Monday, December 6, 2010

I Commented at Canada needs its nuclear industry in The Mark:

In the electricity industry, worldwide, there will be some important future players, coal, oil and nuclear. Renewables are right now a tiny pittance, and will likely remain so for many decades.

Selling AECL will ensure that Canada is industrially dependent to a growing energy sector built near solely upon carbon intensive sources.

It will also tie its international energy policy to the west, exclusively.

Much Industry in Ontario would also be tied to supporting this Western industry.

It is bad for Ontario, bad for Canada, but good for the Conservatives to see Ontario Industrially Emasculated in the energy sector, with its fate tied to Alberta.

Some people see the Alberta oil interests behind the Conservatives energy policies. But I don't think this is so much the case! With a world wide market in oil for transportion fuels, nuclear based electricity generation is no threat to Alberta's oil companies.

Canada can have both a strong and growing oil and gas industry, and a nuclear industry! But the Conservatives cannot, politically, stomach a strong Ontario centered Nuclear industry in what will be a growing worldwide market for low Carbon electricity.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ontario's Hopeful Future?

Steve Aplin has written one of his better posts:
Trends vs Snapshots: Does Ontario Need More or Less Electricity.

Naturally, it is really about the future. Canadians have a rare opportunity among nations: we have a huge stake in shaping the future of the world itself. There are few nations as educated, industrialized, and democratized as Canada. It is a privilege, but also a responsibility we cannot set aside out of fear, disinterest or a desire to disengage.

Ontario, like everywhere else on Earth, is, hopefully, going to need more electricity.
a) More electric cars and rails.
b) Increased reprocessing of worn out goods and waste, to recover scarce elements and reduce our reliance on over-burdened natural systems to deal with garbage and pollution, and nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon cycles.
c) Increased mining, as the future portends coming scarcity and increased demand.
d) Carbon capture and storage (if the federal government is being serious when it says it will happen): it takes huge amounts of energy to compress, ship and sequester carbon.
e) Moving further away from combustion based space heating to electricity.
f) Increase in manufacturing. Because society will want to advance in its well-being, and the systems of the future which would allow advancement of human well-being, without unduly harming the environment, will be highly engineered and energy intensive.

We will want more integration and influence with the rest of the world. I am sure Canadians think their shared values of democracy, environmental protection, respect for science and logic, education, a large degree of economic equality, and compassion are worthwhile gifts to the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, were not on a path right now that leads to a hopeful future. There is no political champion for it.

Our current path (one being paralleled by many advanced industrial countries) is unmistakenly one of retrenchment and disingagement with the rest of the world, especially in the hardest problems: environment, climate, scientific and cultural engagement, social development and health, and workers' rights. Instead we are seen (maybe rightly) to have the overaching economic goal of selling more oil to the world, with much of the rest of our engagement being driven by petty domestic politics.

Greenpeace, among other similar groups, has their own vision of the future. I guess it might work, but few people in this country, let alone a vast majority, let alone the rest of the world, would willingly give up the comforts and necessities (or even many of the indulgent stupidities!) supplied by our present society to live in a soft-path-energy society. The good, idealized world of the 1760's, with a few useful pieces of the subsequent scientific enlightenment tacked on. A soft-path world will be a parochial world, by design. What it offers will not much interest anyone outside Canada, especially in the developing world, who yearn for our present standard of living. A standard of living which requires levels of energy and consumption of resources, from all over the world, that too many people simply do not wish to consider in formulating "domestic" energy policies, or understand as inextricably linked to our other cultural values I mentioned above - values by which we wish to be known and to spread through the world.

Aside from Greenpeace - who despite my criticisms, do have their hearts in the right place, and at least publicly engage in some thought towards the future - do the Conservatives and Liberals have a vision of the future? It is unarticulated: enough said: you're living in it now.

Friday, August 27, 2010

montreal gazette on abandonment in Canada of all things nuclear

Appeared August 25 2010

Medical isotopes are a $4-billion-a-year market worldwide. Until the spring of 2009 Canada produced enough of these radioactive materials to meet 30 per cent of global demand; some 27 million people a year were diagnosed or treated with the help of technetium-99 and other products from the reactor at Chalk River, Ont.

But then, 15 months ago, the Chalk River reactor had to be shut down for repairs. News last week that it's back in operation was welcome, except that the facility is an antique and is slated to stop production forever in 2016. Unfortunately, the whole nuclear industry in Canada seems to be going the same way, or at best stagnating under Ottawa's disdain.

In the time Chalk River was closed the number of diagnostic tests performed in this country fell by 26 per cent, according to the Canadian Association of Nuclear Medicine. No doubt some of those tests would have been unnecessary, but the decline might also lead to more and worse cases of cancer and cardiovascular disease, since the isotopes are vital to certain forms of detection and treatment.

Last December the expert panel that Ottawa had set up to study the future of the medical-isotopes industry in this country reported that a new multi-use reactor would be the best way to assure a sustainable supply of medical isotopes. But in the spring Ottawa rejected that as too costly; at least $500 million to build, plus maybe $50 million a year to run. It was an ignominious retreat from exactly the kind of hi-tech industry everyone always says Canada needs.

Adding insult to injury, the federal government put up $35 million in seed money to encourage private-sector development of new cyclotron technology, in theory a way of producing isotopes without a reactor. We'll admit that science-fiction concepts do sometimes come true, but we can't see this as a sound basis for policy.

What's happening on isotopes reflects the moribund state of the whole nuclear-power industry. The 1950s reactor-industry daydream of "power too cheap to meter" has given way to soaring costs and great public anxiety. This industry certainly has plenty of problems. But power reactors will plainly have to be part of the solution to the greenhouse-gas emission problem. Reactor design is improving steadily. This industry is, we believe, in the first phase of a global rebirth.

However, entry costs are enormous, which is why government must play a role. But the federal government, which through Atomic Energy Limited of Canada has long set the pace in this industry in this country, is backing away, not only on isotopes but on the future of AECL and its CANDU reactors as well. Ottawa is trying to sell part of AECL, a move which has caused damaging uncertainty: Hydro-Quebec has deferred some refurbishment work at Gentilly-2. Uncertainty about AECL's future led Ontario to delay plans for a new reactor project. Ottawa has refused to help pay refurbishment-cost overruns at New Brunswick's Point Lepreau plant. You get the picture.

Ottawa's evident determination to back away from all things nuclear is a sadly shortsighted approach.

Read more:

Monday, June 14, 2010

the star: Ottawa fails to lead on isotopes

toronto star: expert opinion- ottawa fails to lead on isotopes

Jatin Nathwani
Donald Wallace

In 2007 Canada and the world were thrust into a major medical crisis in a remarkably short period of time. Unbeknownst to most Canadians, our nation was the world’s leading supplier of medical isotopes and the source of those isotopes — the National Research Universal reactor at Chalk River, operated by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. — had been ordered shut down by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

The nuclear medicine community quickly made politicians aware of the repercussions of this action. With more than 1 million medical procedures using isotopes each year in Canada, they were listened to. In an extraordinary series of events, legislation was introduced in the Commons to overrule the safety commission, witnesses were heard on the floor of the chamber and a bill was passed with all-party support in a single day. The NRU reactor was restarted within a week. A month later, the government fired the head of the safety commission, Linda Keen.

Much has happened since December 2007. If anything, the crisis has only deepened. The NRU reactor functioned reasonably well between December 2007 and May 2009, when it was again shut down automatically by a power outage. A leak of heavy water was subsequently discovered and the reactor has been out of action ever since. Despite many promises by AECL, the restart date has been pushed back again and again.

To make matters much worse, a Dutch reactor that also supplies isotopes was shut down for maintenance in February for six months. These two reactors had supplied two-thirds of the world’s medical isotopes.

Last year was especially eventful on the isotope front. In June 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Canada was getting out of the isotopes business altogether, abandoning a 60-year history of global leadership. Then natural resources minister Lisa Raitt was caught on tape saying that the isotope issue was “sexy . . . radioactive leaks . . . cancer.” The minister’s musings to an aide aside, she also commissioned an expert panel to look at the isotopes issue; it reported late last year.

Among its recommendations, the expert panel emphasized the need for Canada to:

* Diversify all aspects of the isotope supply chain to prevent the disastrous consequences we’ve seen.
* Construct a new multi-purpose research reactor that would also produce isotopes.
* Re-examine the decision by AECL two year ago to cancel the replacement program for the NRU.
* Support research and development for non-reactor-based sources of isotopes.
* Promote greater use of isotopes in medical imaging.

The Harper government’s response to the panel came at the end of March and in the federal budget. Most significantly, the government chose a path that fails to deliver a reasonable degree of certainty to the supply of isotopes.

The government’s decision to ignore the pivotal recommendation concerning a new multi-purpose reactor should be deeply troubling to all Canadians. A brave recommendation that would put us on a sustainable path to a robust supply was pushed aside. The modest financial support in the budget will go instead to the search for alternative isotope sources, an approach that remains unproven. Cleverly disguised as support for innovation in the cyclotron option, the government strategy lacks a coherent long-term vision required to move us away from week-to-week crisis management.

Canada has lurched from crisis to crisis over the past three years. Equipment failures in old reactors are a real problem but equally the absence of a coherent long-term strategy has left its mark. We have also learned that the international community has failed to work together to chart a way forward. But today, despite this painful awareness, we are in a worse place than we were in December 2007. The world’s two major isotope-producing reactors — one of them Canadian — are out of action.

This issue is really about ensuring the best health care for Canadians and pursuing cutting-edge research to assist this worthy goal. We’re good at the isotopes business, actually very good. The expert panel issued a challenge to the federal government to lead. Leadership requires courage and a coherent view of the future that integrates the demands of the health-care system with the promise of a robust supply of isotopes.

Other countries have made isotopes a key priority, including the Dutch, the Belgians, the South Africans and the Australians. If they can take bold actions, why won’t Canada?

Jatin Nathwani is professor and Ontario Research Chair in Public Policy for Sustainable Energy at the University of Waterloo. Donald Wallace is a Toronto-based consultant. They are editors of Canada’s Isotope Crisis: What’s Next? published by McGill-Queen’s University Press and the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University.

isotope plan shortsighted say experts: montreal gazette

OTTAWA — The global medical isotope shortage, prompted by the shutdown of Canada’s main nuclear reactor, has dragged on for more than a year now but, rather than dwelling on the difficulties, some nuclear-medicine experts are concerned about the future, and the direction the federal government is taking Canada on the isotope file.

The National Research Universal reactor in Chalk River, Ont., which produces 30 to 40 per cent of the global supply of the most commonly used isotope, was shut down in May 2009 because of a leak. The complex repairs to the 50-year-old reactor are expected to be complete by midsummer — and it can’t come back online soon enough for health-care professionals.

For the past year, they’ve been using alternative medical procedures and juggling appointments for patients, trying to keep waiting lists short. Isotopes, which are used in diagnostic imaging and in cancer treatments, must be used within hours of arriving at a facility because of the radioactive material they contain.

Canada has been relying on imports from the handful of other countries that have reactors, and that’s meant an unsteady supply chain that can easily be disrupted, say by a volcanic ash cloud that wreaks havoc on air transportation.

Dr. Doug Abrams, head of the Canadian Society of Nuclear Medicine, said his field is used to occasional supply disruptions but has never dealt with an extended shortage like this before.

“I think the people on the ground have done a wonderful job,” he said.

The burden of an isotope shortage falls heaviest on the provinces, who deliver health-care, and the frontline workers, but Health Canada was useful in co-ordinating the sharing of information about supplies between jurisdictions, for example, and providing regular updates, said Abrams.

In the coming months, there will likely be quarrels over financial compensation. The federal government is responsible for securing a stable isotope supply for the provinces, and in the absence of that supply, the provinces have had to dig deep in their pockets to cover the costs of importing them, and the increased cost of the isotopes themselves.

Prices jumped worldwide because of the limited supply and they are expected to continue to climb for the foreseeable future.

What the future holds is a cause of some concern to Abrams and others, including Dr. Eric Turcotte, a nuclear-medicine specialist who heads the Molecular Imaging Centre of Sherbrooke in Quebec.

Turcotte was a member of the expert panel appointed by the federal government exactly one year ago this week to advise it on the best options for assuring the country of a stable supply of isotopes.

“I think that the government did a good job in the short-term to help the crisis,” Turcotte said. “My concern is more in the medium and long-term. Are we going in a good direction?”

Building a new reactor to replace the current aging one, which will likely be shut down for good in 2016, was considered the best option by the panel.

The government, however, isn’t going that route and recently announced that $35 million is up for grabs over the next two years for companies developing new sources of isotopes that don’t involve a nuclear reactor.

“All members of the panel were a bit disappointed with the decision of the government,” said Turcotte.

The panel does support developing new technologies, but not to be the primary source of isotopes, he said.

Canada did build replacements for the reactor in Chalk River, but those reactors sit idle because of a string of technical and other problems. They were never licensed to operate and the project was scrapped for good in 2008 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“Canada has some of the greatest minds in the world and we are giving them the tools they need to diversify our sources of medical isotopes and reduce the production of radioactive waste,” Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis said in a statement to Canwest News Service explaining the government’s decision.

“Simply replacing the NRU would not develop the diversity and redundancy that the panel believed were necessary for security of supply.”

Paradis said the estimated $1 billion cost of a new reactor would be an “irresponsible” investment.

So now, millions of dollars will go into developing what are known as accelerator technologies. Turcotte is worried that after a year or two of work they may not prove to be commercially viable sources of isotopes and Canada will be back at Square 1 with no solid plan for isotope production post-2016.

The Harper government has said it wants out of the reactor business but if there was a change of heart, or, a change in government and a subsequent policy reversal, a new reactor would take at least five years to build.

“We are going against the clock. . . . We don’t have any time to waste,” said Turcotte.

Abrams, head of the nuclear medicine field in Canada, said there is “a lot of controversy” over the government’s approach and focusing on the new technologies only is running a risk.

“If these don’t prove feasible, we haven’t moved any further in any other direction,” he said.

Read more: montreal gazette: isotope plans short-sighted

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

cbc news: Nuclear researcher critical of decision to not build a new chalk river reactor

Canada should replace the reactor that produces medical isotopes to honour its commitments, U.S.-based nuclear medicine experts say.

On Monday, Dr. Robert Atcher, past president of the Society of Nuclear Medicine, criticized the federal government's decision to scrap the Maple reactors that were meant to replace the National Research Universal Reactor at Chalk River, Ont.

In May 2009, the federal government convened an expert panel to assess proposals for new sources of medical isotopes. Last November, the panel recommended building a multi-purpose research reactor to guarantee supply of medical isotopes, while saying the reactor's other missions, such as scientific research, would help justify the costs.

"The expert panel report actually suggested that there be a replacement for the NRU," Atcher told a news conference at the society's annual meeting in Salt Lake City.

"Lacking the ability the bring the Maples back online, at least commit to doing what their expert panel suggested, and that is to replace NRU and do it in a timetable that would fit with the 2016 deadline that the Canadian government gave for the operations of that reactor."

Atcher called on the federal government to honour its commitment to provide a sustainable, long-term supply of medical isotopes, noting the U.S. put off developing its own isotope-producing reactors based on assurances from the Canadian government and industry.

The federal Conservative government scrapped the Maple project two years ago, saying it was millions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.
Reactor repairs

NRU supplied a third of the world's medical isotopes until Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. shut it down last May after it found a pinprick-sized radioactive water leak.

AECL originally said the reactor would be off line for a month, then three months, then six months. Last week, ACEL said 98 per cent of the weld repairs are complete and it now estimates isotope production will resume "by the end of July."

The remaining repairs are probably the most complex and difficult to do, Atcher said.

In April, the federal government ruled out its expert panel's recommendation to build a new nuclear reactor to produce medical isotopes, saying the cost of $1 billion was too high, it would take too long, and the sale of isotopes would never recover the cost.

The panel had said the NRU replacement would serve not only the isotope production needs for North America, but also supply neutrons for material sciences, fuel development and power reactor production, Atcher said.

A U.S. bill before the Senate encourages creation of domestic manufacturers of isotopes and would phase out the use of highly enriched uranium to meet non-proliferation goals.

Read more:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

An article by Stephen Lewandowsky
What exactly is "balance"? Our society rightly strives for balance, and many issues are deservedly considered by presenting a balanced set of opinions.

There are however clear cases in which the only balance that matters is the balance of evidence rather than of opinion: Serial killer Ivan Milat's protestations of innocence should not — and did not — balance the evidence arrayed against him. The desire to cure AIDS with garlic and beetroot does not balance the medical consensus that the disease is caused by HIV and can only be beaten by retroviral drugs. And the current wave of sensationalism and distortion cannot balance the scientific consensus that climate change is real and is caused by human emissions.

The current descent of the climate debate into a cauldron of misrepresentations that are at odds with scientific reality must therefore be of concern.

It must be of concern that climate scientists can be publicly accused of having vested financial interests in their research, when in fact Australian research grants cannot be used to top up a researcher's salary.

It must be of concern when segments of the national media frequently distort and misrepresent scientific articles and scientists' statements in complete departure from accepted standards of journalistic honesty and decency.

It must be of concern when segments of the media echo the meme that "global warming stopped in 1998" when in fact all years since 2000 — that is 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 — are among the 10 hottest years ever recorded since 1880. The probability of this happening by chance is small.

It must be of concern that the current Leader of the Opposition has publicly dismissed climate science and instead cosily chats with a visiting British aristocrat who is a serial fabricator — an individual who has publicly misrepresented himself as a member of the House of Lords when he is not; who claims to have cured influenza as well as AIDS; who claims to have won the Falkland War by means of biological weapons; who accuses NASA of blowing up their own research satellites; and whose latest pseudo-mathematical pronouncements about climate change are at odds with past ice age cycles.

It must be of grave concern when the opinions of the same conspiracy theorists who believe that Prince Phillip runs the world's drug trade are given credence by the media when it comes to climate change.

No, balance in media coverage does not arise from adding a falsehood to the truth and dividing by two. Balanced media coverage of science requires recognition of the balance of evidence.

What then is the true balance of evidence on climate change?

Fact is that the most recent survey of thousands of Earth scientists around the world revealed a 97 per cent agreement with the proposition that human activity is a contributor to climate change. This peer-reviewed study clarifies that the present "debate" about climate change is not actually a debate within the relevant scientific community.

Fact is that a recent analysis of nearly 1,000 peer reviewed publications by a prominent historian of science revealed no disagreement with the view that climate change is happening and is caused by human CO2 emissions. If each of those publications were presented on a poster, as is common at scientific conferences, the line of posters would stretch across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and back again. Yes, there are a few dissenting papers that have appeared in refereed journals — but to date none have withstood subsequent scrutiny.

Fact is that there is a strong scientific consensus on climate change and its human-made causes that is exhaustively summarised in the nearly 3,000 pages of the most recent IPCC report that draws on more than 18,000 sources. Tellingly, the lone error about Himalayan glaciers on page 493 of the contribution from Working Group 2 was brought to the public's attention by … an IPCC lead author!

Anyone can experience this scientific consensus hands-on in a few seconds: Google "climate change" and you get nearly 60 million hits. Now go to the menu labelled "more" at the top, pull it down and choose the "scholar" option. 58 million hits disappear. The remaining scientific information will get you in touch with the reality on this planet, in the same way that applying the "scholar" filter after googling "sex" eliminates 500 million porn sites and leaves you with civilised discourse about sexuality.

Does this indubitable scientific consensus guarantee that the evidence concerning climate change is necessarily irrefutable?


As with any other scientific fact, new evidence may come to light that can overturn established theories. Two core principles of science are scepticism and falsifiability — that is, scientific facts must be subject to sceptical examination and they must be refutable in principle. New evidence may overturn the current view that HIV causes AIDS, and new evidence may revise our expectation that gravity will have adverse consequences for those who jump off the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Likewise, new evidence may force a revision of our understanding of climate change.

It is however utterly inconceivable that the current scientific consensus about climate change will be overturned by conspiracy theories that are inversions of reality.

It is utterly inconceivable that the consensus on climate change will be weakened by mendacious misrepresentations in the media that fail to accurately represent the strength of scientific evidence.

It is utterly inconceivable that all the arguments against climate change that have been falsified multiple times will rise from the dead and overturn scientific knowledge.

Instead, the very fact that many of the roughly 100 falsified "sceptic" talking points are continually reiterated in public draws a clear dividing line between healthy scepticism and arrogant denialism.

Sceptics seek answers and scrutinise arguments before accepting the current state of scientific knowledge as fact. Denialists dismiss sound arguments, solid data, and experimental evidence in favour of propositions that have long been shown to be flawed.

The world's pre-eminent scientific journal, Nature, therefore refers to those who cling to long-debunked pseudo-scientific conspiracy theories while dismissing the findings of thousands of peer-reviewed studies by their true label — denialists.

The potentially devastating consequences of denialism are brought into sharp focus by the sad history of South Africa's AIDS policies. Despite having one of the world's highest rates of HIV infections, the government of President Thabo Mbeki went against consensus scientific opinion 10 years ago and declined anti-retroviral drugs, preferring instead to treat AIDS with garlic and beetroot. Politicians even accused a leading South African immunologist of defending Western science and its "racist ideas" for his insistence on scientific treatment methods. According to a recent peer-reviewed Harvard study, this denialism cost the lives of more than 330,000 South Africans.

For that, President Mbeki and his associates are now held in richly deserved contempt around the world.

Precisely the same fate awaits denialists of climate change.

The laws of physics will relentlessly assert themselves, unswayed by public opinion, political shenanigans, or elections. Ultimately, the laws of physics will speak so loudly that no amount of wishful thinking can prevent them from being heard; but because any delay in taking action against climate change will increase the human and financial burden on future generations, it is our responsibility now to cease tolerating lies, misrepresentations, puerile accusations, and conspiracy theories that are unworthy of public discourse in a mature democracy.

Many spirited conversations about climate change can be had that examine the likely consequences for Australia and evaluate the best course of action — but those conversations must be firmly rooted in the core scientific principles of scepticism and falsifiability and they must not be contaminated by ignorance and denialism.