8.10.2006

Nuclear Power and its Effect on Lake Ontario: Better Turn Up the AC!*

By Wild Turkey Desire!

On Lake Ontario there are currently sixteen nuclear power plants. Of those sixteen, twelve of them are located on Canada’s side of the border, leaving the remaining four on the United State’s side. Lake Ontario is also home to an uranium refining plant, two low level radioactive waste disposal sites located along the shoreline, and it also sits down stream from the high level rad waste site of West Valley located in Western NY. These nuclear plants and components make Lake Ontario one of the largest nuclear zones in the in the entire world.

Canada posses most of the nuclear facilities located on Lake Ontario therefore any study of the effects of nuclear power on the lake would be incomplete without looking at Canada’s infrastructure. Port Hope, located almost due North of Rochester, NY is home to the CAMECO uranium refinery. Port Hope converts “yellow cake” into uranium dioxide and uranium hexafluoride using a variety of industrial strength chemicals to do so. Over the years large amounts of radioactive material have managed to escape through the refinery in turn causing the entire basin in Port Hope harbor to be declared a low level rad waste site. The material at Port Hope that is stored there is located along the shoreline of Lake Ontario.

Past Port Hope lies Darlington, which is home to four 935-megawatt power reactors and a tritium recovery facility. Close to Darlington sits the Pickering station along the east side entrance to Frenchmen’s Bay, which
possesses eight nuclear reactors. All of the reactors located on the Canadian side are CANDU’s, or heavy water reactors. The difference between Canadian and American reactors is that the Canadian heavy water reactors require less refined fuel, thus making them theoretically less expensive to maintain.

One of the main effects on the environment that these heavy water reactors accomplish is that they release vast amounts of tritium (a radioactive isotope of hydrogen with a 12.3 year half life). These Canadian reactors
release far more tritium into the environment than the US reactors. It is estimated that at the Pickering Station about 32,000 curies of tritium can be released into the air annually. In 1992 at Frenchmen’s Bay 80,000 curies of tritium flowed into Lake Ontario after a massive spill there. Low doses of tritium have caused sterility, microcephaly, stunting, reduced litter sizes, and influenced early mammalian development in rats.
Among the known effects of tritium on biological life forms there also remains many unknowns like if there is increased rates of cancer and Down syndrome cases. It is difficult to analyze and prove scientifically that
the nuclear reactors on Lake Ontario have any negative effects on the environment. This is due to the fact that health studies don’t incorporate into their studies specific enough data to pin point a possible linkage with the patient’s environment. Canada currently allows 7,000 bequerels per liter of water to be discharged into Lake Ontario, while individuals and various groups like Durham Nuclear Awareness have recommended that only 20 becquerels per liter of water be released into the lake. 20 becquerels per liter in drinking water is around 10 times greater than the amount of tritium found in rainwater collected surrounding the lake.

According to the Citizens Awareness Network nuclear reactors frequently release radioactive waste into the environment in the form of dust, mist, fumes, vapors/gases, and liquid waste (water). Krypton-89 with a half-life of 3.2 minutes decays into strontium-89, which has a 52-day half-life. Xenon-137, which has a 3.9-minute half-life, decays into cesium-137, which has a 30-year half-life. Xenon-135, which has a half-life of 9.17 hours decays into cesium-135 with a half-life of 3 million years. It is believed that these radioactive elements when released into the environment cause drastic health problems due to the radioactivity of them.

Another cause for concern regarding Canada’s reactors is that the eight units at Pickering sit directly above a fault line that runs underneath Lake Ontario. It has been estimated that a quake of 7 on the Richter scale, which is more than possible in that area, could cause ground sways more than the Darlington and Pickering reactors were designed to withstand.

Traveling back to the US side, the four reactors are located in Wayne and Oswego county. The reactor in Wayne is called Ginna and is a pressurized water reactor. One of the problems faced by a pressurized water reactor is that since the metal undergoes extreme amounts of pressure and for other reasons not fully understood the metal pipes transporting the steam becomes very brittle over time, in turn greatly weakening it. If these metal pipes become weak enough and break then a serious problem could
arise.

The three reactors located in Oswego County are all boiling water reactors (BWR’s) and it is believed that these reactors are the cheapest to construct, yet also the dirtiest to maintain. The BWR’s are simpler systems with fewer parts that might go wrong, but this also means that if something does go wrong inside the reactor there is one less physical barrier to the outside world. The older BWR’s like Nile Mile One and Fitzpatrick also have the problem of cracking core shrouds. The core shrouds are cylinders of 1.5-inch thick stainless shell 17 feet high and 15 feet in diameter. The problem is that the curved plates are welded together and over time cracks have started to appear in the curved plates, with Nile Mile One having one of the worst cases of cracking seen in America.

Nuclear plants pose huge targets to terrorism related activities. One of the largest concerns is that of the spent fuel rod storage pools. These pools are frequently located outside of the main reactor core and thus have little structural protection. These pools are the most venerable to terrorist attacks since they pose the least amount of protection. If the pool was to crack and the water drained these spent fuel rods could potentially release more radiation into the environment than a nuclear meltdown. After the spent fuel rods are removed from the cooling pool they are stored in containers located in the ground for the rest of time, or until they are moved to a central storage area, like Yucca Mountain (SW USA).

In all of this there is the public and its influence over the future. However in the case of nuclear power, the public’s comments have taken little priority and instead the decisions affecting the industry have been left up to those with the money to privatize the reactors and the government. This is where there is a drastic conflict of interest since both the government and the private companies want to maintain ‘business as usual’ while disregarding input from the public sector. Largly due to the fact that, in a capitalist market, environmental effects are frequently overlooked in desire for greater profits.

*The jokes on us, not them.

5 comments:

Gag Halfrunt said...

What exactly was the point of this entry? Fear! Uncertainty! Distrust! Do you have any suggestions on solutions for us? Many of the isotpes you mention have pretty short halflives..which mean they're gone and not a threat fairly fast. All of the designs you mention are also fairly old. Many of the newer designs do not have the problems you cite. I would suggest taking a look at PBMRs, HTGCR, etc.

You post presents a starting place, but lets consider alternatives, solutions, and possibilities. Instead of "OMG! nuclear! glow in the dark! fear!" ...or perhaps you'd prefer we just get rid of nuke plants totally and build some nice coal fired plants on the lakeshore instead?

wild turkey desire! said...

Gag Halfrunt,

I did not write this article in order to instill fear into the populace, I refuse to use those tactics. Sorry if it scared you, but it is only the truth, sometimes the truth hurts.

I wrote this article because I used to live within ten miles of three of these nuclear power plants. I found that the majority of people living near these reactors, knew almost nothing about them, including myself. Our ignorance to such an important matter is simply disgusting.

I wrote this paper back in December of 2004, so yes it is a little old, however that doesn't mean that it is no longer relevant. It was well researched and from what I know it is all still factual. If you would like to point out something that is incorrect, I would greatly appreciate it or if you would like to suggest some solutions to nuclear power, that would also be nice.

From my knowledge the reactors on Lake Ontario are not "PBMRs, HTGCR, ect.", however I'm not a nuclear expert, and if you would like to correct me here, that would be appreciated. I'm simply a concerned citizen that would like to bring a greater awareness to a subject that is often negelected.

Your strawman argument about "nice fired plants on the lakeshore instead" is not amusing and if you would actually like to debate the subject of nuclear power, please do so, but do not attribute such silly comments to my way of thinking.

Again, this article is not to instill fear - but to educate.

Thank you,
W.T.D.

Gag said...

Thank you for the response. This topic is one that obviously raises some degree of passion. Unfortunately, I do not think that this medium is really the best way to debate such a complex and dynamic topic. I did not intend my closing statement to be a strawman argument, more of an attempt at (misplaced?) humour. I agree with you that education is paramount in considering topic of this gravity. No one (myself included) can make an informed decision based on misperceptions and ignorance. I doubt if it’s still possible, but I once got a good tour of the bulk of the 9mile facility (even got to touch the outside of the reactor building) We were set loose on the simulated control room, and tried everything in or power to destroy the “simulated plant”, all attempts failed, with the plant shutting itself down properly in case of an accident. I do apologize for my previous entry, as it may have been a bit hasty. I would suggest wikipedia as a good starting place for looking some of the more current technologies I mentioned. (wikipedia is not the end all of knowledge, just a good place to get your feet wet) At any rate, keep writing, and I shall look forward to continued reading.

Anonymous said...

Now that Fukishima is a reality, wouldn't it be a good idea to SHUT DOWN ALL nuclear power plants? The wind power plants in Japan are running perfectly after the tsunami, providing 1/3 of Japan's power now. Clean power. Safe power. And definitely less expensive, considering the cost of suffering that Japan and the entire planet will now endure. Nuclear power is not safe. It is not cheaper, if the numbers are truthfully crunched, and it is clearly not clean.

Let's raise our voices together to put an end to the lies and proliferation of nuclear energy.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading the discorse between you two, as well as the original blog. I was reminded of an earlier time in my life yesterday, which got me thinking about a job I had as a young man in my 20's. It was as a maintenance worker at the Wayne County plant. through a temp agency, so the background check was less than stellar, not that I had anything to hide. This was in the mid eighties, before major concern of terrorism, but not without some concern as it was a few years after the bombing of our embassy in Libya. I guess the point I'm driving at is, there were hundreds of places at that time where I could have turned a valve here or there that would have mattered in a significant way and nothing but a warning sign to prevent it. In addition, I was involved in an actual fist fight within the containment unit, banana suits and booties included, due to an unstable co-worker. This occurred in full view of a security guard, which he did not report. We were told to leave the containment unit, that was it. We returned to the breakroom, bruised and bloodied both, and we were asked why we were back, it wasn't break time. That's it, nothing else came of it. I chose to report this to the temp company that we both worked for, so the unstable worker wouldn't be allowed back into the building, who knew what he was capable of and I lived 4 miles away. I often thought about this over the years and can only hope security measures have improved since then. Pretty scary thought, quite frankly. While there were valid points from both of you wtg and gag, but these are the kind of concerns I have that keep me up at night. I had to throw this person off of my back and over my shoulder and we were 3 feet from a spent fuel pool. That subtle blue glow dominated the eyes, pretty cool looking actually.