More Nuke News

Not a lot of people liking President O’s greenwashing of nukes.  This most excellent article in the Guardian dispels the myth that nukes are green.

The argument that nuclear is “carbon-free” conveniently omits the entire process of mining uranium, which produces greenhouse gases, along with other pollutants. In Virginia, where a study has just been commissioned to determine its safety, uranium is mined in open pits. This destroys topsoil and increases runoff, which contaminates drinking water with cancer-causing toxins.

The uranium-enrichment process also emits greenhouse gases and is highly wasteful. Eighty percent of the ore that goes through the enrichment process ends up as waste. And this is to say nothing of the lye, sulfuric acid, and other caustic agents that must be used to turn the uranium into reactor-ready fuel.

While on the surface, the steam billowing from the cooling tower of a nuclear reactor is less harmful than the toxic smoke that spews from a coal plant, nuclear reactors still create byproducts that are dangerous to human health and welfare. There’s also the huge problem of radioactive nuclear waste, which can stay hot for hundreds of thousands of years. Storing the radioactive waste isn’t just a security threat; there’s potential for radioactive chemicals to leak, as they are in Vermont and at other aging reactors around the country.

It’s clear to me that the US Prezzie doesn’t read P’n’P.  Perhaps you could invite him to do so via this handy form?

The folks at nuclear news have that article available, as well as a fantastic sidebar, The Very Secret Costs of Nuclear Power.  From their site:

Well it is impossible for anyone to estimate the real costs of nuclear power, as only a narrow range of costs are discussed, even where the nuclear industry is supposedly privately owned.

1. The nuclear weapons industry is so connected with nuclear power, and the costs on the nuclear weapons industry are huge.

2. Where the nuclear industry is state owned – e.g. in France, Russia, China, South Korea, taxation, and the costs of electricity are manipulated, and figures given out for nuclear costs are not really reliable.

Secrecy about the nuclear industry is essential anyway, for security reasons. But it is also convenient, as no-one really knows how much it costs for state-owned nuclear facilities to manage nuclear waste. Well, there are ‘cheap’ options used, as we learn from time, with nuclear waste dumping occurring secretly, and without regard for the environment or the people, (usually poor communities, indigenous and rural people.) Eventually someone has to pay for the long-term costs.

Back at home, the nukers are bragging about their exploration in Quebec’s Otish Mountains.

Ditem Explorations /quotes/comstock/11v!dit (CA:DIT 0.08, 0.00, 0.00%) is pleased to report that the 2010 exploration program on the Company’s Otish Mountains uranium property in Quebec is underway. A fully operational camp has been established to accommodate geophysical and drilling crews. Drilling on the first hole began yesterday.

They don’t get that they’re involved in ecological racism. And that sux!  The Quebec no-nukers have been working tirelessly to put an end to nuking the environment.  Check it out.  And here’s a thorough piece from the Dominion about the nuke activity in northern Quebec.

One further focus for criticism is the province’s much-hyped development strategy, known as the “Plan Nord,” which involves targeting government money at selected infrastructure projects favouring principally the resource extraction sector in northern Quebec. According to research conducted by The Dominion, last year’s provincial budget earmarked $130 million for extending Highway 167 by 268km into the Otish Mountains, northeast of the James Bay Cree town of Mistissini. It is in an area without residential communities, but where Vancouver-based Strateco Resources has discovered some of Quebec’s most concentrated uranium deposits.

Finally, here’s another story about Canada’s outrageous and extravagant spending on AECL flowing from the Chalk River Fiasco.

As a result, Ottawa allocated $824-million in the current fiscal year to the problem-plagued nuclear flagship as the government prepares to restructure it and sell its commercial division, according to supplemental estimates released late yesterday.

That’s a 50-per-cent increase from federal spending on AECL in the prior fiscal year. In today’s budget, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will likely provide hundreds of millions more to support AECL’s operating budget and design work on the advanced Candu reactor and refurbish Chalk River laboratories.

Our tax dollars are being sunk into what the PM himself called a “sinkhole” so that the feds can sell it for next to nothing?  WTF?  It seems that PMS definitely needs to hear from you on this ridiculous, costly venture!  Imagine, were that kind of money to be spent on real green technology…

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!

Harper’s Ongoing War on Women

JimBobby, Impolitical, Scotian, POGGE, and 900ft Jesus are all over this spinning top.  It is yet another piece to be added to the AECL/MDS Nordion medical isotopes scandal that Prime Minister Harper, Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn and Health Minister Tony Clement have created.

Harper’s support of Lunn is reprehensible.
In praising Lunn for his mistreatment of Ms Keen, Harper blatantly condones abusive behavior towards women.  (Review Keen’s day in Parliament, too, for more examples of that abusive behavior.  And then there are all the changes around Status of Women Canada)  I guess it is part of his support for the War on Women.  Harper’s support for Lunn also demonstrates support for a brand of fascism which many of us believed to be a thing of the past.  But then Harper studied Stalin, not Hitler.

The light in this, for me, is it is helping me to understand why so many men in recent weeks think they have the right to scold women who challenge sexism and abuse, who work for change and get “uppity” on their behavior.  Not that I accept the scolding, just that I understand it a little more clearly.  It becomes even more acceptable in the mainstream, regardless of ideological bend, when even the Prime Minister approves of it.

I can’t help but wonder what got Harper and MDS-Nordion all worked up. Perhaps it was this US story, in December, in which a new supplier of medical isotopes announces its forthcoming launch. If alternatives to the isotopes MDS Nordion supply will be available to the huge US market in March of this year, then MDS Nordion will lose money.  That would not make Harper’s friends happy.  (If we know anything about the Cons, it’s that they like to keep their friends happy.)  And if no one wants what AECL and MDS Nordion offer, then who will want to purchase AECL when it’s on the chopping block?

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. 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?

Alternatives to HEU to produce medical isotopes

Dr. Dale Dewar, a long-time no nukes activist in SK, shares information about an alternative to using highly enriched uranium to produce Mo-99, the medical isotope that had Canadian Parliament declare itself a nuclear outlaw when it voted to restart the Chalk River reactor despite safety concerns expressed by Canada’s nuclear regulator.

While I don’t pretend to know the science of it, I would think it important that our Parliamentarians explore and contemplate any and all alternatives.

The Society for Nuclear Medicine published this little blurb (below) about a patent to develop a method that was not dependent upon highly enriched uranium (HEU) to produce Mo-99, the precursor of Tc-99m used in so many medical tests. Scientific American published a lengthy article in Feb 2006 arguing that all scientific and nuclear power reactors should change from HEU to decrease the international threat of nuclear terrorism (bombs). Good article. Buried by the nuclear industry community because the nuclear industry is actually based upon weapons production – all the rest, nuclides, power, are secondary.

An alternative method of producing Mo-99?

A method of producing molybdenum-99 comprising:

providing a target comprising molybdenum-100; and

directing a photon beam onto the target to isotopically convert at least a portion of the molybdenum-100 of the target to molybdenum-99 having specific activity of at least 1.0 curies/gram, the photon beam having intensity of at least 50 microamps/cm2 and photons of energy of at least 8 MeV.

More to think about.

Dale Dewar, BSc, MD, CFPC, FCFP

More to think about indeed!

Manufactured Nuclear Crisis and Harperian Lies

900 ft Jesus at In the House and Senate has done a great job of telling the Chalk River reactor story using details from Hansard to make her points, the most important being that Tony Clement, Minister Responsible for Natural Resources has lied. Twice. Or four times, depending on whether or not any of the statements are true. 900 ft Jesus suggests that Harper and his band of neo-cons hoodwinked Parliament. Of that, there is no doubt in my mind.

This decision to re-open the plant should not have been made the way it was. Yes, there is an emergency need for isotopes – with some doubt as to how critical it actually is – but lowering safety standards isn’t the answer, nor is bullying people who are sincerely trying to do their job and protect Canadians in the process.

JimBobby Sez also says that the need for isotopes was not at all as great as was suggested. It appears to be a manufactured crisis. Europeans were gearing up to increase supplies, as it did when a labour dispute disrupted the Chalk River supply in 1998. But, this shutdown would have meant a financial loss for the multinational corporation MDS-Nordion, the company that manufactures the isotopes. According to the US Federal Register / Vol. 61, No. 181 / Tuesday, September 17, 1996 / Notices 48921 Nordion signed an agreement for an additional isotope with a Belgian supplier should the supply from Chalk River be interrupted. In 1996!

Nordion has established a European subsidiary by acquiring the radiopharmaceutical department of the Institut National des Radio-elements (IRE) in Fleurus, Belgium, but IRE (fully owned by the Belgian Federal Government) remains the owner of Mo-99 production. IRE and Nordion have signed a mutual Mo-99 backup agreement to avoid a complete shortage of Mo-99 in case of an unscheduled shutdown of the Canadian NRU reactor. DOE has been informed that the current contractual backup arrangement requires IRE to supply Nordion with the excess capacity of its facility for up to eight weeks in the event of a shutdown.

Eight weeks! In her grilling by Parliament, Ms Keen said that the Chalk River facility could have been up and running in two weeks. So, what was the big deal? Ms Keen’s outright refusal to bend to Harper’s will, which went so far as to include the use of an Order in Council to have the Nuclear Safety Commission change its mind, forced him to abuse both her and Parliament.

Harper scored a big point in undermining Canadian democracy. With the Christmas break coming, Harper gambled that the Members would not want to return to Ottawa to deal with the issue. Parliament could have insisted upon more information before making a decision and would have had to return during the holly daze. They chose to remain dazed. Our elected officials look like the fools they are for supporting Harper’s lies. He has learned much from his corporatist friends and his tutors in the USA.

As to the brouhaha following Canada’s vote to become a nuclear outlaw, where Clement suggested the problems at AECL were taken care of by the resignation of the AECL Chair, Michael Burns, Le Revue Gauche points to the news report quoting Mr. Burns saying that tendered his resignation on November 29! Two weeks before the “crisis!”

Mr. Burns said he submitted his resignation, which becomes effective on Dec. 31, after a little over a year in the job because of delays in getting a series of proposed reforms instituted at the Crown corporation. He would not elaborate on the nature of the reforms. He also acknowledges he had become “a bit of a burr under the saddle.”

“There were a number of initiatives that I got started and was waiting [for them] to happen,” he said. “And next year looked as if there was just going to be more waiting. Anybody who knows me knows that I don’t wait well. My view was that I had done all I could. … Nobody asked me to leave but nobody begged me to stay, either.

“When I resigned, there was no isotope crisis,” Mr. Burns said.

On November 29 there was no isotope crisis! News searches confirm that the “worldwide shortage” was not news before Burns resigned. So how did a crisis develop so quickly? And why?

Might it have something to do with Harper’s plan to support the nuclear industry through the Nuclear Energy Division of Natural Resources Canada and his questionable sustainable future climate change plan?

The Minister of Natural Resources Canada is responsible for ensuring the best energy future for Canada through developing policies and programs which enhance the economic and environmental well-being of Canadians. (Sustainable Development Strategy – Moving Forward)

Might it have had anything to do with the nuclear industry’s failed attempt to get $58 billion out of the US government coffers?

When the budget-battle dust settled, Congress officially gave nuclear little to crow about. The only indication that lawmakers support loan guarantees for particular energy sources is in a paragraph-long “report” that accompanied the omnibus bill. This nonbinding paragraph spelled out the limit for loan guarantees for various energy sources. It set a ceiling of $38.5 billion, with capped amounts of $18.5 billion for new nuclear reactors, $2 billion for new nuclear fuel uranium enrichment facilities, $6 billion for coal-based power generation with carbon capture and storage, $2 billion for coal gasification, and $10 billion for renewable energy development.

Significantly, the funding levels in the report “are recommended obligation levels and not an appropriation of funds,” Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) wrote in a December 17 “dear colleague” letter. Visclosky is chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee.

In his letter, the congressman pointed out that the omnibus bill merely restated 2005 energy legislation provisions, which require the Department of Energy to obtain approval from the House Appropriations Committee for any plan to solicit loan guarantee applications.

Given the projected costs of building new reactors, the measure is hardly a victory for the nuclear industry. Cost estimates have escalated to as much as $12 billion to $18 billion for the kind of twin unit facilities most utility applicants favor. Under this recommended program, a successful nuclear loan guarantee applicant could do little more than fund one or two projects.

Although the report’s loan guarantee language appears to favor nuclear power and fossil fuels over clean renewable energy sources, the nuclear industry got less than it asked for — and more than it deserves.

Might it have something to do with the financial losses MDS-Nordion would have incurred had the reactor been shut down?

Nordion had initially pegged the loss in operating income at between US$8 million and $9 million in the first quarter of 2008, as North American hospitals scramble to find isotopes crucial to life-saving medical diagnostics until production resumes in January.
But in a conference call Thursday, the company said it now expects to be able to ship products to customers earlier than previously stated, which will have less of an impact on MDS Nordion’s first-quarter results.

Might it have had something to do with deflecting criticisms for Canada’s poor showing at the Bali climate change conference?

The EU and developing countries want industrialised nations to start talks on a further set of emissions targets.

But this is being resisted by a number of parties led by Canada.

Or, might it have had something to with creating a smokescreen for the Mulroney/Schrieber scandal which could be disastrous, according to one observer.

Unless the Conservatives can find a way to avoid an inquiry, the probe assures that the Mulroney issue will dog the government well into 2008 and perhaps beyond. Mr. Harper will become the hostage of events and of testimony that will threaten to tarnish his party’s brand.

All of the above? A full and public inquiry into this debacle might give us the answers.

UPDATE: The Harper Index has more. So does Impolitical.  This story has legs.

Nuclear Outlaw: Open discussion

Michael Burns, the CEO of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) has resigned. He was the fellow who assured the House of Commons that before the reactor at Chalk Lake was up and running it would be safe.” Now that he’s decided to leave, does it mean that the Chalk River facility is not safe? Nearby residents are wondering if they should leave town.

Harper’s assurances that there will be no nuclear accident are ringing rather hollow right now. I can’t help but wonder if Parliament has been hoodwinked. I wonder if Parliamentarians are feeling the same way. AECL shut itself down. Someone suggested that AECL lied to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), saying that the upgrades (a condition of license renewal) had been completed. CNSC kept it shut down because the upgrades had not been completed. Harper blamed the CNSC for keeping it shut down, grilling Linda Keen in the House as though she was wrong for doing the job she is supposed to do.

So, one of my questions is WTF is Harper up to, besides the obvious partisan stuff? The other is, how do we encourage research into alternatives for nuclear isotopes and begin the move away from what could quickly become a nuclear incident on Canadian soil?

Please chime in!

(Go here and here and here and here and here if you are looking for additional information.)


Harper consults Homer