Posts Tagged ‘Darlington hearings’

Who Knew??

<Jan. 15/11>

Just got the idea to do a bunch of “Who knew??” items. We’ll see where this goes….

  • Who knew I’d develop an addiction to latté – live without it for weeks & weeks at a time while out in the boonies (at “home”), but buy one almost daily while in Toronto? And discover a crazy (& surely unaccountable) price range. The place at the corner of Dundas & McCaul (near the Art Gallery, a handy spot for which I had such high hopes) charged me $5. for one. Sure won’t be darkening their door again!?
  • Who knew that, at the age of 56, I’d sell my dear little house (it really was a dear little house) & become a virtual nomad? Proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that you can indeed teach an old(ish) dog new tricks…
  • Who knew that after more than 20 years as an environmental activist, I’d learn of a new (old) issue & become so fired up about it? (I’m referring of course to the lead issue, my latest issue-to-be-fired up-about.)
  • Who knew that the lead industry would turn out to be as venal & nasty as the nuclear one? & who knew that I spent so many years being so darn naïve that if naivete were an indictable offence, I’d have been thrown in the slammer years ago for my fatal case of it?
  • Who knew that, as it turns out, the lead & nuclear industries have so much in common?
  • Who knew that the wonderful vegetarian restaurant ‘The Commensal’ in Toronto (right near the bus terminal at Bay & Dundas) serves beer?? OMG – I think I’ve died & gone to heaven!!
  • Who knew that microwave popcorn contains a chemical called diacetyl that is used to enhance taste, & that this chemical causes a horrid lung disease to the workers who are exposed to it? Yikes! (Learned this from the book Dodging the Toxic Bullet, mentioned below.)
  • Who could ever have told me that 16 years into a very (perhaps even prize-winningly) civil/civilized divorce, there would still be so darn much pain involved?? Not over the loss of the person so much as over all the other related, inevitable losses, fallout & “collateral damage.” Yikes. Who knew, indeed… (Funny. I wanted to make a joke about this in my remarks at the recent Darlington (new nuclear) hearings. I was tempted to say “We’re talking here about nuclear waste that will be horrifically dangerous/life-threatening for 100s of thousands of years. And I thought the fallout from my divorce was long-lived!?)
  • Who knew how much awesome fun I’d wind up having, & the amazing friendships I’d wind up making, when I began to “follow my bliss” & became an environmental activist & writer?
  • Who knew 20 years ago that “…lake trout in the alpine lakes at Banff National Park in Canada…are loaded with toxic pesticides used in Russia”?? (This from David Suzuki’s foreword to the David R. Boyd book Dodging the Toxic Bullet – How to Protect Yourself from Everyday Environmental Health Hazards.) Yikes. & sheesh, is about all I can say on that score (also, I’m mighty glad about all that work I did as a volunteer to help educate others about pesticide use. That was sure a good call!)
  • Who knew that the author of the Toxic Bullet book just mentioned would wind up with a headache & burning eyes during his “Toxic Tour” of Sarnia, Ontario’s “Chemical Valley”? Again, yikes, & sheesh, & very happy I’m engaged in environmental work. Sure feels a whole lot better than just sitting around expecting it all to stop on its own (or, alternatively, pretending it isn’t happening).
  • Who knew that Canada, so widely regarded as a civilized country (Americans in particular seem to harbour some grand illusion about how good we are up here… & civilized. Ha!), would actually repeatedly earn truly deserved fossil fuel awards. And, like the U.S. & Australia, continue to allow a wildly toxic pesticide (atrazine) to be used (unlike the European Union, which has banned its use). Oh Canada indeed! We of the “corrupt petrostate” designation… The tar sands: our national disgrace & scandal (excellent documentary on it here)
  • Who knew I would come to be sooooooo sadly disillusioned about how “great” Canada is, & how self-interested our governing political party is? (John Kenneth Galbraith’s quote “The modern conservative…is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy. That is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness” springs helpfully to mind here.)
  • Who ever-ever-ever knew that my knee-jerk proclivity to be … natural? … would protect me from so many harms? I’ve never much cared for wearing make-up (turns out most of it is full of toxic stuff) or perfume (chemicals) & have felt like a weirdo anytime I’ve ever put on lipstick. Gave up dry-cleaning eons ago (had heard about perchlorethylene being vastly toxic, not to mention one of the “dirty dozen” we need to studiously avoid); have used clotheslines & a clotheshorse for years (to save money, but it also saves energy & thus helps with the climate change issue) – & it turns out that dryer sheets (which I used to use once upon a time occasionally, but also gave up eons ago when my favourite appliance repairman dude told me they can cause a fire in your dryer) contain dangerous VOCs – volatile organic compounds – & am always too “poor” to spend money on painting & renovations – which, it turns out, can also be a minefield of toxins (go here for how to renovate with care).

Seems as though “modern” life is awfully mighty toxic… so glad I have never felt obliged to “keep up!” (Although of course I do breathe in the same polluted air & drink the same tainted water as everyone else.)


P.S. & finally, who knew that that dysfunctional childhood of mine would wind up giving me so many useful lifelong habits? My not-very-nice father hated the ads on TV with a fierce passion – & was wildly, shall we say frugal – & these influences of his have helped me far more than I can say. Being independent of all those darn ads – & adept at living frugally …well, what can I say? Except a belated thank you to that not-very-nice father for some of his wildly useful & lasting attitudes!!

Quote of the day w. this post: “The single most important contribution any of us can make to the planet is a return to frugality.” – Robert Muller, former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations


06 2011

DARLINGTON Hearings: Final Comments by Dr. Edwards

** Posted with Dr. Edwards’ permission. May 17th was the deadline for all who took part in the recent Darlington hearings to send in final comments. ALL Darlington submissions can be found here (doing sorting on columns & using FIND will help you locate exactly what you are looking for). Lots of blog postings about the Darlington hearings here )

NOTE: These comments are a succinct indictment of nuclear energy, written by a man who is not only technically brilliant & totally understands what he is talking about (unlike many of the people who populate the nuclear industry!) but who is also articulate as heck! Highly recommended reading!!

Final Written Comments on Darlington “New Build” Project

By Gordon Edwards, Ph.D., President – Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

The Radioactive Nub of the Problem

Every nuclear reactor is not only a machine that produces electricity, but one that mass-produces staggering quantities of highly radioactive and/or highly radiotoxic materials that did not exist in nature in measurable amounts prior to the discovery of nuclear fission in 1938.

The fission products, together with the activation products and the transuranic elements that are created inside every operating nuclear reactor, constitute a unique threat to the environment of living things and – under conditions where these materials are released in significant quantities – have the capacity to poison large land areas and large bodies of water, rendering them unsuitable for human use for very long periods of time.

This being so, there should be no more siting of new nuclear reactors on the shores of the Great Lakes or in the neighbourhood of large population centres.To advocate or authorize the building of new nuclear reactors at the Darlington site in 2011, knowing what has happened at Chernobyl and at Fukushima, is not only unwise but could be seen as a crime against future generations. It is certainly contrary to the precautionary principle.

The review panel cannot in good conscience exempt Ontario Power Generation from the responsibility of characterizing the worst possible accident scenario at the proposed new Darlington reactors – partial or complete core meltdowns coupled with partial or complete loss of containment.

To paraphrase the California Energy Resources and Conservation Development Commission, the belief that nuclear power reactors are acceptably safe is based not so much on scientific evidence as on engineering euphoria.(The Commission made a similar statement with regard to the “safe disposal” of irradiated nuclear fuel.)

Nuclear Power is Inherently Dangerous

Around the world, nuclear regulatory agencies are allied with the nuclear industry to work together in a common effort to make nuclear energy an economically viable and “acceptably” safe energy choice.Although they may try to deny it, the fact of the matter is that there is zero tolerance in these organizations for any anti-nuclear attitudes among staff, while pro-nuclear attitudes are considered normal, healthy, and even desirable.Thus there is a strong inherent bias in both the industry and in the regulatory bodies that nuclear energy is fundamentally desirable and safe.

As the President’s Commission on Three Mile Island concluded, however, the number one cause of the TMI accident was the false belief – prevalent among workers and managers alike – that nuclear energy is inherently safe.According to the Presidential Commission, headed by John Kemeny, there will surely be future meltdowns caused by a combination of human error and equipment failure unless this attitude is fundamentally changed.

Workers and managers must see nuclear power as an inherently dangerous technology.But this flies in the face of the industry PR message – aimed at the general population and their elected representatives — that nuclear energy is safe.This is the exact message emblazoned on the cover of the latest Annual Report from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) where one reads:

FACT: Nuclear in Canada is safe.

Such a message from any nuclear regulatory agency anywhere in the world would indicate that that agency is “unfit to regulate” – a term used by the British Columbia Medical Association in Chapter 22 of its publication, “The Health Hazards of Uranium Mining”.

A regulatory agency that does not even draw a distinction between a “fact” and an “opinion” is not worthy of public trust.Such an agency has chosen to act as a public relations arm of the industry rather than as an agency that seeks to enlighten the public about the very real dangers associated with nuclear power – dangers which make the existence of a federal regulatory agency necessary in the first place.

Meltdowns are Inevitable if Cooling is Inadequate

It is a fact that any nuclear power reactor currently operating will undergo a core meltdown if deprived of adequate cooling for a long enough period of time.The reason for this is that the radioactivity created by the fission process during normal operation generates about seven percent of full-power heat.For a 1000 (electric) megawatt reactor, the heat output is about 3000 (heat) megawatts.Thus, immediately after shutdown, the radioactivity in the core of the reactor continues to generate about 200 megawatts of heat – more than enough to melt the core of the reactor at a temperature of about 2800 degrees Celsius.

The essential point is that this radioactivity cannot be shut off.Thus the “decay heat” produced by the enormous inventory of radioactive poisons in the core of the reactor is literally unstoppable.As more heat is added, the temperature rises higher and higher, and the only way core-damaging temperatures can be prevented is by removing the heat just as rapidly as it is being produced.With a complete loss of on-site and off-site electrical power, thus becomes impossible.Such a circumstance, while unlikely, can be brought about by a variety of abnormal conditions, ranging from natural disaster, to acts of warfare, to deliberate sabotage, to devastating fires in the electrical systems of the reactor, to simple mechanical failures with or without human error.

Even before fuel melting begins, the cladding will begin melting at about 1200 degrees Celsius, as zirconium metal (Zr) combines with steam (H2O) in a strongly exothermic (heat-generating) reaction to produce zirconium oxide (ZrO2) and large quantities of hydrogen gas that can result in powerful explosions.

This is all very basic science, yet none of it is communicated to the public or to their elected representatives by the regulatory agency or by the proponent in language that can be easily understood by the lay person.

To withhold this information is an act of intellectual dishonesty that is unconscionable, and the panel should not accept this as permissible behaviour on the part of the proponent or the regulator.

Misuse of Mathematics Leads to Self-Deception

Nuclear proponents and regulators often rely on a technique called “probabilistic safety analysis” in order to persuade themselves and others that certain accidents — the very accidents that would make nuclear power completely unacceptable – do not need to be considered because they are so unlikely to occur.

While probabilistic safety analysis is a useful technique for comparing competing mechanical or electronic designs, or for assisting engineers to appreciate sequences of events (mechanical failures) that could have major undesirable consequences, it is entirely unscientific and a misuse of mathematics to use this technique to assert that certain types of reactor accidents are so unlikely to occur that their consequences need not be considered.

Anyone who studies probability theory knows that an event that cannot be imagined ahead of time cannot be given any probability at all.Thus the probability of such an event is, to the analyst, “ZERO”.

Probability theory begins by creating a real or imaginary list of all possible outcomes that can be foreseen.This is called the Sample Space.Then the analyst assigns probabilities to each outcome by estimating its expected frequency of occurrence, based on a number of mathematical assumptions that are sometimes (but not always) rooted in experience.

No one denies that this is a useful exercise.However, in actual fact, the probability of almost all nuclear accidents that have so far occurred is in fact ZERO, because none of them were foreseen as possible outcomes by any of the people who carried out the safety analysis initially.

Did anyone foresee the possibility of Fukushima Dai-ichi units 1, 2, and 3, suffering core damage simultaneously?Did anyone foresee the chain of events that led to the fires in the spent fuel bay of unit 4?I think not.

Even if such outcomes had been analyzed in advance, the real probability of that particular outcome is dominated by the probability of the earthquake and tsunami that precipitated the outcome, and that probability is incalculable by any reliable scientific method available to us.

Simple Prudence Dictates….

Arrogance is inappropriate, even criminal, in the face of such incipient dangers.Science and engineering are powerful and useful tools, but they are no substitute for common sense.Just as many people around the world are asking themselves, “Why would the Japanese site nuclear reactors so close to an earthquake zone?”, our grandchildren may well be asking themselves, “Why would our forebears site nuclear reactors so close to the most precious body of freshwater in North America, and perhaps in the entire world?”

Simple prudence, coupled with a sense of responsible humility, should tell us that it is folly to continue to site nuclear reactors which are CAPABLE of undergoing such terrible meltdown scenarios, on the Great Lakes or near large population centres.In fact an enormous portion of the entire North American population lives within the “striking distance” of a potential nuclear catastrophe on either side of the border.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry

We urge the panel to recommend that the government of Canada launch a pan-Canadian Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Future of Nuclear Power in Canada.We urge the panel also to recommend that all licensing of new nuclear reactor facilities be suspended until the Commission has completed its work.We further urge the panel to recommend that no new nuclear reactors be sited on the shores of the Great Lakes unless it can be proven beyond any doubt that a catastrophic release of radioactive fission products is physically impossible.

It is time to stop hiding the truth about the dangers of nuclear power from the Canadian population and from their elected representatives.A Royal Commission of Inquiry will allow the facts to be made public – facts about both the benefits and the hazards of this technology.On the basis of a clear understanding of those facts, Canadian citizens and their elected representatives will be enabled for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age to make an informed choice about the future of this heavily-subsidized energy option.

Note from Janet: Please visit the Web site of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility to find TONS of good information about everything nuclear!



05 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole (with books)

Well. There are rabbit holes, & there are rabbit holes…hmmm?

I always say attending a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) hearing is like going down a rabbit hole.(1) (I’ve told the CNSC tribunal about this sensation of mine on at least 2 fairly recent occasions – most recent one here).

To a degree, I feel as though I’ve been down a RH ever since the second week of March, when I went to Ottawa to watch the RNNR Committee (Canadian federal parliamentary committee on Natural Resources) talk about the 16 radioactive steam generators Bruce Power proposes to ship through the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Seaway & Atlantic Ocean, over to Studsvik, Sweden for what they are calling “recycling.” (It’s really not recycling, it’s reprocessing of dangerous nuclear wastes & ensuring they will wind up in the global scrap metal supply; can we all just say “No thanks!!”??) Those hearings were on March 8th & 10th, & then, in the morning of March 11th, I & all of us, I guess, woke to the news of the earthquake & tsunami in Japan. Straight from one nuclear craziness (monstrosity??) to another.

& then the Darlington hearings, starting March 21st, about which I’ve blogged plenty.

When the Darlington hearings finally came to an end, I’d begun to feel utterly depleted. Almost zero energy, & very low spirits.

Then I went down another kind of RH, with NO energy at all, & apparently some kind of stomach “bug.” So I went into a little hidey-hole for a couple days there & read books, books, books! Hooey, how I do love books!

I read Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom – which I found slow going for the first 200 or so pages. Asked myself “Why am I reading this??” – but I was reading it because a) I’d so loved his novel The Corrections & b) I was in that hidey-hole & wanted to read, man! & then finally c) about 200 pages in, he finally grabbed me by the throat & never let go. OMG can this man write! And nail all the various & sundry nastinesses of our sick “culture” (using that term very loosely). Venal politicians. Rapacious corporations. Greedy & deluded & endlessly-consuming citizens. Mixed-up, busted-up, confused families. You name it, he nailed it. This book was not exactly a relaxing read, but if you want to get a really accurate diagnosis of just how sick everything is in our so-called civilization, you could sure do a whole lot worse!

Then I read the novel Thirteen Moons, by Charles Frazier (author of Cold Mountain, which I read half a lifetime ago, or I guess it only feels like that, & liked very much indeed). If I was looking for “light” reading, this wasn’t it either. This tale of one man’s lifetime, in the 18 & 1900s, encompasses some of the horrors of the Americans’ treatment of Indians (or First Nations people, as we now say in Canada) in the U.S. – the long history of corrupt American politics – & right up to early 20thcentury rape of the wilderness he’d so loved. If I’d harboured any illusions about politics ever having been “clean,” (& I did, I did; my naivete or perhaps ignorance has been boundless & maybe inexcusable, even), this book dashed them. So well, though – so skilfully.

For a little lighter reading, I turned to Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman – because as it happens, I have neck issues of my own. Figured I might as well laugh about it! (It’s that or cry, & I seem to be crying a little bit often lately as it is, thanks). A delight! Clever, witty, very informative about living life in the Big Apple, about which I know very little indeed…& more than enough, as it turned out, to make me feel very, very grateful to be an impoverished backwoods hoser Canadian who feels not the slightest compunction about not waxing, or dyeing, or having regular manicures or pedicures (or heck, any manicures or pedicures) & yet being often enough a pretty contented woman all the same. I knew there had to be a pay-off for not being Rich & Famous & Living in New York! I do thank Ms. Ephron for the many good chuckles, & especially for the helpful commiseration about necks!!!! (Anyone under the age of 50 reading this will probably not know what the heck I’m talking about, & hey…lucky you! Enjoy it while it lasts!!)

Finally, then, to the John Grisham novel The Confession. Another light topic. Not. A fabulous page-turner by a master of the page-turner. Well rendered story of an innocent man on death row, falsely convicted & sentenced to death, & the utterly sick & corrupt legal system in a pukey Texas town that was responsible for his wrongful conviction, sentence & imprisonment. I won’t spoil the plot, but I sure do recommend this book for its terrifying glimpse into very deeply sick goings-on in the American “justice” system, Southern style…

If anything, all this reading brought me back full circle to the inevitability of continuing to be an activist.

What are we left with in this weird & utterly unprecedented time, but our voices…our convictions…our ability to put our asses into the breach & DO SOMETHING????

There is strength in numbers. I’m not sure there is really any other kind of strength.(2)

Okay, so, now, back to Reality: Right now we’re well into a federal election campaign in Canada. We’re being given the opportunity to trounce our right-wing, corporate agenda-driven & -promoting government & bring in politicians with some dignity & class & actual concern for “regular” people. (I will vote Green Party, & for sure, until election day on May 2nd, I will be exhorting everyone to for Goddess’s sake VOTE!! Remember the people of Egypt & Libya, many of whom would very likely give a treasured limb to have a political system with all the freedoms & choices & privileges ours does! Including the right to CHOOSE our leaders, yes?? Provided we are not so godawfully lazy & apathetic as to not exercise our privilege & responsibility to VOTE. Sheesh, already.)(3)

And also, DONATE. To help the people of Japan who are dealing with such unspeakable, unimaginable, horrendous & long-lived-for-all-the-rest-of-their-lives tragedy. Here is a helpful site to help you choose an organization to donate through (scroll down to find the list).


P.S. Lately I keep thinking that it seems almost as though an awful lot of us human beings are really not human beings at all. More like some kind of sick robot, infected with a variety of nasty viruses that make us selfish & greedy & grasping & corrupt & quite unable to see that these are unprecedented times, & that these unprecedented times call for unprecedented … bravery, flexibility, unselfishness, effort, energy, generosity, compassion, activism, actions, and…oh, responsibility, caring…you get my drift, hmm? (Another way of putting it might be that it’s a time to yank our heads out of our own backsides & DO something. Don’tcha think??)

P.P.S. I recall someone once saying in a letter to the editor (which paper & when? No idea!!) “Let us collect our wisdom rather than pooling our ignorance.” Amen to that, I say.

(1) This is a reference to the story Alice in Wonderland, which perhaps not all readers know. Main character Alice follows a rabbit, falls down a rabbit hole & has a series of crazy adventures involving growing smaller & larger (a couple of times), a grinning Cheshire Cat, a Mad Hatter & his mad tea-party, Tweedledum & Tweedledee, a homicidal Queen of Hearts who goes around shouting “Off with their heads!” & no doubt sundry other characters I am forgetting to mention.

(2) The image that comes to me often lately is that of a beehive. Lots of worker bees, all of whose efforts are valuable & necessary.

(3) In the last federal election, fully 41% of eligible voters did not vote. Shameful! One of my favourite quotations: “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.” – George Jean Nathan, 1882-1958



04 2011