Friday, February 6, 2009

Reports to the Minister of Leaky Reactors

Both AECL and our nuclear watch-puppy, the CNSC, presented their reports to Minister of Natural Resources Lisa Raitt today. Both reports seem to expend as much ink in ass-covering as they do in explaining exactly what happened on December 5th, when 47 kg of tritium-contaminated heavy water leaked from the NRU. But happily, the details are leaking even faster:

Canwest News Service first learned of the Dec. 5 radioactive leak on Dec. 14 through a source with knowledge of the operations at Chalk River who requested anonymity out of concern for job security.

"(There was) a minor spill of tritiated water on the reactor hall floor," the source, an engineer, told Canwest News Service on Dec. 14. "Operators now must wear protective clothing inside the reactor hall because of the beta fields."

As chance would have it, I happen to be on close personal terms with someone who not only took physics engineering in university, but actually worked at the accelerator lab at McMaster where he was in charge of (among other things) nuclear safety.

I read him that portion of the article and asked, "So, what exactly would be involved in cleaning up a spill like that?"

He said, "To start? Tear up the floor."

Oh. My.

I sent him links to the two original reports (yes, yes, I email across the couch), and he had quite a lot more to say. I'm working on getting him to do a guest blog post for tomorrow.

Stay tuned!


  1. Whooee! I reckon the only hope for anything good to happen here is on accounta Chalk River's proximity upstream of Ottawa. Hits MPs where they live and that makes it tough to put on the back burner.

    NRU must be shut down and decommissioned ASAP. Not only is it ancient and falling apart at the seams, it i sone of the few (if not the only) reactor design that requires the use of Highly Enriched Uranium for its primary fuel source. HEU = bomb grade uranium. There are special signed agreements in place with the US allowing Canada to import bomb grade uranium for NRU.

    Medical isotopes can be created using a particle accelerator and no reactor, at all. Yield is much lower than from a reactor (5%) but accelerators are not as risky or expensive as reactors. One problem with medical isotopes is short shelf life. Numerous accelerators, distributed across North America would make a lot of sense. At least a lot more sense than continuing to run NRU.

    Cryptic crossword clue: Reactor run wrong. (3)


  2. Yeah, but they don't want to decommission it. They want to SELL it, which means they have to hold the whole thing together with spit and baling twine until they can find a buyer.

  3. I think they actually just want to sell the salable parts of AECL and leave the radioactive waste clean-up for the taxpayer. No private company will ever agree to purchase the contaminated site.

    We don't keep NRU running for humanitarian reasons. The GoC has contractual agreements with MDS-Nordion. MDS was guaranteed a longterm supply of isotopes in a sweetheart deal. MDS profits handsomely by reselling the isotopes provided to them by the Canadian taxpayer. Most of the product goes to US for-profit treatments.


  4. Runesmith, I'm sure you saw that Budget 2009 gives AECL $351 million in cash. Also on page 180, the Budget says the NRCan Minister is "reviewing AECL's structure ... [with a] consideration of options, including private sector participation in the commercial operations of the corporation...." How close is the government to selling AECL, do you think?

  5. Don't count on that proximity to Ottawa counting for a lot with the House as presently constituted. Remember, there seems to be a cultural preference for punishing the city of Ottawa for being the nation's capital...and by extension, those of us who live here for living here. And working here.

    Remember the Portrait Gallery? The refusal to intervene in the transit strike?

    Why should Chalk River's side-effects upon the health of us Ottawa citizen/residents be any different?

  6. Ha ha. "Watchdog puppy". It made me think of how the CNSC describes itself. See page 14 of this presentation by its president. (Sorry, I don't know how to only link to one page.) The priceless image there pretty much defines the "watchdog".