- Federal Review of Nuclear Power
- Nuclear power in Canada today
- Non-expansion as an option
- The power export option
- Energy self-sufficiency
- Nuclear Accidents
- Accident Insurance
- Radioactive Wastes
- Reactor Decommissioning
- Dangers to Health
- Effects on the Environment
- Security Requirements
Dr. Gordon Edwards is Chairman of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR) and Professor of Mathematics at Vanier College, Montreal. He was Assistant Director of the "Mathematics in Canada" study for the Science Council of Canada.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The author calls for a moratorium on reactor construction to focus nuclear research on reactor safety, waste disposal and the technology of plant decommissioning.
Federal Review of Nuclear Power
Despite thirty years of development and billions of dollars in subsidies, the Canadian nuclear industry is floundering. According to the draft report of an internal government review, it is doubtful "whether the nuclear industry will survive the 1980's" [35: p.125]
Domestic markets for CANDU reactors have evaporated (See Chart I).
Canada's Nuclear Capacity
Projected to 2000 AD
a) Each point on this graph represents an official published projection of estimated nuclear capacity by the year 2000. The great expectations of 1973 had all but disappeared by 1979. Since then, the Energy, Mines & Resources (EMR) internal review has estimated less than 22,000 MW installed by 2000. [ Update: In 1998, installed nuclear capacity was 14,200 MW, of which 4,870 MW has been ordered shut down, leaving 9,350 MW available -- about 1/3 of the lowest projection ("recommendation") indicated on this graph, and far less than the "confirmed" capacity in 1980. ]
b) Leonard and Partners, 1978.
c) Ontario (1978) for Ontario; Leonard and Partners (1978) for other parts of Canada.
Source: Canadian Renewable Energy News , 1978.
Without strong government action, "virtually all firms in the industry will be without nuclear business by 1985-86.... Even the most optimistic scenario indicates that the current structure of the industry cannot be maintained in the 1990's" [35: p.89]
Export markets are also soft. To sell CANDUs abroad in the face of fierce competition, the Canadian government must be prepared to loan billions of dollars to Mexico or Egypt at highly subsidized interest rates of about 7.5 per cent. Such terms will, in effect, amount to a 25 to 40 percent reduction in the price of each reactor sold -- a heavy cost for the taxpayers of Canada, who are meanwhile being told to tighten their belts to fight inflation. Yet despite these expensive incentives, overseas sales, by themselves, cannot save the nuclear industry from ultimate collapse [35: pp.114, 125]
The question facing decision makers is how can Canada maintain the nuclear option through the 1980s in the most sensible and cost-effective manner?
It will be very costly -- in both financial and political terms -- for Ottawa to promote the building of more CANDU reactors in the absence of a market, as urged by the nuclear lobby; and there is no guarantee of success. It is quite possible "that the domestic and export outlook will not improve, and the same problem will have to be faced once again in several years" [35: p.126]
There is a less costly way to proceed. It is possible to preserve the nuclear option without building more reactors, while achieving a number of important objectives in both the nuclear and non-nuclear fields.
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Nuclear power in Canada today
The fact that Ontario Hydro generates one third of its power from nuclear stations is indeed impressive. The fact that Ontario's reactors have outperformed most other reactors in the world is also impressive.
However, the annual fuel saving attributed to its nuclear program by Ontario Hydro would barely suffice to pay the annual operating budgets of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) and the Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB), both of which come from the federal treasury .
Moreover, it must be realized that Ontario Hydro is currently experiencing 40 to 50 per cent overcapacity above peak demand (Table 1), steadily declining load forecasts (Table 2) and a $12 billion debt which is difficult to service at today's interest rates. These circumstances make the nuclear contribution seem less impressive.
Ontario Hydro Overcapacity above Peak Demand
1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 Peak capacity 19,677 21,347 22,845 24,429 24,457 (2) Peak demand 15,896 15,677 15,722 16,365 16,808 Overcapacity 24 % 36 % 45 % 49 % 45 %
1. Includes 550 MW mothballed.
2. Includes 1,704 MW mothballed.
Source: Ontario Hydro Annual Reports.
Ontario Hydro Peak Load Forecasts to Year 2000
(Percentage per year)
Year 1970-76 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 Forecast over 7 % 6.2 % 5.3 % 4.5 % 3.4 % 3.1 %
Source: Ontario Hydro Annual Reports.
Based on current load forecasts, no new nuclear stations in Ontario would be justified for the remainder of this century [62: p.101; 67: p.4] Quebec and New Brunswick, the only other provinces with CANDU reactors under construction, find themselves in a similar situation [36: p.16] In November 1981, Hydro-Quebec announced it was postponing for at least ten years any consideration of further nuclear plants in the province.
With 14,000 megawatts (MW) of undeveloped hydro potential and enormous opportunities in the field of industrial cogeneration, Ontario Hydro could meet projected load growth well into the twenty-first century without building additional nuclear stations. [57; 61] Alternatively, aggressive energy conservation measures could halt and possibly even reverse load growth in the next few decades [29; 47; 63; 72]
The price tag of a new nuclear station such as Darlington may exceed $10 billion. Does it make sense to build such plants now, when they are not needed, "in order to meet a probable -- but far from certain -- domestic demand for nuclear energy in the 1990's" [35: p.125] Would it not be preferable to wait and see what that future demand is likely to be?
At present, nuclear power contributes surprisingly little to Canada's energy supply -- only 1.3 per cent of total consumption in 1977, about one third as much as that contributed by direct combustion of wood pulp wastes (See Chart II).
Canada's Secondary a Energy Consumption
by Fuel Type (1977)
Norm Rubin, What Keeps Us From Freezing in the Dark?
A Breakdown of Canada's Secondary a
Energy Consumption by Fuel Type
(Toronto: Energy Probe, 1977)
based on Statistics Canada data.
a) "Secondary Energy" refers to energy delivered to the consumer. Nuclear power contributes three times as much primary energy, but since more than two thirds of this energy is wasted, it is not reflected in these figures.
b) "Direct woodpulp" available to the B.C. pulp and paper industry only.
Despite the modesty of its contribution, however, the CANDU program has consistently commanded the lion's share of federal funds for energy research and development (Table 3).
Table 3Because of the billions of tax dollars already spent on nuclear technology, Ottawa feels it cannot afford to let the industry collapse. As recently as April 1981, Ottawa forgave $825 million in unpaid loans owed to the federal treasury by AECL -- a technically bankrupt crown corporation. Ottawa should realize that the nuclear industry may be destined to fail despite heroic efforts to prop it up. Building more reactors now might just make the ultimate collapse all the more devastating.
Federal Energy Research and Development Expenditures
(Millions of Dollars)
Year 1976/77 77/78 78/79 79/80 80/81 81/82 Total 120.5 118.2 150.7 157.9 173.9 205.9 Nuclear 90.3 87.9 105.8 106.4 117.2 118.4 % nuclear 75 % 74 % 70% 67 % 67 % 57.5 %
Source: Energy, Mines and Resources, Ottawa.
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Non-expansion as an option
Since 1977, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility has been calling for a moratorium on further expansion of the nuclear industry in Canada.  The proposed moratorium would be coupled with a diversion of investment capital now slated for nuclear facilities into community-based energy conservation programs.  The call for a moratorium has since been echoed by hundreds of other bodies throughout Canada, including the Ontario Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning, pending a solution to the problem of radioactive waste disposal [60: p.xiii; 62: p.xix]
Meanwhile, careful economic analysis has shown that energy conservation measures will cost less money, have a less inflationary effect on the economy, and provide quicker and more lasting remedies for our energy ills than comparable investments in nuclear power plants or any other large-scale energy supply facilities. [15; 16; 29; 45] At least one U.S. energy analyst has pointed out that any comprehensive conservation program that successfully displaces a significant amount of imported oil will also displace a significant fraction of bulk electricity demand, since about half of our electrical production now goes to service low-temperature heating needs.  Thus, electricity demand might well decline in absolute terms as the heating market shrinks due to successful conservation measures. 
Ottawa has refused to consider the non-expansion option seriously. Ottawa has not recognized that the main opportunity cost associated with a policy of nuclear expansion will be our resulting inability to make comparable investments in energy efficiency because of capital unavailability. Ottawa sees no alternative but to build more reactors to keep the nuclear industry alive; otherwise, it is feared that the nuclear industry will collapse and the nuclear option will be lost.
On the contrary, it has been argued that there is plenty of work to keep the Canadian nuclear industry busy for ten years or more without building any more nuclear reactors during that period. 
The main areas of nuclear activity during the nonexpansion period, in addition to running existing nuclear facilities, would be:
- Reactor safety studies
The Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs has identified a number of areas where major research is needed, ranging from the probability and consequences of catastrophic accidents in CANDU reactors to the long-term biological effects of radioactive tritium and carbon-14 emissions from CANDU power plants.
Further work is also needed on the effectiveness and reliability of CANDU emergency core cooling systems and on the safety implications of leaking pressure tubes at Bruce and cracks recently discovered in the concrete containment walls of reactors under construction in Quebec, New Brunswick and Argentina [2: p.14; 3: pp.1-4; 24; 25; 32]
- Radioactive waste disposal
The Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs has found that the present research program requires "deep and fundamental" changes; the Canadian Geosciences Council has called for a vastly expanded research program (directed by an agency not promoting nuclear power), much better funded and spread over a longer time frame than currently envisaged [66: Jan. 24, 1980, pp.20-30; 69; 34]
In addition to the high-level radioactive wastes produced by reactors, there are also 100 million tons of highly toxic low-level radioactive wastes, called uranium tailings, which will require disposal at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. [26; 30; 70] Research on uranium tailings disposal has scarcely begun. 
- Decommissioning nuclear facilities
Techniques and tools must be developed for dismantling the highly radioactive structures left at the end of a reactor's useful lifetime.  During the 1980s, the necessary robotic equipment and remote-controlled demolition techniques can be developed and used to decommission Gentilly-1, a now defunct reactor on the St. Lawrence River owned by AECL.
Similar specialized tools and skills will be needed to retube all of Ontario's operating power reactors during the mid-to-late 1980s; each reactor will have to be shut down for a year or more while this difficult and dangerous task is undertaken. Other nuclear facilities -- mines, mills, refineries, fuel fabrication plants -- are also in need of detailed decommissioning plans, complete with realistic cost estimates and concrete funding arrangements.
Properly coordinated and funded, these essential research and development projects could occupy large segments of the nuclear industry for many years. Since most of the presently installed nuclear facilities will continue to operate during the moratorium period, dislocations within the nuclear industry need not be as serious as Ottawa fears (Table 4).
Employment in the Canadian Nuclear Industry (1977)
Industry sector Jobs (1) Jeopardy (2) Uranium mining & refining 7,002 slight Research & development 3,300 moderate Engineering & design 4,100 acute Manufacturing components 6,000 acute-to-moderate Construction of plants 11,450 moderate Operations & maintenance 5,600 slight Public administration 250 slight Total 31,400 variable
1. Source: Canadian Nuclear Association, 1978.
2. Related to domestic CANDU program only.
3. Author's assessment, based on alternative employment.
The manufacturing sector (80 per cent Ontario based) is the biggest question mark. However, most CANDU suppliers -- makers of pumps, valves, seals, instruments, and even heavy components like calandrias, for example -- are already highly diversified. Some firms have as little as 10 per cent of their business in the nuclear field [28: pp.VI-24] They could exit from the nuclear industry without major repercussions, then re-enter ten years later to supply the same CANDU components if required.
A few companies will no doubt require special assistance to make the adjustment, which would eventually be necessitated by a de facto moratorium in any event. It is better to face the problem squarely now than to drift toward a much more chaotic collapse later. For example, those firms now manufacturing CANDU fueling machines could produce robotic decommissioning equipment instead.
Once established, Canadian expertise in dealing with outstanding problems of reactor safety, waste disposal and decommissioning may be exportable at a profit to other countries facing similar problems. In addition, technological spin-offs (e.g., industrial robotics, safe disposal of toxic chemicals) are likely to be of commercial value.
From many different perspectives, the non-expansion option is an attractive one. Indeed, rationalization of the nuclear industry is long overdue.
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The power export option
Ottawa has different plans, however: it is toying with the idea of building more nuclear reactors in Canada to supply power to the United States. This policy "could generate attractive profits and, in addition, provide badly needed business for the Canadian nuclear industry . . . five or six 630 MW reactors in New Brunswick and from five to seven 850 MW reactors in Ontario" [35: p.98]
It is clear that such an audacious scheme will only succeed if public apathy permits. "The key question to be answered at this time, then, is whether further investigation of this potentially lucrative market is warranted; or whether overall public acceptability is so unlikely as to make further efforts futile" [35: p.103]
Significantly, this "key question" has never been put to the House of Commons or to the Canadian public. Nevertheless, the United Steelworkers of America -- representing most of the uranium miners in Canada -- issued the following conference statement in 1979, shortly after the electricity export scheme was first expounded by the nuclear lobby:
The pursuit of nuclear power has already cost an unacceptable price in terms of health and lives of our uranium miners. Ontario's over-expansion of nuclear generating capacity is a senseless waste of taxpayers' dollars. A bad situation should not be made worse. Therefore, the proposal of increased reactor construction for the purpose of energy exports to the United States should be completely rejected. All the economic and environmental burdens would be borne by Canadians, and the benefits would be few. 
Canadians would run all the risks. Americans would get all of the power and most of the jobs. The Canadian nuclear industry would last for a few more years in its present form, living on borrowed time.
Is such an arrangement good business? Are the benefits so great as to justify the borrowing of tens of billions of dollars, using the public purse as collateral, but without involving the public in the decision-making process?
These questions are dramatically highlighted by the situation in New Brunswick. The Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station (recently completed) is totally surplus to the province's present electrical needs. Accordingly, the N.B. Electric Power Commission has applied to the National Energy Board (NEB) for a licence to export 54 per cent of the power from Point Lepreau to the northwest United States at giveaway prices.
There has never been a thorough environmental assessment for the Point Lepreau reactor, despite the fact that it will be the first CANDU to be cooled with salt water, the first to depend upon a newly designed high-pressure emergency core cooling system, the first to be built within five kilometres of a major geological fault, and the first of its size to operate without a vacuum building. Construction irregularities and design flaws have been identified but only superficially investigated. 
Nevertheless, N.B. Power has told the NEB that the environmental impact of electricity exports from Point Lepreau will be zero, since the plant will be operated at full power with or without exports. If the NEB accepts this argument, no environmental study will be required before exports are authorized.
At the same time, N.B. Power has frankly admitted that, if the reactor operates well, the proposed power exports will result in a substantial loss to the province and to Canada. N.B. rate payers will have to purchase oil-generated electricity, and Ottawa will have to pay the associated oil equalization payments. Thus N.B. ratepayers and Canadian taxpayers are being asked to subsidize power exports from Point Lepreau, while being denied any opportunity to assess the environmental risks associated with the operation of the plant supplying the power.
Is the N.B. application the first step in a massive program to export nuclear-generated electricity from Canada? Perhaps. Premier Hatfield is already talking about building Lepreau-2 for power exports. And, by accelerating the construction schedule for the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station, against the advice of the Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs, Premier Davis has indicated that Ontario is also willing to become a power cow to be milked by the United States.
Ontario Hydro is currently applying to the NEB for permission to export 1,000 MW of firm power to General Public Utilities (GPU), owners of the crippled Three Mile Island plant. Up to 30 per cent of this power may be nuclear generated, but it will mainly be coal-fired power. Coal burning, of course, means more acid rain. However, just as the Ontario cabinet on an earlier occasion exempted the Darlington nuclear station from environmental hearings required under the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act, so now these power exports are to be undertaken without any detailed environmental assessment.
Environmental anarchy seems to be the rule of the day, especially when nuclear facilities are involved, or power exports, or both. The Canadian public is being effectively left out of the decision-making process. Is this to be the pattern for the future?
Clearly, if a policy of power exports from CANDU reactors is adopted, neither Ottawa nor the provincial governments involved will want their plans closely scrutinized. There are too many costs that will have to be borne by the Canadian public -- costs that may outweigh any conceivable benefits.
First of all, "because of the interaction of financial requirements, inflation, construction schedules and export sales, domestic rates may well increase in the short run. This reduces the attractiveness of such a scheme to the utility's consumers" [35: p.101 -- emphasis in original].
Secondly, although profits may eventually be realized, the risk of such an enormous speculation could be prohibitive in the absence of firm long-term contracts. The export market for Canadian electricity "may be confined to an 'export window' beginning in 1990 and lasting to 2000 or 2005.... This implies a decision must be made soon" [35: pp.99-100] Of course, the "export window" concept also implies that if domestic demand for nuclear-generated electricity does not materialize in time to take up the slack, the power export scheme may turn out to be a colossal failure involving huge losses.
Thirdly, there are a great many social, political and environmental costs involved in expanding the nuclear power industry needlessly. Important non-economic risks are also involved, including increased environmental and safety risks, and the commitment of Canadian non-renewable resources to long-term export [35: p.102]
The remainder of this paper will be devoted to some of the more important non-economic risks associated with the export of nuclear-generated electricity from Canada. For convenience, they will be classified into the following categories: energy self-sufficiency; accidents; insurance; wastes; decommissioning; health; environment; and security. Wherever possible, the economic implications of such risks will be pointed out.
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If nuclear power is merely a bridge to a non-nuclear future, we should not build any more plants than we have to. On the other hand, if nuclear power is destined to play a major role on the energy scene at some future time, serious resource problems will develop.
Economically recoverable reserves of uranium are not expected to outlast the oil supply [60: p.151] This fact was recently emphasized by M. Laurent Amyot, the newly appointed Quebec vice president of AECL.  By exporting nuclear generated electricity to the United States, therefore, we will be hastening the advent of a plutonium economy -- a development that is keenly desired by the nuclear lobby. [8; 55]
Canadians should carefully weigh the advice of Sir Brian Flowers, a prominent British nuclear physicist, who warned in 1976 that "a major commitment to fission power and a plutonium economy should be postponed as long as possible." The reason for this is fundamental.
Plutonium appears to offer unique potential for threat and blackmail against society because of its great radiotoxicity and its fissile properties. The construction of a crude nuclear weapon by an illicit group is credible. We are not convinced that the Government has fully appreciated the implications of this possibility. 
Sir Brian's fears on this score are shared by many scientists, including Dr. Robert Uffen, Dean of Engineering at Queen's University and one-time Vice-Chairman of Ontario Hydro. [46; 49; 73]
Developing a commercial capability for extracting and using plutonium in CANDU reactors is a monumental undertaking, requiring at least $2.2 billion in federal subsidies [65: p.12] Yet there is no guarantee of success, nor is there any evidence that plutonium separation ("reprocessing") for commercial purposes is economically feasible [39: p.320] The Ontario Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning and the federal government's Green Paper on Nuclear Waste Management both recommended against commercial reprocessing for the foreseeable future [33: p.7; 60: p.xii] It logically follows that power exports from nuclear reactors in Canada should not be encouraged .
It could be disastrous for Canada's energy self-sufficiency if Canadians were to invest hundreds of billions of dollars installing a nuclear infrastructure only to find that the reactors cannot continue to be fueled economically. Yet this may well happen. Political opposition to commercial reprocessing, combined with technical and economic difficulties, may make the plutonium economy unacceptable in Canada. [10; 39]
As the Ontario Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning discovered several years ago, the nuclear dream is not a golden one:
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the nuclear option, far from guaranteeing energy self-reliance for Ontario, at best promises uncertainty [60: p 135]
Building reactors for power exports merely aggravates that uncertainty.
On the other hand, Canada's energy self-sufficiency would be greatly enhanced if Canadian utilities were to invest in energy conservation rather than reactor construction during the 1980s. This could be accomplished by means of low-interest loans to utility customers for energy efficiency improvements of many kinds: better insulation, heat recuperators, more efficient furnaces and industrial processes, attached solar greenhouses, solar assisted water heating, and so forth. Utility customers could repay the loans by remitting to the utility, on a monthly basis, an amount approximately equal to the value of the monthly fuel saving brought about by the efficiency improvements. [18; 59]
Such an investment program would provide an immediate stimulus to the economy, creating jobs and business opportunities in thousands of Canadian communities. It would also alleviate the borrowing needs of the utilities involved and would improve their cash flow.  Typically, these investments repay themselves within five to ten years.  The money is then available for reinvestment, thus easing capital constraints and minimizing inflation.
If such a program is implemented on a multibillion-dollar basis during the 1980s, Canada will have succeeded by the end of the decade in displacing imported oil in the fastest, cheapest and most sustainable manner possible. In addition, Canada's energy supply problems will be permanently more manageable because of reduced demand:
By relatively straightforward efficiency improvements . . . the expected annual growth rate of total Canadian energy consumption would drop from the 3.7 percent estimated in the Energy Strategy Report to less than 2 percent per annum The effect, by 1990, would be petroleum consumption lower by the equivalent of the annual output of 6 Syncrude oil-sands plants, natural gas consumption lower by 80 percent of the annual Canadian output of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline, electricity by the equivalent of 15 Pickering-sized nuclear plants, and coal by about 10 million tons [64: p.42]
However, if the capital is channelled into building nuclear reactors for power exports instead, the opportunity will be lost. Why invest in uncertainty when there are obviously better choices?
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As the Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs has pointed out, a major accident in a CANDU reactor could have devastating and irreversible consequences:
It is not right to say that a catastrophic accident is impossible. . . . The worst possible accident would involve the spread of radioactive poisons over large land areas, killing thousands immediately, killing others through increasing susceptibility to cancer, risking genetic defects that could affect future generations, and possibly contaminating large land areas for future habitation or cultivation [68: pp.9-10]
Despite reassurances from nuclear proponents, the probability of a complete disaster is too large to be ignored. According to the Ontario Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning, the most realistic probability for a complete core meltdown in a CANDU reactor is about 1 in 10,000 per reactor per year [60: p.78]
With 23 reactors now committed in Canada, each expected to operate for 30 years or more, the overall probability that a catastrophic meltdown will occur at one of these plants in the future is greater than 1 in 15 -- more than twice the probability of rolling a twelve with two dice (Table 5). This figure, based on the royal commission's estimate, agrees with earlier U.S. estimates to within a factor of two [56: v.1, p.135] Building reactors for power exports can only add to this already considerable risk factor .
Even non-catastrophic accidents can have a crippling impact. The cleanup following the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident in Pennsylvania is expected to take about ten years and cost $1 billion to $2 billion, but there is no assurance that cleanup efforts will be successful.[48: p.13; 44]
The TMI accident is officially categorized as a "small pipe break loss of coolant accident" [48: p.27; 4] The probability of such an accident occurring in a CANDU reactor (assuming a thirty-year lifetime) is greater than 1 to 4, according to an official AECL estimate published in the Point Lepreau Safety Report of 1979 (Table 5).
Calculated Probabilities for Accidents in CANDU Reactors (1)
Loss of coolant (2) 1 in 100 1 in 4 1 in 5 99.7 % Core meltdown (3) 1 in 10,000 1 in 300 1 in 500 1 in 15
1. Assuming a 30- to 35-year lifetime for a CANDU reactor.
2. Source: AECL Safety Report for Lepreau-1, 1979.
3. Source: Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning,
1978 Interim Report on Nuclear Power, pp.78-79.
It is sobering to realize that if such an accident were to occur at a multi-reactor CANDU complex (such as the eight-reactor complex nearing completion at Pickering, the four-reactor complexes Bruce "A" and Bruce "B", or the four-reactor complex under construction at Darlington), all of the inter-connected reactors might have to be shut down for an extended period of time, since they are all connected to the same vacuum building. Of course, the lifetime probability of a small pipe break would be correspondingly higher in an eight-reactor complex -- over 90 per cent, in fact.
Unfortunately, the prevailing attitudes within the Canadian nuclear industry are precisely those identified by the President's Commission on Three Mile Island as most conducive to bringing about further nuclear accidents of major proportions [48: pp.8-10] Partly because of such attitudes, planning for nuclear emergencies is lamentably poor in Canada, which makes the actual risk to the public that much greater.
The power export option for salvaging the nuclear industry would add substantially to the risk of both catastrophic and non-catastrophic nuclear accidents in Canada. Are the benefits such as to justify the added risk?
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Off-site property damage following a catastrophic core melting accident can run to many billions of dollars -- enough to ruin any corporation. For this reason, the Nuclear Liability Act was passed by the House in 1970 and proclaimed in 1976, limiting the off-site liability of Canadian utilities to a maximum of $75 million for each nuclear site. 
Comparable legislation in the United States -- the Price Anderson Act -- provides $560 million in off-site insurance following a nuclear accident. The U.S. General Accounting Office has recently recommended that this amount be increased to $1 billion or more, just to keep pace with inflation, and that it be reassessed as to its adequacy. 
If Canada builds CANDU reactors for power exports Canadians will enjoy less protection against financial ruin than their U.S. counterparts would have been entitled to had light water reactors been built in the United States to meet those same energy requirements.
The wisdom and justice of such an arrangement must be questioned. Since Canadian citizens cannot purchase private insurance to cover themselves against property damage caused by radioactive contamination, government has a very special responsibility to see that sufficient financial protection against nuclear disasters is available.
In the event of a non-catastrophic accident comparable in severity to the TMI accident Canadian off-site insurance should be quite adequate. However, the on-site insurance presently available for CANDU reactors is certainly not enough.
The insurance limit for on-site damage is presently pegged at $300 million -- barely enough to pay for the heavy water inventory that would be lost if a small pipe break were to occur inside the core of a CANDU reactor. Many times that amount of money would be required to cope with the enormous quantities of radioactively contaminated air and water, to decontaminate the building, and to repair the crippled core. In addition, if such an accident were to occur in an eight-reactor complex, fuel replacement costs would be much higher than those currently being borne by General Public Utilities (GPU), the owners of the TMI plant.
Confronted with such an accident, Canadian rate payers and taxpayers would undoubtedly have to come to the rescue of the afflicted facility, as indicated by events in the United States following the TMI accident. On the other hand, U.S. utilities and their customers who may have purchased power from the afflicted facility through power export contracts would escape liability.
Requiring U.S. utilities to contribute to insurance premiums as a prerequisite of power exports from CANDU reactors is not a satisfactory approach when the insurance itself is so clearly inadequate. Until all aspects of nuclear insurance have been thoroughly and publicly reviewed, therefore, power exports should not be permitted from Canadian nuclear plants.
In addition to inadequate off-site and on-site insurance limits, there is a third, more subtle aspect to the insurance question: premature obsolescence. For example, it is known that neutron irradiation causes accelerated aging of structural materials. At present, fifteen or twenty reactors in the United States have had their reactor vessels so badly embrittled that the plants may have to be shut down permanently after only ten years of operation.  Meanwhile, all of Ontario Hydro's operational reactors will soon have to have their cores rebuilt, at a cost of $500 million or more, because of neutron damage to their pressure tubes. (This is the retubing operation referred to earlier.) Other generic problems, such as chemical corrosion in nuclear steam generators, which has already shut down several reactors in the United States (including the Ginna plant near Rochester), will likely develop in CANDUs too.
Exporting power from a CANDU reactor for ten years or so may effectively shorten the lifetime of the plant. By the time the export contracts have expired, it may be that the reactor will require early retirement or expensive repairs. Accelerated aging may annihilate any profits that might have been realized during the export period. What assurance do Canadians have that their CANDU reactors will still be serviceable after power has been exported for an extended period of time?
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High-level radioactive wastes produced by reactors are capable, in principle, of causing "millions to billions of fatal cancer doses . . . an admittedly unlikely scenario. The U.S. Geological Survey has pointed out that there isn't enough fresh water in the world to dissolve these wastes to "acceptable" levels of concentrations. 
The B.C. Medical Association considers it "irresponsible in the extreme for the government of Canada to allow the further development of uranium mining and reactor construction until a safe, proven, permanent waste disposal technology is developed for the wastes that have already been produced.[11; 23]
If CANDU reactors are used to deliver power to the United States, who will pay for the disposal of the associated high level wastes? Indeed, how can such a cost be realistically assessed, when the basic feasibility of the geological disposal option is still in question? [17; 20; 69; 77]
Concerning the cost of geological disposal, the Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs has observed:
It is difficult to assess the allegations of some critics that the cost of waste disposal will be sufficient to compromise the currently assumed advantage of nuclear power over coal The Committee could not find in any of the agencies currently responsible for pieces of the program satisfactory and complete answers on financial details. It was difficult for the Committee, and it will continue to be difficult for the public, to have confidence in this vital program when specifics and responsibilities are left vague and undefined [69: p 21]
As for contractual arrangements, it is interesting to note that when N.B. Power signed a contract with Prince Edward Island to sell power from Point Lepreau, Prince Edward Island was obliged to assume its full share of the actual cost of waste disposal, whatever that cost might ultimately become. However, when N.B. Power subsequently negotiated contracts with New England utilities for Lepreau power, the U.S. utilities were only asked to pay their share of any arbitrary annual assessment that might -- or might not -- be imposed during the lifetime of the contracts to help defray the cost of ultimate waste disposal.
In view of the uncertainties that exist, it is unlikely that any such arbitrary assessment will have a realistic bearing on the actual cost of disposal for high-level radioactive wastes. Profits gleaned from export sales could be entirely negated if disposal costs turn out to be very much higher than expected.
It should be borne in mind that high-level radioactive wastes -- the only kind mentioned in the N.B. export contracts -- are only half the problem. There are also millions of tons of dangerously radioactive uranium tailings that must be carefully disposed of in a manner yet to be determined. [5; 26; 70; 78]
Who will pay to dispose of the toxic, sand-like tailings created by the fueling requirements of a power export program? The Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs heard cost estimates ranging from $300 million to $1S billion to dispose of the tailings in the Elliot Lake region [30: p.35]
Ontario Hydro's existing uranium contracts. which extend to the turn of the century, specifically exempt the Elliot Lake mining companies from financial responsibility in this regard. All disposal costs for uranium tailings will be passed on to Ontario Hydro. Nevertheless. these disposal costs are in no way reflected in current electricity prices.
To export nuclear-generated electrical power under such conditions would surely be unwise.
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When a nuclear reactor has outlived its usefulness, the structure itself remains intensely radioactive for a considerable period and dangerously radioactive for tens of thousands of years. A study done for the U.S. Atomic Industrial Forum has recommended a cooling-off period (after shutdown) of 70 to l00 years in order to reduce the occupational exposures of the men who will eventually be hired to dismantle the structure.  It is a difficult, dangerous and very expensive job.
In 1978, a U.S. Congressional committee reported that decommissioning costs for reactors may lie in the range of 3 per cent to l00 per cent of the initial capital cost of the plant. Current AECL and Ontario Hydro estimates favour a cost figure near the lower end of this spectrum, but these Canadian estimates have never been subjected to independent scrutiny. [7; 58]
If nuclear-generated electricity is exported to the United States, there will no doubt be provision for a decommissioning fund; but will the fund be adequate to pay for the work that must be done, including the transportation and disposal of countless truckloads of radioactive rubble?
Past experience is not reassuring. There are still over 200,000 tons of radioactive debris lying in open ravines in Port Hope, Ontario, accessible to children and animals, despite promises that the town would be cleaned up. Radioactive soil from Scarborough left over from a defunct radium dial-painting operation in Toronto has still found nowhere to go.
Past financial arrangements have also proven to be unsatisfactory.[40; 41] The decommissioning cost for a defunct nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in upstate New York has been estimated at over $500 million, yet the decommissioning fund established during the plant's operation accumulated only $3 million. 
Will the construction of CANDU reactors for power exports leave a legacy of radioactive mausoleums for Canadians, too dangerous to ignore but too costly to dismantle?
If the Canadian nuclear industry collapses within the next two decades, as Ottawa fears might happen, decommissioning costs could be even higher than the most pessimistic estimates made to date. As the U.S. General Accounting Office has pointed out:
The possibility of this industry ending raises questions as to whether there will be nuclear-related organization, nuclear equipment, and individuals expert in the nuclear field that would be capable of dealing with the decommissioning and decontamination problems that could remain for about 100 years after the last reactor is shut down [41: p.24]
It is clearly important that Canada gain experience in decommissioning power reactors before many more of them are allowed to be built. Gentilly-l, already mothballed, is the obvious place to begin. As mentioned earlier, a ten-year moratorium on expansion of the industry would allow this problem to be addressed in earnest with proper funding from Ottawa and those provincial governments engaged in nuclear power production.
Only after the first power reactor has been successfully decommissioned will it be possible to provide realistic cost estimates for such activities and to incorporate these costs into the rate structure for nuclear-generated electricity. Until that time, power exports from nuclear facilities would be ill-advised.
Of course, if any serious reactor accidents occur, the associated decommissioning costs will automatically be much higher than anticipated. As at TMI, reactors that have malfunctioned may prove to be extraordinarily expensive to dismantle. Worse accidents are also possible. How does one decommission a reactor that has melted down, for example?
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Dangers to Health
Health effects resulting from chronic exposure to low-level radiation will take decades to become manifest. Moreover, because of the long half-lives of some radionuclides, radiological hazards will persist in the environment long after the facilities that spawned them have ceased operation. The ultimate public health cost is therefore impossible to ascertain with any degree of certainty.
However, radiological health hazards resulting from a policy of power exports will undoubtedly exist -- not just because of the functioning of the reactors producing the power, but also because of the mining and processing of the uranium fuel. In the latter context, the B.C. Medical Association (BCMA) has warned that lifetime exposure to the present "acceptable" limit of occupational exposure for uranium miners would be expected to cause a quadrupling of the incidence of fatal lung cancers, based on currently available medical evidence. Thus, instead of l in 20, about l in 5 miners would be expected to die of lung cancer because of "permissible" exposures to radioactive radon gas in the mines [13: pp.249-50].
The public is not adequately protected by existing radon exposure standards either. Referring to the present "permissible" levels of radiation exposure in radon contaminated homes in Elliot Lake, Port Hope, Uranium City and elsewhere, the BCMA has found that a substantial (30 to 50 per cent) increase in lung cancer would be expected as a result of people living in such homes for an entire lifetime:
In light of the present state of knowledge, one could well view the allowable exposure to the public from nuclear facilities as tantamount to allowing an industrially-induced epidemic of cancer. [13: p.283, emphasis in original]
The quantitative conclusions of the BCMA concerning the health effects of low-level radon exposure have recently been confirmed by an independent study conducted under contract to the AECB. 
In addition to radon gas, uranium mining exposes workers and the public to radium (half-life of 1,600 years), which the BCMA describes as "a superb carcinogen" polonium-210, which is one of the most potent carcinogens in cigarette smoke; thorium and uranium dust, which can be very damaging when ingested or inhaled over a long period of time;  and a number of other radionuclides. The most damaging of these are the alpha-emitting substances, which will be present in undiminished quantities for tens of thousands of years. 
The fact that these radionuclides occur in nature is irrelevant. Arsenic occurs in nature too. The health costs of "technologically enhanced radiation exposure" (as the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency puts it) are quite substantial, though seldom cited by nuclear proponents. Power exports will inevitably add to these health costs.
The situation concerning health effects due to radioactive emissions from CANDU power plants is less clear. The most problematic radionuclides in this regard are tritium (radioactive hydrogen) and carbon-14, which are routinely released into the environment in the form of water and carbon dioxide respectively. Unlike most other radionuclides, these substances can be incorporated directly into the DNA molecules of living cells, potentially causing widespread genetic damage.
As the Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs has observed:
Carbon-14 and tritium are of comparable and special concern for similar reasons. First, they each have long half-lives: 5,730 years for carbon-14 and 12.3 years for tritium. Long half-lives allow them to accumulate in the environment around a reactor and in the global biosphere. Second, they are easily incorporated into human tissue. Carbon-14 is incorporated into the carbon that comprises about 18 percent of total body weight, including the fatty tissue, proteins, and DNA. Tritium is incorporated into all parts of the body that contain water. Thus the radiological significance of both elements is not related to their inherent toxicity, as each is a very low energy form of radiation, but to their easy incorporation in the body [71: p.15]
Laboratory experiments have confirmed that tritium fed to pregnant mice will cross the placenta into the fetus. Tritium has been shown to cause lethal and non-lethal mutations as well as teratogenic effects [75; 27] with no safe threshold so far established for such effects.
Before Canada embarks on an ambitious program of power exports from CANDU reactors, "Concerns over risks posed to public health and the natural environment would have to be carefully addressed and resolved" [35: p.97] Are such concerns going to be addressed and resolved in an open and democratic manner or in the typical technocratic style of Canada's nuclear establishment -- no hearings, no public debate, no dissenting points of view? Only time will tell.
Unfortunately, in matters of radiological protection Ottawa has delegated all responsibility to the AECB, which is dominated by representatives of the very industry it is supposed to regulate. Due to its poor record in protecting the health of workers and the public, and because of a deep-seated conflict of interest, the AECB has been described as "unfit to regulate" by the BCMA:
It is obvious that Canadians cannot continue to allow vested interest ministries and regulatory bodies to promulgate maximum permissible dose limits.... A review of the appropriateness of current radiation exposure limits in effect in Canada is long overdue [13: p.277]
Should Canadians accept the additional occupational and public health risks associated with chronic exposures to radiation from unnecessary nuclear facilities so that U.S. utilities can purchase cheap power from Canada? This will undoubtedly be a matter of some debate.
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Effects on the Environment
The Serpent River System in Ontario is unquestionably the major source of radium contamination in the Great Lakes as a result of uranium mining operations at Elliot Lake. 
Environment Canada has warned that tritium levels in the Great Lakes are measurably increasing as a result of CANDU power plants and that tritium contamination may become a serious international environmental concern by the turn of the century. 
Sediment and invertebrates taken from Port Hope harbour show levels of radiation far in excess of "permissible" levels, due to the uranium refining operations of Eldorado Nuclear Limited.
The Ontario Council of Commercial Fishermen has expressed concern that the new Eldorado refinery under construction at Blind River could contaminate the last unpolluted spawning grounds of the Great Lake sturgeon.
Recent large spills of tritium from CANDU reactors in Ontario indicate that containment procedures are far from satisfactory. It must be remembered that radioactive contamination, even at low levels, can adversely affect markets for Canadian-produced fish, vegetables, grain and meat. Building reactors for export will only serve to aggravate this problem.
There are important non-radiological risks as well. Transmission facilities involve the use of PCBs in transformers and extensive use of herbicides to keep lines clear. Land-use conflicts are serious and sometimes bitter. "The construction of increased transmission facilities ... because of strong environmental opposition . . . could be a serious bottleneck" that might impede the scheme to export nuclear-generated electricity to the United States. [35: p.103]
The Pickering Nuclear Station near Toronto uses Lake Ontario water at a rate equivalent to one third of the annual flow of the St. Lawrence River, killing billions of larval fish on its intake screens, according to an official from the Ontario Ministry of Environment. The tonnage of fish killed on the intake screens each year at Pickering amounts to almost 25 per cent of the commercial catch taken from the lake by Canadian fishermen.
Approximately 70 per cent of the energy produced in a CANDU reactor is wasted into nearby lakes and rivers in the form of hot water, causing major disruptions in the aquatic ecology.
In view of these and many other potentially deleterious effects, does it make sense to build more reactors for power exports?
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As noted previously, nuclear power cannot replace oil to any significant degree unless plutonium replaces uranium as the principal nuclear fuel. By pushing us faster toward a plutonium economy, a policy of power exports from CANDU reactors will force Canadians to confront a host of unprecedented security risks sooner rather than later -- or not at all! The associated political cost of such a development may be unprecedented and irreversible, leading us toward a paramilitary police state. 
Dr. Bernard Feld, Assistant Leader of the Critical Assembly Group in the World War II Atom Bomb Project, is one of many who have warned that the spread of nuclear technology will soon advance beyond the ability of human societies to control it:
Let me tell you about a nightmare I have. The mayor of Boston sends for me for an urgent consultation. He has received a note from a terrorist group, telling him that they have planted a nuclear bomb somewhere in central Boston. The mayor has confirmed that twenty pounds of plutonium is missing from Government stocks. He shows me the crude diagram and a set of the terrorists' outrageous demands.... I would have to advise surrender [49: p.4]
From that moment on, a police state mentality would, of necessity, prevail.
As Sir Brian Flowers has stated following a profound investigation of the subject:
The unquantifiable effects of the security measures that might become necessary in a plutonium economy should be a major consideration in decisions on substantial nuclear development. Security issues require wide public debate.
The dangers of the creation of plutonium in large quantities in conditions of increasing world unrest are genuine and serious. We should not rely for energy supply on a process that produces such a hazardous substance as plutonium unless there is no reasonable alternative.
Recent remarks of Mark MacGuigan, Minister of External Affairs, to the effect that plutonium reprocessing on a large scale is inevitable should not go unchallenged. At the very least, full and complete public debate of the long-range security implications is necessary before judgment is passed on the future of plutonium reprocessing. Until then, a policy of power exports from CANDU reactors would be politically irresponsible.
A more immediate security risk also presents itself. By exporting power to the United States from Canadian reactors, we run the certain risk that these CANDU reactors will be targetted with nuclear warheads from the Soviet Union. This is a terrible prospect. A single one megaton bomb dropped on a nuclear reactor would have consequences far more devastating than the one-megaton bomb itself, because the entire core of the reactor would be vaporized, spreading lethal contamination over an enormous land mass. 
Responsible decision makers cannot afford to overlook the realities of modern life. One of those realities is the possibility of a major nuclear exchange between East and West in the next few decades. By building reactors for power exports, Canada would significantly enhance the strategic value of Canadian reactors as military targets -- a heavy political cost.
Nor can we afford to completely overlook the possibility of sabotage. It is not difficult to induce a catastrophic nuclear accident in a CANDU reactor once access to the plant has been gained. Details have been provided to the Ontario Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning during an extraordinary in camera session. The commission subsequently confirmed that the threat of sabotage is credible [60: p.xvi]
In fact, since spent fuel bays are often located outside the containment building at CANDU power stations, nuclear sabotage is possible even without forced entry into the plant itself. If CANDU reactors are built for power exports to the United States, politically motivated terrorist groups may decide to sabotage such installations as a way of striking at the United States. In today's world, such bizarre possibilities cannot be dismissed out of hand.
The political cost of exporting nuclear-generated electricity may be far more than we are bargaining for.
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Canada's nuclear program is at a crossroads.
On the one hand, it cannot continue to expand without massive federal and provincial aid. However, "There is a risk that policies undertaken at great economic or political cost may generate no return" [35: p.106] The only plausible way to justify the construction of more nuclear reactors in Canada for the foreseeable future would be to build reactors dedicated to the export of electricity. Such a policy requires that most of the costs should accrue to Canadians, and most of the benefits should not.
Overseas sales of CANDU reactors will not salvage the Canadian nuclear industry, but they will help to spread the atomic bomb. In November 1981, Dr. Miguel Ussher, an assistant to the President of Argentina, admitted publicly that nuclear power in Argentina "is the most costly electricity ever made," that Argentina's energy problems could be solved much more cheaply without nuclear power, and that the main rationale for the Argentinian nuclear program is not economic, but military and strategic. In addition to Argentina, Canada has pedalled its nuclear technology (at taxpayers' expense) to India, Pakistan and South Korea -- regimes that have all displayed a remarkable interest in acquiring nuclear weapons. Now Canada is relaxing its "hands off " policy vis-à-vis nuclear exports to the Middle East, despite the Israeli bombing of an Iraqi reactor last year. All this, to sustain an industry that has no assured markets either now or in ten years time!
On the other hand, Canada has a rare opportunity to rationalize the nuclear industry without destroying the nuclear option. This can be accomplished by foregoing further construction or sales of CANDU reactors for a decade or more. Meanwhile, the nuclear industry can be funded to address itself fully to some of the most pressing problems threatening the long-term viability of the nuclear option: reactor safety, radioactive waste disposal and decommissioning. Such an approach will reduce rather than increase the risks of reactor accidents, utility bankruptcies, radiation-induced injuries, and political divisiveness within Canada.
During the moratorium period, billions of investment dollars can be diverted away from reactor construction into community-based energy conservation programs, creating a great many jobs in the construction trades, stimulating business opportunities, displacing imported oil at an accelerated rate, and building a more energy efficient society in Canada to help us weather the storms of the 1990s and beyond.
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Editor's Note: The cost advantages of nuclear energy in Ontario were covered in the Winter 1981 issue of The Canadian Business Review.
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- Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB), Three Mile Island -- A Review of the Accident and its Implications for CANDU Safety, Ottawa 1980.
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- Energy, Mines & Resources (EMR), Policy Review of the Nuclear Power Industry in Canada (draft report; concluding section available from CCNR), Ottawa 1981.
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- Environment Canada, Electric Power Production and Transmission in Ontario from an Environmental Perspective (RCEPP submission), Ottawa, 1977.
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- R. Grossman & G. Daneker, Energy, Jobs and the Economy (Boston: Alyson Publications, 1979).
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- Law Reform Commission of Canada, The Atomic Energy Control Board, Ottawa, 1977.
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- A. B. Lovins, How to Finance the Energy Transition (Montreal: CCNR, 1978).
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- Ontario Ministry of Environment, Status Report: Water Pollution in the Serpent River Basin, Toronto, 1976.
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- Quebec Government, Energy Systems Management, Montreal. Bureau des économies d'énergie, 1980.
- Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning, A Race Against Time: Interim Report on Nuclear Power, Toronto 1978.
- Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning, Alternatives to Ontario Hydro's Generation Program, Toronto 1978.
- Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning, Final Report, Volume 1, Toronto 1980.
- R. Sant, The Least-Cost Energy Strategy: Minimizing Consumer Costs Through Competition (Arlington: Carnegie-Mellon University, 1979).
- Science Council of Canada, Canada as a Conserver Society: Resource Uncertainties and the Need for New Technologies, Ottawa 1977.
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- Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs, Transcripts of Hearings on Nuclear Power (copies in all provincial legislative libraries), Queen's Park, 1978/81.
- Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs, Special Report on the Need for Electrical Capacity, Toronto 1979.
- Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs, The Safety of Ontario's Nuclear Reactors: Interim Report, Toronto 1979.
- Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs, The Management of Nuclear Fuel Waste: Final Report, Toronto 1980.
- Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs, Mining Milling and Refining of Uranium in Ontario: Final Report, Toronto 1980
- Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs, The Safety of Ontario's Nuclear Reactors: Final Report, Toronto 1980.
- Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI), A New Prosperity: Building a Sustainable Energy Future -- Final Report (Boston: Brick House Publishing, 1981).
- R. J. Uffen, "Let's Go Slowly on a Nuclear Power Program Until We've Solved Waste Problems," (Ottawa: Science Forum, October l977, pp.3-8).
- U.K. Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Nuclear Power and the Environment ("The Flowers Report"), Summary of Conclusions, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London 1976.
- United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation, Annex H & Annex J, New York 1977.
- US Congress, Nuclear Power Costs, Report of the Committee on Government Operations, Washington, D.C., 1978.
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- United Steelworkers of America, Public and Worker Health, Submission to B.C. Royal Commission on Uranium Mining, Toronto, 1980.
- M. Ussher, "The Role of Nuclear Power in Argentina", transcript of a taped panel discussion at Knoxville Tennessee, Montreal: CCNR, 1981
Note: Additional bibliographic references are available from the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, C.P. 236, Succursale "Snowdon," Montreal, Quebec H3X 3T4, Canada.
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