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 3,549 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.
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.