Tag Archives: Safety

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.

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?

CNA2013

CNA2013 Video: Evolution of Nuclear Safety Practices

Mr. Tom Mitchell, President and Chief Executive Officer of Ontario Power Generation, provides an update on the safety measures OPG has implemented at its nuclear plants following the Fukushima nuclear event of two years ago. He also offers observations on the nuclear industry’s evolving approach to nuclear safety, including the insights gained from studying the Fukushima experience.

You can watch more CNA2013 conference videos on the playlist we created. Other videos including videos from previous conference years can be found on our YouTube channel.

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The Point Lepreau Generating Station is Seismically Robust and Safe

Below is a press release from NB Power correcting misinformation being circulated about the safety of their facility at Point Lepreau.

We echo the sentiments of NB Power Site VP & CNO, Sean Granville, when he says that our industry is one of most (if not THE most) closely regulated industries in Canada. Nuclear safety is not something we take lightly, it’s part of our culture.

Please read on for the straight facts on the matter.

The Point Lepreau Generating Station is seismically robust and safe

February 6, 2013

Fredericton, N.B. – NB Power takes exception to comments made today about the safety of the Point Lepreau Generating Station (PLGS) by the Conservation Council of New Brunswick (CCNB) Action Committee.

“These comments are misleading and attempt to undermine public trust in nuclear safety regulation and in the Point Lepreau Generating Station,” said Sean Granville, Site Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer. “The nuclear industry is one of Canada’s most closely regulated industries and its safety record is excellent and very transparent to the public. The people of New Brunswick can take great confidence in the safety of Point Lepreau.”

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) regulatory framework relies, in part, on International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines. On the basis of that framework, the CNSC sets licensing conditions for PLGS, which also includes meeting various Canadian standards. The Station meets or exceeds the specifications required under its federal licence. Comments made today by CCNB take highly technical seismic data about Point Lepreau out of context.

“We understand that the CCNB is not in favor of nuclear power and they of course are entirely entitled to hold that opinion,” said Granville. “However, NB Power is fully committed to operating the Station in a safe and responsible manner while meeting all licence and safety requirements.”

As stated by the CNSC, all Canadian nuclear power plants, existing or new, are licensed on the basis of their proven ability to withstand seismic events like earthquakes. Structures and systems have been designed to safely survive earthquakes and the CNSC ensures that all nuclear power plant licensees comply with regulatory requirements. In Canada, reactor sites are geologically screened to ensure they are constructed in a location that is seismically stable.

PLGS is located in an area of much lower seismic hazard risk than Fukushima. It is well within the North American plate and not located at a subduction tectonic plate boundary as is the case in Japan. The Station was designed to withstand potential earthquakes; both the actual structures that form containment and the systems important to safety have been seismically qualified prior to being granted a licence to operate. In addition, a
number of upgrades to the plant were made as part of the recent Refurbishment Project to further enhance seismic safety.

When the CNSC renewed PLGS’s Power Reactor Operating Licence in February 2012, the Commission made the completion of a site-specific seismic hazard assessment a condition of the Station’s licence renewal.

Since early 2012, PLGS staff have worked with experts on the site-specific seismic hazard assessment. Seasonal factors make it impossible to complete all data gathering until the summer of 2013, which means the final assessment report will be issued in 2014. Meanwhile, the preliminary findings offer reassurance about the safety of the Station.

Data included in this study is highly technical information, and NB Power – in reporting to the CNSC – relies on independent, highly qualified experts to conduct this type of work. Additionally, the assessment is reviewed by an independent panel of experts.

Preliminary findings of the seismic assessment received from third-party experts in December 2012 indicate that the current understanding of the earthquake hazard for the Point Lepreau site is not substantially different than that presented in a 1984 study. More information on the preliminary findings is available here.

Based on these findings; we are confident that the original safety case for PLGS remains as strong today as it was when the Station was constructed. The Station is sound and will continue to operate safely. New Brunswickers should be assured that NB Power takes its responsibilities to the people of New Brunswick as its utmost priority and puts the safety of employees and the public above everything else.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Kathleen Duguay, Manager, Public Affairs, (506) 647-8057 or kduguay@nbpower.com.

Nuclear Energy Nuclear Pride Nuclear R&D Nuclear Safety

What Kind of Environmentalist Endorses Nuclear? An Informed and Realistic One.

There’s an interesting article on Slate.com today called The Pro-Nukes Environmental Movement: After Fukushima, is nuclear energy still the best way to fight climate change?

The article says what we’ve been saying for a while: that while renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are part of a clean energy mix, they simply can’t meet the world’s growing energy demands in the next few decades without some unforeseen leap forward in grid-scale energy storage. When the wind isn’t blowing, when the sun isn’t shining, and when you don’t have a way to efficiently store huge amounts of power, where does the power come from? Unfortunately in many circumstances, that need is filled by burning fossil fuels like coal and gas.

Nuclear’s reliable base load power, combined with advances in electrifying our transportation systems, is the cleanest way to get off fossil fuels that are, as this article says, cooking the planet.

But the article does raise some concerns – the same concerns that are always raised when talking about nuclear power: capital cost and waste. It also mentions the nuclear renaissance, which, before Fukushima, was underway as the world was recognizing the opportunity for nuclear to help us quit coal and reduce emissions.

The article concludes by talking about “next generation” technology: reactors that are able to efficiently burn the used-fuel and include even more redundant safe guards (our backups have backups).

I asked our policy director, John Stewart, to touch on the cost issue and explain a bit about next generation technology: How far away is it and what’s the hold up?

Well, first, let’s point out that “current generation” nuclear power is already very good – especially when you’re looking at the carbon issue.  A technology with zero carbon emissions in today’s operation is still going to be at zero in its next generation.  If it’s carbon you’re concerned about, today’s nuclear technology is unbeatable. I’m abstracting, of course, from marginal improvements in the way we build or refuel the plants – we can use cleaner trucks to deliver the uranium fuel to the plant, or lower-carbon concrete technologies when we pour the foundation, but that’s about it.

The reactor “generations” you’re talking about is a classification system developed by the US Department of Energy and described in detail at www.energy.gov.  Reactor technology has been advancing just like technology in many other areas over the past three decades.  In cars or phones or computers, we’ve all been aware of those advances because everyone buys the results.  In nuclear, reactors are advancing but virtually nobody in North America has been buying the results.  The reactors we see are mostly older technology, dating back often to the seventies and eighties.  They work just fine, they’re safe, they’re clean, they’re very economical, but they do not reflect the state of the art, which is mostly being bought and built in places like China and India – or will be over the coming decade or two.

So the short answer about next generation technology is it’s not far away, and the hold up is just demand.  Regulatory processes aside, advanced reactor technology is available – it’s largely a matter of building it.

DOE_ReactorGenerations

Source: http://nuclear.energy.gov/genIV/documents/gen_iv_roadmap.pdf

Conversations about cost have to be clear – are we talking about up-front capital investment, that is the plant construction cost, or are we talking about the average cost of generating a unit of power?  Nuclear’s record is very clear – it is one of the most affordable ways to get a unit of power in the long run.   It’s now selling for about six cents a kilowatt hour in Ontario, a real bargain especially considering how clean it is.  One of the main reasons is that the plants are so durable, lasting for fifty to sixty years.  When a capital asset is amortized over a period that long, capital costs can be very large and they still shrink in importance.  The unit cost of power over that six decades is very low. 

CNA Responds Nuclear Energy Nuclear Pride Nuclear Safety

CNA Endorses OPG’s Applications for Renewal of Darlington Facilities

December 5, 2012, OTTAWA – The Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) welcomes and endorses Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) applications to renew its Darlington facilities. These applications cover refurbishment and ongoing operation of the Darlington nuclear generating facility, and renewal of the Darlington Waste Management Facility’s licence for a 10-year period.

“I’m delivering this message not just on behalf of at least 60,000 Canadians whose livelihoods are supported by our industry, but also for the 13.5 million Ontarians who deserve to enjoy the same affordable clean air energy in the future that they have in the past,” said Heather Kleb, CNA President and CEO.

“Darlington supplies electricity that is extremely reliable, reasonably priced, emits virtually no greenhouse gas from operations, and delivers high-wage, highly skilled jobs. The Darlington Nuclear Generating Station has been one of the largest contributors of electricity to Ontario’s power grid since 1990. We at CNA feel very strongly that the continued service of these facilities is vital for an ongoing stable supply of base load electricity to Ontario homes, workplaces and businesses.

“The Darlington station is an extremely valuable economic resource that has not yet reached the mid-way point of its functional service life. By renewing it, Ontario has a great opportunity to realize more value from this asset. The front-end cost of nuclear plants is spread over several decades of operating life, allowing them to produce electricity at low and predictable unit costs.

“Nuclear is one of the assets that has made Ontario so attractive in the past for investors and knowledge industries. Darlington is helping that to continue.”

A recently released study by Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters determined that nuclear is an integral part of Canada’s innovation, manufacturing and export capacity. Refurbishing ten nuclear reactors will support at least 10,000 jobs for the coming eleven years, plus ongoing long-term jobs in plant operations.

Ms. Kleb added that the safety of operations at Darlington has been demonstrated through 20 years of commercial power generation at this site, and over 40 years in the province.

Ms. Kleb spoke on December 5 at a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) Public Hearing in Courtice, Ontario.

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For more information:
John Stewart
Director of Policy
Canadian Nuclear Association
stewartj@cna.ca

Background information: