Mekong Utility Watch

Putting forward the Candu case

Bangkok Post
June 18, 1999

Letter to the Editor

The June 8 letter from Pipob Udomittipong concerning Canada’s Candu nuclear reactor technology is riddled with inaccuracies.

The most serious inaccuracy is the claim that Candu reactors have been used to make weapons material. In fact, there is no evidence that any country has ever made a nuclear weapon using materials from a Candu reactor or any other nuclear reactor designed to produce only electricity. This can be verified with the United Nations’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Canada sells its Candu reactors only to countries that sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Under the NPT, a non-nuclear-weapons country’s commitment not to develop nuclear weapons is verified by the independent safeguards of the IAEA.

These safeguards are implemented at every nuclear power plant. They include video monitoring, fuel bundle tracking and sealing devices, and are in operation on a continuous 24 hour basis. These measures allow IAEA inspectors to verify that nuclear fuel is used for peaceful purposes only. Perhaps Mr Pipob has confused North with South Korea, which has indeed chosen, most responsibly, to balance its energy supply with the installation of Candu reactors. Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL), which designs and exports the Candu
reactor, does not and never has had any business relations with North Korea.

AECL no longer has any business relations with India. AECL’s relationship with Pakistan is under the auspices of the United Nations’s IAEA, and is restricted to providing technical assistance on safety related matters to the one Canadian supplied reactor in Pakistan.

Mr Pipob is wrong to say Candu exports are subsidised by the Canadian government. The Canadian scope of Candu sales is financed at the OECD consensus rate. Canada earns interest on the money loaned. Canada does not provide concessional financing.

The OECD countries, including Canada, have agreed on interest rates to be used for all nuclear projects. All countries participating in nuclear projects use the same rates and there are no concessions. The reason for adhering to an agreed upon rate is to ensure that there are no subsidies.

It is wrong to say Canada has shut down seven Candu reactors due to safety reasons. The seven Candu reactors laid up by Ontario Power Generation (formerly Ontario Hydro) were always safe, a point made clearly by the utility and Canada’s nuclear regulator, the Atomic Energy Control Board.

The utility that operated these reactors temporarily placed these reactors in a lay-up or non-operating status because a backlog of routine maintenance was affecting electricity output. Preparatory work is under way in anticipation of a decision by the utility to re-start the reactors.

The suggestion that nuclear technology should be avoided because of the large investment cost is wrong. On a life-cycle cost basis, electricity generated by Candu power plants is competitive with fossil fueled power generation in most countries.

The Government of Thailand is currently studying the conditions under which nuclear technology would be cost effective for Thailand. Energy independence, freedom from fossil fuel price increases on the world market and environmental costs are all elements of such an evaluation.

Canada’s Candu nuclear power plants do not produce greenhouse gases or gases that cause acid rain, nor do they emit particulates that cause air pollution. The environmental benefits of nuclear power when compared with fossil fuels make nuclear generation an attractive choice for many countries.

Over a 30 year period, a single Candu reactor saves the burning of 58 million tons of coal or about 250 million barrels of oil, and avoids the release of 128 million tons of carbon dioxide produced by a coal or oil burning plant of equal size.

Countries that are rapidly industrialising such as China, South Korea and Romania require new, clean sources of electricity and they have chosen Candu technology.

Only a small amount of waste is generated by a Candu nuclear power plant, about four cubic metres of used fuel bundles per year, a volume that would fit into a small room. These solid wastes are contained, strictly controlled and present no threat to power plant personnel, the public or the environment.

Candu technology has operated in Canada for over 30 years and there has not been a single death or injury to a member of the public as a result of Candu reactor operation or the storage of nuclear spent fuel.

Mr Pipob suggests solar and wind power could supply Thailand’s future energy needs. They are clean sources of electricity but can only operate when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, and can provide only a small fraction of electricity for a large urban centre.

They can be used for small scale applications such as individual homes but can only be used to produce electricity for a country’s grid if that grid is stabilised by a continuous flow of electricity generated by other sources such as nuclear, hydro, gas or coal.

Solar and wind energy require vast amounts of land. It’s doubtful that Thai farmers would be happy to have their lands covered with solar panels and windmills.

Mr Pipob also suggests using biomass, however this technology also requires large tracts of land and would be a major contributor to global warming and air pollution.

Mr Pipob writes that Germany’s socialist coalition government has tried to phase out German nuclear power.  However, he neglects to mention that the government has faced an angry backlash from both the public and industry, most members of which have long recognised the environmental and economic benefits of nuclear power. A socialist government in Sweden tried many years ago to phase out that country’s nuclear reactors but experienced a similar negative backlash from both the public and industry, and the phase out was not implemented.

The best strategy for a country is to have, if possible, a mix of electricity sources and not to rely on just one or two forms of electricity production.

In response to the closing point of his letter, recent media stories have misrepresented the activities of the Canadian International Development Agency (Cida) and AECL in a public education programme in Thailand.  Apart from the cost of a Canadian consultant, Thai resources funded the public education programme. Cida funding of this project was completed more than one year ago.

The programme consisted of booklets and videos produced under the authority of the Department of Nuclear Technology at Chulalongkorn University. Neither the booklets nor the videos mention Candu either by name or use Candu in any of the illustrations. All the faculty members were scrupulous throughout the project to maintain a neutral attitude towards all types of nuclear systems and potential vendors.

AECL was only mentioned, along with Cida and Egat as project sponsors. The booklets and videos were only sent to those schools that volunteered to participate in the programme. The materials are balanced with respect to all types of electrical generation and were not designed to be promotional of nuclear, nor were they intended to be manipulative.

Terry Thompson, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited

Categories: Mekong Utility Watch

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s