Tag Archives: Safety

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Lessons learned from the Pickering nuclear alert

Sunday morning, an emergency alert was sent out across Ontario about an incident at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station. The alert was mistakenly sent during a routine test by the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre, which coordinates the government’s response to major emergencies.

The alert brought nuclear to the forefront, along with many misconceptions about Ontario’s largest provider of clean and reliable electricity. This is what we’ve learned.

The industry is prepared to respond in the event of an emergency

“OPG has a sophisticated and robust notification process in place that we would immediately follow in the unlikely event of an incident at the station,” Chief Nuclear Officer Sean Granville said.

Reporting to the Ministry of the Solicitor General, Emergency Management Ontario would manage the off-site response to nuclear emergencies. It would determine the appropriate level of public action based on the Provincial Nuclear Emergency Response Plan.

This 200-page plan, which was last revised in 2017, provides clear instructions to every municipality that has a nuclear station within its jurisdiction. Local police, fire and ambulance crews implement the emergency plans.

Each of the three nuclear stations in Ontario (Pickering, Darlington and Bruce) also has its own plan and world-class emergency preparedness group.

The nuclear industry has a rigorous regulatory regime

The nuclear industry has one of the most rigorous regulatory regimes in the world. All Canadian nuclear operators work with the Word Association of Nuclear Operations to achieve the highest possible standards of nuclear safety. They also work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to promote the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technologies. An IAEA report showed that Canada has established and maintains a robust and comprehensive nuclear security infrastructure.

As well, at any given time, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has dedicated inspectors onsite at each of Canada’s nuclear power plants. It performs thousands of inspections annually to ensure Canada’s nuclear generating stations are operating safely. In 2017, the CNSC awarded OPG’s Pickering and Darlington stations its highest safety rating.

Ontario’s nuclear generating stations provide clean and reliable electricity

In 2018, the Pickering, Bruce and Darlington nuclear stations generated 60 per cent of Ontario’s electricity. It was their power that allowed OPG to close its coal-fired power plants, significantly reducing the province’s greenhouse gas emissions.

On a lifecycle basis, electricity from nuclear power generates an average of 16 g of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt hour. That’s more than hydro (4 g) and wind (12 g), but less than solar (22 g for concentrated solar power [CSP] or 46 g for photovoltaic [PV]). That compares to natural gas at 469 g/kWh and coal at 1,001 g/kWh.

In Canada alone, nuclear energy helps avoid 80 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year. That’s about the same as taking 15 million passenger vehicles off the road.

Located east of Toronto, the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station is one of the largest nuclear stations in the world. It operates six CANDU reactors. The facility has been safely and reliably providing Ontario with electricity since 1971.

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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/

CNA Responds

CNA response to “The security of Ontario’s nuclear plants should be an election priority, not the salaries of top Hydro One execs”

The op-ed “The security of Ontario’s nuclear plants should be an election priority, not the salaries of top Hydro One execs” (The London Free Press, May 4) exaggerates the risks posed by nuclear energy.

The probability of a Fukushima-like event in Ontario is extremely low. Despite this, following Fukushima, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission inspected Canada’s nuclear power plants and revised standards to improve reactor defense and emergency response. Changes to regulation and licensing were also made to ensure better disaster preparedness and mitigation.

The CNSC’s Fukushima Task Force Report stated that the tsunami risk at the Darlington, Pickering, and Bruce Power generating stations is very low, given their location on the Great Lakes. The geological stability of the underlying Canadian Shield also minimizes the risk of earthquakes and tsunamis.

As for cyberattacks on nuclear power facilities, there is no risk to the operations of nuclear power plants because the reactors and control rooms are not connected to the Internet. Nuclear power plants are some of the best protected infrastructure systems. They are designed to be disconnected from the Internet and other networks, preventing hackers from accessing plant operations or safety systems

Globally, the nuclear industry has a strong safety culture of continuous improvement. Safety is always the No. 1 priority.  And nuclear ranked as the safest source of power in a 2012 Forbes report based on fatalities per kWh.

John Barrett
President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association
Ottawa, ON

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Why We Say Nuclear Is Safe – And Why We Shouldn’t

Very few products market their safety.

For example, airlines do not advertise how many days it’s been since their last crash. In recent presentations, UK nuclear advocate Malcolm Grimston has taken the nuclear industry to task for its safety messaging approach.  He says safety is not the product. In a recent speech, he compared the nuclear industry that uses only facts to the Brexit Remain campaign, unable to counter the emotional arguments of the Leave side. In the case of the Brexit “Remain” vote, the facts were not enough.

Grimston is not alone. There is much research and literature on the perils of exclusively communicating facts. On some level, fear of nuclear can be a psychological phenomenon. Risk communication expert Peter Sandman says the risks likely to kill people are not necessarily the risks that concern them. There seems to be no correlation between the likelihood and severity of hazard and public fear. Many risks make people outraged but do little harm and other risks result in millions of deaths each year with little public outcry.

Then there is the backfire effect, which alarmingly shows that facts often don’t matter.  A Dartmouth experiment showed subjects two news stories – one with a misleading claim from President George W. Bush and the other with the claim plus a correction. Conservatives who read a news story which suggested Iraq had WMDs followed by a correction from a CIA study that indicated the opposite were more likely to believe Iraq had WMDs than Conservatives who read the story without the correction.  The research found that the effect of a correction is dependent upon one’s ideological predisposition. People engage in motivated reasoning. That’s because humans are goal-driven information processors, which means they interpret any information, positive or negative, to support their bias. Hence the backfire effect.

Despite what Grimston implies, the nuclear industry isn’t putting out facts about safety because it wants to. This is not happening in an experimental vacuum. A good deal of the safety messaging is to counter media coverage. Most people are aware of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. As this is written, a simple Google News search shows “Three Mile Island and nuclear” has a result from five hours ago, “Chernobyl and nuclear” has a result from two hours ago, and “Fukushima and nuclear” has a story from three hours ago. Nuclear energy runs 24/7, but so does news coverage of accidents that happened as far back as 38 years ago.

There is also the problem of frequency. People may perceive a greater probability of risk in something of which they are reminded on regular basis, whether it be by friends or the media.

In the mid-1960s, polling showed that a decrease in the amount of news coverage about nuclear power resulted in a decrease in opposition. But in 1968, news coverage of siting controversies increased the percentage of people opposed to nuclear. This trend was also seen in 1979 after the incident at Three Mile Island. Opposition increased in the two months after the accident in the spring, then steadily declined over the summer only to increase again in October and November when the media covered the Congressional report on the accident.

The media practice of featuring dueling experts in stories or on TV panels can have a negative impact on the nuclear industry’s safety message. This type of format leads to the public often concluding, “Well, if experts can’t agree then nuclear energy probably isn’t safe.”

Syracuse University sociologist Allan Mazur has found expert debates on technical subjects only increase public opposition to a technology. This means the media’s need to have a balance in coverage leads to a misconception that nuclear is not safe. Much like U.S. cable news networks have been criticized by environmentalists for giving too big a platform to climate change skeptics, an over exposure to the public of opposing views without factoring the scientific consensus can skew coverage of climate change or nuclear safety. “Thus truth in journalism is quite different from truth in science,” as Sandman has written.

Given this, what can those of us in the nuclear industry do?  Grimston’s advice to extol the benefits of nuclear can be effective. Polling conducted for the CNA has shown that providing respondents with positive information about nuclear in addition to safety, such as its role in climate change mitigation and how it can help those living in energy poverty or remote communities, can change opinions. Pre-information, 22 per cent of respondents supported nuclear, 31 per cent opposed and 47 per cent were undecided. Post information the number increased to 37 per cent in favour. While most of those opposed remained opposed, seven per cent of them supported nuclear post information and 36 per cent moved into the undecided group.

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MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: iRobot

Just outside of Boston is where you’ll find iRobot. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) vision turned global robotics company in just 25 years. We recently sat down with Thomas Phelps, Director of Robotic Products, Defense and Security Business Unit.

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Can you tell me a little bit about iRobot’s history?

We started out with research robots and in the late 1990s early 2000s we transitioned into commercial products such as the Roomba, robotic vacuum cleaner. In terms of our defense and security robots, the PackBot was first used after 9/11. iRobot sent a team of engineers and robots to the World Trade Center complex to help look for survivors. It was the first time robots had been deployed for search and rescue. It started to build a reputation of how these robots could be effective and help provide assistance in dangerous environments.  They are now used by bomb squads and tactical teams to help keep people safe.

How did your company help out with Fukushima?

After the Tsunami in Fukushima we sent in a robot to do radiological monitoring and assess the inside of the reactor buildings after the meltdown. It was our first exposure in working with nuclear power companies. We equipped the robots with vacuums so that they could also help to clean up the debris inside the power plant. Since then the robots have been used for emergency response and standard tools for everyday applications.

Tell me a little more about the iRobot fleet.

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We have a family of robots for Defense and Security. The smallest one is a 5lb robot for confined space inspections. They go all the way up to 500lb robots.  The robots currently run on lithium ion batteries and the 510 PackBot for example, can run for up to 8 hours on this battery. We are looking at updating the system so that the robots can be plugged in and recharged.

What’s next for iRobot?

Recently we’ve partnered with sensor manufacturers. We see things evolving, in that we have a new way to control the robots. In the past robots had single purpose control systems but we have taken all of this software and reformulated it onto an app that can be used on a tablet.  We are making the operation as simple and as easy as possible but it also opens up the architecture to integrate with networks such as cloud for evidence collection and data sharing. So if you can play Angry Birds you can now use a robot.

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You’ve recently celebrated 10 years with the company. What makes iRobot such a great company?

The products that we making here make adifference in people’s lives; we solve real problems within the industry and make people’s lives safer and easier.

Environment Nuclear Safety Waste Management

The Deep Geologic Repository and Canadian Nuclear Safety

By Dr. John Barrett
President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association

Now that it has closed the record on its extensive public hearings, the Joint Review Panel appointed to examine OPG’s Deep Geologic Repository (DGR) can get on with the final phase of its work – developing recommendations.

The panel faces a difficult task. Should it recommend that the project proceed? Or should it prefer that low- and intermediate-level waste remain stored in concrete trenches and warehouses above ground?

It’s not an easy choice, because either approach yields the same result – safe, secure storage of radioactive materials.

In two appearances before the review panel, the Canadian Nuclear Association expressed confidence in OPG’s proposed repository. The company has developed a credible case for moving its waste underground – a plan developed with input from many specialists from a wide variety of disciplines.

OPG concluded—and I have seen no persuasive evidence otherwise—that the repository will likely not cause significant adverse environmental effects.

It’s significant that three federal departments, as well as the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), all reached the same conclusion upon reviewing OPG’s case.  In short, OPG has more than satisfied the need to assess properly the risks posed by the DGR.

There exist four waste-management options. Two require storage above ground, and two below ground. A review by a panel of independent experts has shown all four options, including the proposed DGR, can be carried out safely and securely. Any one of them would do. The real question is whether any option is inherently better than the others.

The answer finds its roots in our sense of moral responsibility. My generation, and yours, benefitted from the use of nuclear-generated electricity. We also bear responsibility for the waste. We should manage it. The DGR provides a way to do so safely and securely. In the end, the joint panel will assess whether the repository provides a responsible improvement on current practice.

Observers should not fail to note the broader issue – that the nuclear industry, alone in the energy sector, takes full responsibility for managing its waste. We do so safely and securely, using ample detection and alert systems to ensure public and environmental safety.

Could we do better? Certainly. We can always improve safety. At the same time, let us recognize that the Canadian nuclear industry enjoys an impressive safety record.

In fact, the nuclear regulator recently concluded that no fatalities related to radiation safety have ever occurred in the Canadian nuclear industry. How many industrial activities of any kind–let alone of nuclear’s scale and complexity–have this kind of record?