Tag Archives: Nuclear Energy

Nuclear Energy Nuclear Safety

A Little Fear is Healthy, Right? Wrong.

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

A couple of my neighbours work in public health policy. She researches disease epidemics; he studies addictions.

All three of us have good relationships with serious, informed, responsible media reporters. And we all share a common problem with the media when they aren’t so professional.

When some reporters call our offices, it’s clear what they’re after: The scary sound-bite. They want a few words, however out of context, that they can use to alarm readers about a fast-growing threat from that new virus, that new designer drug, or that remotely-possible accident or emission.


There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them. – Andre Gide

To him who is in fear, everything rustles. – Sophocles


We share the experience of  spending a quarter or half hour giving thoughtful, calibrated answers that don’t get taken up because they don’t ring alarm bells. Instead, our least guarded phrase or our least discreet word is what’s most likely to make it into the media.

The next day we read, hear or see “news” that’s little more than pure fear-mongering. We experience media “coverage” of epidemics that barely (or never) materialize, drug plagues that are exaggerated, and radiation dangers that don’t exist.

This doesn’t just affect us personally, through the frustration of seeing our knowledge dumbed down and distorted. It affects us as members of a society in which the information that reaches all of us is tilted toward fear.


To him who is in fear, everything rustles. – Sophocles

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. – Franklin Roosevelt

There is no passion so contagious as that of fear. – Michel de Montaigne


As a result, citizens demand solutions to fake threats. Those demands are put before governments and companies — often by the same reporters who trumped up the fake threats in the first place.

Governments and companies, even when they know better, have to placate people, so they devote resources to these “solutions” to fake threats. And every year, society throws attention and resources – flu shots, tests, treatments, dietary changes, and pills that do negligible good – at things that only matter because we were briefly made to fear them.

The trouble with this is that fewer precious resources are left for real threats. I, my neighbours, our colleagues and our organizations are left with lower capacity to reduce risks that might actually matter in a measurable and demonstrable way. Society ends up with fewer real solutions to real problems, and we are much worse off as a result.


Fear is static that prevents me from hearing myself. – Samuel Butler

The first duty of man is to conquer fear. – Thomas Carlyle


Fear is a lousy basis for making decisions. Fear-based decisions nearly always involve more sacrifice than benefit. Fear-based decisions are decisions against something, rather than decisions toward something, so we don’t pursue our real values. And they lead to inconsistency, because we’re likely to jump in a completely different direction next time we’re afraid.

This is why great leaders tell us over and over that we must not be governed by fear (or anger). Yet large parts of our society’s information-gathering media seek out, and thrive on, fear (and anger).

Because fear is based in ignorance, its defeat begins with the responsibility to inform ourselves. And that continues well after we’ve heard from the reporters.

Want to start? Next time a news item containing the word “nuclear” tries to push your panic buttons:

  • Resist fear.
  • Inquire. Look for the factual (as opposed to emotional or opinion-only) content in the news coverage. Some of it should be from independent and informed sources.
  • Read further. Take three to ten minutes to research the topic more deeply from credible experts. We can help you get started at www.cna.ca.
  • If you don’t think an item is delivering fair and informative content, demand better. Use the news organization’s website to ask for balanced, informative coverage.

Nuclear Energy

How can Nuclear Power be Cheap?

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

I once had a beloved old car – a 1984 Volvo – that didn’t look great, and needed regular work, but ran beautifully. I only scrapped it because my girlfriend hated it. That decision, I figure, cost me several thousand dollars over the next two years as I paid for a pricey lease on a new car.

The two most basic ways to get value out of equipment are to make sure you use it, and to keep it a long time. Cars are getting more expensive and complex, but this doesn’t stop us from buying them. It does lead us to keep them 50% longer than we did a decade ago. These days, my wife and I share our old car with my brother and his wife. We spread the fixed costs of ownership across two families’ driving needs, cutting the fixed costs per family in half.

Equipment that’s expensive can still be highly economic. Up-front cost isn’t an obstacle if the equipment runs efficiently, gets used a lot, and lasts a long time.

A nuclear reactor is a big piece of equipment, and the business of owning one is like owning a vehicle, only more so. For nuclear plants, looks don’t count. These plants are designed to run extremely well for a long time, and they do it. They typically produce electricity at 80% or more of their designed capacity, and they last – with refits – for fifty or sixty years.

That’s a lot of use over a very long time. How many products do you – or even your employer – own that you know will have five to six decades of life? The result is cheap, reliable power, as this chart from the Ontario Power Authority shows:


A jurisdiction where I do a lot of weekend driving, the province of Quebec, recently decided to decommission its only nuclear plant, rather than give it a mid-life refit. The decision came one week after the election of a new provincial government – before it had even been sworn into office. The government then asked for an economic analysis. In other words, they made their decision – it was written into their election platform – and then asked for backup.

The province’s electrical utility, which had planned to refit the plant, came back with re-worked numbers that raised the refit cost by 126%, and the cost of shutting it down by only 12%. Surprise, surprise:  the new numbers justified the announced decision.

The utility’s new estimate for refit cost was $4.3 billion. But a refit of a similar reactor came in at $2.4 billion in neighbouring New Brunswick. There, Energy Minister Craig Leonard was quoted saying, “If you look at the market today and try to obtain 700 megawatts of baseload emission-free power for $2.4 billion, you’re probably going to be searching for quite a while.” (iPolitics.ca, July 16, 2013, item by K. Bissett).

This story isn’t unusual. We often get rid of good things for poor reasons (as with my Volvo). And we more often than not have poor reasons for shutting down reactors early. Many, like Quebec’s, are political (kind of like scrapping a car at a girlfriend’s request). These days, some good nuclear plants are driven out of business by ultra-cheap fossil fuels. In these cases we are not giving enough weight to clean air or to having alternatives.

The latter is like scrapping our cars because the local taxi service is giving us a month’s worth of free rides. The problem, of course, is what happens at the end of the month. We’re caught without cars, we’re hostages to the taxi business, and we’re paying taxi fares two to four times a day. Our cost of getting around has quintupled!

This is why so many countries continue to choose nuclear. According to the WNA, nearly twice as many reactors will start up as shut down by 2030. India has six future units under construction, Russia has ten, China has twenty-eight. A long list of other countries are following, from Turkey to Saudi Arabia to Argentina.

Yes, nuclear power generating capacity has a capital cost and it takes time to build. But as we have seen, high capital cost is compatible with good economics. Good efficient equipment, used well, maintained well, and kept long, pays off.

Nuclear Liability

Why Should Nuclear Operators Have their Liability Limited?

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

Under a proposed legal change, Canada’s nuclear plant operators would have their potential liability capped at $1 billion (up from the current $75 million) for nuclear-related damage.  But why have a limit at all?  Why not make them liable for any amount of loss?  Isn’t a limit of $1 billion too soft on those who screw up?

For an answer, let’s look at why liability is ever limited.

Schuldturm debtor prison

Schuldturm debtor’s prison, Nurnberg, Germany (source: Keichwa/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

At one time, if you didn’t pay your debts, then you, your family and your servants could all be enslaved.  Debtors’ prisons existed until the nineteenth century.  Unmanageable debt was a moral failing and a form of criminality.

Even so, many saw that these “solutions” were much too hard on the spouses, children and customers who depended on the debtor’s continued freedom to work, act and spend.

Personal insolvency (or bankruptcy) laws weren’t devised to aid mismanagement or dishonesty.  They exist to let people like you and me continue to live and function if our debts get out of control.  This is in everyone’s interest – even our creditors’, at least in the long run and most of the time.  A debtor who keeps working, restructures his affairs, and gets back on his feet is better for society than one who’s turned into a slave or a prisoner.

Different but related principles are behind the limited liability corporation – the enabling institution of modern economies.  Controlling the extent of liability is the secret to unlocking corporations’ ability to raise capital from stockholders like you and me.  With that capital, they can do the things corporations do.  Like inventing things, buying machinery and creating jobs.

Corporate insolvency and bailouts have the same aim.  An organization that keeps operating and paying employees is, in many cases, far better for society as a whole than one that’s broken up and liquidated.  Good insolvency regimes allow the financially challenged to make whatever payments they can in a prompt, predictable and orderly way, rather than in chaos.

This is far from saying that getting into unmanageable debt and failing to repay it is okay.  It’s not.  But the law can be structured so that borrowers are motivated to be careful and make due efforts to avoid this situation.  As most do.

Canada’s Nuclear Liability Act (NLA) is in the same legal family as incorporation and insolvency laws.  It anticipates difficult situations and sets up sensible rules in advance, so the players can do their jobs in the heat of crisis with less uncertainty and under fewer pressures.

Changes being proposed to the NLA would actually increase the liability limit by an order of magnitude, giving companies more responsibility, not less.  Government and companies support these changes because they would make Canada a party to the international Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC).  The CSC creates an international supplementary fund that can pay compensation beyond what national laws provide.

Like a good insolvency law, the CSC sets up consistent, clear rules for payment, and makes sure that payment will be prompt and orderly.  Like a limited-liability incorporation law, the CSC makes it more practical for companies to raise capital, invest, and create opportunity.

Canada has a great record in nuclear safety.  Our industry and regulators work together every day to make sure we don’t have incidents.  The changes to the NLA are Canada’s steps to an up-to-date legal and financial system that can handle one if ever we do.

Nuclear Energy

Download “How does Nuclear Benefit Ontario” Infographic

Today’s Globe and Mail includes an infographic titled How does nuclear energy benefit Ontario? The image highlights nuclear as the best option for clean, reliable and affordable energy, as well as the number of jobs made possible by the refurbishment project.

Click on the image of the infographic to download your copy.




Climate Change: Time to Act

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

According to a poll published last week by Canada 2020 and the University of Montreal, 71% of Canadians think climate change should be a top priority of the federal government.

And 84% believe the federal government should take primary responsibility for addressing global warming.

On climate change, the discussions on “whether or not” and “why” are over.  Now the discussion is about how to respond, and how quickly.  That’s going to involve everyone.

While there is a useful ongoing dialog on climate going on this week in Warsaw, it’s plain to most of us that the disease is progressing much more quickly than the cure.

Few players will merely wait until national governments lead us.

Companies, junior levels of government, and other organizations of all stripes – community to industry to international — are stepping up.  This reflects a wider pattern of smaller players driving some of the most progressive and imaginative policy movements.

The UN Global Compact has just released guidelines to help companies engage transparently and accountably in climate policy:

This week at the Canadian Nuclear Association, we launched two important and complementary initiatives:

  • First meeting of our GHG Working Group.  The Working Group will spend coming months developing an industry position on GHGs.
  • Kickoff of a major independent study of the life-cycle emissions from power generation.  The study, by the engineering group Hatch, will compare lifespan emissions from nuclear, natural gas, and wind.

Our purpose is to contribute sound, well-thought-out ideas to federal and provincial dialogs on controlling GHGs.

In a related initiative, we are also beginning to consult CNA members and environmental experts about a sustainability code of practice.

Momentum is building, not just in Warsaw, but around the world.

Not in decades has the world’s population faced a common struggle like this one.  The threat is against all of us.  Organizations big and small are engaging actively, and with strong public support.

CNA Responds Nuclear Energy

Just the Facts, Ma’am. Just the Facts.

You’d think the facts would persuade people like the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) . But that appears not to be the case.

Gideon Forman, their executive director, apparently told health authorities in Haliburton region that kids living near nuclear energy facilities face higher risks of leukemia.  Forman, who is not a medical doctor, cited the widely discredited German study Kinderkrebs in der umgebung von Kernkraftwerken (KiKK), published in 2008. (The title translates to “Childhood Cancer in the Environment of Nuclear Power Plants.”)

Here’s the problem. It’s just not true.

In fact, several follow-up studies have reviewed the KiKK work. Every one of them concluded that the kids’ leukemia risk could NOT be blamed on the nearby nuclear energy facility.

Even CAPE acknowledges in its own literature that the German study proved nothing: “The authors state that the reason for the elevated risk is unexplained, as the levels of radioactive emissions from these facilities are considered too low to explain the increase in childhood leukemia.” (Source:  Cathy Vakil and Linda Harvey, Human Health Implications of the Nuclear Energy Industry, p. 62)

As the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission said in its review of the KiKK studies, “any claims of a link between childhood leukemia and radiation from nuclear power plants are unfounded and not supported by a wealth of evidence resulting from multiple epidemiology studies.”

And as the commission chairman, Dr. Michael Binder, wrote last August in a letter to the Hamilton Spectator  specifically rebutting CAPE’s allegations, “The truth is that studies have shown over and over that people living near nuclear power plants are as healthy as the rest of the population.”

Forman also cited scientific studies to show that “all reactors release radioactive material routinely” but failed completely to put this into perspective.  The truth is that nuclear energy facilities generally add less than 0.1% to the background radiation that occurs naturally.

In fact, Canadians receive over 100 times more radiation dose naturally through the food we eat than from Canada’s nuclear energy facilities.

Those are the facts. Shouldn’t doctors deal in facts rather than fiction?