear is safe, yet it is feared and in some cases hated. The industry is well aware of this.

In a recent blog post on Brave New Climate, Australian environmental writer Martin Nicholson explained it perfectly.

“When people express their nuclear hatred, they usually argue about: the dangers from radiation leaks, the risk of weapons proliferation, the nuclear waste problem, that nuclear power is too expensive and in any case we just don’t need it!,” he wrote.

“None of these reasons have solid scientific backing. If they did, countries around the world (like USA, UK, France, Finland, Russia, China, India, South Korea, UAE) would not continue to build new nuclear power plants to supply their growing need for energy.”

Nicholson’s blog post examined the issue of risk perception and nuclear based on a 2010 book by risk consultant David Ropeik.

In short, Ropeik argues that often times fear overcomes the facts based on a number of psychological factors and internal individual questions, such as “Is the risk natural or manmade?” (Solar radiation vs. nuclear radiation) or “Can it happen to me?”

According to Nicholson, the book tells us that risk perception is “an intrinsic, biologically rooted, inescapable part of how the human animal behaves.”

This gives environmentalists opposed to nuclear energy an edge in the public and media debate.

Many would have you believe that nuclear energy is the most dangerous or deadly energy source, when the facts show otherwise.

In June, Forbes columnist James Conca wrote about an energy source’s “death print,” which he defined as “the number of people killed by one kind of energy or another per kWhr produce.”

Based on research done by Next Big Future, when you factor in direct deaths and epidemiological estimates based on pollutants released, coal has by far the worst death print and wind and nuclear have the best.

The data shows that for every person killed by nuclear power generation, 4,025 will die due to coal based on energy produced.

Evidence-based policy would favour nuclear because TWh for TWh it is one of the safest energy sources.

Deaths per TWh of power produced

Deaths per TWh of power produced