Tag Archives: transportation

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Top 10 Myths about Nuclear Energy

Myth #1: Nuclear energy is dangerous.

Fact: Nuclear energy is one of the safest forms of energy available. No member of the public has ever been injured or killed in the entire 60+ year history of nuclear power generation in Canada. In fact, recent studies have shown it is safer to work in a nuclear power plant than an office. (Source: NEI.org.)

Myth #2: A nuclear reactor can explode like a nuclear bomb.

Fact: It is physically impossible for a nuclear reactor to explode like a nuclear bomb. Reactor fuel does not have nearly enough uranium-235 to be explosive, and all nuclear reactors are constructed with multiple layers of safety controls and self-limiting features. It is also impossible for a person to intentionally or unintentionally modify a reactor, its controls or its fuel to cause an explosion.

Myth#3: Nuclear reactors emit dangerous amounts of radiation.

Fact: Nuclear reactors produce extremely small amounts of radiation. If you live within 75 km of a nuclear power plant, you receive an average radiation dose of about 0.0001 millisieverts per year. To put this in perspective, the average Canadian receives about 3 millisieverts per year from natural background sources of radiation.

Myth #4: Nuclear energy leads to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Fact: The Canadian nuclear industry is regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), which ensures that the country does not manufacture or acquire nuclear weapons, and that nuclear exports do not contribute to the development of nuclear weapons. In the history of Canadian nuclear exports, there has only been one breach of contract, which resulted in severe sanctions.

Myth#5: Nuclear energy produces a huge amount of waste.

Fact: Nuclear energy produces a very small amount of waste compared to other energy sources. In fact, all of the used nuclear fuel generated in every Canadian nuclear plant in the last 60 years would fill 6 NHL hockey rinks to the boards. Additionally, unlike the waste produced by fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, which is released into the air, nuclear waste is kept in secure storage.

Myth #6: There is no solution for the disposal of nuclear waste.

Fact: Nuclear waste is currently being safely stored at the nuclear site where it was generated. Two initiatives are currently underway in Canada to find Deep Geologic Repositories (DGRs) for nuclear waste – one for low and intermediate-level waste and one for used fuel – where it will be safe and secure for many generations to come. There are operational DGRs in several countries around the world.

Myth #7: Nuclear waste cannot be safely transported.

Fact: Nuclear waste is being safely shipped by truck, rail, and cargo ship. To date, thousands of shipments have been made without any leaks or cracks of the specially-designed containers. Some of the measures that contribute to the safe transportation of nuclear waste include expert engineering of vehicles and containers, rigorous screening and training of personnel, inventory tracking, and independent regulatory bodies.

Myth #8: Nuclear energy is expensive.

Fact: Nuclear power is one of the least expensive energy sources. In Ontario, it is second only to hydropower. Natural gas and wind are twice as expensive and solar is nearly ten times as expensive. Moreover, the cost of nuclear is very stable because uranium makes up only 30% of the cost of nuclear power, so an increase in the cost of uranium would have only a small effect on the total price.

Myth #9: Nuclear energy is being phased out.

Fact: Currently, there are 441 nuclear reactors in 29 countries producing 14% of the world’s electricity. Another 61 reactors are currently under construction in 15 countries. Furthermore, new reactor technologies, such as small modular reactors (SMRs), are under development, which will provide additional options for diverse countries around the world.

Myth #10: Nuclear energy is bad for the environment.

Fact: Nuclear reactors emit zero greenhouse gasses during operation. Over the entire lifecycle, which includes construction, mining, operation, and decommissioning, nuclear emissions are comparable to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Nuclear power also has minimal effects on aquatic habitats and uses less land than most other energy sources.

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Uranium Mines and Mills Subject to Strict Regulations

By Romeo St-Martin
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

A radiation technician
A radiation technician checking to make sure radiation levels are below regulatory limits.

Canada’s uranium mining sector is a heavily regulated industry, monitored closely by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to ensure the safety of workers, the environment, and the public.

Every aspect of uranium mining and milling is subject to licensing from the CNSC to ensure that they are operated in accordance with international standards. According to the CNSC website, “The CNSC’s licensing process for uranium mines and mills follows the stages laid out in the Uranium Mines and Mills Regulations, proceeding progressively through site preparation and construction, operating, decommissioning, and abandonment (or release from licensing) phases.”

Here’s a breakdown of the safety measures at each phase.

Site preparation and construction

Before construction of uranium mining or milling operations, site owners or operators must take samples from the nearby soil, water, air, flora, and fauna to document the state of the environment before mining begins. During construction and operation, the operators continue to take samples regularly and check them against original conditions, to ensure that the environment is being protected.

Results of this monitoring are submitted to federal and provincial regulatory authorities for review. Testing by independent agencies of water bodies downstream from uranium operations in northern Saskatchewan demonstrate that there have been no effects on water quality, while local wild foods, such as moose, fish, and berries, continue to be safe to eat.

Mining and milling operations

All uranium mining and milling operations have formal safety and radiation-protection programs and codes of practice, to ensure that workers and the public are safe. These programs require that radiation protection be considered in the design of all facilities and operating procedures. They also provide for systematic monitoring of radiation in work areas, and track the exposures of individual workers, through a combination of monitoring devices and health testing.

water sample
A field technician collecting a water sample from a lake downstream of a uranium mine.

Rigorous safety practices are not limited to the handling of uranium ore and concentrate. Even waste rock from mining operations, which contains very low concentrations of uranium and other metals, is managed to protect the environment. Waste rock is stored on engineered pads and, where necessary, runoff water is collected and treated to remove contaminants before it is released to the environment. Waste rock management facilities are monitored as part of the extensive environmental monitoring program in place at each operating site, to ensure that any issues are identified and addressed.

Similarly, after milling has removed uranium from ore, what is left is called “tailings”, which also contains low levels of matter that could remain radioactive for long periods. Environmental modelling shows that this matter can be managed and secured safely. In Canada, mill operators place the leftover material in tailings facilities, and cover them with water. The active tailings facilities at all of Canada’s uranium mills are state-of-the-art facilities built into large, mined-out ore pits. While the mill is active, operators collect groundwater from a series of wells around the facility. By the time operations cease, the tailings will have become a solid, dense mass. Groundwater will flow around the consolidated tailings, rather than through them, to minimize environmental impact. The facilities are designed to contain the material securely for thousands of years.

All water used in uranium mining and milling processes is treated to remove contaminants before it is released into the environment.

Transportation

Uranium concentrate is safely transported by road, rail, or sea in conventional shipping containers. Handling precautions applied to other potentially hazardous industrial chemicals are sufficient to protect people and the environment. In the event of an accidental spill, the material would be collected by trained personnel and delivered to a licensed facility for repackaging; there would be no significant effect on people or the environment. The CNSC inspects and reviews the transportation of uranium from mining and milling operations to ensure the safety of workers and the public.

Shutdown and decommissioning

waste rock
Trucks hauling uranium ore and waste rock to the surface.

Though decommissioning takes place at the end of the cycle, it is planned and financed from the beginning. “The CNSC requires a licensee to have a financial guarantee in place during all phases of the facility’s lifecycle to cover the cost of decommissioning,” according to the CNSC. “This ensures that decommissioning is included in planning at all stages in a facility’s lifecycle. Decommissioning and reclamation plans for mines and mills must be assessed and approved by the CNSC before work can proceed.”All uranium mining and milling operations must eventually be decommissioned. During this phase, the operators remove all structures, secure and landscape the tailings and waste-rock facilities, fill or flood the open pits, and close the mines, backfilling them with concrete caps. After the physical decommissioning is complete, the sites are subject to an extended monitoring period to ensure that the environment is protected.