See Comments down arrow

Glowing example of sanity

12 Jul 2023 | News Roundup

At CDN we have frequently said that a handy sanity test for climate alarmists is whether they support nuclear power. So we think it’s big news that the government of the Canadian province of Ontario intends to build the world’s largest nuclear reactor to fight global warming. How big? Well, not very. One facility, albeit with eight reactors, that could power 4.8 million homes. So for any other global warmists looking to save the planet and their own minds, we ask: How many wind turbines or solar panels over how large an area would it take to do the same?

Well, let’s have a look. The Bruce Nuclear Generating Station is on the eastern shore of Lake Huron near Kincardine. (No, you never heard of it.) It occupies 932 hectares (no, you don’t know how big one is) or 2,300 acres of land and was built between 1970 and 1987 by the crown corporation Ontario Hydro before being leased to a private operator in 2000 by Ontario Power Generation, one of five crown corporations into which Ontario Hydro was split for reasons you don’t want to hear about.

What you might want to hear about is that the site’s operating licences have been extended repeatedly, at this point through 2028. So even these older reactor designs last 60 years. Wind turbines do not. Nor do solar panels. And if you think (wrongly) that it’s hard to dispose of the small quantity of waste a reasonably modern reactor creates, try figuring out what to do with all those blades and panels when you discover that they’re clapped out after 20 years.

Also, the proposed nuclear facility would generate 4,800 megawatts of power. The largest wind farm in the country, Seigneurie de Beaupré, has a theoretical capacity of just 363.5. But it occupies tens of thousands of acres (Wind Farm 4 alone covers 3,249 hectares or 8,028 acres, a.k.a. 80 square kilometres). For some reason various people touting the miracle of wind energy don’t seem to list such things in their brochures. But The Canadian News estimates that the entire wind farm site “represents a strip of land parallel to the river approximately 95 km long by 20 km wide.” Yikes.

So we think it good news that Ontario is talking about a new nuclear plant. We’re not getting giddy just yet. Climate change isn’t the only topic that reliably generates dismal new items, another is government-funded megaprojects, especially in Canada where we specialize in botching light rail but can also muff a pipeline or anything else in a pinch. And the Ontario electricity system is a third, an appalling hoorah’s nest of opaque pricing, stranded debt, ridiculous subsidies, buck-passing and political scandal.

Put the three together and it won’t be smooth sailing. As the National Post story says:

“Energy Minister Todd Smith… says Bruce Power will now start community consultations and conduct an environmental assessment for federal approval to determine the feasibility of another nuclear plant.”

Yes, we will begin consultations to assess the possibility of approval to undertake a feasibility study. In the process you can bet that they’ll hear from the usual tin-foil-hat candidates who can’t tell a nuclear plant from a nuclear bomb and believe all sorts of nonsense about the danger and difficulty of handling nuclear waste from a modern facility, because the very word nuclear gives a lot of people the vapours. As well as that weird subset of climate alarmists whose real concern isn’t global warming, it’s forcing us to adopt socialism and austerity, so they don’t want carbon capture or nuclear power to work. But reactor designs have improved enormously over the years, especially in countries with functioning systems of self-government where citizens’ safety concerns must be taken into account.

And another thing. Whereas solar panels and wind turbines have an annoying habit of taking over prime farmland or sensitive ecosystems, including the ones now accused of killing endangered right whales off the east coast of the United States, and wind farms particularly are infamous for their impact on birds and insects, you can put a nuclear reactor in any number of otherwise undesirable locations (provided those places aren’t seismically unstable) and they have remarkably little impact on anything except your power supply.

Of course it’s possible to muff reactor design in various ways, for instance as the Japanese did at Fukushima including putting the emergency diesel generators in the basement of a seaside facility so if there was a flood, they’d be useless. (And then ignore warnings about this obvious blunder.) But it’s possible to muff a lot of things including building an entire electrical system around unreliable power sources in insufficient amounts. Nuclear done right is very reliable, ecologically friendly, potentially cheap and durable. What’s not to love? And if you’re a woke politician (but we repeat ourselves at least in Canada) Bruce Power even starts their website with a “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion” statement followed by an “Indigenous Land Acknowledgement” that seeks “true reconciliation” which beats the fake kind. As, indeed, true power beats the fake kind.

It’s a bit annoying that people need to be in the grip of an imaginary panic to make a sensible decision. But in politics you sometimes have to take what you can get, and it does make sense to build nuclear energy especially if (are you listening, Europeans?) the alternative is to take yourself hostage to Vladimir Putin’s natural gas. Even if you do it for the wrong reason.

Which you might, because rationality is in short supply on this issue. The National Post news story added that:

“A report late last year by the Independent Electricity System Operator found that the province could fully eliminate natural gas from the electricity system by 2050, starting with a moratorium in 2027, but it will require about $400 billion in capital spending and more generation including new, large-scale nuclear plants.”

And given politicians’ ambitions to triple generating capacity in under three decades, perhaps they shouldn’t be hurrying to shut anything but their mouths. But if they’re going to say CO2 is bad, and be sensible about the surprisingly large costs and small benefits of various “renewables”, they should be opening nuclear plants as fast as they can clear their own regulatory hurdles. If indeed they can do so.

5 comments on “Glowing example of sanity”

  1. Looking at the most recent nuclear accidents (Three Mile Island, Fukushima and Chernobyl), the actual, verifiable harm to humans has been far, far less than hysterical media accounts would have you believe.

    Three Mile Island (1979)
    The US Senate report on Three Mile Island stated that “It found no persuasive evidence that releases during the accident resulted in adverse near-term physical health effects or will result in statistically significant long-term physical health effects”. Subsequent epidemiological studies have borne this out. Concern over the incident was probably exacerbated by the coincidental release of the movie China Syndrome a short time before the Three Mile Island accident, which gave a fictional and very sensational account of a similar accident. Thus, when the Three Mile Island accident actually occurred it met a public primed to believe that disaster was imminent.

    Fukushima (2011)
    The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) published a report two years later in 2013 on radiation effects from the accident The Committee found that:
    • “No radiation-related deaths or acute diseases have been observed among the workers and general public exposed to radiation from the accident.”
    • “The doses to the general public, both those incurred during the first year and estimated for their lifetimes, are generally low or very low. No discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members of the public or their descendants.”
    Over-reaction by authorities who initiated unnecessary mass evacuations may have resulted in some deaths. According to one report, “The psychological trauma of evacuation was a bigger health risk for most than any likely exposure from early return to homes”.

    Chernobyl (1986)
    A 2008 UNSCEAR report confirmed that there were 28 deaths from massive radiation exposure (‘radiation sickness’) in the days and weeks following the incident. A further 19 deaths occurred during the period 1987-2004 in those who had received high doses, although not all of the latter were attributable to radiation exposure. A paper published in the International Journal of Cancer by an international team in 2006, some twenty years after the event, stated that “It is unlikely that the cancer burden from the largest radiological accident to date could be detected by monitoring national cancer statistics. Indeed, results of analyses of time trends in cancer incidence and mortality in Europe do not, at present, indicate any increase in cancer rates – other than of thyroid cancer in the most contaminated regions – that can be clearly attributed to radiation from the Chernobyl accident”.
    Thyroid cancer after a nuclear accident is caused by breathing in radioactive iodine suspended in the atmosphere. Since the isotope concerned, iodine-131, has a half-life of only 8 days this is a relatively short-term problem which can largely be avoided by issuing iodine tablets to the general population as soon as possible after the accident. This has the effect of flooding the thyroid with normal, non-radioactive iodine, thus inhibiting it from absorbing any more iodine. To the best of my knowledge this was never done at Chernobyl.
    Various anti-nuclear groups have claimed there were thousands of cancer deaths attributable to Chernobyl. This was estimated on the basis of a computer model known as BEIR-VII, which was used to calculate the number of cancers which ought to have occurred as a result of Chernobyl. However, since no excess cancers had in fact been found twenty years later, this leaves some doubt as to the reliability of BEIR-VII.

  2. I am a nuclear fan but must raise a few points.
    The easiest energy is stop the waste. Lights burning everywhere needlessly is one small example. I would estimate that 1/2 of the older homes in Thornbury, ON are still not insulated.
    Why are reactors limited in liability? Until 2016 in Canada, they were only on the hook for 75 million! It is now 1 billion. If Pickering should blow, that is only about 1000 homes at today's prices. A bad accident could make a good chunk of the GTA unliveable. Let nuclear stand on its own merits. What other individual or industry gets this treatment?

  3. Don: In an earlier era, governments granted trains immunity from liability for the fires started by the sparks flying from their engines. More recently, big pharma was given complete immunity for the experimental gene therapy treatments which billions of people took. That immunity from liability dwarfs anything contemplated in the nuclear business, I dare say at this point. One might better wonder if that isn't what Canadian government is for - to socialize the risks and privatize the profits. But in the case of nuclear, it is probably a moot point, since a catastrophe that large can't be indemnified by any business and can't be insured against.

  4. Thylacine, the severity of any risk, and hence the liability required from the 'owner' of the risk, is determined not only by the severity of the impact should it occur but also by the likelihood that it will occur. If a loaded jumbo jet full of fuel were to accidentall crash onto downtown Toronto or New York in the middle of a working day, the death toll and overall financial impact would be monstrous - so why aren't aircraft manufacturers and airlines required to maintain trillion dollar indemnity funds in case this should occur? The answer is because the likelihood of it happening (by accident, not by enemy action) is extremely small.
    We can generalize this by introducing the concept of the weighted cost of a risk, which is simply the overall financial impact of the risk, should it occur, multiplied by the probability that it will occur. If a nuclear power plant such as Pickering were to explode, the impact, stated in financial terms, would probably be in the trillions. However, the probability that it would explode is so minute that the weighted cost would likely be about ten bucks, i.e. not worth bothering about.

  5. Nuclear energy had its chance and blew it. It takes far too long to build, is outrageously expensive, and there's STILL no sustainable storage solution for the waste. The industry is now resorting to desperately pimping SMRs and "advanced" nuclear technologies that not only NOT better than current Gen 3 systems, but even worse in some ways. The business model of the nuclear industry now seems to focus on grossly under-bidding to get projects in motion and then riding the sunk cost fallacy for 10+ years at the expense of taxpayers.

    There's a reason that nuclear energy's market share has steadily declined for 40 years. It's the same reason even FRANCE is reducing their reliance on the tech. It's obsolete.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *