Bruce Power Steam Generators – This Is Getting Ridiculous

October 6th, 2010
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The issue (or non-issue) of the recycling of the steam generators removed from Bruce Station was reported here before. However, as more have joined the bandwagon and seen this as an opportunity to make a big stink, the claims have gone from just false to absolutely absurd.

There’s another side to this story, however. By most reports, the public meetings and hearings on the issue of the steam generator shipment have been very sparsely attended. In some cases less than fifteen even bothered showing up for the community meetings held. This would seem to indicate that despite a very vocal few going nuts over this shipment, most citizens are not overly concerned. The controversy is not only invented, but is not even receiving much attention by most members of the public.

Perhaps is why activists have felt the need to make increasingly alarmist claims, many of them being so ridiculous I’d laugh if they were not actually being reported as serious news in much of the press.

Here are a few of the better (or worse) examples of how far this has gone:

Via the Vancouver Sun:

if radioactive waste were to leak into Canadian waters, people and marine life could face the consequences for centuries

That is simply not true. There would be no measurable consequences from such a tiny increase in the radioactivity. Of course, there is already naturally occurring radioactivity from things like carbon-14, potassium-40 and various uranium and thorium minerals

“A radioactive leak immediately doesn’t seem as bad because you can’t see it, you can’t smell it, and you can’t taste it. It’s not like an oil spill which is a real big horrible thing immediately, but the long-term effects would be so much . . . worse,” said Gordon Edwards, president of the Montreal-based Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.

The effects would be negligible, and while radioactivity can’t be seen or smelled, it actually can be detected at extremely minute levels with simple cheap equipment. That’s why radioisotopes are used as tracers. They are super easy to detect and measure.

Edwards said if the generators fell into a lake and weren’t immediately retrieved, Canadian waters would be quickly tainted, affecting generations of Canadians. He warned that people would develop multiple cancers, water wouldn’t be safe to drink and fish would be contaminated.

People would develop multiple cancers? Come on!

“An infinitely smaller volume of nuclear material would have similar impact as a large, large oil spill, said John Bennett of the Sierra Club Foundation. “(Radioactive chemicals) would take centuries to erase. We’re talking plutonium 239 — it’d kill people.”

Bennett said the chemical, found in the generators, has a half-life (the time required for the element to decay to half of the original amount) of 24,000 years and would be “impossible” to decontaminate, unlike significant oil spills.


The steam generators contain no plutonium-239* Nobody is going to die unless one of these falls off a crane and lands on them. Otherwise the danger is effectively zero.

Also, for the record: There have been plutonium spills before, it’s not impossible to decontaminate an area of plutonium. Not that this even matters, because there is no plutonium to worry about.

Via the Edmondton Journal:

Edwards also said the generators contain 15 per cent plutonium and other man-made materials with high toxicity.

That’s just idiotic. 15% plutonium? Are you kidding me. That would be many tons of plutonium. They don’t actually contain any plutonium*

Via the “Nuclear Information and Resource Service”:

WHEREAS the Great Lakes are currently compromised by radioactive contaminations through routine emissions and accidental releases at upwards of 50 nuclear sites. This radioactive burden continues to this day and should not be compounded and endorsed by radioactive steam generator shipments.


There is no detectable increase in the radioactivity of the area as a result of nuclear power generation.

WHEREAS the stigma attached to shipments of radioactive waste materials will affect people’s peace of mind and property values along the transportation route, especially if an accident involving those shipments were to occur;


Maybe, but only because you’re working so hard to scare people and stigmatize the whole issue.

Via Peace Earth and Justice News:

Each generator weighs 110 metric tonnes and contains over 50 trillion becquerels of long-lived man-made radioactive materials, including five isotopes of plutonium.

Again, there’s no plutonium*.

Via the National Post:

“The contaminants inside these steam generators represent many of the most dangerous radioactive matters that we know of,†Mr. Gordon said. “Many of these materials inside these steam generators have lifetimes of many of tens of thousands of years, so that any spill, release or even deliberate dissemination into scrap metal is going to mean that its going to be in the environment for tens of thousands of years to come. That’s an awful thought.â€


Via CBC News:

“Forty million Americans and Canadians take their freshwater, their drinking supplies from the Great Lakes,” said Bradley, whose city is one of dozens of municipalities along the route the generators will be shipped that depend on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway for drinking water. “All we need is one incident to bring about a major catastrophe on the Great Lakes.”

It has been concluded that even if all the radioactive material from this shipment were released into the lakes, there would be no impact on the safety of drinking water in the region.

But Gordon Edwards, the head of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, told CBC News the nuclear industry is good at coming up with “silly scenarios, like eating a banana is more dangerous than being beside a nuclear reactor.”

I wouldn’t really say either one is dangerous, but in terms of total radiation exposure, the banana is likely to contribute more than standing next to one of these steam generators. Of course, a brief flight on an airliner would contribute even more still.


*NOTE ON PLUTONIUM: As I try to be as technically correct as possible, I should point out that the statement that they contain “no plutonium” may be subject to some nitpicking by those who like to nitpick. The steam generators are not themselves radioactive but they do have some minor surface contamination due to fission byproducts that occasionally escape from the cladding of the nuclear fuel. This is a very minor amount of radioactivity and would be negligible if not for the fact that the steam generators had been in continuous use for many years.

Plutonium is not found in any significant concentration in the coolant and thus would not be one of the materials to contaminate the steam generators. CANDU reactors product a small amount of plutonium due to the absorption of neutrons by U-238 in the fuel. As the plutonium atoms are larger, heavier and do not have the energy that fission fragments can be propelled with, they are not prone to escaping the cladding and even if a few do, few would be deposited on the surface of the steam generators.

Still, it’s impossible to say that there are not a few atoms of plutonium in these steam generators. It’s fair to say that the amount is effectively zero, but if sensitive enough detection and analysis methods were used, it’s likely that a minuscule amount would be found.

In fact, there are few things that will not test positive for plutonium is the most sophisticated analysis methods are used. Minute amounts of plutonium are found in the human body, primarily as a result of atmospheric nuclear tests in the 1950′s and 1960′s. Other sources of plutonium may be natural. Although plutonium is generally regarded as a “synthetic” or “man made” element, minute traces have been found in nature, such as in uranium ores. The origin of this plutonium may be trace amounts of primordial plutonium isotopes or may be the result of a uranium nucleus absorbing a neutron produced by cosmic rays or spontaneous fission. Plutonium was also produced in large quantities in natural nuclear fission reactors, although most of this has decayed away.

So yes, there may be a tiny amount of plutonium in the steam generators, but there’s also a tiny amount inside YOU. To say there is zero plutonium in the generators i still basically correct in this context.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 6th, 2010 at 7:36 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Not Even Wrong, Nuclear, Obfuscation, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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17 Responses to “Bruce Power Steam Generators – This Is Getting Ridiculous”

  1. 1
    arcs_n_sparks Says:

    Great post. On another “news” site that discussed this, I asked if anyone had done a back-of-the-envelope calculation of the amount of radioactive material and heavy metal in all the coal that has moved over the Great Lakes. Silence…….

    There is a lot of hazardous material moved over the Great Lakes all the time. These steam generators are not really part of that.


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  2. 2
    DV82XL Says:

    It’s true that the some in the media have been trying to whip up a frenzy over this and its just not happening. As I reported in the other thread, at least one paper has taken a more rational position on the subject.

    Right off the bat I want to make it clear I do not support any of the following, but I spent some time on the phone today with someone that is attached to Sortir du Nucléaire and this is what she told me.

    They have always been upset over the fact that by law, movements of radioactive material in Canada are not announced prior to shipping as to route and date. The reason give is that this allows for better security, but antinuclear forces have never liked this, as it puts a crimp in any plan to organize protests over fuel movements and such. This is really the first opportunity they have had for action on this front.

    The underlying concern of the antinuclear crowd, is not so much the risk that this shipment represents, but what they believe will lead to the transit of high-level American radioactive material through the mostly Canadian, St. Lawrence Seaway, and seems to be an effort by the CNSC to develop a federal policy regarding the export of nuclear waste by a regulatory, rather than a parliamentary process. There currently is no policy in place in Canada that addresses the export Canada’s nuclear waste, and the feeling among the hard core antinukes is that the Harper government it trying to avoid a debate on the issue in the House.

    There may be some truth to this. Bruce original plan was to keep them at the Western Waste Management Facility (WWMF) but then suddenly decided to ship them to Sweden this April. Apparently too, the license they were issued was worded in such a way that this activity is not considered a ‘project’ under CNSC rules, thus no public consultation was required, nor was a full environmental review triggered. While no movement of radioactive materials in Canada is normally a project, it is felt that given the precedent setting nature of this, it looks as if it is about sneaking this through before it was really noticed, so the precedent could be set quietly, laying the way for future shipments.

    So while this is indeed a tempest-in-a-teapot, the issue does go deeper (at least for the antinukes) than what we see in public.


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  3. 3
    lily Says:

    In 2008 37 million tons of coal were shipped over the Great Lakes. Coal contains 1-…10ppm uranium. So roughly 168 tonnes of uranium were shipped in the coal. I read somewhere. Yeeeet nobody says boo.


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  4. 4
    drbuzz0 Says:

            DV82XL said:

    It’s true that the some in the media have been trying to whip up a frenzy over this and its just not happening. As I reported in the other thread, at least one paper has taken a more rational position on the subject.

    Well, it’s really the anti-nuclear groups who are sturing up the controversy and I’m actually fairly surprised by the level of outlandish lies they are willing to tell.

    This clown Edward Gordon has been around for a while and I’m quite sure he knows that there’s no plutonium in those steam generators and they wouldn’t contaminate the water even if they all sank. Therefore, he’s lying. He’s not misleading or spinning – he’s straight up lying.

    I suppose he believes his cause is so important that the truth does not matter. I’d love to be able to call him on this crap (well on more than my blog).

    Anyway, whether or not this is actually considered a “project” hardly matters. Yes, they’d like to stop anything that could make transport of nuclear related items easier, but the fact that this even needs a permit from the radiation authority is really just a technicality.


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  5. 5
    DV82XL Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    This clown Edward Gordon has been around for a while and I’m quite sure he knows that there’s no plutonium in those steam generators and they wouldn’t contaminate the water even if they all sank. Therefore, he’s lying. He’s not misleading or spinning – he’s straight up lying.

    I suppose he believes his cause is so important that the truth does not matter. I’d love to be able to call him on this crap (well on more than my blog).

    Don’t get me started on Edward Gordon. This outright fraud has made a living pretending to be a expert on nuclear matters. The organization he claims to be president of, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, was dissolved by its own board of directors years ago. It is now nothing but a mailing address and a box of slides.

    He claims to have worked as consultant for various governmental bodies on nuclear matters when in fact his only contribution has been appearing at public sessions as a commenter.

    A media whore, he has positioned himself as a source whenever radio of television needs a quick antinuclear sound bite.

    Occasionally mistakenly referred to as a professor, he is in fact, a math teacher at the equivalent of a senior high school.

    The only cause he believes in is the self promotion of Edward Gordon and the income his antics brings in.


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  6. 6
    BE Says:

    If it makes you feel any better this story really isn’t getting much traction in Canada. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the vast majority of comments with the most “thumbs up” on the CBC.ca article for this story saw through the fear mongering. It seems like for once people are actualy doing further research behind this story and are finding out just what you are pointing out. They aren’t shipping radioactive elements, they’re shipping equipment that has operated near radioactive element, it’s a big difference and people are noticing… for once.


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  7. 7
    Gordon Says:

            DV82XL said:

    The underlying concern of the antinuclear crowd, is not so much the risk that this shipment represents, but what they believe will lead to the transit of high-level American radioactive material through the mostly Canadian, St. Lawrence Seaway,

    Good then! Let the US ship it through the Canadian ports and locks and charge them duties and port fees for doing so. That means less taxes for me!

            DV82XL said:

    and seems to be an effort by the CNSC to develop a federal policy regarding the export of nuclear waste by a regulatory, rather than a parliamentary process. There currently is no policy in place in Canada that addresses the export Canada’s nuclear waste, and the feeling among the hard core antinukes is that the Harper government it trying to avoid a debate on the issue in the House.

    I would argue that the legislative system is best at coming up with high level policies and should not waste its time micromanaging things like this. This shipment does not require the MP’s to have a big debate because it’s really just a small matter and not of national concern anyway. Why would you have them bother debating and drawing up a whole bill on this trivial matter.

    If their point is a bigger policy on the shipment of nuclear waste it may still be best to delegate that decision to a regulatory group. It’s a technical issue and is best left to the experts. It’s the same thing with things like communications frequencies and communications regulations. I think you will find that the system works reasonably as long as the tv/radio/telcom commission is allowed to do its job and regulate it appropriately. When politicians decide that they know more and want to get involved, that is where you have problems. Not that a regulatory commission does not need to be accountable for doing its job and everything, but as long as it does, it should be allowed to do so without a bunch of windbag politicians trying to do it for them.


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  8. 8
    Matte Says:

    What I am more worried about is the newspapers and media actually allowing these clowns (like Edward G.) to spout their crap and then print it uncommented! But the journalists of today are not the well educated, analytical and sharp people they used to be…mostly I should add, there are exceptions to the rule but not many.

    Or the senators on the US side of the border, but then stupid and ignorant politicians is something I have been used too since I was extracted out of the womb by a Norwegian surgeon.

    This is a tempest in a teacup, the people stiring are the antinukes and hopefully it will expose the fraudsters for what they are. Unfortunatley the reasoned antinukes will drown in all this which is not good either for an open and honest debate…


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  9. 9
    Andrew Jaremko Says:

            lily said:

    In 2008 37 million tons of coal were shipped over the Great Lakes. Coal contains 1-…10ppm uranium. So roughly 168 tonnes of uranium were shipped in the coal. I read somewhere. Yeeeet nobody says boo.

    I wonder about industrial chemical shipments as well – little things like caustic soda, chlorine, sulfuric acid and the like. Does anybody know some numbers?


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  10. 10
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Andrew Jaremko said:

    I wonder about industrial chemical shipments as well – little things like caustic soda, chlorine, sulfuric acid and the like. Does anybody know some numbers?

    I don’t have the numbers off hand, but a lot – a real lot. This stuff is best known for being shipped by rail but also from time to time by barge or ship. Trucks usually carry such nasty things for short distances, such as from a rail depot to the end user. Sulfuric acid and caustic soda and that kind of thing are nasty, but the most dangerous (by far) are those which are gasses or have a very high vapor pressure. Chlorine being the classic example, of course.

    I should point out that there are hazmat protocols for handling these things. They’re not as tight as nuclear material (or even remotely close) and in fact, you might be surprised at the kind of requirements (or lack there of) for chlorine carrying tanker cars and that kind of thing. That said, all carriers are responsible for any accident and the cleanup and therefore generally carry plenty of insurance and plans exist for responding to accidents.

    The safety record is descent. Some might argue that it could be better. I don’t personally know enough about it to make a real well informed comment on that. Accidents do happen and lives are lost. Yes, chlorine trains occasionally derail and people die because of it. However, it doesn’t happen very often.

    When I’ve talked about the risks of these shipments as compared to nuclear material it sometimes is taken to mean I’m against shipping hazardous chemicals. I’m not. Things like chlorine are vital to safety, health and industry. Yes, there is risk involved, but it’s a necessity to have these materials and not having them would be far more harmful in the end than accepting the risks. The dangers are reasonably small and they’re the price we pay for living in a modern industrial society.

    My point about this all is that, on balance, if you’re going to be worried about hazmat shipping, you should be more worried about chemical shipments. If there’s a place we can focus more to improve safety and security it is not nuclear shipments – those are not the greater danger


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  11. 11
    Andrew Jaremko Says:

    Thanks drbuzz0 for your reply. I figured there had to be lots of other stuff shipped as well. I absolutely understand that we have to ship things like these around and that there are risks. The unreasoned, reflex responses to the word ‘nuclear’ really bug me, as does sloppy reporting. I’d love it if people would think before they speak…. but of course that’s asking too much. ; }


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  12. 12
    drbuzz0 Says:

    Some more information: Chlorine stands out as the biggest bulk hazmat material of extreme danger in an accident. (of course there are others). In the US there are about 12 million metric tons produced each year. About 55% of chlorine transportation is rail based, so most of that 12 million metric will, at some point in its distribution, be on the rails. There are upwards of 1.8 million registered shipments per year (I believe this refers to a single transit run of a truck or rail car and that it would count as two shipments if it’s transferred from one train to another, but I’m not totally clear on how that’s measured)

    So yeah, at any time there are thousands of cars full of chlorine on the rails around the US.

    It’s unlikely but not inconceivable that a major accident could kill thousands.

    I think you will also find that the number of shipments and usage of chlorine in the US is a fairly good representation of what you’ll find in most major industrial countries.


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  13. 13
    R.J. Moore II Says:

    I have wasted countless hours of my time debating radiophobes. They just don’t care about the science. Like the chemophobes, I suspect their real motivation is to be part of some pseudo-altruistic movement so they can get off on their social signaling jollies and seem important to themselves and others. It’s pretty pathetic, and it would be funny if it weren’t for the fact that these dunderheads can vote.


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  14. 14
    Krzysztof Kosinski Says:

            Matte said:

    What I am more worried about is the newspapers and media actually allowing these clowns (like Edward G.) to spout their crap and then print it uncommented! But the journalists of today are not the well educated, analytical and sharp people they used to be…mostly I should add, there are exceptions to the rule but not many.

    I recommend the book “Flat Earth News”, which exposes the horrifying degradation of the quality journalism in the last two decades. After reading it I have a dramatically lower opinion of “official” news sources.


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  15. 15
    R.J. Moore II Says:

            Krzysztof Kosinski said:

    I recommend the book “Flat Earth News”, which exposes the horrifying degradation of the quality journalism in the last two decades. After reading it I have a dramatically lower opinion of “official” news sources.

    A lot of it has to do with the increasing politicization of education and media, many of the social ‘sciences’ today are no such thing at all, and are instead training grounds for what are essentially high-priests of the dominant political ideology. Journalists are a prime example of this.


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  16. 16
    AAron H. Says:

    Hey Dr. Buzzo, longtime reader first time poster here.

    I am a member of the Canadian Nuclear Society and I have forwarded your article to the CNS e-mail list. One of our people at Bruce says he’ll send it up the chain and see if anyone is willing to address this steaming pile. Bruce apparently has a policy of ‘not dignifying uninformed remarks with a response’, which has a certain merit, but this case is beyond the pale.

    As for Gordon Edwards himself, a couple of our members were involved in a successful lawsuit against him when he crossed the line from general jackassery into libel and slander.

    I have seen Edwards in person, I attended one of his addresses, and I know he has a pretty good laypersons knowledge of nuclear energy. What it is, how it works and so forth. He also knows what plutonium is, where it comes from and what processes in a reactor produce it. The only explanation I can imagine for his bizarre claims is that he is simply lying. Like a sidewalk huckster who sells healing crystals that cure everything, he traffics in fear, offers an easy way out (knowing damn well that it isn’t true) and pockets the difference.


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  17. 17
    DV82XL Says:

            AAron H. said:

    Bruce apparently has a policy of ‘not dignifying uninformed remarks with a response’, which has a certain merit, but this case is beyond the pale.

    I’m not so sure this is a good policy. Ignorance about nuclear energy in the general public is the industry’s biggest problem, bar none. This attitude will be seen as arrogant at best, avoidance at worst. Frankly this is a disappointing stand for them to take.

            AAron H. said:

    I have seen Edwards in person, I attended one of his addresses, and I know he has a pretty good laypersons knowledge of nuclear energy. What it is, how it works and so forth. He also knows what plutonium is, where it comes from and what processes in a reactor produce it. The only explanation I can imagine for his bizarre claims is that he is simply lying. Like a sidewalk huckster who sells healing crystals that cure everything, he traffics in fear, offers an easy way out (knowing damn well that it isn’t true) and pockets the difference.

    It is the fact that he must know the truth, and constantly lies that is the problem with him and his ilk. Ignorance is understandable, mendacity is not. Particularly when the reason is money. He derives an income from his antinuclear activities – it is that simple. He is a vendu.


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