NewEnergyNews: NUKE PLANT SHUTDOWN STARTS POLITICAL ROIL

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  • The Plunging Cost of Renewables and Boulder's Energy Future (April 19, 2011)
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  • Thursday, December 20, 2007

    NUKE PLANT SHUTDOWN STARTS POLITICAL ROIL

    From the “these-things-DO-happen” file: Mandatory safety upgrades were not done on an older nuclear reactor so it was shut down. Nuclear energy advocates will argue this is a success proving operating safety measures. No harm was done, no radioactive substances were released.

    Opponents will point out that overlooked safety measures only indicate the potential of a nuclear reactor to fall afoul of human error and cause great harm.

    NewEnergyNews has looked thoroughly at the options before us and can only conclude that our greatest efforts must be to build New Energy. Wind and solar and marine energies may be expensive but they work now, will get cheaper and more efficient and carry minimal risk or harm.

    “Clean” coal remains an oxymoron, a topic for researchers. Nuclear reactors must be rigorously maintained for the coming several decades until New Energy is built. But nuclear energy must be recognized as a weapons proliferation risk, a terrorist target, a huge consumer of dwindling water resources and a producer of waste with which there is nothing to do. Finally, if the statistically remote possibility of a Chernobyl-like meltdown resulting from a human error like the one reported below wasn’t significant, why would the cost of insuring a new facility be prohibitively high?

    These things DO happen.


    Some background on Canada's nuclear waste. (click to enlarge)

    Atomic Energy chair steps down; Prime Minister angered by shutdown of nuclear reactor that caused shortage of medical isotopes
    Bruce Campion-Smith, December 14, 2007 (Toronto Star)
    and
    Chalk River reactor returns to service
    December 17, 2007 (Toronto Star)

    WHO
    Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) (Michael Burns, outgoing board of directors chair; Glenna Carr, newly named chair, and Hugh MacDiarmid, newly named chief executive officer); Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC))

    WHAT
    Harper accepted Burns’ resignation following the Canadian Parliament’s intervention in the operations of the Chalk River nuclear reactor though the PM blamed CNSC’s appointees from Harper’s opposition party. This reveals a danger from nuclear energy not often discussed: The possible hazardous release of hot air from politicians.

    WHEN
    - The 50-year-old reactor was shut down November 18. Parliament pushed through emergency legislation December 13 to restart the reactor. It returned to service December 17.
    - Burns, a Tory fundraiser, was appointed to the top job at AECL by Harper's government in October 2006. Burns’ resignation will be effective December 31, 2007.

    The Chalk River facility.

    WHERE
    - The Chalk River reactor is in Ontario.
    - 2/3 of the world supply of medical isotopes come from Chalk River.

    WHY
    - Perhaps the worst consequence of this shutdown was the interruption of vital medical isotopes supplies used in medical imaging and diagnostic scans.
    - When the reactor was shut down for routine maintenance, regulators discovered mandatory safety upgrades, including a battery-operated starter for emergency cooling pumps, had been overlooked for 17 months. The reactor shut down was continued, in protection of its license.
    - Parliament passed emergency legislation to override the safety requirements so the reactor could be put back online and the needed isotope supply restored.
    - Prime Minister Harper was angered by the chain of events. The matter turned into a political drama when Parliament stepped in. Burns was the fall guy.

    Are there better options? (click to enlarge)

    QUOTES
    - Prime Minister Harper, on his appointee: "I would like to express my appreciation to the former chair of the board, Michael C. Burns, for his service to AECL…
    Harper, on the controversy: “I think it is ridiculous that the government can only resolve an escalating dispute between these two agencies by actually coming to Parliament and passing a law…"
    - Liberal MP Omar Alghabra (Mississauga-Erindale): "[Blaming the CNSC] is the height of irony and it just exposes that there continue to be deep problems at AECL…"

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