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WHY WE NEED NUCLEAR POWER

John K Riley

The Citizen’s Inquiry is to be congratulated on its initiative. In response here are some details of my knowledge and beliefs:

1. Ionizing radiation is all around us (e.g. concrete, granite, etc.) and in our bodies (potassium 40 and carbon 14).

2. As background information to what follows, herewith data on uranium (U):
a) Natural uranium (as used by current CANDU reactors) is composed of 0.7% U235 and 99.3% U238. U235 is used for fission in reactors. The level of radioactivity in U238 is far too low for this purpose.
b) Uranium enriched to up to about 5% U235 is used by most reactors in the world. As a result of the enrichment process, tailings of currently un-useful U238 are cast aside. As I understand it, it is these that are used for making bullets because of the weight of uranium. From a radiation point of view, the material is innocuous.
c) During the irradiation process in reactors, some of the useless U238 gets converted to Plutonium (Pu) 239. The spent fuel can re-processed into new fuel which makes use of the Pu239. Through successive iterations of fuel use and reprocessing, use can thus be made of the, otherwise useless, U238. However, to do this effectively, fast neutron reactors are needed. These reduce the total waste to a fraction of the normal waste quantity, which actually becomes benign in less than 500 years.

3. I believe that we need an energy source to replace all fossil fuel usage including that currently used for electric power generation, industrial processes, and road & air transportation. The reason is not only related to air pollution, but to fossil fuel availability. In 2001 per capita use of fossil fuels in China was only about 12% of Canadian use and India was only 4%. It is not hard to see that as developing countries rack up their usage towards western levels, fossil fuel stocks are going to erode, including coal used for coal liquefaction (for use in internal combustion engines).

4. The only source capable of providing the huge amount of energy needed is nuclear power (would be used to produce hydrogen from water for use in vehicles etc.). But even uranium stocks are not inexhaustible. In the long term we need to conserve uranium using the fast neutron reactors referenced under 2c). There is at least one operational in the world right now and cost is probably one factor that is currently inhibiting spread of expansion of this technology. 5. The energy available from so called “green sources” is too insignificant to materially contribute to our energy needs.

6. Nuclear Power is safe. Contrary to popular belief, even Chernobyl, which was far less safe than current reactors in the western world: a) killed no people other than those fighting the fires; b) caused no cancer in the surrounding population over and above what would normally be expected for that area; c) caused no genetic changes in surrounding animal populations (other than, perhaps, rodents living within the radioactive slag area of Chernobyl Unit 1). Some material produced by Dr. Liu Shu-Zheng is attached for reference.

7. My knowledge of waste disposal techniques is much better for Canada than elsewhere, so I will focus on that. The sequence / proposed sequence is as follows: a) the spent fuel is stored within spent fuel pools in the nuclear power stations for perhaps 20 years; b) next step is dry storage in steel-lined concrete canisters which are projected to be good for 100 years of storage or, perhaps, much more; c) the final proposed phase is deep underground storage (1 or 2 km down) in igneous rock in heavy copper canisters surrounded by impervious clay. I believe that this will likely never happen due to reprocessing and reuse of spent fuel [see 2c)]. Note too from attached data from Dr. Liu Shu-Zheng that nuclear waste is a tiny fraction of that produced by a similar size coal plant, the ash pile from which contains enough radioactive material to produce several A-bombs.


Extract from Presentation by Dr. Liu Shu-Zheng of Jilin University (China) Entitled "Radiation and Carcinogenisis - Threshold or no Threshold" at CNS SP Branch Meeting, 2007 May 29