Monthly Archives: March 2014

Nuclear Safety

Radioactive Packaging Put to the Test, Passes with Flying Colours

By Romeo St-Martin
Digital Media Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

The recent incident at the port of Halifax is a real-life example of the high level of safety involved in the packaging and transport of nuclear substances in Canada and around the world.

On Thursday, four steel cylinders encased in concrete containing uranium hexafluoride fell about six metres from inside a container at the Fairview Container Terminal at the port, landing in a contained area of a ship.

URENCO has said the cylinders came from its enrichment facility in the United Kingdom. The shipment was bound for the U.S.

Fire and port officials evacuated the terminal and it remained closed until radiation experts confirmed there was no leak of radiation the following day.

Halifax Fire and Emergency Executive Fire Officer Phil McNulty was quoted in a Canadian Press story as saying the containers are extremely durable.

“The safety redundancies built in for the transportation of nuclear materials are unbelievable,” he said.

“If this wasn’t done properly, we wouldn’t be singing the song we’re singing now.”

Every day, Canadians working in nuclear ship thousands of packages of radioactive material, many of them across the world. In five decades, there has been no transportation incident with significant radiological damage to people or the environment.

According to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, packages requiring certification have to undergo stringent testing. Testing must simulate both normal and accident conditions of transport. The tests can include free-drop testing, puncture testing, thermal testing, and aircraft accident simulations.

The following video illustrates drop testing in Germany.

Testing methods in Canada are very similar, if not identical, to methods used by other international regulatory bodies.


Durham MP Erin O’Toole Congratulates CNA and Canadian Nuclear Industry in House of Commons

In the House of Commons Friday, Conservative MP Erin O’Toole (Durham) congratulated the CNA on its recent successful 2014 conference and trade show and spoke about Canada’s nuclear industry.

“Canada has long been in a leader in nuclear science and industry,” he said. “Our technology and expertise has been sought after around the world.”

Stay tuned to this blog for videos of speakers and panel discussions from CNA2014.


What’s Next on Climate Change? Let’s Hope it’s a “Poland Moment”

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

Nothing unites human beings as quickly as a common threat. But even a common threat can take a long time to do the job.

German invasions took down Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark and Norway before “appeasement” was fully discredited.  Britain’s comfortable classes virtually had to see German guns across the water before they heeded Winston Churchill’s repeated calls to arms. In the end, the Allies stopped Adolf Hitler’s march – just barely.

The Second World War was the unifying struggle of the western democracies. But we came late and slow to the fight.

German soldiers remove Polish government insignia, 1939
German soldiers remove Polish government insignia, 1939. Source: German federal archive

Humans are brought together by shared experiences. In the century or two since human society has been an interconnected whole, no single and simultaneous global struggle has cemented our shared humanity. Today, we are united more by shallow popular entertainments, consumer goods, and designer brands than by values.

The last decade’s “global war on terror” came close to being such a common struggle, with its universal moral element. Popular revulsion of terrorist attacks reinforced the human preference for tolerance, social integration, and peace everywhere. But the legitimacy of that struggle got dissipated in places like Iraq and Guantanamo.  Democratic leadership did not rise to that occasion as Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman had to the totalitarian threat.

What challenges lie on this century’s horizon that might similarly threaten people around the world – threaten us enough to make us articulate, and stand up to defend, common values with the kind of selflessness and integrity they deserve?

Today the clear candidate is the creeping environmental disaster that comes from rising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. This is mainly due to our sustained burning of natural gas, oil, and coal.

While the immediacy of this threat can still be debated, we are now as certain as we can be that it will raise sea levels and storm severity. This will inundate coastlines, low islands, and river deltas where our fellow humans live in large numbers. It will also increase drought, desertification, and erosion, while wreaking havoc with ecosystems and crops, and reducing the availability of fresh water. And this will happen in our and our children’s lifetimes.

Global average sea level change
Global average sea level change. Source: IPCC, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis

With atmospheric carbon concentrations now around 400 parts per million, this has already well begun. If this were fascism’s march across Europe, we would be in about March of 1939. That is, we might be somewhere just after Franco’s triumph in Spain, but just before Hitler’s sweep into Denmark and Norway.

If so, then the next step, metaphorically, would be the fall of Poland: an impossible-to-ignore moment that tumbles us from mere nagging unease into real, constant fear.

Our response today is still the familiar mix of denial, helplessness, and isolationism. “It might not be that bad.” “It’s beyond anything we can do.” “We’ll take care of ourselves somehow.” While a few of us may get rid of our cars, put solar panels on our roofs, and fly less, this is like watching adventurous individuals go off to fight fascism with the International Brigades in Spain in 1937. While theirs are commendable sacrifices, they are not widely enough shared, and thus will not change the outcome. A fall-of-Poland moment would make this all too clear.

British troops retreating from Dunkirk, France, 1940.
British troops retreating from Dunkirk, France, 1940. Source: U.S. War Department

President Obama’s climate plan, on which this writer has already commented, is much better than the defeatism that Churchill despised. But it is much less than a Churchillian call to make the sacrifices needed to fight the war to victory. Even the un-ignorable fall-of-Poland moment (indeed, even a fall-of France moment – a disaster that brings the wolves to our very doors) will draw further denial, helplessness, and isolationism.

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
  • 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.