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April 2011
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The Future of Nuclear Power

With the recent earthquakes and tsunamis and subsequent nuclear disaster in Japan, nuclear reactors across the world have been called into question. Are they built to today’s codes? Could they with stand a hurricane? An earthquake? A tsunami? Can they with stand the effects of climate change and extreme weather events?

Much has been written and commented on in the news recently. Although as the time passes from the disaster we hear less and less about Fukushima. But there is still much we can learn from the recent tragedy.

Why there will should never be a Nuclear disaster to that scale in Ontario

With the events that unfolded in Japan it was understandable that residents living at or in the vicinity of a nuclear plant were afraid. Some of the plants, including Ontario’s Pickering nuclear plant, were the same vintage as the Fukushima Dai-Chi Complex. Unlike Japan, Southern Ontario is more insulated from a meltdown resulting from a natural disaster.

For one thing Ontario is not located along a fault line, Japan is located on the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire.’ The Pacific Ring of Fire represents an area where many of the world’s tectonic plates diverge and move through subduction (in contrast mountains are created by collisions and convergence). Ontario is located in the middle of a continental (tectonic) plate and while it is generally a stable area sometimes small earthquakes occur in regional stress areas. In simple terms the ground in Ontario rebounds or moves up and down. These movements are no where as severe as the horizontal movements along fault lines; the regional stress zones cannot hold as much energy as the fault lines.

Ontario will also not see a tsunami because there is no body of water big enough to create a wave that large. A tsunami is a great sea wave produced especially by submarine earth movement or volcanic eruption. Since it is unlikely that there will be a massive disturbance in the Ontario bodies of water, and their volumes are too small, Ontario is insulated from the effects of a tsunami.

Transport of Nuclear seems like suicide

Today the G&M published an article on ‘The Right Size of Nuclear‘ but the article raised a more important issue, where Canada is planning to store its nuclear waste. Currently the nuclear plants house their waste on site, but the Federal Government, under the leadership of Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is trying to create a national dump site. Some potential sites have been selected in Northern Saskatchewan and Northern Ontario.

While the notion of a central dump site is logical, transportation of nuclear waste is unreasonable. Would you want to be sitting alongside a truck carrying nuclear waste? I certainly would not.It’s not the threat of leaked radiation from the truck that frightens me but the impending disaster if one of those trucks gets into an accident.

Possible solutions to be tabled should include a direct rail line to a long-term waste facility. Or storing the nuclear waste at the site where it is created. All the social, economic and an environmental factors should play a role when deciding where to store the nuclear waste.

I do not want to debate the necessity of nuclear power or whether it should be considered ‘green’ power; currently governments (worldwide) view it as a viable way to power our future. But as we proceed to plan, design, build and decommission these nuclear plants the life cycle of the plant should be considered in greater detail. It’s not just about powering today, it’s about powering long term, dealing with the ramifications (from any type of power) long-term, dealing with waste, managing growth and managing people’s expectations.