By Probe International

What Thai citizens should know about Canada’s nuclear power program

February 1, 1999

Stop Candu Exports to Thailand


A Briefing
Probe International
In Association with Energy Probe
For the Alternative Energy Project for Sustainability of Thailand

Toronto, Canada
February 1999


1. CANDU patronage and propaganda

2. Ontario Hydro, the world’s largest owner and operator of CANDU reactors, cannot run them safely and economically

3. CANDU reactors are defective

4. CANDU reactors are unreliable and trouble-prone

5. CANDU reactors are inherently dangerous

6. Nuclear reactors bring the risk of a nuclear accident with catastrophic consequences

7. Nuclear power plants pose health risks

8. Nuclear power pollutes

9. There is no acceptable storage method for nuclear fuel waste

10. CANDU reactors are linked to nuclear weapons proliferation

11. Nuclear power is not a solution to the buildup of greenhouse gases

12. Nuclear power is uneconomic

13. CANDU technology is obsolete

14. Sources

What Thai Citizens Should Know about Canada’s Nuclear Power Program

1. CANDU patronage and propaganda

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) wants to sell a CANDU (Canadian Deuterium Uranium) reactor to Thailand. Atomic Energy of Canada Limited has not had a single order for a CANDU reactor in Canada since 1982, but in the last decade, AECL has sold four reactors to South Korea, two to China, and two to Romania. Now it is hoping for additional sales to these countries, as well as to Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam. AECL’s sales are taxpayer financed through the Export Development Corporation, a federal Crown corporation.

To help AECL in Thailand, Canada’s foreign aid agency, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), quietly formed a 5-year partnership with AECL to train nuclear personnel and to convince Thai citizens that nuclear power is safe, clean, and trouble-free. Thailand has “a complete lack of capability . . . to develop the engineering man-power for a nuclear power program,” says a report obtained from CIDA entitled “Energy for the Next Millennium: Thai-Canadian Nuclear Resources Development Linkage Project.” So AECL is spending more than $1 million of its own funds to set up Thailand’s first nuclear engineering department at the Bangkok-based Chulalongkhorn University. CIDA, meanwhile, has contributed an additional $1 million to train nuclear personnel and to produce a set of pro-nuclear videos and booklets in the Thai language in partnership with AECL. High school students are the “target audience” for the videos and booklets because of their “ability to influence their peers, family members and others in their community” and because of the need to “gain a level of public acceptance [for nuclear power] that would allow the Government to proceed with a nuclear power program.”

Probe International has reviewed the CIDA-AECL series of videos and booklets (obtained from CIDA) and found that they do not tell the truth about Canada’s experience with nuclear technology and about nuclear power in general. In response, Probe International has prepared this briefing to inform Thai citizens about Canada’s experience with nuclear power and to point out where CIDA and AECL have attempted to mislead Thai citizens.

2. Ontario Hydro, the world’s largest owner and operator of CANDU reactors, cannot run them safely and economically

On August 13, 1997, Ontario Hydro – one of North America’s largest utilities – announced it was shutting down its seven oldest reactors for safety reasons (an eighth one was shut down in 1995), after admitting that it had neither the money nor the management capability to run them safely. Ontario Hydro’s decision to shut down almost 40 percent of its nuclear capacity, 20 years ahead of schedule, came after a report by a team of American nuclear experts that said that the utility’s operation of its nuclear power plants was “minimally acceptable” and that there were “unacceptable erosions of the margins of safety afforded the public and employees.”

The 15-volume report, known as an Independent Integrated Performance Assessment, blasted Ontario Hydro’s management for its record of accidents and system failures, fires, radioactive leaks, sloppy work practices, and plant workers who sometimes drank beer or smoked marijuana on the job.

After years of official boasting from Canada about Ontario Hydro’s nuclear expertise, the American team found that Ontario Hydro’s nuclear division has “significant numbers of managers at all levels of the nuclear organization who lack the basic management and leadership skills to be successful. They lack a fundamental understanding of the need for and value of a consistent, integrated managerial system. . . . There is little expectation of excellent performance, either by management or employees, and little incentive to deliver excellent performance (financial incentives, for example). Failure to perform adequately or poor performance is routinely accepted by management, and many managers have similarly low expectations for themselves.”

The American team warned that “unless fundamental problems, most notably a lack of authoritative and accountable managerial leadership, are addressed and corrected, there is limited potential for success at Ontario Hydro Nuclear (ON).”

On the day the report was released, Ontario Hydro’s chairman, William Farlinger, told the press, “I believe the people of Ontario probably thought our nuclear management and nuclear operation was better than we now know that it is.” Ontario Hydro also announced a plan to upgrade the closed facilities, which could cost Ontario taxpayers between $5 billion and $8 billion over the next four years, depending on whether the closed reactors reopen or are closed for good.

Few people outside the nuclear industry are convinced that Ontario Hydro will be able to restart the closed reactors. As Energy Minister Norm Sterling told the Toronto Star, the question is, “can Ontario Hydro have better safety. . . and still deliver power economically?” Todd Phillips, editor of Plant Engineering and Maintenance writes: “Ontario Hydro has been masterful at hatching nuclear recovery schemes . . . but [it] has never made good on a string of promises to the federal regulator, and the public, that it can repair and restore its aging nuclear reactors and operate them more safely.”

Even after the details of Ontario Hydro’s nuclear fiasco emerged, Ontario Hydro, the American experts, AECL, and Canada’s international trade minister, publicly defended the CANDU technology, saying that the real problem was bad management not bad technology. Other experts, such as Dr. Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, disagree, arguing that the technology itself is so defective and inherently dangerous to operate that no amount of well-trained, highly-paid managers will ever make CANDU reactors safe and economical.

As a result of Ontario Hydro’s problems, AECL will have more difficulty selling CANDU reactors overseas, according to Gary Kugler, AECL’s vice-president of commercial operations. AECL officials now have to reassure potential customers that the problems that led to the reactor shutdowns are not a sign that the technology is defective. But the Chinese government is already skeptical, according to AECL’s president, Allen Kilpatrick. In an interview with the Financial Post, Kilpatrick said that Chinese government officials recently asked him, “Why can’t you simply throw a zillion managers at the problem? Is there something you’re not telling us?”

Despite Ontario Hydro’s problems and public opposition from citizens groups, the media, and elected government representatives, AECL is determined to keep marketing CANDU reactors overseas. As the New York Times reported: “Canadians continue to circle the globe trying to peddle the same reactors that have proven so difficult to manage in their own backyard.”

3. CANDU reactors are defective

The CIDA-AECL videos and booklets claim that nuclear power is a trouble-free technology. They don’t explain that CANDU reactors come with two major defects. First, the reactor pressure tubes are prone to rupture and to rapid deterioration, a phenomenon known as “premature aging.” Because of this, CANDU reactors have to be retubed, virtually rebuilt, after 15 to 20 years of operation at a cost higher than the cost of building the reactor. This problem was first discovered at Ontario Hydro’s Pickering nuclear station in 1983 when a pressure tube suddenly burst inside one of its 12-year old reactors. Four reactors had to be shut down for four years and retubed at a cost of over $900 million, more than the $700 million it cost to build the station. The same problem has been identified at Ontario Hydro’s Bruce station: retubing would cost more than $3 billion, almost double the original $1.8 billion cost of building the station.

Engineers discovered another design flaw in January 1997 at New Brunswick’s Point Lepreau nuclear station. The walls of hundreds of small feeder pipes are deteriorating and failing much faster than anyone predicted due to corrosion and other factors. These feeder pipes transport the coolant (heavy water) to the nuclear fuel, which prevents the reactor core from overheating. The worst affected plants are Point Lepreau (New Brunswick), Gentilly-2 (Quebec), and Wolsung (Korea), and according to Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, the reactors will be forced to shut down within five years for safety reasons if the problem is not corrected. A single feeder pipe rupture might not trigger an emergency shutdown, but any loss of coolant, even a small one, would require a shutdown of the reactor to avoid a meltdown in the reactor core.

4. CANDU reactors are unreliable and trouble-prone

The CIDA-AECL videos and booklets claim that nuclear power is a reliable source of electricity, when in fact, the performance of CANDU reactors worldwide has been declining steadily as the reactors have aged. At their peak, Ontario Hydro’s reactors provided Ontarians with about two-thirds of their electricity supply, but in the last four years, their output has declined by 22 percent, supplying less than half the province’s electricity. Four of Ontario Hydro’s CANDUs currently rank among the worst performing reactors in the world (as measured by comparing the reactor’s actual electricity output to perfect output), according to Nuclear Engineering International.

Because Ontario Hydro’s nuclear power plants break down so frequently, the utility has had to triple its power purchases from other producers in recent years. Last year, Ontario Hydro spent $839 million on replacement power, compared with $260 million in 1993, which came from boosting production at its existing coal-fired stations and purchasing from coal-fired producers in the United States, thus increasing greenhouse and acid gas emissions in the Great Lakes region.

Between 1989 and 1993, Ontario Hydro reported over 900 ‘incidents’ to the Atomic Energy Control Board, the nuclear regulatory agency, including failure of operating or safety systems, breaches of security, radiation releases above allowable limits, and exposure of workers to higher than usual doses of radiation. Some of the operating glitches and incidents reported at nuclear power plants in Ontario are described below:

  • All eight reactors at the Pickering station had to be shut down in 1996 to repair the emergency coolant system, which prevents reactor meltdowns.
  • From 1992 to 1993, four units at the Pickering A nuclear station were allowed to operate with cracks in the reactor dome, which could have allowed radiation to escape in the event of an accident.
  • Ontario Hydro’s newest station, Darlington, was completed in 1993 but operated at only about 50 percent capacity through the summer of 1998 because of computer software problems.
  • An operating error at Pickering in 1988 damaged 36 radioactive fuel bundles, an accident Ontario Hydro did not think could happen, which forced the utility to revise its operating procedures.
  • In New Brunswick, the province’s only 600-megawatt nuclear plant has been off-line more often than on-line over the last three years and now needs a $600-million overhaul if it is to continue running safely. After 15 years of unreliable operation, the provincial utility that owns the plant is in financial trouble, crippled by a $3.6-billion debt.

5. CANDU reactors are inherently dangerous

The CIDA-AECL videos and booklets do not explain how nuclear reactors work or that reactors are inherently dangerous, which is precisely why engineers have equipped reactors with so many safety and emergency shutdown systems. Normally, heat is removed from the core of the reactor by heavy water coolant driven by powerful pumps. A nuclear meltdown will occur if the core of the reactor is not adequately cooled, the emergency coolant system fails, and the reactor is not shut down properly. Then the uranium fuel melts, filling the reactor with hot radioactive gases, which can escape from the reactor building into the surrounding atmosphere. In the worst case scenario, the molten uranium fuel also burns through the reactor building, searing hundreds of metres down into the earth.

In December 1994, for the first time in the CANDU reactor history, operators at Ontario Hydro’s Pickering plant had to use the emergency coolant system to avoid a meltdown, when a valve failure caused 140 tonnes of heavy water to be dumped out of the reactor.

In 1986, at a Russian-designed plant in the Ukraine, Chernobyl, an estimated three to five percent of the reactor’s radioactivity escaped from the reactor building, spreading radioactive matter thousands of kilometres from the site.

6. Nuclear reactors bring the risk of a nuclear accident with catastrophic consequences

The CIDA-AECL videos and booklets state that it is impossible to guarantee that a nuclear accident won’t occur but that the risk of that happening is insignificant compared with the risk of large dams collapsing. According to CIDA and AECL, even the world’s most serious nuclear accident at Chernobyl was minor compared with the 8,000 people that have been killed by dam collapses around the world. Chernobyl only killed 32 people, they say, and while it may have caused some cancers, the incidence of cancer is not even in the order of thousands.

Soviet newspapers report that more than 250 people who worked at Chernobyl or helped in the cleanup have died since the 1986 disaster. Elsewhere, officials report that at least 125,000 people have died as a result of exposure to Chernobyl’s radiation. At the time of the accident, 115,000 people were evacuated from the area to avoid death or illness caused by radiation poisoning. U.S. academics, quoted in Science magazine, estimate that 600,000 people were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation as a result. One of the world’s leading experts on radiation’s health effects, Dr. John Gofman, has warned that Chernobyl’s radioactive fallout may cause 900,000 additional cases of cancer worldwide, half of them fatal.

The effects of Chernobyl were not confined to the Ukraine. In Belarus, the former Soviet republic immediately downwind from Chernobyl, the rate of childhood thyroid cancers were about 80 times the world average, according to two reports quoted in Time magazine in 1992, one by the World Health Organization, and one by local health officials. Fifteen hundred kilometres away, in Norway and Sweden, scientists found livestock, vegetation, and agricultural produce contaminated with high levels of cesium — one of the deadly radioactive substances produced in nuclear reactors. About 13,000 reindeer were so contaminated, they had to be slaughtered and buried. Their grazing areas were also contaminated, and nearly 3,000 reindeer-herding families lost their livelihoods as a result. Terge Skoglund of Norway’s Directorate for Nature Management describes Chernobyl as “a cultural catastrophe” for the Sami people in Norway and Sweden who depend on reindeer for their livelihoods.

Scientists in Russia and Sweden regard the 1986 accident at Chernobyl as the single worst catastrophe humanity has ever caused, saying it could be decades before the full extent of Chernobyl’s human, ecological, and financial cost is known. The estimated cost to date is about $300 billion in damages in the Ukraine and Belarus alone. Exact figures for fatal cancers, leukemias, and birth defects caused by Chernobyl may never be known since it is impossible for scientists to label a given defect or disease as having been caused by radiation released at the time of the accident.

The CIDA-AECL videos and booklets provide no information about the cost of nuclear accidents and about who is liable for damages if an accident occurs. They do not explain that a nuclear accident at Ontario Hydro’s Darlington station, for example, could cause damages of up to $1 trillion, according to briefs to Ontario Hydro hearings in 1990. Nor do they explain that in the event of a nuclear accident, Ontario Hydro’s liability for injury to people or damage to their property is limited by law to $75 million, and that the federal government is not obliged to compensate over that limit. Under the Nuclear Liability Act, which was passed in 1970, manufacturers of nuclear stations and their components, and the suppliers of fuel for nuclear plants, are protected from any liability for damages. All claims for damage must be made within 10 years of the incident that caused the damage, even though injuries such as cancer may take longer to manifest themselves. Individuals in Canada cannot get personal or household insurance covering them for damages resulting from a nuclear station accident.

7. Nuclear power plants pose health risks

The CIDA-AECL videos and booklets claim that radiation emitted from nuclear power plants is harmless and insignificant, using the example of gamma radiation measured outside the fence of a nuclear power plant (0.05 millirems per year) compared with the amount of radiation received during a chest X-ray (0.2 to 2.0 millirems per year). They do not explain that the gamma radiation that escapes from the reactor core and irradiates the immediate neighbourhood is only one source of radiation from nuclear power plants. A more serious health risk is the release of radioactive substances (radionuclides) from nuclear power plants, which can travel in the air, water, or in the food we eat for some time and distance before exposing people, livestock, and vegetation to radiation. The radioactive substances include cancer-causing pollutants, such as tritium, iodine, cesium, and strontium, which are lethal if absorbed by the body in minute quantities and when vented from nuclear power plants either in gas or liquid form, enter the food chain and increase the risk of bone and thyroid cancer, childhood leukemia, and mental retardation in infants.

It is virtually impossible to estimate the dose any individual actually receives from these radioactive substances because they follow many different paths to the body. Much of the dose is taken in with food and will depend on where you buy your food, and on what type of food and on how much of it you eat. Iodine-131 is one radioactive substance released both routinely and during accidents and which presents a serious thyroid cancer risk, easily enters the food chain when it settles on ground where cows graze, and subsequently turns up in cow’s milk. Once in the milk, it may be transported hundreds of kilometres away to market or if made into cheese, some may end up being exported to another continent.

In Canada and the United States, there have been thousands of what the nuclear industry labels “minor accidental releases” of radioactivity into the environment. And invariably, the nuclear industry states that there is no public health risk following spills of radioactive material, but they are simply wrong. As David Poch, author of Radiation Alert: A Consumer’s Guide to Radiation, explained: “The question is not whether there is a risk but how much of a risk there is.”

What scientists know for certain is that people living within several hundred kilometres of a nuclear power plant live with a higher level of risk because the radioactive substances routinely released are present in higher concentrations. Accidental releases usually involve a higher concentration of radioactive substances in the air or water for a period of hours or days, which can be swallowed or inhaled in dangerous doses. In the event of such releases, the authorities may warn people, especially pregnant women, not to drink the water or to move away from the area for several days or weeks at a time.

Scientists also know that workers in nuclear power plants are at greater risk than the rest of the population because they are often exposed to radioactive material and risk accidental exposure to high-energy radiation, which increases the risk of cancer and genetic mutation and can be fatal. Exposure to high-energy radiation does not just create a risk for the person exposed to it. By damaging the genes, it can directly affect their offspring, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. The exact level of risk is unknown but the effects include possible deformities, retardation, and illnesses ranging from schizophrenia to cancer.

8. Nuclear power pollutes

The CIDA-AECL videos and booklets claim nuclear power is a clean and efficient source of electricity because nuclear reactors emit no greenhouse gases and use relatively small amounts of uranium as fuel, which is a naturally occurring substance found in rock deep underground. What they don’t explain is that every step of the nuclear fuel cycle — from uranium mining to spent fuel bundles removed from the reactors — produces huge amounts of deadly radioactive wastes that will have to be managed for hundreds of generations to come.

  • The uranium first has to be mined and milled, leaving behind radioactive sands and slimes, known as tailings, that contain cancer-causing pollutants such as radium, radon gas, polonium, and others. In Canada, there are now about 200 million tonnes of uranium mine tailings, leaking radioactivity into the air, soil, and water, that will remain hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years.
  • The extracted uranium, known as yellowcake, is transported to refineries where it is processed and then packed into fuel rods and bundles. Unlike many hazardous substances, uranium fuel does not become less dangerous once it is used in the reactor. The spent (used) fuel from a nuclear reactor is millions of times more hazardous than the uranium going in. This is because the nuclear reactor produces “fission products,” radioactive substances that are produced when uranium atoms are split in a chain reaction. Over 99 percent of the radioactivity created by a reactor is contained in the spent fuel bundles.
  • Spent fuel must be cooled in water for at least seven years before it can be moved robotically to temporary silos for dry storage.The hundreds of highly radioactive substances contained inside the reactor cannot be safely handled by human hands and will remain extremely toxic for hundreds of thousands of years. One CANDU spent fuel bundle, just removed from a reactor, would give a lethal dose of gamma radiation in just twenty seconds at a distance of one metre.
  • One of the CANDU reactor byproducts is tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, produced when water is exposed to neutron radiation in the reactor core. This tritiated water is released to the environment routinely and sometimes when a reactor’s cooling system is leaking. A known cancer-causing pollutant, CANDU reactors produce between 60 and 100 times more tritium than American-designed reactors, according to the National Council on Radiological Protection.
  • There have been frequent spills of tritiated water into the Great Lakes system, which supplies drinking water to millions of people on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. In August 1992, a tube break at Ontario Hydro’s Pickering station dumped 3,000 litres of tritiated water into Lake Ontario, which was the largest tritium release in the CANDU reactor history, and forced a nearby water supply plant to shut down. In 1997, Ontario Hydro admitted that tritiated water had been leaking into Lake Ontario from one of its heavy water enrichment plants for 18 years without the proper authorities being notified.

9. There is no acceptable storage method for nuclear fuel waste

The CIDA-AECL videos and booklets claim that nuclear fuel waste can be safely stored deep underground in leakproof containers, posing no danger to anyone or the environment. They don’t explain that AECL has not yet convinced Canadians — including a federally appointed panel – that its concept is safe and acceptable. As a result, nuclear fuel waste continues to pile up in temporary silos at reactor sites until a long-term solution is found.

AECL and Ontario Hydro have spent $700 million and over 20 years trying to find a storage method. Because nuclear fuel waste will remain highly radioactive for many thousands of years to come, the industry has focused on burial in deep caverns excavated in what geologists hope to be stable rock formations. In 1988, a federal parliamentary committee recommended that Canada stop building more nuclear power plants until a publicly acceptable method of radioactive waste storage is found.

Last year, the federally appointed panel completed eight years of study and public hearings in 16 communities across Canada, including three native communities, and recommended against proceeding with AECL’s proposal. The panel concluded that AECL’s proposal to bury nuclear waste in sealed containers, designed to last “for 500 years or longer,” is unacceptable on all seven criteria they considered. These criteria include safety, broad public support, and the trustworthiness of the proponent (AECL) and the regulator (Atomic Energy Control Board). The panel recommended a review of waste management options, with a new proponent – not AECL. The cost of AECL’s plan ranges from $8.7 billion to $13.3 billion.

10. CANDU reactors are linked to nuclear weapons proliferation

The CIDA-AECL videos and booklets claim there is no connection between nuclear power, nuclear bombs and nuclear weapons proliferation, and that anyone who believes there is a connection is misinformed. In fact, Canada’s nuclear reactors provided the seeds of today’s nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan. India exploded its first atomic bomb in 1974 using plutonium produced in a Canadian research reactor supplied by AECL. After Canada cut off nuclear assistance to India, the Indian government went ahead and developed its own CANDUs and used some of them to produce plutonium for its bomb program. The five bombs India exploded in 1998 were likely made with plutonium from its CANDU replicas. India is also stockpiling tritium from its CANDU-replica reactors which is a powerful explosive used in advanced weapons systems. AECL also sold a CANDU reactor to Pakistan and then cut off nuclear assistance when its nuclear weapons program was exposed. Pakistan exploded six nuclear bombs in 1998.

Originally, CANDU reactors were developed during the Second World War as a means of producing plutonium — a key element in atomic bombs — for the United States. Because of these military origins, CANDU reactors provide the highest risk of military misuse and nuclear weapons proliferation of any reactors sold commercially. Of all commercial reactor designs, the CANDU produces the highest amounts of bomb-grade plutonium and tritium per unit of electricity produced. CANDUs also have a unique “on-line” fuelling system that allows a reactor to be refuelled without having to shut the reactor down, which makes CANDUs more difficult to safeguard against military production of plutonium.

All of Canada’s reactor customers – Argentina, China, India, Korea, Pakistan, and Romania – have either developed a nuclear weapon capability or are considering doing so.

11. Nuclear power is not a solution to the buildup of greenhouse gases

The CIDA-AECL videos and booklets claim that nuclear power is an attractive solution to the buildup of greenhouse gases caused by fossil fuel generating stations. While it is true that nuclear power plants emit no greenhouse gases, nuclear power is an environmental problem, not a solution, and experts worldwide agree that there are cheaper and faster ways to reduce emissions.

In North America, nuclear power stations have not replaced coal-fired plants, they have always operated alongside coal-fired plants. Because nuclear reactors are designed to run continually and cannot be easily switched on and off like other types of power plants, utilities, such as Ontario Hydro, have always used nuclear power plants to generate the base (fixed) demand and then burned the cheapest available fuel, usually coal, to meet the daily and seasonal peak demands for electricity. As the performance of nuclear power plants declines, Ontario Hydro has increased its reliance on coal-fired producers, thus worsening air quality in Southern Ontario and neighbouring states.

The key to stabilizing electricity-related greenhouse emissions over the next two decades, according to the World Energy Council, is through more efficient end-use of electricity and by switching to cleaner fuels (such as natural gas) and advanced generating technologies.

Combined cycle gas turbines are the most popular and economical generating technology in the world today because they are quick and cheap to build, efficient and flexible in operation, and produce reliable, low-cost power (and heat or steam). Compared with coal-fired plants, combined cycle plants produce no sulphur and virtually no particulate matter, 90 percent less nitrous oxide, and 60 percent less carbon dioxide.

A recent study by the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, a coalition of power producers, consumers associations, and environmental groups, found that Ontario could afford to cut 90 percent of its electricity-related greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2014, by replacing coal with gas-fired combined cycle plants. Another study by energy researchers at Western Canada’s Simon Fraser University found that Canada could cut its electricity-related emissions by 60 percent by the year 2005 by using available technologies to boost energy efficiency.

Since Britain’s power producers began switching from coal to gas-fired combined cycle plants a decade ago, coal use has been halved, and, by 2003, British analysts expect the country’s carbon and sulphur emissions will be reduced by at least 60 percent (compared with 1980 levels).

Asia is also poised to reduce its emissions without going nuclear, reports the Economist, “given the falling renewable prices, the continued development of fuel cells, the discovery of ever larger oceans of gas, and the remarkable increases in the efficiency of gas-fired plants.” It also noted that there are “less dramatic and better ways of coping with the need for power” in Asia, such as getting manufacturers to boost efficiency and eliminating subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption.

12. Nuclear power is uneconomic

The CIDA-AECL videos and booklets promote nuclear power as an environmental solution without mentioning its cost. They don’t explain, for example, that nuclear power in Ontario has proven so uneconomic, it has virtually bankrupted Ontario Hydro. Ontario Hydro — by its own books — is worth minus $6 billion today as a result of its nuclear investments. The utility’s long-term debt has more than doubled in the last two decades, and it uses about one-third of its total revenues to service its debt. In 1997, Ontario Hydro suffered the biggest annual loss in Canadian corporate history, writing off $6.3 billion of its debt. But it is still saddled with about $32 billion in debt – or about $2,900 for each of Ontario’s 11 million residents.

The real cost of CANDU reactors has doubled in the last 25 years, according to energy economist Charles Komanoff, while the cost of gas-fired generators, cogeneration systems, and renewable energy technologies is dropping steadily. Compared with other options, nuclear power consumes huge amounts of upfront capital, about $2 billion for a 1,000-megawatt plant. In terms of cost per installed kilowatt of generating capacity, nuclear power costs about three times as much as a state-of-the-art gas-fired plant, twice as much as a conventional coal-fired plant, and roughly the same as a large hydro dam.

Cost overruns associated with nuclear power plant construction have driven utilities, Ontario Hydro and New Brunswick Power, to the brink of bankruptcy. Ontario Hydro’s last nuclear power plant, Darlington, was supposed to be built in 10 years and cost $2.5 billion, but it actually took 20 years and $14.4 billion to complete. New Brunswick Power’s Point Lepreau station was supposed to cost less than $500 million but ended up costing $1.25 billion, two and a half times the original estimate.

Nuclear power plants are so expensive to maintain, the cost of their output is uncompetitive compared with other sources. Energy Probe estimates that the cost of power from Ontario Hydro’s youngest nuclear plant, Darlington, is about 8 cents per kilowatt-hour compared with as little as 3 to 4 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity from gas-fired combined cycle plants. In the United States, the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute estimates that nuclear power costs between 10 and 20 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour compared with 3 to 5 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity from gas- and coal-fired plants, wind, and photovoltaic cells.

13. CANDU technology is obsolete

The CIDA-AECL videos and booklets claim nuclear power is one of the few viable options for Thailand to meet its future electricity needs. (They claim, for instance, that natural gas supplies are limited, when in fact, Thailand and other Southeast Asia countries have only begun to tap their abundant reserves and are still discovering new ones.) The National Energy Policy Office of Thailand and the World Bank have already declared the “nuclear option” not viable in Thailand.

Canada and most industrialized countries have either already rejected nuclear power or are phasing their nuclear power programs out because the technology has performed so poorly in the past, even with massive subsidies and monopoly privileges.

Global dependence on nuclear power will decline over the next 25 years as aging plants are shut down, according to the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute. In their book, Power Surge: Guide to the Coming Energy Revolution, Christopher Flavin and Nicholas Lenssen write that most countries are moving away from nuclear power because of “continuing concern about nuclear waste and safety and the recently uncompetitive cost of nuclear power.” The Amsterdam-based World Information Service on Energy also reports that governments in most industrialized countries are under pressure from voters to phase out nuclear power because of concerns about nuclear accidents and waste and because nuclear power is so uneconomic.

  • France’s nuclear reactors, owned by the world’s largest utility, Electricité de France, are plagued with technical and safety problems — 10 reactors have been shut down so far — and a phaseout looks imminent.
  • The United States has no plans to build any more nuclear power plants and has shut down 21 reactors so far, according to the American Nuclear Society. By the year 2003, another 25 reactors may be shut down prematurely because they are uneconomic.
  • Britain has shut down eight reactors to date and stopped building new nuclear power plants in the 1980s, after the Thatcher government privatized the electricity industry.
  • Japan is still committed to nuclear expansion, but growing public opposition and a string of fires, radioactive leaks, and explosions in the last few years have shaken public confidence in the industry. For the first time last year, the government ordered one of its utilities to shut down four of its six main nuclear facilities for safety reasons. In the last 10 years, public opposition has stopped construction of 30 nuclear plants, and about 75 percent of the Japanese public opposes nuclear power due mainly to concern about accidents.
  • Germany has shut down 10 reactors and has no plans to build any new plants. The current government is committed to phasing out nuclear power and replacing it with renewable energy.
  • The people of Sweden were the first to hold a referendum on nuclear power nearly 20 years ago that decided that the country’s 12 nuclear reactors should be phased out by 2010. The oldest plants, Barseback 1 and 2 are scheduled to be closed within the next few years.
  • The Dutch parliament voted in 1997 to close its largest and oldest nuclear plant, Borssele, by the year 2003, because it is uneconomic and the country already has enough combined cycle plants to meet domestic electricity needs and export to neighbouring countries. The country’s only other reactor, a smaller 58-megawatt unit, was also shut down because it was a money-losing operation.
  • Denmark has no nuclear plants and is steadily reducing its dependence on coal-fired plants by boosting energy efficiency and adopting renewable energy technologies. In 1993, Denmark’s energy minister, Jann Sjursen, announced that his government would provide aid to Eastern European countries to help them boost “energy efficiency and pro-environmental energy production, thus creating a supply basis, which will permit the shutdown of insecure nuclear power plants in these countries as quickly as possible.”
  • The citizens of Austria voted to shut its one nuclear power plant down, before the nuclear accident at Chernobyl.
  • Since the accident at Chernobyl, Belgium, Spain and Portugal have scrapped their plans for building nuclear power plants.
  • After Chernobyl, citizens of Italy held a referendum and voted to shut down the country’s four nuclear power plants.

14. Sources

NGO Web Sites

For more news and analysis of Canada’s nuclear power program, Ontario Hydro, and CANDU exports, see the following web sites:

Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout

Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

Energy Probe

Nuclear Awareness Project

Ontario Clean Air Alliance

Sierra Club of Canada

Government Publications

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, “Energy for the Next Millennium: Thai-Canadian Nuclear Human Resources Development Linkage Project,” Final Report, (CIDA: Ottawa, April 1998).

Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, “Report of the Nuclear Fuel Waste Management and Disposal Environmental Assessment Panel,” Backgrounder and Press Release, March 13, 1998.

Papers and Briefings

David H. Martin, “Federal Nuclear Subsidies: Time to Call a Halt,” (Nuclear Awareness Project: Uxbridge, November 1998).

Diener Consulting Inc., “Emissions Reduction Study for the Ontario Clean Air Alliance,” November 9, 1998.

WISE International, “Worldwide Overview of Nuclear Power,” October 14, 1998.

Watcharee Paoleungthong, “A Nuclear Thailand? The Decision Must Come from the Citizens,” paper presented to the No Nuke Asia Forum, Thailand, October 1998.

Arlon Tussing, “Financing the Generation and Distribution of Electricity in North America,” World Energy Council, December 1997.

Gráinne Ryder, “The Advantages of Combined Cycle Plants: A ‘New Generation’ Technology,” Probe International, November 1997.

David H. Martin, “The CANDU Syndrome: Canada’s Bid to Export Nuclear Reactors to Turkey,” (Nuclear Awareness Project: Uxbridge, September 1997).

Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins, “CLIMATE: Making Sense and Making Money,” (Old Snowmass: Rocky Mountain Institute, 1997).

David H. Martin, “Exporting Disaster: The Cost of Selling CANDU Reactors,” Nuclear Awareness Project/Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout, November 1996.

David Martin, “CANDU Reactors Buyer Beware,” Nuclear Awareness Project, 1995.

Jann Sjursen, “Energy Policy and Environmental Responsibility in a Global Perspective,” World Energy Council, December 1993.

Charles Komanoff, “Capital Cost Escalation at Ontario Hydro CANDU Plants: What Should Be Expected in the Future?” Coalition of Environmental Groups, November 1992.

Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout, “High-Level Nuclear Waste,” “Nuclear Power Pollutes,” “CANDU 3: Another Nuclear Export Scheme,” “Spreading the Bomb: The Canadian Connection.”


Gordon MacKerron and Isabel Boira-Segarra, “Regulation,” and Mike Parker, “Effects on Demands for Fossil Fuels,” The British Electricity Experiment, John Surrey (ed), (Earthscan: London, 1996).

Christopher Flavin and Nicholas Lenssen, Power Surge: Guide to the Coming Energy Revolution (W.W. Norton: New York, 1994).

David I. Poch, Radiation Alert: A Consumer’s Guide to Radiation (Doubleday Canada: Toronto, 1985).

Magazine and Journal Articles

Sheldon Gordon, “The greening of the atom,” Financial Post Magazine, November 1998.

Steven Gorelick, “Finding the Energy,” Small is Beautiful, BIG is Subsidized, International Society for Ecology & Culture, October 1998.

Todd Phillips, “Maintenance Meltdown: Why we’ll all pay for Ontario Hydro’s nuclear neglect,” Plant Engineering and Maintenance, September 1998.

“Nuclear winter,” Economist, January 10, 1998.

“Grim fallout from Chernobyl,” Time, August 30-September 5, 1992.

” Chernobyl’s deadly legacy,” Utne Reader, May/June 1990.

Newspaper Reports

Supara Janchitfah, “Half-lives and half-truths,” and “Full-power PR,” Bangkok Post, November 29, 1998.

Martin Mittelstaedt, “Coal-burning power plants called critical polluters,” Globe and Mail, November 16, 1998.

Marianne Takacs, “How much was that?” News Advertiser, October 2, 1998.

Martin Mittelstaedt, “U.S. pollution laws may cost Ontario Hydro millions,” Globe and Mail, September 29, 1998.

Colin Nickerson, “Canada trying to sell reactors called unsafe,” Boston Globe, June 25, 1998.

Shizuo Kambayashi, “Shipload of radioactive waste nears Japan,” The Nation, March 18, 1998.

“N.B. nuclear plant needs cash to live,” Globe and Mail, February 21, 1998.

Anthony DePalma, “Exported for decades, Canadian reactors are plagued by operating problems,” New York Times, December 3, 1997.

James Rusk, “Hydro’s 1997 nuclear woes costing $630-million,” Globe and Mail, November 25, 1997.

Marcus Gee, “Stop selling CANDUs to Asia,” Globe and Mail, August 20, 1997.

Michael Woloschuk, “‘Nuclear option is dead,'” Ottawa Citizen, August 18, 1997.

John Heinzl, “Hydro’s woes could boost rivals,” Globe and Mail, August 18, 1997.

Paul Waldie, Janet McFarland, and Gayle MacDonald, “Power failure,” Globe and Mail, August 16, 1997.

Brian McAndrews, “Hydro unplugged,” Toronto Star, August 16, 1997.

Michael Hanlon, “Nuclear reactors closing world-wide,” Toronto Star, August 16, 1997.

J. Richard Finlay, “Ontario Hydro’s board of directors was asleep at the switch,” Financial Post, August 16, 1997.

Guy Crittenden, “Ontario Hydro’s $8-billion gamble,” Globe and Mail, August 15, 1997.

“A monopoly on poor management,” Globe and Mail, August 15, 1997.

“Titanic hydro hit by iceberg,” Globe and Mail, August 14, 1997.

Greg Crone and Richard Brennan, “Ontario’s nuclear strategy bombed,” Montreal Gazette, August 14, 1997.

Stan Josey, “CANDU falls on hard times,” Toronto Star, August 14, 1997.

Shawn McCarthy, “Hydro fallout may hit CANDU exports; reactor sales could suffer,” Globe and Mail, August 14, 1997.

Anthony DePalma, “Ontario shuts 7 nuclear reactors near border for safety,” New York Times, August 14, 1997.

Stan Josey, “Ontario Hydro plagued by rash of nuclear-related problems,” Toronto Star, August 13, 1997.

Stan Josey and Jane Armstrong, “Hydro shock: 7 reactors to shut, president quits,” Toronto Star, August 13, 1997.

Yumiko Suzuki, “Coverup exposure scorches nuclear agenda.” Nikkei Weekly, April 21, 1997.

“Japanese nuclear firm admits to more leaks,” The Nation, April 18, 1997.

“Indonesia says no to nuclear power,” The Nation, March 24, 1997.

Walden Bello, “The triple threat of Japan’s plutonium programme,” The Nation, March 18, 1997.

“Explosion threatens nuclear-power agenda,” Nikkei Weekly, March 17, 1997.

Fredreka Schouten, “US struggles with nuclear waste,” USA Today,

February 13, 1997.

Mark Clayton, “Canada sells CANDU reactors abroad they won’t build at home,” Christian Science Monitor, February 10, 1997.

Martin Mittelstaedt, “Ontario Hydro hires U.S. nuclear experts,” Globe and Mail, January 10, 1997.

Chris Morris, “Reactor corrosion problem could shorten life of Candus,” Globe and Mail, January 10, 1997.

David Young, “Flaw at Lepreau may cost millions, Evening Globe, January 8, 1997.

“Governor hits out at plan for nuclear plant,” The Nation, January 7, 1997.

Kamol Sukin, “Top Nepo official rejects feasibility of nuclear power option,” The Nation, January 5, 1997.

“Chernobyl death toll exceeds 250, paper says,” Globe and Mail, November 9, 1989.

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