Clean Green Saskatchewan

Climate Change: is nuclear power a solution?

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Small Modular Reactors (SMRs): Are mini-nukes the next big thing?

The much hyped “nuclear renaissance”, based on a proposed new generation of reactor designs, seems over before it began, certainly in the Western world. That’s because of the rapid growth of cheaper high-tech renewable energy, energy storage technologies, greatly improved energy efficiency, plentiful lowcost natural gas, and staggeringly large costs for new nuclear plants large or small. In addition there are deep concerns about nuclear’s unique hazards * extremely long-lived environmental contamination and radioactive waste lasting into eternity.

Yet the Government of Canada, through the Ministry of Natural Resources, is spending huge sums of your tax dollars promoting a new generation of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) – none of them ever tested.

Canada has already failed in the “small reactor” market with fiascos like the Maple Reactors and the SLOWPOKE district heating reactor. Many analysts and experts say that there is no demand for the unnecessary and speculative new SMR designs. They would perpetuate, and even exacerbate existing problems with nuclear power. Nor could they realistically address climate change (links below give detailed reasons).

Unless Canadians speak out, a lot of money will be wasted, a lot of nuclear contamination created, and a lot of damage done, even if SMRs turn out to be just another spectacular technological flop.

  • As far back as May, 2012 Forbes magazine noted that there is no demonstrated market for
    SMRs, partly because they simply cannot compete with low emission combined-cycle gas-fired power plants at one quarter of the cost. Between 2012 and now the cost disparity has grown much larger
  • SMRs, by their small nature, would be inherently less efficient and more expensive than large reactors per unit of power produced because they lose the economies of scale (wildly speculative economies of planned modular factory design notwithstanding). Ironically, the first power reactor designs in the1960s were similarly small but grew, over the decades, to take advantage of the economies of scale. From a financial and efficiency perspective, then, the return to small is a retrograde move.
  • Safety parameters for these devices are unknown. Regulations for exclusion zones, amount of staffing, emergency evacuation zones, legal liability insurance, terrorist and criminal security standards, arms proliferation risks, and earthquake, fire and flood regulations would all have to be rewritten to suit the nature of SMRs. This would slow down commercial licensing prospects, perhaps for decades, and thus discourage investors.
  • Unlike conventional reactor models, many SMR designs situate the reactor core underground, aggravating the problems of groundwater contamination, flooding and earthquake vulnerability. Accessibility would also be limited in case of emergency and subsequent fuel removal.

Prominent American nuclear physicist Edwin Lyman, Senior Scientist in the Global Security Program of The Union of Concerned Scientists, has dismissed this technology, stating that SMRs are all in the “stage of fantasy”. He characterized the public discussion of them as “irrational exuberance”.

In April 2018, William Von Hoene, Senior VP of Exelon, the US’s largest nuclear operator, told the US Energy Association’s annual meeting in Washington: “I don’t think we are building any more nuclear plants in the United States, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen…Right now the costs on the SMR’s, in part because of the size and in part because of the security that is associated with any nuclear plant, are prohibitive.”

In an online MIT journal article, “Small Modular Nuclear Reactors and the Future of Nuclear Power” Mark Cooper, PhD, of Vermont Law School / Yale University, concluded that SMRs are all but dead – demonstrated by the scale-backs of major players Babcock & Wilcox, Westinghouse & Transatomic Power, the technology’s poor economics, and the general lack of interest from utilities and lending institutions.

In spite of the proponents’ promotional hype, the signs seem clear – small modular reactors are a non-starter in the energy marketplace. Canadian taxpayers’ money should not be squandered on this risky, retro, uncompetitive, expensive, and completely unnecessary venture. Canada’s policies must not be for the convenience of the dying and desperate nuclear industry but for the benefit of people. We should commit our resources to a broad range of more modern energy strategies and options – options which have proven to be much more cost-competitive, environmentally sound, and sustainable for the long term.

D. S. Geary

For detailed critiques of SMRs see:

> Small modular reactors and the future of nuclear power in the United States. Mark Cooper
> WISE: SMRs Future or Folly
> SMR’s: A Case of Wishful Thinking, by Gordon Edwards 2020
> Are SMRs the answer? (No) Climate Change News
> SMRs Have Little Appeal – Climate News Network, July 2018
> Small modular reactors: an introduction and an obituary
> Eyes Wide Shut – SMRs by M.V. Ramana Sept 2020
> The hazards of ionizing radiation on human health – 2020

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Thorium – hope or hype / dream or dystopia?

Uranium is currently fissioned in nuclear reactors to produce electrical energy. Thorium adherents rightfully say that uranium-fueled reactors pose undesirable financial, security, weapons proliferation, emissions, decommissioning, waste management, environmental, and health risks.

However, replacing uranium fuel with thorium would not fix these problems.

Click below for full article.

Making the Links interview with Don Kossick and Peter Prebble on the History of Nuclearization

CFCR 90.5 FM Making the Links interview series with Don Kossick. This is a 3 part series on the History of Nuclearization of Saskatchewan with noted environmentalist Peter Prebble.

Part 1 focuses on the link between uranium mining and nuclear weapons.  How the Beaverlodge mine near Uranium City and the Gunnar mine on the north shore of Lake Athabasca were developed to supply the US atomic weapons industry.  The successful campaign to stop a uranium refinery from being built in Warman, Saskatchewan, and the controversial approval of the Cluff Lake uranium mine in northwest Saskatchewan.  Gives examples of risky uranium sales in which there was a clear danger Saskatchewan uranium would be used for nuclear weapons purposes and the unsuccessful struggle to have Saskatchewan uranium withheld from the world market until the Non-Proliferation Treaty could be strengthened.

Part 2 focuses on the risks associated with nuclear power. The successful efforts to block nuclear reactor construction in Saskatchewan over the past thirty years.  The nuclear accidents in Chernobyl Ukraine and Fukushima Japan. In the event of trouble, shutting down a nuclear power station successfully does not necessarily prevent a serious accident from occurring.  There must be an ongoing supply of electricity to the reactor itself, so that uranium fuel bundles can be cooled.  A loss of electricity for several days poses extreme danger. The exceptional risks nuclear power stations present in the event of war, as evidenced by events unfolding in Ukraine.  The lack of a solution for how to safely dispose of the high level radioactive waste that every nuclear reactor produces.

Part 3 Generate more low emission electricity than a small modular nuclear reactor – at a cheaper price and with no radioactive waste legacy. If a nuclear reactor is built in Saskatchewan, how will we handle its nuclear waste? The long term hazard posed by uranium mill tailings at uranium mine sites in northern Saskatchewan. Steps that could be taken today to try to reduce the chance that Saskatchewan uranium ends up being used in nuclear weapons and much more. Nuclearization History Part 3 Peter Prebble mp3…