Is the world running out of steel? No. Though steel prices have been high lately, the World Steel Association says monthly world production has averaged over 100 million metric tons. Does that mean we should stop recycling steel? Of course not. We should keep recycling steel. It’s just the right way to manage the earth’s resources. That includes recycling nuclear steam generators.
There is a minor flap occurring in the Canadian media over the plan by Bruce Power to ship 16 used nuclear steam generators to Sweden for recycling. Each of these devices contains around 100 tons of steel. Inside each of them are tubes that used to carry pressurized heavy water that, when the steam generators were part of operating reactor systems, had been irradiated inside the core of a CANDU reactor. For this reason, the inside surfaces of the tubes contain deposits of metal oxides that are slightly radioactive. If you were to stand next to one for an hour, you would pick up a small dose of radiation. The blog Depleted Cranium has some excellent detail on exactly how small this dose is.
Bruce Power wants to ship the steam generators to Sweden. Because these are big heavy pieces of metal, air freight is out of the question. That means the steam generators have to go by ship. And since Bruce Power is on the eastern shore of Lake Huron just south of the Bruce Peninsula, the first part of the journey will involve shipping the devices through the Great Lakes and then the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic Ocean.
You can see where this is going. Nuclear steam generators, travelling by ship through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway, then across the Atlantic and into the Baltic… is there any danger involved in doing this?
According to anti-nuclear activists, yes. They generally characterize the steam generators as “nuclear waste.” They would rather the shipment not take place at all. Because there is no facility in North America capable of recycling the steam generators, that means that if the anti-nukes get their way the generators won’t be recycled.
Is it right to call the generators “nuclear waste”? Those who are curious should follow the CNSC hearings on this issue. They are occurring now. You can watch via webcast by clicking here.
I’ll pick up the issue again Thursday, after the hearings are over.
Smoke detectors are also nuclear waste. In Ontario, the government says they are safe to go into the landfill, while they are telling us to take care to recycle all our other used electronics. Go figure that one out.