Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout Warns: Chernobyl Could Happen Here

Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout
2006-04-25

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 (version français)   

Ottawa - A national coalition of organizations today observed the 20th anniversary of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl by reminding Canadians that such an accident could happen here.

Twenty years after the devastation caused by the nuclear meltdown of reactor 4 at Chernobyl, Canada's moribund nuclear industry is angling for new business by misrepresenting itself as a clean technology.  But the same radioactive poisons that poured out of the crippled Russian reactor 20 years ago, could be released by a catastrophic accident at a Canadian CANDU reactor.

"Experience has shown that Canadian nuclear reactors are unreliable, uneconomic and unsafe.  Indeed, CANDU reactors share many of the safety-related flaws which caused the meltdown at Chernobyl", said Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.

The following are similarities between CANDU reactors and the RBMK reactors at Chernobyl:

  1. Ontario’s nuclear stations and Chernobyl are four-reactor stations with shared safety systems. Sharing of safety systems reduces redundancy and increases the risk of radiation release.
  2. Both reactor designs employ fuel channels (as opposed to one large pressurized reactor vessel), including pressure tubes made of the same alloy. These tubes incorporate hydrogen over time, causing tubes to become brittle and breakable.
  3. While most reactors have to be shut down every year or two for refuelling, CANDU and RBMK reactor designs allow for on-line refuelling. This has the potential to improve performance, but it also can increase the length of time without inspection or maintenance. Chernobyl reactor 4 had been operating for over two years non-stop when it exploded on April 26 1986.
  4. CANDU is the only reactor design outside the former Soviet Union, that like the RBMK, has a positive void effect. Steam formation in the reactor core increases reactivity (more nuclear fissions taking place), increasing power levels, causing more steam formation and resulting in a loss of regulation accident.

Following the Chernobyl accident in 1986, the Canadian nuclear regulatory agency required that all CANDU reactors have a second emergency fast shutdown system. However, because of its age, the Pickering A nuclear station was excluded from this rule.

"The Pickering reactors are the oldest and most dangerous in the world. Because of its proximity to Toronto, no other nuclear station in the world is surrounded by such large numbers of people.” said Dave Martin of Greenpeace.

"Twenty years after the Chernobyl disaster, the Ontario government of Premier Dalton McGuinty is about to revive the nuclear industry. Contrary to nuclear industry advertisements, nuclear power is neither clean nor safe. We cannot afford to forget the devastation of a nuclear catastrophe," said John Bennett of Sierra Club of Canada.

A report released by Greenpeace last week predicts that 270,000 cancers will be caused by radioactive fallout from Chernobyl, and of these, 93,000 will be fatal. This report challenged the official estimate of health impacts by the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in September 2005, which predicted only 4,000 to 9,000 additional deaths for Chernobyl.

Fallout from Chernobyl contaminated over 140,000 square kilometers of fertile agricultural land, equaling 23% of Belarus, 5% of the Ukraine and 1.5% of Russian territory.  Over 350,000 people have been forced to permanently relocate. A catastrophic accident at nuclear plants in Ontario, Quebec or New Brunswick would have similarly devastating impacts.

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For further information, please contact:

Dave Martin, Energy Coordinator, Greenpeace Canada, www.greenpeace.org
John Bennett, Director, Climate Change Campaign, Sierra Club of Canada, 613-241-4611
Gordon Edwards, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, www.ccnr.org

            

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