[ RadSafe ] Anti-nuclear activists begin battle forminds of Albertans

Franta, Jaroslav frantaj at aecl.ca
Fri Jan 25 14:40:56 CST 2008

Anti-nuclear activists begin battle for minds of Albertans

(The Canadian Press - For Business Edge) Jan 25 - Albertans fighting 
a nuclear power plant are using a high-profile expert to warn about 
the dangers of the technology while the company behind the proposal 
and the province remain quiet.

Gordon Edwards, one of Canada's top nuclear experts, ....... <snip>

Calling GE "one of Canada's top nuclear experts" is quite a stretch !

FYI, here's a letter sent recently by a colleague (same debate, in Alberta, different nuke topic) :

To the Editor, 
The Calgary Herald: 

Re: "Nuclear power called 'too risky'", 2008 January 15 

Your interview with Gordon Edwards contained serious errors regarding the relationship between nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons.

It is true that all nuclear power reactors, like CANDU, produce plutonium in their cores.  Plutonium is, in fact, a valuable fission by-product that is itself a fissionable fuel, accounting for about half the energy produced in a CANDU reactor over its lifetime.

It is incorrect, however, to refer to this plutonium as "weapons-grade".  This term refers to high-purity plutonium produced in special production reactors, not the type of plutonium found in power reactors like CANDU.

The "reactor-grade" plutonium found in CANDU used fuel is unattractive for weapons use due to the significant difficulties it presents in getting a bomb to work.   

These difficulties are not to be underestimated, as Mr. Edwards is fond of doing:  they present enough of a barrier that every country with a nuclear weapons program has pursued either weapons-grade plutonium or high-enriched uranium instead.

This is true for both advanced and "rogue" nations. 

Contrary to the article's statements, this has little to do with having access to one type of material or the other:  any organization technically and financially capable of doing anything remotely menacing with reactor-grade plutonium, is smart enough to achieve its goals much more simply with weapons-grade material.  History bears this point out.

Conversely, a less technically and financially capable organization will find easier non-nuclear routes to meet their needs.   This is also, unfortunately, borne out by history.

Most international expert bodies, such as the IAEA, recognize this inherent barrier found in reactor-grade plutonium, supported by over 60 years of experience since nuclear fission knowledge first emerged.

Moreover, what risk that does exist is managed through rigorous international safeguards that monitor the inventory of nuclear material at every point in a nuclear plant, removing remaining incentives to would-be proliferators.  Again this is supported by history.

A significant disservice is done to readers who read unqualified opinions and take them as fact.  Your interviewee was not an "expert", as the article states, but a well-read citizen with an opinion to share, based necessarily upon popular literature.  

Opinions are worth sharing of course, but unlike a true expert that is accountable for statements made, a private citizen (regardless of status otherwise) can say anything he wants short of slander or libel.


Jeremy Whitlock 
Manager, Non-Proliferation and Safeguards, 
Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. 

Jeremy Whitlock, PhD 

Manager, Non-Proliferation and Safeguards 
Program Authority, Nuclear Criticality Safety Program 
AECL Chalk River Laboratories, Station 43 
Chalk River, Ontario, Canada, K0J 1J0 



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