Tag Archives: UNSCEAR

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CNA Response to HBO Miniseries Chernobyl

The worst nuclear accident occurred in 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power station, sixty miles north of Kiev, Ukraine, in what was then the Soviet Union.

Thirty-three years later, Chernobyl is now a critically-acclaimed HBO miniseries, which will run for five weeks during May and June.

Here’s a spoiler: Almost all the problems associated with the Chernobyl incident were particular to the Soviet-era reactor and the secretive government response.

The Chernobyl accident was a unique event at a type of rudimentary reactor complex that was becoming rare in the Soviet Union, and no longer exists at all.

Chernobyl reactor versus CANDU

It is almost impossible that an accident like the one at Chernobyl could happen in a commercial nuclear plant found in Canada or the U.S.

The RBMK reactor at Chernobyl was never built by any country outside the USSR because it is a flawed design.

It is also significantly different from Canadian CANDU reactors in several ways as the chart from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd below shows.

Containment

Containment is an airtight building made of concrete and steel that prevents harmful radioactivity from escaping the reactor in the event of an accident.

The Chernobyl reactor had no containment. The key factor in the widespread dispersion of radioactivity was the energy released from the burning graphite moderator and the absence of a containment structure capable of withstanding that energy.

CANDU reactors, like most Western designs, have a containment structure designed for its maximum credible accident, while its moderator is low-temperature, low-pressure water instead of graphite.

Design flaws

Chernobyl also lacked other safety mechanisms that are considered standard design in the rest of the world.

The root cause of the Chernobyl accident was a design flaw in the shut-down system that no other reactor in the world has.

The CANDU and RBMK designs have some fundamental differences. CANDU reactors use a heavy water moderator, while RBMK use graphite. Graphite can be a very useful material in a safe reactor design. But in an unstable design like the reactor at Chernobyl, it was fuel for the fire that resulted from the explosion.

Safety culture

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded that a “lack of safety culture” existed within nuclear power plants in the former Soviet Union, including Chernobyl.

Chernobyl was a testament to the former Soviet Union’s poor construction materials and techniques, and absence of safety culture.

In the years prior to the accident, managers ignored safety rules laid down by engineers so production quotas could be met. Workers and lower-level managers were afraid to raise objections when they saw something wrong.

Health impact

In 2006 the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) undertook a study to follow up on health effects.

Of the plant staff and emergency workers exposed to the huge core doses and toxic smoke at Chernobyl, 28 died from acute radiation sickness.

The UNSCEAR report also said Chernobyl was responsible for a “substantial fraction” of about 6,000 thyroid cancers among people who were children or adolescents at the time of the accident. By 2015, 15 cases had proved fatal.

“To date, there has been no persuasive evidence of any other health effect in the general population that can be attributed to radiation exposure,” the study concluded.

According to a 2005 World Health Organization (WHO) report, a maximum of 4,000 people might yet exhibit some ill effects as a result of radiation exposure attributed to the Chernobyl release (as opposed to other sources of radiation, such as natural background radiation or medical procedures).

For context, about 1,000 people die per year mining coal in China; about 2,000 people die per year in road accidents in Canada; and more than 3,000 people die per year from fire in the United States.

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Nuclear: Challenging Our Notion of Risk

Risk surrounds us daily. We are constantly making decisions based on our perceptions of it. Our travel plans, our commute to work, our relationships and even our perceptions on social and political issues, all relate back to our perceptions of risk. Parents try to mitigate the risk that surrounds their children and of course there are the messages circulating around risk which can often be contradictory or too complicated to be easily understood.

Investigating risk and risk assessment is the latest project by documentary filmmaker Robert Lang, who sought out the world’s experts on the subject for his latest project, “Risk Factor”. “It’s complicated. We are all exposed to risk and we react to it whether we know it or not. And we hear about it in the news practically every night, whether it’s Zika or a terrorist attack or some health issue like the benefits or the dangers of drinking coffee, etc.”

The concept of risk also includes our perception of climate change and the risk behind certain energy sources such as nuclear.

“I have been an environmentalist for decades and for most of that time was anti-nuclear and wary of any form of radiation, because of the perceived threat of nuclear disasters …in general that’s in line with what environmentalists are supposed to think.” stated Lang. “But when you start looking at the facts and weighing relative risks and don’t lump all radioactivity risks into one basket, the picture becomes more nuanced. There are lots of benefits of radiation and nuclear power. I would say that the film made me confront some of my preconceptions and my understanding of what was going on in my hometown of Port Hope.”

The safety of nuclear power generation is often ignored. An analysis of the safety of each power source found that nuclear was one of the safest forms of generation. This analysis broke down fatalities by terawatt hour. Only rooftop solar had fewer deaths than nuclear, which was found to be safer than wind, hydro and even gas.

Misconceptions of safety around nuclear were highlighted in a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that tracked the impacts of Fukushima. On March 11th 2011, the sea floor opened up causing a massive earthquake and tsunami with wave heights over 10 meters high. More than 15,000 people were killed with thousands more missing in the aftermath. However, no one was killed as a direct result of the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant. In fact: the “United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) found that no discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members of the public and their descendants.”

Lang is hoping that his investigation of risk will challenge us to rethink our preconceptions and separate fact from fiction. The filmmaker notes that how we perceive danger is connected to cultural affiliations. Our social networks and interactions are largely based on aligning ourselves with others that we believe to share a similar mindset.

Robert Lang will be a featured guest and will host the Public Affairs Workshop, at CNA2018 where his film “Risk Factor” will be screened. For more information go to: https://cna.ca/2018-conference/

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Want to minimize radiation from power generation – build more nuclear

By Milt Caplan
President
MZConsulting Inc.

Originally posted at http://mzconsultinginc.com/.

Yes, you read that right.  For years, there have been efforts to demonstrate that people who live near nuclear plants or work at nuclear plants are getting sick from all that darn radiation they are receiving.  Over the years these stories have been debunked as study after study has shown that there is no impact from radiation from living near or working at a nuclear plant.

But now a study has been done that shows that of most of the options to generate electricity, nuclear actually releases the least amount of radiation.  This is documented in UNSCEAR’s, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, most recent report to the United Nations General Assembly, on its study to consider the amount of radiation released from the life cycle of different types of electricity generation.

The Committee conducted the comparative study by investigating sources of exposure related to radiation discharges from electricity-generating technologies based on nuclear power; the combustion of coal, natural gas, oil and biofuels; and geothermal, wind and solar power. The results may surprise some, especially those that strongly believe that nuclear pollutes the earth with radiation, coal with a range of air pollutants and carbon, and that solar and wind are environmentally wonderful.solar-panels-and-wind-turbines

Coal generation resulted in the highest collective doses to the public, both in total and per unit energy.  Coal radiation emissions result from coal mining, combustion of coal at power plants and coal ash deposits.  The study also considered occupational doses to workers.  Here is the biggest surprise.  As stated “With regard to the construction phase of the electricity-generating technologies, by far the largest collective dose to workers per unit of electricity generated was found in the solar power cycle, followed by the wind power cycle. The reason for this is that these technologies require large amounts of rare earth metals, and the mining of low-grade ore exposes workers to natural radionuclides during mining.”  It is important to note that in all cases these levels of exposure are relatively low and have little impact to public health.

This study only addresses normal discharges during the lifecycle of the station.  Possible larger releases as a result of nuclear accidents are not considered and we recognize that many will argue it is accidents and their consequences that create the largest fear of nuclear power.

So why talk about this?  The reality is that this information is not likely to change even one single mind on whether someone supports nuclear power or fears it.  We live in a world where facts no longer matter – the only truth is the one that any one person believes.  Well, we believe that scientific study remains the best way forward to establish truth and that studies such as these are part of the path forward.  No one electricity generation technology is perfect.  Coal is cost effective and technically strong, but is also a strong emitter of a range of pollutants (including radiation); renewables such as solar and wind are clean but their resource is intermittent and they have issues with both their front end (mining of rare earths) and disposal at the end of their life cycle.

Nuclear power continues to have a good story to tell, with respect to its economics, reliability, environmental attributes and the many good jobs it creates for local economies.  Concerns about nuclear relate mostly to one major issue – fear of radiation.  And fear is a strong emotion that is not easily changed.  But at least what we have here is another study to show that radiation emissions from normal operations of the nuclear fuel cycle is not something to fear – and in fact if you really want to minimize the collective dose to the public, nuclear power remains the option of choice.

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U.N. does not Expect Cancer Increase due to Fukushima Radiation

By Romeo St-Martin
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

Thyroid scan

With little media coverage and even less fanfare, the United Nations released a report in April that dispelled one of the most popular myths regarding the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown.

The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) said in a report it did not expect “significant changes” in future cancer rates that could be attributed to radiation exposure from the reactor meltdowns.

“The doses to the general public, both those incurred during the first year and estimated for their lifetimes, are generally low or very low. No discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members of the public or their descendants,” the report concluded.

While the report clears radiation from negative health impacts, it noted that those in the areas affected by the meltdown were not immune to other health impacts.

“The most important health effect is on mental and social well-being, related to the enormous impact of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident, and the fear and stigma related to the perceived risk of exposure to ionizing radiation,” it said.

“Effects such as depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms have already been reported.”

So fear about the exposure to radiation was more of a health problem than radiation exposure itself.