Hello Again

I had a big problem with the original version of this blog when the PHP program was updated and the blog site crashed. This happened near the end of last year. I apologize to my faithful few readers and have fixed the problem by going to gone to a more Word Press related format.

Of course, since then I’ve also thought seriously about whether I wanted to continue it and I concluded that I still have things I’d like to say.  To be honest in converting to a new blog I felt that I should reconstitute the old blog posts not least so readers can catch me in contradictions. I recall reading that there are 30 million blogs out there and maybe those are only the Word Press ones. Nevertheless, I hope that you may find something worth reading on this one.

The Blog Continues in 2009

Recently, I’ve been engaged in some interesting nuclear projects that, on top of end-of-term teaching obligations, have kept me away from blogging for a while. I’m just getting back to it and lots of interesting developments have happened over the last couple of months including a world economic collapse but more of that later.

In Canada, we’ve had another isotope panic but one much smaller than the one a year or so ago. Ontario has again postponed its nuclear choice because it appears the government can’t obtain price guarantees from the reactor vendors. It’s also not clear whether Westinghouse is in or out of the competition. The fact we don’t know for sure is just yet another manifestation of Ontario’s penchant for secrecy in nuclear matters.

What’s going on with the CANDU refurbishment projects in New Brunswick and at Bruce? There are indications in the press that there are cost overruns but, if true, their magnitude is not yet known.  

In the international arena, new reactor construction looks to be going full steam ahead in China with four Westinghouse AP1000’s and two Areva EPR’s being built. A UK newspaper reported in early December that EDF is going to build 4 new reactors (EPR’s?) in Britain over the next twelve years at a cost of £ 22 billion; this works out to about $9.7 billion CDN per reactor. While this cost per reactor was probably realistic before the current economic crisis, recently key world commodity prices have fallen sharply (e.g. copper from $4 /lb to $1.5/lb) and I would have expected some reduction from that direction. On the other hand it seems US utilities are apparently having doubts about building new according to my quick glance at a story in the latest Scientific American that I need to read in detail. India has been rehabilitated as an unrepentant nuclear weapons state.

The bottom line is that there are lots of topics that I intend to discuss and which I hope you will find interesting.  As always I appreciate you comments.

Finally, I wish you, my faithful readers, a very Happy New Year

It’s the Ontario thought police again!

In the previous post, I talked about this week’s Oliver-Twist-like performance by Team CANDU which involved putting out their bowl for more money from the federal government before the “meal” had even started. Interestingly, there have been reports in the media that the Ontario government has been rapping their knuckles because by asking for financial guarantees, Team CANDU members are violating Ontario’s edict to have no discussion of the reactor purchase by the bidders. Banning public discussion on an investment of 10’s of billions of dollars that will affect Ontarians’ lives for decades to come is completely unconscionable to me. The Ontario government claims this is to be “fair” to the bidders but I find this a very questionable motive because it places the interests of AREVA, Westinghouse and AECL above those of the people it was elected to serve.  Maybe they really mean it would be much less trouble to make the choice of reactor in a back room at Queens Park because public input would be too troublesome. Nevertheless, I fearlessly predict Ontario will eventually stage some sort of half-hearted “public consultation” for cosmetic purposes and will, of course, ignore any output from it. All of this is certainly not fair to the public and that’s why I started this blog and that takes me full circle. (Rant over) 

Rules for Moderating the Discussion

Rules for Moderating the Nuclear Technology Discussion

A fair, focussed, and transparent nuclear blog

I will moderate the discussion on this blog to make it fair, appropriate, focussed and of high quality. In order to achieve this objective I will reject or edit any post I feel that violates the spirit of our discussion.

 In order to avoid the spurious spam comments that plague today’s blogs you must register as a contributor before your first post on this blog and at registration provide me your email address so I can verify that you are a legitimate contributor. I will keep your information confidential to the best of my ability.  In fact, I will allow a pen name (pseudonym) from a registered contributor to protect your identity if you feel that’s needed.  I do this in order to encourage contributors who might otherwise not participate because for example they are still working for a nuclear industry company.

Profanity, vulgarity, libellous and unsubstantiated claims against companies and individuals, racism, sexism and nasty content of all kinds will cause a post to be rejected out of hand.  This will be a civilized discussion.

This blog will be focussed on nuclear technology choices.  Rehashes of the standard arguments for and against nuclear power per se won’t be posted.  Unfortunately, there are fanatics on both sides of the debate and I’m sure like me the people who read this blog have heard these shibboleths ad nauseam and don’t want to hear them yet again.  

In order to focus the discussion, comparisons of nuclear power with other forms of energy, a frequent source of spurious arguments on both sides, are out.  Climate change is another swamp of controversy that I don’t want to steer the discussion into. There are already enough blogs devoted to that topic.

Given the purpose of the blog I should state my personal biases at the outset.  I’m in favour of nuclear power.  The issue for me is not whether nuclear power will play an important role in providing energy to our society – I firmly believe it will. Rather my concerns are around the choice of nuclear technologies we Canadians are about to make.

I’m retired from AECL. A well-known quote from the novelist L.P. Hartley sums up my feelings about AECL “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”. It is indeed a very different company than I left almost ten years ago and I hold no bias one way or the other for the present day version of AECL. To be fair in the past I’ve (unsuccessfully) pitched AREVA for consulting work, and at various times owned appliances made by GE and Westinghouse. These experiences also generated no bias.   

I don’t claim to be an expert on the issues discussed and that’s why your contributions are so important to making this discussion a success.

If you need to know more about me then have a look at

http://engphys.mcmaster.ca/faculty_staff/faculty/jackson/index.htm

However, I must stress that the opinions I express in this blog are strictly my own and should not be attributed to nor reflect upon any of the organizations listed there. 

Let the games begin!

David Jackson

An urgent need to discuss Canada’s nuclear technology choices

Canada is on the verge of making multibillion dollar investments in new nuclear technology. These decisions will have consequences lasting for many decades into the future. Nevertheless, there is no forum for open informed technical discussion of the critical choices that will be made in the next year or two.  The purpose of this blog is to provide such a forum.

In Ontario an RFP was issued on March 7, 2008 for vendors to provide two new reactors plus perhaps one or two more.  It explicitly forbids reactor vendors and anyone associated with them (pretty much everyone with any nuclear expertise) from discussing the new reactors in public. In other words the Ontario government has stated that it wants no public discussion of reactor choices.

The incident that outraged many in the nuclear community and gave me the push to start this blog was the Ontario government handling of a meeting organized by the Association of Polish Engineers in Canada on March 27, 2008 in Toronto. This meeting was intended as a public information session at which the four reactor vendors could briefly present the essential features of their designs and a general discussion could ensure.  Interest was high; about 300 were expected to attend the event that had been planned for some six months. Nevertheless, Infrastructure Ontario prohibited the vendors from participating although I understand that some people from Westinghouse to their credit did attend in the end.  The Ontario government’s bid to close down this meeting was in the opinion of many including me both unacceptable and inappropriate. 

Ontario invoked “commercial confidentiality” (similar in effect to “national security” or “privacy rights”) as their justification for restricting information citizens need to make informed choices on these complex issues.  “Fairness” to the vendors is their highest priority but their behaviour in this incident indicates transparency must be their lowest. 

While the Ontario approach consists of secret negotiations with no public input, it appears that the processes for the new reactor proposed for New Brunswick and the reactors for Alberta and perhaps Saskatchewan are more transparent and will be covered in future postings. 

Generic environmental assessments of the new Ontario reactors to be located at the existing Bruce Power and Darlington nuclear sites are being organized.  The value of these assessments is questionable when the number and type of the reactors to be considered is unspecified. However, in an even more bizarre turn of events initial indications are that these reviews will be conducted by commissioners of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) who will in effect be reviewing their own licensing process.

Although it has not yet been announced, we may safely assume the environmental assessments will include “public consultations” of the sort staged for public relations purposes. Unfortunately, in the past such events have mainly consisted of diatribes by proponents and opponents of nuclear power generating much heat but little light. They don’t really help.

Up to now, the media coverage of these critical decisions is sporadic with little in the way of substantive discussion.  Blogs are a new type of media that I hope will remedy this deficiency.