Canadian nuclear society sheridan park branch march 17 2004
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Canadian Nuclear Society Sheridan Park Branch March 17, 2004. What to do with used CANDU fuel? Is it really waste? Jerry M. Cuttler Cuttler & Associates Inc. Mississauga, ON Canada. Background to Nuclear Fuel Waste Act. Environmentalists created “issue of used fuel”

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Canadian Nuclear Society Sheridan Park Branch March 17, 2004

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Canadian nuclear society sheridan park branch march 17 2004

Canadian Nuclear SocietySheridan Park BranchMarch 17, 2004

What to do with used CANDU fuel? Is it really waste?

Jerry M. Cuttler

Cuttler & Associates Inc.

Mississauga, ON Canada

Background to nuclear fuel waste act

Background to Nuclear Fuel Waste Act

  • Environmentalists created “issue of used fuel”

  • Don’t build/refurbish nuclear plants until “the problem of used fuel" is solved – a “burden” of radioactive waste for future generations

  • It’s really strategy for “nuclear phase-out”

  • We accepted the concept of this anti-nuclear “problem”, and we fell into their trap

  • Seaborn Environmental Assessment Panel ‘98 agreed AECL demonstrated deep geological disposal solution is “technically acceptable”

  • New requirement: Show “socially acceptable”

The nuclear fuel waste act

The Nuclear Fuel Waste Act

  • We did not solve “the (social) problem”

  • So in Nov 2002, Government of Canada enacted Nuclear Fuel Waste Act

  • To provide a framework that will enable Governor in Council, on advice of Minister of Natural Resources, to make a decision on the management of nuclear fuel waste that is based on a comprehensive, integrated and economically sound approach for Canada.

Nuclear fuel waste act cont d

Nuclear Fuel Waste Act (cont’d)

  • The Act defines “nuclear fuel waste” as irradiated fuel removed from a commercial or research nuclear fission reactor

  • The Act compels corporations who produce the waste to create and fully fund a not-for-profit corporation (NWMO) to study and propose to Government approaches for the management of used nuclear fuel, and to implement the approach that Govt. selects

Nuclear waste management organization nwmo

Nuclear Waste ManagementOrganization (NWMO)

  • Mission: to develop collaboratively with Canadians a management approach for the long-term care of Canada’s used nuclear fuel that is socially acceptable, technically sound, environmentally responsible and economically feasible

  • Web

  • Office address: 49 Jackes Ave. Toronto

Nwmo to engage with canadians

NWMO to engage with Canadians

  • Undertake research and reflection that will lead to recommendations on how Canada should proceed with managing used fuel over long term

  • Must submit study by Nov 15, 2005 setting out:

    • Proposed approaches with comments of advisors

    • Recommendations on which approach to adopt

  • Each of following methods must be considered:

    • Deep geological disposal in Canadian Shield

    • Storage at nuclear reactor site

    • Centralized storage, either above or below ground

Nwmo study

NWMO Study

  • For each approach, the Act requires:

    • detailed technical description, specify an economic region (not site) for implementation

    • A comparison of benefits, risks and costs with those of the other approaches, taking into account economic region, as well as the ethical, social and economic considerations

    • An implementation plan: activities description; timetable; means to minimize socio-economic effects on community’s way of life or its social, cultural or economic aspirations; program for public consultation

3 nwmo discussion documents

3 NWMO Discussion Documents

  • DD1: “Asking the Right Questions?”

    • Issued Nov 2003 to invite public comment on the issues to be raised and the questions to be asked by NWMO on different approaches

  • DD2: to be issued in 2004 to share early results of NWMO assessment of approaches

  • DD3: to be issued in 2005 to present NWMO draft recommendations and implementation plans for further public comment and advice

Are you interested

Are you interested?

  • You should be

  • Future of all nuclear technologies is tied up in resolving this environmental waste issue

  • Visit web site, read submissions, provide input

  • Americans spending many billions of dollars

  • A ‘meal ticket’ for geologists, safety analysts, project managers, lawyers, environmentalists, social activists, studies, conferences, etc.

  • They have an interest to keep it going forever

My submission on nwmo web site

My Submission on NWMO web site

  • We entered atomic age ~60 years ago

  • Peaceful applications started in 1953

  • Electricity generation common; 440 reactors

  • Keep hazards in perspective, other fuels are very dangerous too (propane, LNG, etc.)

  • Used fuel concern about potential exposures to very low dose rate radiation from gradual leakage of small amounts of radioactivity after centuries of storage or disposal

Hazards due to low doses of radiation are grossly exaggerated

Hazards due to low doses of radiation are grossly exaggerated

  • Excess congenital malformations?

  • Excess cancer deaths?

  • There is no scientific basis for any of this!

  • Low radiation doses are actually beneficial!

  • The incidences of congenital malformations and cancer mortality are lower!

  • Why special the attention for nuclear waste?

Dd1 has questionable assumptions

DD1 has questionable assumptions

  • Used CANDU fuel is not “nuclear waste”

  • Only 1% fissioned, remaining 99% is for our grandchildren to fission using advanced reactors when mined uranium is scarce

  • Used fuel is enormous energy resource for many future generations of Canadians

  • Store it at existing or new nuclear sites

  • Redefine waste as the residue after recycling

My recommendations

My recommendations

  • Don’t be naïve about capabilities of future generations; think of what grandfathers knew

  • Don’t use precious funds and energy to bury used fuel in granite (a recovery burden)

  • Use NWMO funds for R&D on technologies to recycle fuel and isolate the real waste

  • Recycling cost to be covered by energy sales

  • R&D programs ⇒ positive socio-economic effects on communities hosting the programs

We have been creating negative images of nuclear technologies

We have been creating negative images of nuclear technologies

  • The ALARA requirement reinforces the radiation scare:

    • “Any amount of radiation is dangerous!”

    • “We need to improve nuclear safety.”

  • Nuclear safety is good enough

  • Public is making adverse judgments about the acceptability of all nuclear technologies

  • Pogo: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Complex ethical policy issues

Complex ethical policy issues?

  • Policy issues not complex or difficult

  • Just present the facts; identify stakeholders; identify the myths; compare real benefits vs potential hazards people are concerned about

  • Risks of radiation has been greatly exaggerated

  • Low doses are actually beneficial

  • Potential exposures many orders of magnitude below threshold of harmful effects

Complex policy issues cont d

Complex policy issues (cont’d)

  • Number of bundles large, but this is not a storage problem because volume is small

  • One bundle ⇒ home’s electricity for ~100 y

  • Compare with volume of fossil fuel burned and the products released to environment

  • Don’t label AECL and CANDU owners as “nuclear waste producers”

  • Fossil fuel burning releases radioactivity to the environment; CANDU owners store it

Complex policy issues cont d1

Complex policy issues (cont’d)

  • NWMO should identify all the stakeholders in the used fuel management debate:

    • Organizations advocating nuclear phase-out

    • Those advocating extreme conservation

    • Those advocating competing technologies, etc.

  • Their concerns create barriers to our access to enormous supply of low-cost, pollution-free energy

  • We need to separate the myths from the facts; the ideology from the science

Timetable for proposed approach

Timetable for proposed approach

  • No great urgency to recycle fuel in Canada

  • Transfer Pickering fuel containers to Bruce; new site of advanced fuel recycling reactor

  • Need publicly accepted solution now to answer questions raised by stakeholders, to remove barrier to Canada’s nuclear program

  • Need to answer public’s radiation concerns

  • Need to point out that LNTH is invalid

  • Additional exposures from radioactive waste will be well below harmful level; no issue!

Evolution of radiation protection

Evolution of radiation protection

  • Early on:

    • Beneficial effects after low doses

    • Harmful effects after high doses

    • Protection based on safe limits

  • In 1950s:

    • Threshold concept rejected by ICRP

    • Adopted concept of cancer and genetic risk kept small in comparison with other hazards using atom bomb survivor excess cancer mortality data - linear extrapolation from high dose to low dose

Is linear no threshold hypothesis valid

Is linear no-threshold hypothesis valid?

  • No human data supports excess cancer deaths for acute doses below 0.1 Gy (or 10 rad)

  • In 0.1 to 0.5 Gy range, effects are debatable

  • Chronic exposure to 70 Gy/y occur in nature

  • Human data in low dose range contradicts LNTH predictions – beneficial health effects are observed: less cancer; less genetic effects

  • French Academy Sciences, HPS, ANS reject



“The tragedy of science is the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.”

Huxley TH (1825-95), “Collected Essays 1893-94 Biogenesis and Abiogenesis.”

Why were the beneficial effects ignored

Why were the beneficial effects ignored?

Concerns about research on low doses

Concerns about research on low doses

  • Apparent political and/or economic agendas

  • Junk science

  • Research programs focus on adverse effects at high dose and extrapolation to low dose

  • Observations of beneficial effects seem to be ignored or suppressed

  • Experiments do not seem to be designed to observe beneficial health effects

Alternate biological model

Alternate biological model

  • Oxidative DNA damage occurs naturally to cells at a very high rate

  • Survival depends on very capable damage-control biosystem that prevents, repairs or removes DNA alterations

  • DNA alterations not removed → mutations

  • Very small fraction of mutations → cancers

Effect of radiation on damage control

Effect of radiation on damage control

  • High doses decrease biosystem activity resulting in higher cancer incidence

  • Low doses stimulate biosystem activity resulting in lower cancer incidence

  • Low doses stimulate the immune system to attack and destroy metastases

  • Chronic exposure reduces both cancer mortality and incidence of genetic defects

  • Biphasic response called radiation hormesis

Radiation hormesis

Radiation Hormesis

An adaptive response of biological organisms to low level radiation stress or damage – a modest overcompensation to a disruption, resulting in improved fitness

“The hormetic model is not the exception to the rule – it is the rule.”

Dose response curve chronic exposure t d luckey radiation hormesis crc 1991 fig 9 1

Dose-response curve – chronic exposureT.D. Luckey, Radiation Hormesis, CRC 1991, Fig. 9.1

Hypothesis i 131 causes thyroid cancer mortality

Hypothesis: I-131 causes thyroid cancer mortality

  • Is it true? To determine the truth of this hypothesis, it must be tested.

  • Franklyn JA et al did a population-based cohort study of cancer incidence and mortality after radioiodine treatment for hyperthyroidism. (Published in The Lancet 353:2111-2115, June 19, 1999)

  • Method: Compared cancer incidence and death, 1971-1991, of cohort of 7417 hyperthyroidism patients, Birmingham UK, I-131 treated 1950-1991, with data for England and Wales specific for age, sex and period.

  • Results: During 72,073 person-years of follow-up

  • 634 cancer diagnoses vs 761 expected  SIR = 0.83 [95% CI = 0.77 - 0.90]

  • 448 cancer deaths vs 499 expected  SMR = 0.90 [95% CI = 0.82 – 0.98]

  • Thyroid cancer: 9 diagnoses (2 - 8 expected); 5 deaths (1 - 8 expected)

  • No discussion about examinations for occult thyroid cancers

I 131 causes thyroid cancer mortality cont d

I-131 causes thyroid cancer mortality (cont’d)?

  • Assumption: Hyperthyroidism is not related to cancer.

  • Total I-131 dose: mean = 308 MBq;SD = 232 MBq

  • Radiation dose for 300 MBq*= 50,000 rad to thyroid gland

    = 28 rad to whole body

  • Conclusions:

    The hypothesis that I-131 causes thyroid cancer mortality is not true.

    It seems that radioiodine treatment for hyperthyroidism decreases overall cancer incidence and mortality.


    * Eisenbud M, “Environmental Radioactivity”, 2nd Edition, Academic Press, NY 1973, pp 421-425

What about the chernobyl disaster

What about the Chernobyl disaster?

  • Worst imaginable nuclear accident

  • 40% of the reactor core expelled

  • Most of the radioactivity released

  • Nearby population evacuated

  • Their average dose = 0.015 Gy or 1.5 rad

  • 1800 cases operable thyroid cancer, possibly spontaneous occult thyroid cancer (dormant)

  • No excess leukemia or other cancers

Real hazards of chernobyl

Real hazards of Chernobyl

  • Psychological stress due to fear of potential health consequences that were predicted (but did not happen)

  • Permanent relocations were very stressful

  • Strong social and political reactions

  • Severe economic consequences for Ukraine

  • World nuclear industry damaged



“You can fool some of the people all of the time,

And all of the people some of the time,

But you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) - attributed

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