Monthly Archives: May 2011

Nuclear Education

Nuclear Education: Learning can be Fun!

PopAtomic Studios uses “the power of visual and liberal arts to enrich the public discussion on atomic energy,” and we think that’s pretty cool.

Our education site is What are some of the best nuclear educational resources that you’ve come across? Let us know in a comment below.

If you’re interested in nuclear education and outreach, you should attend the CNS Workshop on Nuclear Education and Outreach (NEO 2011). It is a one-day workshop that explores best practices in education and outreach; features keynote speakers, presentations, interesting panel discussions, and demonstrations. We’ll be there, will you?


Federal Cabinet Announcement

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced the new Cabinet of his majority government in the 41st Parliament. The Cabinet is now composed of 39 members including the Prime Minister. A total of 31 Ministers were re-appointed.

Ministers who will keep their existing portfolios include Peter Kent, Minister of the Environment; Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance; Bev Oda, Minister of International Cooperation; and Jason Kenny, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

Three newly-elected Members of Parliament were promoted directly into Cabinet including Joe Oliver from Toronto (Eglinton–Lawrence), as the new Minister of Natural Resources. His bio is copied below.

Ministers who were assigned new duties include Tony Clement as the President of Treasury Board, and Christian Paradis as Industry Minister and Minister of State for Agriculture.

The Cabinet’s regional composition is as follows:

  • 15 from Ontario
  • 14 from western Canada – including the Prime Minister.
  • 4 from Quebec
  • 5 from Atlantic Canada
  • 1 from Nunavut

Given the Government’s majority status, the role of caucuses and regional Ministers should increase in importance in policy and legislative development.

Prime Minister Harper also announced the membership of the Cabinet Committees (PDF). There are eight Cabinet Committees in total including the Treasury Board Sub-Committee on Strategic and Operating Review. These Committees provide the necessary planning and support for Cabinet decision-making.  The Committees which are the most relevant are: Priorities and Planning, Operations Treasury Board, and Economic Prosperity and Sustainable Growth.

The Prime Minister will continue to chair the Cabinet Committee on Priorities and Planning which provides the strategic direction on Government priorities and expenditure management. Mr. Clement will preside over the Treasury Board Committee and Christian Paradis will Chair the Cabinet committee on Economic Prosperity and Sustainable Growth.

Minister Jason Kenny has been promoted within the Cabinet Committee process as Chair of the influential Cabinet Committee on Operations. This committee was previously chaired by Jim Prentice, and provides the day-to-day coordination of the Government’s agenda, including issues management, house-planning and communications.  It should be noted that Minister Kenny now sits on four Cabinet Committees which increases his influence in the Government’s decision-making processes.

The Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver, is a member of the Treasury Board Sub- Committee on Strategic and Operational Review, and the Cabinet Committee on Economic Prosperity and Sustainable Growth.

The full listing of the Cabinet Ministers and their biographies.


Joe Oliver, Minister of Natural Resources
Eglinton–Lawrence (Ontario)

Joe Oliver was elected to the House of Commons for the first time in May 2011.

Mr. Oliver began his investment banking career at Merrill Lynch, and served in senior positions at other investment dealers and as Executive Director of the Ontario Securities Commission. He was then appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of the Investment Dealers Association of Canada. He also played a prominent role as Chair of the Advisory Committee of the International Council of Securities Associations and as Chair of the Consultative Committee of the International Association of Securities Commissions. A graduate of the Directors Education Program at the Rotman School of Management, he was also a member of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Business Valuators and sat on the board of the Canadian Securities Institute Research Foundation.

Mr. Oliver is an active member of his community and volunteers for various charities in Canada and abroad. He served as Chair of the Prostate Cancer Research Foundation of Canada for four years and continues to be an active volunteer at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Mr. Oliver obtained both his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Civil Law at McGill University. He was called to the Quebec Bar and later graduated with an MBA from the Harvard Graduate School of Business.

Nuclear Energy Nuclear Medicine Statistics

Nuclear Power Plants and Childhood Leukaemia–End of the Debate?

A common claim by opponents of nuclear power is that nuclear power plants are directly linked to higher rates of childhood leukemia. For example, Greenpeace frequently references such claims on their website and branded publications such as here, here, and here. It appears that in some cases, the research on which these claims are based has been misunderstood:

A good example is this 2010 Greenpeace story, quoting a report according to which a 2008 study published in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry supports the claim of increased cancer rates around nuclear power plants because of radioactive emissions from these facilities.

In fact, the study does no such thing. Instead, the authors note that childhood leukemia rates around nuclear power plants are generally not higher than elsewhere, with three notable exceptions: Sellafied and Dounreay in the UK, and Krümmel in Germany. But rather than attributing those slightly increased rates of childhood leukemia to radiation from these sites, the authors state that they find the hypothesis that cases of childhood leukemia may be linked to a yet unidentified infectious agent most convincing. After all, if radiation were the cause, then one would expect to find higher rates around most nuclear sites, not just 3 out of 49 in total.

Examples where anti-nuclear activists seem to have misread scientific studies on the effects of nuclear radiation abound, and are too numerous to detail in a single blog post. In too many cases, the studies say the polar opposite of what is claimed they say.

However, there is one prominent exception: the famous 2007 KiKK study (Epidemiologische Studie zu Kinderkrebs in der Umgebung von Kernkraftwerken). This study, sponsored by the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS), did indeed make the argument that

there is a correlation between the distance of the home from the nearest NPP [nuclear power plant] at the time of the diagnosis and the risk of developing cancer (or leukaemia) before the 5th birthday.

However, the authors of the study have been quite clear that they do not attribute these findings to radiation from the nuclear facilities:

This study is not able to state which biological risk factors could explain this relationship. (p. 19)


Exposure to ionising radiation was not measured or modelled. (p. 19)


This study can not conclusively clarify whether confounders, selection or random influences play a role (…).

In 2008 the authors published a follow-up paper, where they confirm their findings, but once more point out that

The result was not to be expected under current radiation-epidemiological knowledge. Considering that there is no evidence of relevant accidents and that possible confounders could not be identified, the observed positive distance trend remains unexplained.

In short, they found something, but have no idea how to explain it.

To make the claim, as many in the anti-nuclear community have since done, that the KiKK study shows nuclear power plants are responsible for increased childhood leukaemia rates in their vicinity is simply not supported by the KiKK study itself.

But nonetheless, the findings were interesting enough for the German Commission for Radiation protection to do a systematic assessment of the KiKK study. Some of the findings were nothing short but astonishing. Apparently, it was found

an increased leukaemia risk for children who lived in areas in which nuclear power plants were planned but never built. (p. 29)

Even more surprisingly,

the risk was similar to that found in the vicinity of existing nuclear power plants. (p. 29)

Since nuclear power plants that have not yet been built can hardly pose a radiation risk to the public, the authors conclude that, maybe,

nuclear power plants may tend to be built in areas which, for reasons that have not yet been understood, have a higher risk of childhood leukaemia. (p. 29)

Why sites that would be good locations for nuclear power plants tend to be associated with higher rates of childhood leukemia will probably remain a scientific puzzle for years to come. One thing, however, seems to be clear: it’s not the nuclear power plants.

Researchers in other countries have come to the same conclusion. For example, the UK Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) has studied various aspects of radiation health effects since 1985, and published 14 comprehensive reports by now, including one on childhood leukaemia around nuclear power plants in Great Britain.

While stressing – with good reason – that it is necessary to continuously monitor for any possible negative health effects from nuclear power plants, the authors state unambiguously there is

no evidence that there is an increased risk of childhood leukaemia and other cancers in the vicinity of NPPs due to radiation effects.

As for Canada, the situation is no different: a systematic review of current data and scientific research by the Durham Region Health Department found that cancer rates around two of Canada’s major nuclear sites in Ontario

did not indicate a pattern to suggest that the Pickering NGS [nuclear generating station] and the Darlington NGS were causing health effects in the population.

It really couldn’t be any clearer: nuclear power plants in Canada, the UK, and Germany do not cause childhood leukaemia or other cancers.


IPCC Finds Nuclear Emits Less CO2 than Solar Panels

The recent Special Report Renewable Energy Sources by the IPCC contains an interesting graph that shows nuclear energy emits less CO2 over its lifecycle than solar panels, and about as much as wind (on average). Unfortunately, the report  does not consider the viability of nuclear power to replace fossil fuels for generating electricity. Still – it’s good to see that the IPCC confirms what our own research has shown for quite some time: nuclear is among the cleanest sources of electricity. Maybe the next IPCC report will look at nuclear by itself?

Figure SPM.8. | Estimates of lifecycle GHG emissions (g CO2-eq / kWh) for broad categories of
electricity generation technologies, plus some technologies integrated with CCS.

You can access the entire IPCC report here.

Nuclear Energy

41st Parliament and What it Means for Nuclear

It was announced today that Members of Parliament, new and old, will return to the House of Commons on Thursday June 2 to begin the 41st session of Parliament. A first order of business will be to pass a budget and we’ll be watching to see what that means for the energy sector, and nuclear in particular. In the meantime, check out this video of Natural Resources Minister, Christian Paradis, at the 2011 Nuclear Industry Conference and Trade Show talking about what nuclear means to him.

Hint: clean energy and technology providing for highly-skilled jobs. You said it, Minister!

Nuclear Education Nuclear Energy Statistics

Comparing Wind and Nuclear in Terms of Space

One of the reasons I support nuclear power is that it seems to require relatively little space to generate a huge amount of power. Some of Canada’s most powerful reactors can produce up to 881MW (electricity), or 7,717,560,000 kw/h annually. That’s enough to power about 643,000 households 24/7 (Average household consumption in Ontario is about 12,000 kw/h annually).

The Darlington nuclear power station – which has 4 such reactors – is about as big as one of the shopping malls in Whitby, ON (including the parking lots). Not bad, considering the plant produces power for up to 2.5 Million households, day in, day out.


Based on that alone, I always thought that nuclear power would be a pretty good option for replacing much of the electricity currently produced globally by burning coal and gas.

But, a recent story published at suggests that, according to a study written by Derek Abbott (a professor at the University of Adelaide), it would be impossible for nuclear energy to supply the entire global demand for energy because all these nuclear plants would take up far too much space.

Abbott addresses other factors,  too, but for the time being, I’ll just focus on the question on size.

I haven’t read the actual study, since it is not yet published (but will be soon in the Proceedings of the IEEE), so I have to go by what the reporter says about Professor Abbott’s findings.

Abbott estimates that

One nuclear reactor plant requires about 20.5 km2 (7.9 mi2) of land to accommodate the nuclear power station itself, its exclusion zone, its enrichment plant, ore processing, and supporting infrastructure.

I’m not entirely sure where he got this number from (I suspect the final article will provide the sources), but it seems he does not allow for multiple reactors on a single site.

The Darlington plant, for example, is a little less than 2 km long (including the parking lot), and roughly 800m or so across. That’s just about 1.6 km2, though my method of measuring that is – admittedly – a little crude. However, there are no less than 4 reactors at that site alone. Even after OPG is done adding another two, the site is not going to get much bigger.


Be that as it may, I will – just for the sake of argument – accept Abbott’s numbers for the time being.

Professor Abbott then calculates how many nuclear reactors it would take to supply the entire global energy demand of 15 Terawatt by generously assuming that each nuclear reactor can supply 1GW (e). That makes for easy math, and results in no less than 15,000 reactors globally. At 20.5 km2 each, the resulting space requirement is 307,500km2 – just a little less than Poland, or a little bit more than Italy.

That does, indeed, seem like a lot – all of Poland or Italy covered end-to-end in nuclear reactors, supporting facilities, fuel manufacturing plants, etc. etc. to supply the entire global energy demand (that is, all the power currently provided by fossil fuels, hydro electricity, nuclear , and other sources combined).

But how would that compare to other sources of energy under the same assumptions? While Prof. Abbott appears to like solar best, I’m going to do it for wind – simply because I have spent more time analyzing the spatial requirements for wind (mostly because wind power is the only low-carbon, non-hydro, source of electricity cost-competitive with nuclear).

Calculating the space requirements for wind is tricky business. The actual footprint of a wind turbine is not that much: if one includes the swept area, it’s anywhere from .2 – 2 acres (based on data from Enercon, and a little basic geometry. For those who want to dig deeper, the NREL has some good information on this).

Let’s assume we are going to use Enercon’s E101 turbine, which has a nominal capacity of 3,000 kW. Let’s further assume that we can expect an average output is about 25% of rated capacity ( though some studies indicate it is much less, and may be as low as 21%). The turbine has a diameter of 101m – or 331.4 ft – and therefore sweeps an area of about 1.98 acres. Since turbines need to be spaced several times their diameter apart, let’s assume we space them about 10x their diameter apart on average over a perfectly even plane, with nothing breaking the pattern (as I did with the nuclear plants above).

How big would a wind farm with such an arrangement have to be to generate 15TW of electricity?

16,023,693 km2 – a little less than the entire territory of Russia. Or about twice the size of Australia.


Or Canada and Greenland with a chunk of the US:


Even if we reduce the distance between the wind turbines to just 5x their diameter, we’d still end up with a space requirement of 4,005,923 km2 – 22% bigger than India.


What about a bigger turbine, like Enercon’s E126, rated at 7,500 kW a piece (spaced 10x diameter)?

Well, that would require 25,335,374 km2more than Russia and Australia combined.


If spaced only 5x diameter, it would still require 6,333,843 km2 – almost twice the size of India.


[The reason is that the E126 has a diameter of 127m, which results in much greater space requirements even though the output is that much greater than the smaller turbine].

But this would just be the size of the wind farm itself. It would NOT include:

  • all the infrastructure needed to supply the farms
  • all the land lost to mining for the materials from which to build the turbines
  • all the land needed for the manufacturing facilities
  • the housing for all the people who will have to work continuously to maintain the wind farm.

These numbers also assume that

  • no wind turbine will ever fail (because that would reduce the average output),
  • electricity can be stored without any loss of power (because sometimes the wind blows just right, and sometimes not so much – or too much -, and the surplus energy from when it blows just right has to be stored to make up for the other times),
  • electricity can be transmitted without any loss of power (which won’t be the case until we figure out cheap super-conductivity).

So, the space requirements I calculated significantly underestimate the territory required for wind farms, if we wanted to supply all global energy needs with wind alone, while Prof. Abbott’s calculations for the nuclear power seem to significantly overestimate the territory required.

While I admit that supplying all the world’s energy exclusively from nuclear would be a stupendous task, it pales before the challenges of trying to supply it with wind (the only other cost-effective low-carbon, non-hydro source of power).