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Learning from Yucca Mountain

The US plan to bury used nuclear fuel deep in Yucca Mountain has been stalled for years, even though the site’s safety has been backed by science. Why?

The United States started with 50 possible sites. It quickly settled on Yucca Mountain, a former nuclear test site in Nevada. The US process lasted only a few years. It didn’t include public consultation, which gave rise to opposition.Yucca-Home

There is a Canadian precedent too. In 1989, a commission studied the idea of placing a waste site in the granite of the Canadian Shield. In 1998, after public consultations, the Seaborn Commission said that the plan was technically sound: the waste could be stored safely there. But the commission also found that the idea hadn’t proven acceptable to the public. The Canadian government decided that public acceptability would be a requirement for any permanent storage plan.

Today in Canada, work is underway to find two sites for nuclear waste. One would store spent nuclear fuel. The other would store low- and intermediate-level waste.

Low-level nuclear waste includes mops, brooms, gloves and so on. It is not necessarily radioactive, but the nuclear industry takes a precautionary approach to protect people and the environment. Intermediate-level waste includes used reactor parts, and it is normally shielded from people and the environment.

Leaders of both Canadian projects are mindful of Yucca Mountain and the Seaborn Commission. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization has talked with 21 communities that said they might host a spent-fuel site. After screening for geological suitability, nine remain on the list.

For storing low- and intermediate-level waste, a site has already been selected, at Kincardine, Ontario. A federal government panel still has to approve the location. The panel found the site location and design to be safe – a finding backed by sound science. The panel also held extensive public consultations. As part of that work, the panel hired a group of experts to assess the public perception of risk about the project. According to Dr. William Leiss, who led that group, “This type of work exists in the shadow of Seaborn. It was quite clear that the Joint Review Panel was concerned about social acceptance.”

Kincardine’s mayor, Anne Eadie, agrees: “At the hearings, they really bent over backwards to hear everyone speak, and took any opportunity to hear all concerns.”

Back at the beginning of the consultation process, Kincardine asked its residents what they thought. In a 2005 phone survey, 60% of respondents agreed with the concept and 22% disagreed.

Ten years later, Mayor Eadie says, “The majority of residents still support the DGR. On the whole, they are much better informed, as most of them either work at the plant or have family members there.”

The report by Dr. Leiss’ group makes clear that public acceptance depends on a good understanding of risk. The consultations will continue as the project unfolds.

Messages Nuclear News

Canada’s Nuclear Industry Welcomes Modernized Regulatory System and Innovation Investments

March 29, 2012, OTTAWA – The Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) today welcomed the Government of Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2012, “Jobs, Growth, and Long-Term Prosperity,” and key measures to create a modern regulatory system that will also contribute to improved environmental performance for Canada’s energy and mining projects.

“Regulatory modernization is a priority for our industry as it provides a competitive advantage for Canada,” said Denise Carpenter, President and CEO. “We are optimistic these proposed changes will increase efficiency and effectiveness of the regulatory process, and we look forward to working with the federal government to implement changes swiftly to enhance job creation and economic growth in Canada.”

The CNA serves approximately 100 member companies, representing 70,000 people employed in the production and advancement of nuclear medicine, uranium mining and exploration, fuel processing, and electricity generation.

“Our members support a regulatory process that establishes clear timelines, reduces duplication and burdens, and focuses resources on large projects where potential environmental impacts are the greatest,” added Carpenter, “We appreciate the focus on what matters to the environment.”

The CNA also applauded Innovation investments contained in Economic Action Plan 2012, such as the implementation of a Jenkins Panel recommendation to refocus the National Research Council (NRC) to improve its responsiveness to Canada’s business sector.

“Canada’s home-grown nuclear technologies connect the energy, medicine, manufacturing, advanced materials, and academic sectors with many other value-added industries, and the NRC is an important part of that innovation system,” said Carpenter. “Our industry believes there is great value to having strong public support for S&T that is responsive to the needs of industry.”

The Canadian nuclear industry provides a broad spectrum of products and services that benefit Canadians, generating approximately $6.6 billion per year and contributing $1.5 billion in tax revenue and $1.2 billion in export revenues.

Please visit www.cna.ca to follow CNA’s Blog, Twitter, and Facebook, and join in the “TalkNUclear” conversation.

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Background Information:

The CNA discussed this issue in the September 2011 “Innovation Issue” of Policy Options magazine:  http://www.irpp.org/po/archive/sep11/stewart.pdf

The CNA issued the following new release on March 14, 2012 to encourage the Government of Canada to fully consider the recommendations on the federal Environmental Assessment (EA) process made by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development: http://www.cna.ca/english/news_events/Mar14-2012-CNA-press-release.html

CNA2012

2012 CNA Conference and Trade Show – Photos!

Anyone who was in attendance will agree: the 2012 Canadian Nuclear Association and Trade Show was top notch! The variety of speakers covered everything from the global industry’s response to the events at Fukushima to nuclear medicine to science and technology etc.,. We’re still busy recovering and wrapping up  – which includes going through hundreds of photos of presenters, participants, exhibitors and all the fun, learning and networking that was had.

Take a look at some of the highlights over on our Google+ page. Feel free to tag, share and download full-sized versions of the photos too.

Click to visit our #cnagm2012 G+ Photo Album

CNA Responds

CNA Responds: The Green Goliath Takes on Nuclear (Financial Post, Dec. 10)

This Letter to the editor was submitted to the Financial Post in response to this op-ed on December 10.

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Lawrence Solomon makes the claim that “the Ontario government’s decision to go nuclear — based on the ideology of the 1960s and 1970s — had nothing to do with economics and everything to do with the politics of the day.”  Ontario was out of suitable large hydroelectric sites by the 1950s and nuclear was the economic, low-emissions option that was emerging.

Choosing nuclear power greatly facilitated Ontario’s economic growth over the past five decades, it has helped Canada avoid about 90 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually, and still supports tens of thousands of high-wage, highly-skilled jobs in Ontario.  If that decision “had nothing to do with economics” then it has been a remarkably lucky one for Ontarians’ quality of life.

Because nuclear power plants are highly reliable, competitive, predictable in costs, and low in emissions, they have been chosen as a source of base load power in most of the world’s large, developed economies.  Most of these countries are planning new investments in nuclear, as are many emerging economies.

What Solomon calls “nuclear power cost overruns” were in large measure a combination of high interest rates, unexpected delays due to stops and starts of projects by different governments, and unanticipated design changes by regulators.  None of the cost challenges that have affected nuclear power plant construction are inherent in nuclear technology.  New nuclear plants in Asia are being built at a very low cost compared with North America and Europe, in part due to the cost benefits of getting beyond the slower “first of a kind” projects and moving on to second, third and fourth plants of the same design.

The costs and timeliness of plant construction have become more accurate as more plants are built.   And while nuclear plants have high capital costs and take a long time to come into service, once they are built they have low and stable operating costs, and those operating costs are much less sensitive to fuel price increases than either gas or coal plants.  That is why nuclear is becoming the global choice for base load electric power.

In Canada, three provinces – Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick – are benefitting from this available, reliable, clean and affordable source of energy.  And, for almost 50 years, Canada’s nuclear industry has achieved an unparalleled record of safe power generation in these provinces. Nuclear energy is responsible for 15% of Canada’s electricity production and for 55% of Ontario’s alone.  Furthermore, nuclear energy is not subject to unreliable weather or climate conditions, unpredictable cost fluctuations, or dependence on foreign suppliers. Fortunately, Canada is a uranium-rich country, making the supply of this key ingredient stable over time.

Canada has a number of challenges ahead with respect to electricity demand. We believe that when the real costs and benefits are considered, nuclear will play a significant role in Canada’s energy portfolio going forward. It is a vital component for a sustainable energy future.

Denise Carpenter

President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association

Nuclear R&D

Canada’s Innovation Puzzle: Is our National Conversation Missing a Piece?

John Stewart – CNA Director of Policy and Research

Canadians have been concerned for decades about their country’s level of research and development activity, which is presumably related to productivity and living standards. However, recent major national studies and policy efforts related to R&D have focused almost exclusively on business performance of R&D. As policy-makers in the US and other major innovator countries recognize, public institutions such as national laboratories are an integral part of national science and technology performance, as they concentrate many diverse researchers together, offer training opportunities for highly qualified personnel in many fields, and can supply R&D facilities and services that may not be offered by private institutions, regardless of incentives. Policy efforts must look at the full ecosystem of public, academic and private institutions to have a complete picture of national science and technology performance.

Access the entire article here (PDF)

This article is featured in the September issue of the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP)’s Policy Options magazine.  This month’s focus is on innovation.

Policy Options > Innovation Issue – September 2011
Nuclear Education Nuclear Outreach Nuclear Pride

Canada Represented at the 2011 International Nuclear Energy Olympiad

Last month we told you about the 2011 International Nuclear Energy Olympiad, an international student competition seeking innovative ways to communicate nuclear technology for public buy-in.

A total of 35 teams from 22 countries around the world applied. According to the sponsoring body, the Korea Nuclear Energy Promotion Agency,

the overall quality of the submissions was exceptionally high making it extremely hard for the Committee to select only 10 teams.

We at TalkNuclear are very proud to announce that the team of CNA summer students, Alex Wolf and James Harrington, was one of those 10 teams selected to present their plan.

Of their plan, Alex and James say: Showing people all the great things about nuclear energy is a complex task. It would be simple to provide widespread education on radiation science and nuclear safety, however not everyone has the time to devote to learning these topics. Different stakeholders have different needs, and our plan will focus on identifying these groups, listening to their specific concerns, and sharing relevant information through direct and word-of-mouth strategies.

CNA summer students Alex Wolf and James Harrington – Representing Canada at the 2011 International Nuclear Energy Olympiad in South Korea

“We’re very happy to among the ten teams selected to present a plan for gaining public acceptance of nuclear in Canada,” said Alex. “We’re also looking forward to hearing what the other teams from other countries are proposing based on their perspective and experience with nuclear,” added James.

In making their selections, WNU (World Nuclear University) and KONEPA (Korea Nuclear Energy Promotion Agency) considered

  • the clarity and creativity of the plans for conducting research on the given topic
  • diversity, both in terms of nationality of the teams taking part in the event,
  • diversity of subjects read by the candidates.

Congratulations Alex and James! Your selection exemplifies the on-going success of the Canadian nuclear community’s commitment and focus on industry renewal and knowledge transfer. Best of luck at the Olympiad in South Korea in September!

The names of the selected teams have been posted on the Olympiad website.

Meet Alex and James:

Alex Wolf  has been close to all things radiation since 2003. He currently serves as a Project Analyst at the Canadian Nuclear Association, where his primary role is in developing and marketing CNA external events, including the annual CNA Conference and Tradeshow. Prior to this, Alex worked as a tour guide at the McMaster Nuclear Reactor while completing his M.Sc. in Radiation Biology. He also received his certification as a Registered Radiation Therapist after completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Medical Radiation Sciences in 2008. Alex has a strong interest in international energy and health policy, and is currently completing his MBA at the Schulich School of Business at York University.

James Harrington joined the CNA in May of 2011 after graduating from McMaster University in Hamilton with a B.Eng Society degree in Engineering Physics. His specializations include a broad range of engineering sciences ranging from energy systems, nuclear power and radiation and radioisotope methodology all the way to sustainable development. James’ work with the CNA is focused on the development of an education portal to increase awareness with regards to radiation and the associated health effects. The CNA recognizes McMaster University for their assistance in bringing James on board.