Hey, Mr. Harper!

Hey, Stevie! Prorogue this!

Large middle finger salute

See you at the rallies!

Regina Info & Events

R A L L Y!

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010, 1pm

South End of Scarth St. Mall (By the Buffalo)

B E   T H E R E !!!

Saskatoon Info & Events

RALLY!

SATURDAY JANUARY 23
at
CITY HALL
at
1:00 pm !

Prince Albert Info & Events

Rally

PA Union Centre
107-8th St. E.
1:30 pm

Well, Canada, what now?

So, the Liberals stood up Canadian women for a pink party at Stornoway.  The NDP has a turncoat who needs to be removed from the party.  And the anti-choice crowd is partying like they have not partied since before the Morgentaler decision of 1988.  Me, I don’t feel too festive.

I am angry.  I am angry with Parliament, for all the stupidity they’ve engaged in over the past 2+ years, but exceedingly so for this latest attack on women.  It could send a woman into a tailspin.  Fortunately, I’m stronger than that and have bounced back quickly and with more gusto than before.  I am angry with myself, too, for not taking seriously this attack by the anti-choicers, for not catching the pattern of Harper’s attacks.  Never underestimate Steve Harper is the lesson I have learned here.  He is as mean and scary as they come.

So, peeps, what’s next?  How do we take back what is being taken from us?  How do we take back our democracy?

Scandal still growing

Three weeks I’ve been away and the Chalk River Scandal carries on.  Glad to see the blogosphere (you know who you are!) has kept up with taking it on, showing up the Cons for the creeps and liars they truly are! And good on the Globe and Mail for this:

Over the past month, The Globe and Mail has interviewed dozens of people with intimate knowledge of the company and the global nuclear landscape, including AECL employees, retirees, former board members, federal bureaucrats, former government ministers, current and former members of the CNSC and business people with close ties to AECL.

The interviews revealed:

  • AECL has been fraught for years with internal management problems that were repeatedly acknowledged by government officials and flagged by business partners and the federal auditor-general, yet never fixed;
  • the company’s lobbying campaign to have the government decrease tensions with the CNSC, backed by private-sector partners, has been mounting steadily for more than a year;
  • Minister of Natural Resources Gary Lunn was allegedly e-mailed information about problems at AECL at least two days before he admitted to learning about the reactor shutdown (he denies seeing the e-mail);
  • emergency legislation passed last December restarted the reactor only days earlier than it could have been if the safety commission had not been overruled.

Chalk River: Crisis ‘foreseeable and preventable’

UPDATE! I’m out of town and not blog-reading.  Here’s updated material from JimBobby and TGB which I read *after* I posted what’s below!

It becomes clearer, with each bit of information, that Parliament was seriously hoodwinked on the Chalk River issue by Harper. From the Inbox:

—- Original Message —–

From: Gordon Edwards
Sent: Friday, January 18, 2008 1:47 PM
Subject: Isotope suppliers could have met 250% of world market needs
Clarification on isotopes:
It is important to realize that technetium-99m is not used
for therapeutic purposes but for diagnostic purposes, so
it is completely untrue that “lives” were at risk during the
so-called Chalk River isotope crisis. In fact it was a major
inconvenience and upset hospital schedules considerably,
but it put no lives at risk. And in fact the inconvenience
was avoidable.
Frank von Hippel is a very careful and credible researcher.
In a 2006 article he said that 250% of world demand for
short-lived radioisotopes like molybdenum-99 (the source
material needed for making technetium-99m available) could
be met by the world’s isotope suppliers and that even
without Canada, 100% of demand could be met.
Thus all the talk about a “crisis” was actually foreseeable
and preventable. If AECL and Nordion had plainly informed
their customers that the MAPLE isotope-production reactors
were seven years behind schedule (because those reactors
were seriously flawed in both design and construction) and
that Canadian supply depended on a 50-year old geriatric NRU
reactor that was not up to modern safety standards, then the
customers could have arranged for other suppliers to be prepa-
red to take up the slack. Result: no crisis.

8 Weeks Later, The Chalk River Scandal Emerges in the MSM

On Dec. 13, when I read Dr. Dale Dewar’s email message in response to my query regarding medical isotopes, the message in which she asked if anyone else smelled a rat, I certainly had no idea just how big the rat actually was!

Well! It is about time the true story about the Chalk River Scandal came out in the mainstream media and in the House of Commons! On Monday, January 28, the French language newspaper, Le Devoir [Google translation] reported that the isotope crisis was manufactured, based on research which included conversations with officials at nuclear reactors in Europe.

Other papers and politicians must have been waiting for something like this because they have jumped on board!

…New Democrat MP Catherine Bell said her own research is consistent with the newspaper’s findings. She said she found European isotope suppliers that were ready and willing to step into the breach.

Moreover, she said, experts told her “there was a shortage but it was not a life and death shortage.”

All of which raises the question: “Was this a manufactured crisis?”

Bell said it appears the government wanted to get rid of Keen. It may also have been trying to protect “the financial position” of MDS Nordion, the private company that supplies the isotopes produced at Chalk River.

“Their bottom line had to be protected as well. If we have to buy these isotopes from somewhere else, then it affects them.”

Remember MDS Nordion was about to face significant financial losses. And the Cons are nothing if they are not friends of business!  They’re definitely not friends of civil servants.

Yesterday was Linda Keen’s day before a Parliamentary committee, a day she was able to defend her actions and clarify her (now former) role as President of Canada’s nuclear regulator. Her clarity on the point that it was not her job to either obey the Minister or consider the need for medical isotopes needed to heard!

It seems that Members of Parliament are now beginning to see that they were hoodwinked by the Harperites. Mind you, had any of them or any reporters spoken with the head of nuclear medicine at Yale, they’d have learned a lot sooner that there was no medical isotope crisis and that the Harper government created it to suit its own purposes, whatever those may be.

Thanks to Dave, JimBobby and Impolitical for keeping on top of this while I have been fighting with my ‘puter and preparing for a 3-week writing get-away!

Real Danger at Chalk River

From Greenpeace Canada E-news January 2008 this excerpt from Nukes and the human factor featuring Suzanne Rochford, a nuclear expert and former CNSC worker. The mess-up of the AECL/Chalk River situation by the humans, Harper and Lunn, makes the human component at the reactor even more significant.

Suzanne is an industrial engineer and as such she once worked for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, a government agency responsible for regulating nuclear energy and the use of radioactive material. Her specialty is the human factor and the design of complex systems to optimize human potential and minimize human error. As well as studying technical topics such as mechanics, she also studied cognitive psychology such as how people perceive and process information and how they react to events.

The safety of nuclear plants can be jeopardized by many complex interacting factors in the system, and there is no doubt in her mind that includes human error. As an example, she points to the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in New York State in 1979. She cites human error as a significant factor there. That said she cringes when the blame for a breakdown is laid on humans because all too often when complex systems are designed, human strengths and weaknesses, such as limits in short term memory, are not taken into consideration.

“The mind is not a computer; we are not very good at remembering a lot of detailed data such as long lists of machine part numbers. Humans are, however, very good at matching a complex pattern to a similar one they have previously experienced. ‘You look very much like my Aunt Martha’. This is something that computers struggle to do well. Any complex system – nuclear plants, airplanes and even cars – need to be designed to leverage human strengths while minimizing the use of human weakness.

“The problem with the Three Mile Island accident was you had a lot of things happening at once, which is common in a serious accident. It is rarely just one thing but a whole bunch of things that line up to cause the failure. But all I hear in the media is that it was human error. Ultimately, it was poor consideration of the human in the system. Some engineers would like to take the human outside the system, but that is not realistic,” she says.

Most nuclear power plants have lots of automated and manual safety checks, yet the operator is often not provided with a good overview of what is going on. Remote supervision of a system is very challenging, says Suzanne. “It’s not like riding a bike where you can see what’s ahead of you down the road. In a nuclear plant, the operator views the reactor through a software screen in a control room. The operator can’t actually see for himself.” And this was vital in the Three Mile Island accident, she says, because so many of the system displays were not coordinated but were independent gauges. There were hundreds of different alarms all going off at the same time.

“Some of those alarms were not visible to the operator, and some had been malfunctioning for weeks. This, combined with the fact that they were not designed to enable good “pattern matching” for the operator, resulted in the operator not recognizing the exact nature of the problem,” she says.

Attitudes among engineers changed in a big way after the accident at Chernobyl. They became more cautious and diligent about safety processes, says Suzanne. But again she points to the human error involved in the biggest nuclear accident in the world. The test, which set off the accident, was conducted at three in the morning when people’s performance is at its worst and there was huge political and management pressure to complete the test successfully. This resulted in operators feeling they had to override safety systems to complete the test.

Since Chernobyl, there is now a “strong culture for not interfering with automated shutdowns in Ontario. There is a tendency to let the system shut down and then figure out what went wrong. Before, it was up to the discretion of the operators, who had to consider the high cost involved in lost revenue and getting a nuclear power plant up and running again.

“Could we have an accident like the one at Three Mile Island with lots of bells and whistles going off? Yes we could,” says Suzanne, answering her own question. “You never get zero probability of an accident. There is always some risk and the only thing to do is try to minimize the risk and decide if the benefits outweigh the risks.”

The vision of nuclear power 40 years ago was of cheap energy but that didn’t turn out to be true. In fact, Suzanne confirms, nuclear power is quite expensive. She doesn’t think any more reactors should be built. However, she is not optimistic that they won’t be. She thinks the politicians “see centralized mega projects as sexy and haven’t got their heads around small highly distributed technical solutions, which are typical of renewable energy projects.” And there are always vested interests.


Thanks to Bill Curry for the info.

Harper & Lunn Lied to Parliament

In email conversation with a US writer, I have learned the following regarding the Chalk River/AECL scandal:

…several nuclear medicine specialists, including the head of the nuclear medicine department at Yale, repeatedly cautioned me against writing that this was as a matter of life or death. They were, in fact, very critical of stories that made that claim. Isotopes supplies, particularly from Belgium, continued to be available. Although they were more costly. The specialists also noted that many, arguably most, of the large number of diagnostic tests they perform made using the isotopes do not involve critical medical conditions and that there are often alternative techniques and technologies available.

And furthermore, where are the hordes of letters that Lunn received from Canadian doctors?

I had a daydream the other day about the Leaders of the parties in Opposition getting it together and walking over to the Governor General’s shack and asking her to dissolve Parliament on the grounds that the Prime Minister deliberately mislead Parliament.  Is that possible?

Updated: Wall deflecting for Harper?

Brad Wall, the Premier of Saskatchewan, steps into the uranium issue at an interesting time.  He’s off to the First Minister’s meeting, having completely changed his tune on equalization.

The media and national politicians have their eyes directed towards the Harper government’s most recent attack on the President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), Linda Keen. The attacks, both in the House in December and in the correspondence made available to the media, are unfounded. They are personal and partisan and based on an issue which the Harperites continue to convolute and obfuscate. Keen’s letter to Lunn notes that a special meeting with Lunn took place after a conference call and Minister Lunn stormed out partway through. The formal directive on which Mr. Lunn bases his attack, was received by the CNSC after the issue appeared on the Order Paper in the House. How could Keen have possibly acted earlier, especially when there are laws dictating how she must act? Isn’t it obvious, then, that the attack on Ms Keen comes because she refused to bend the law and succumb to the will of the Harperites? Oh, and did I remember to mention that the meeting was about the MDS-Nordion million-dollar medical isotopes issue?

Today, the federal Liberals call for Lunn’s head on a platter and question the release of a report on AECL which was delivered to the government in September 2007. And, also today, the new premier of SK pulls a Ralph (as in Klein) and demonstrates how little he knows about the nuclear fuel cycle. From CBC Sask:

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall wants the province to get some environmental credit for the uranium it mines, but an environmental group is highly skeptical.

Wall argued Tuesday that nuclear power offsets the amount of fossil fuels burned in the world.

Say what?

Most people who have thoroughly researched the nuclear fuel cycle will have to acknowledge that huge amounts of GHGs are emitted at every stage of that cycle, from cradle to grave — and there is no grave for radioactive waste! It often moves from storage facility to storage facility.

I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Wall is able to pay his staff so very well because of kickbacks from the pro-nuke lobby? Granted, Mr. Wall’s staff are new to this government thing and will, of course, support Mr. Wall’s partisan agenda. And memories of the Devine regime remind SK-dwellers that, in the right wing world, partisan politics and the lining of one’s own pockets trumps morals any day. I wish I could pull from my memory each and every one of the issues on which Devine and Mulroney colluded and obfuscated. Are we seeing history repeat itself?

Mr. Wall would be well advised to acknowledge that the supply of uranium is limited to only a few short boom years. We need to look ahead, beyond short-term gain, to the future of our children’s children. So, instead of wasting time and energy on a backwards and dying industry, why not invest in something modern like a solar power plant to produce energy? The USA and Spain are already there. We could be in on the leading edge, especially with our sunny days!

These plants focus sunlight onto pipes which carry a ”hot oil,” Therminol 66. One class of solar collectors raises the temperature of the oil to 345 degrees Celsius (650 Fahrenheit). A large thermal reservoir can store a large amount of solar energy, enough for two weeks. The oil is never burned, however; it is continually recirculated though the pipes and the storage containers. The heat drives steam generators and turbines in order to generate electricity. Variations can be used with fibre optics to light buildings and heat water. Though it wasn’t the case a decade ago, there is now a lot of expertise and experience on solar power plants, enough to safely and economically put the hoped-for nuclear renaissance to its grave, once and for all. Solar is an industry waiting to grow!

Wake up and turn on the lights, Mr. Wall, this is the 21st century, after all.

UPDATE: (with thanks to ReWind.It at Bread’n’Roses.) The CBC reports that the recent isotope crisis has moved the US government to explore alternatives to obtaining medical isotopes from Canada:

The National Academy of Science, a group of scientists based in Washington that advises Congress on a number of issues, has been asked to consider four questions — all relating to the supply of medical isotopes, and whether the U.S. should consider producing its own.

DOTmed.com reports that it goes a little deeper than just Chalk River:

At the request of NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, the National Academies have begun a year-long review of the state-of-the-science in nuclear medicine. This study results from the uncertainty about future federal funding for nuclear medicine research that accompanied the drastic reduction in support for the Medical Applications and Measurement Sciences (MAMS) program that had been supported by the Department of Energy for decades. The MAMS program was virtually eliminated in the Administration’s 2006 budget and was again not included in the 2007 proposal.

Experts at the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) have been asked to provide findings and make recommendations around four issues having to do with nuclear medicine:

* future needs for radiopharmaceutical development for the diagnosis and treatment of human disease,
* future needs for computational and instrument development for more precise localization of radiotracers in normal and aberrant cell physiologies,
* national impediments to the efficient entry of promising new radiopharmaceutical compounds into clinical feasibility studies and strategies to overcome them and
* impacts of shortages of isotopes and highly trained radiochemists on nuclear medicine research, and short- and long-term strategies to alleviate these shortages if they exist.

No wonder the Harperites are all worked up! Their buddies might end up going elsewhere for medical isotopes.

UPDATE 2: Jason Kenney’s been shooting off his mouth, thinking  he knows something.  There was no crisis, Jason!  But I guess this tells us something about the sorry state the Harper government is in on the issue.  POGGE has the stuff.

I missed that the Auditor General’s report on AECL had been released.  (Damned real world! Or was it the Obama /Clinton thing?)  According to this report, Minister Lunn may well have known  months agothat the reactor at Chalk River was experiencing difficulties.

Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn may have known in September that the Chalk River reactor needed improvements to protect public safety, months before it was shut down, according to an auditor general report released Tuesday.

Auditor general Sheila Fraser said she presented a report on Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) to the corporation’s board on Sept. 5, 2007.

The cover page of the audit says: “We would like to draw your attention to a significant deficiency related to the unresolved strategic challenges that the Corporation faces … it is our view that this report contains information that should be brought to the attention of the Minister of Natural Resources. Accordingly, following consultation with the Board, we will be forwarding a copy of the report to the Minister.”

The report goes on to highlight “three strategic challenges” AECL faced, including “the replacement of aging facilities at Chalk River Laboratories (CRL).”

Never a dull moment in the nuke world, is there?