Canadian Federal Court must undertake its own Darlington nuclear reevaluation: nuclear “waste” versus fossil waste

Canada’s Federal Court, in issuing essentially a mild “back to the drawing board” order to Ontario Power Generation regarding one part of its application to build new nuclear reactors at its Darlington generation site, displayed a disappointingly common myopia when it comes to risk assessment. The Court issued a 200+ page judgment in response to the “concerns” of a group of professional anti-nuclear activists who had managed to raise enough money to engage a legal team that put enough squeak into the wheels of justice to make the Court agree to actually devote time and attention to their scaremongering nonsense. Scott Luft at Colder Air has a great summary and critique of the Court ruling.

Apparently the Court wants Canada’s government to not have to endure a silly and overcaffeinated media circus like the one that swamped Japan’s government after Fukushima.

On the matter of Fukushima, the Court could have and should have asked the petitioners a simple and obvious question. That question is: in amongst all the hyperbole and hysteria on 24-hour U.S. cable TV shows and the Canadian media vehicles that ride their wakes, has anybody actually perished from the effects of ionizing radiation due to the Fukushima meltdowns?

Had the Court asked this simple and obvious question, it would have received a rather incongruous reply: there have been, in the 1,290 days of media hysteria, exactly zero casualties from those meltdowns.

At which point, you have to wonder whether at least one of the justices might have observed that if the March 2011 Japan earthquake, one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history, damaged a 1970s vintage nuclear plant to the point that it released enough toxic stuff to kill…. zero people, then how cockamamie, really, is the notion that a similar event could (1) happen in Ontario and (2) cause a worse outcome.

Ontario’s natural gas fired generators have dumped, in each of the 145 days so far of 2014, enough CO2 waste to fill Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays, more than eight times. That’s eight times per day. At current rates of nuclear generation, it would be the Year 2825—811 years from now—before the Ontario nuclear fleet produced enough waste to fill Rogers Centre even once. For perspective, Ghengiz Khan invaded China less than 811 years ago.

But for this obvious follow-on point to be made, the Court would have had to ask the obvious question of how many humans have died because of ionizing radiation from Fukushima. It did not ask that question. Apparently, the Court took the media hysteria as evidence that OPG really needs to really, really examine the consequences of a Fukushima-type meltdown.

Was it really a media circus the Court wants the government to avoid? I don’t think it was. I think the Court really believed the underlying assumption of media coverage of Fukushima: that there is some Godzilla-type danger inherent in a nuclear meltdown. I find such uncritical gullibility rather unbecoming for a high court. Federal Court justices are supposed to be intellectual heavyweights. For them to fall for pop culture and urban legends is… well I’ll just say it’s disappointing.

The Court was similarly myopic on the issue of nuclear waste. It could have and should have conducted a study, from entirely public and easily available sources, of the actual size of the nuclear waste inventory. Such a study would take only about half a day, and here is what it would have told the Court.

Each day, the 18 reactors in the Ontario nuclear power reactor fleet discharge about 5.4 cubic meters of used nuclear fuel. That would fill about one-sixth of a standard ocean shipping container. (Here is how I got this number. A CANDU fuel bundle is roughly 0.03 cubic meters in volume: bundle dimensions are 28.757 cm by 28.575cm by 49.53 cm. Six to ten bundles are exchanged every day from each reactor, according to Jeremy Whitlock of AECL. Assume ten, which gives 0.3 cubic meters. Multiply 0.3 by 18, the number of reactors in Ontario’s current fleet, and you get 5.4 cubic meters of used CANDU fuel per day.)

By contrast, Ontario’s natural gas fired generators have dumped, in each of the 145 days so far of 2014, an average of more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). See Table 2 on the left sidebar for today’s running total of generator output and CO2 emissions by fuel type from Ontario’s 143 grid-connected generators.

A metric ton of CO2 occupies roughly 556 cubic meters at 25 °C (see info box below) and one atmosphere of pressure. This means that those daily 25,000 metric tons of gas-plant CO2 waste occupy north of 13.9 million cubic meters, enough to fill more than 396,000 standard shipping containers. That would fill Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays, more than eight times.

At current rates of nuclear generation, it would be the Year 2825—811 years from now—before the Ontario nuclear fleet produced enough waste to fill Rogers Centre even once. For perspective, Ghengiz Khan invaded China less than 811 years ago.

How to calculate how much CO2 fits into Rogers Centre
At 25 °C, Rogers Centre with its roof closed holds 2,877 metric tons of CO2. Here is how I got that number:

  1. The mass of one mole of CO2 is 44.01 grams. (Most versions of the Periodic Table, including this one, give the mass of each element. Look up carbon and oxygen—the constituent atoms in a molecule of CO2—and note their mass. Don’t confuse the atomic mass of an element with its atomic number! Add the mass of one atom of carbon, ~12.01 atomic mass units or AMU, to that of two atoms of oxygen, ~32 AMU. The result: a molecule of CO2 has a mass of 44.01 AMU. A mole of CO2 is therefore 44.01 grams.)
  2. One mole of any gas, at 25 °C and one atmosphere pressure, occupies 24.47 litres of volume. (One mole of any gas at standard temperature and pressure occupies 22.414 litres. To calculate molar volume at another temperature, let’s call it T2, with the same pressure, convert temperature to Kelvins and then multiply the ratio of the STP volume to temperature by T2; this is Charles’s Law. In this case, your T2 is 25 °C, which is 298 Kelvins: 25 + 273 = 298. Your ratio of STP volume to temperature is 22.414/273 = 0.0821. Multiply 0.0821 x 298 = 24.466 litres.)
  3. One metric tonne, or one million grams, of CO2 contains 22,727 moles: divide one million by 44.
  4. Multiply those 22,727 moles in a tonne of CO2 by the molar volume of a gas at 25 °C, which from point 3 is 24.47 litres.
  5. Therefore one metric tonne of CO2 at the above-mentioned temperature and pressure occupies 556,136 litres.
  6. One cubic meter is 1,000 litres, so a metric tonne of CO2 occupies 556.14 cubic meters (divide the 556,136 litres of CO2 that make up a metric tonne by 1,000).
  7. Now you need to know the volume of Rogers Centre. According to Rogers, Rogers Centre’s volume is 1,600,000 m3. So divide that by 556.14 to get 2,877.

The Court did not consider the alternatives to nuclear in its decision. It should have. And if it had, I do not see how the “greens” could have mustered a coherent reason why it is better to create, then dump into the global atmosphere, literally millions of times as much waste as is produced by the technology under consideration.

2 comments for “Canadian Federal Court must undertake its own Darlington nuclear reevaluation: nuclear “waste” versus fossil waste

  1. James Greenidge
    May 26, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    Just for the heck of it, under Canadian Energy Issues’s own reputable letterhead, why not dispatch a copy of this to the parties involved at the Federal Court and request a reasoning of how they “overlooked” such facts which would be publicly posted online. There’s something unbelievably tragic regarding the trains of derailed logic going on here. It’d really like to have the reasons for this decision answered from the horses’ mouth here. A machine didn’t do it, a knot of people did and I’d like to know just who and where their heads are at.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  2. Mitch
    May 28, 2014 at 7:28 am

    Empowering article! How can politicians and the media NOT know and report these facts??

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