Before it goes any farther in zealously flogging nuclear reactors to Turkey, the federal government needs to do one thing it should have done long ago: provide an adequate justification for its policy of seeking to build more reactors in Turkey and elsewhere.
In the past, Prime Minister Chretien has argued that CANDU reactors make money for Canada, create many jobs in this country and help the environment by reducing demand for those conventional fuels that produce greenhouse gases and acid rain. These are, admittedly, important benefits.
But the reactors' disadvantages are also considerable.
The safe functioning of reactors depends on the absence of human error. Warned that irresponsible management procedures were inviting disaster, Ontario-Hydro last year was forced to close seven of its own CANDU reactors. This was a chilling demonstration of the industry's seemingly insoluble problem: even if the complex machines themselves perform as they should, the humans in charge of them are not immune to incompetence. If that is true in Ontario, it can be true anywhere.
More than half a century after the first reactors started yielding radioactive wastes, no one yet knows what to do with them. Last March, a federal panel prudently came out against a longstanding proposal to dispose of the wastes by burying them deep in the Canadian Shield. It said the Canadian public still had too many doubts about the method's safety. No other country has a better idea.
Meanwhile, at 400 reactors around the globe, thousands of tonnes of dangerous material are accumulating in "temporary" quarters. Their security is shaky.
It is irresponsible for Canada and other countries with a reactor industry to continue to act as nuclear salesmen unless and until they can resolve this matter of disposal. Wastes are not a detail: leakage can have catastrophic consequences.
If the Chretien government is truly concerned about the environment, it should encourage forms of development at home and abroad that are less dependent upon power derived from either atomic energy or fossil fuels.
Gazette (Montreal)by Patrick Barnard (Freelance)
A province unplugged
to produce excess power for export
leaves local users hanging
Ontario Hydro put billions in borrowed capital into nuclear power and, in effect, indebted its consumer-owners so that a few thousand nuclear engineers could receive state subsidies. Even though Ontario has plenty of potential reserve water power, the CANDU reactor - with its jolly trademark pun on "can do" - appeared to be a sexy symbol of national potency. Ontario Hydro foisted the CANDU on its provincial clientele, putting a nest of the reactors right next to Toronto. The result: debt-investment expanded, maintenance shrunk, and now eight of the faulty plants have been laid up.
Much the same production-driven process has occurred in Quebec. Beginning in the early 1970s, even before the James Bay agreement of 1975, Hydro-Quebec and the provincial government initiated a manic rush to develop excess generating capacity in order to increase production and export electricity to the United States.
A massive number of bonds have been floated on New York financial markets to pay for the northern megaprojects. And the surplus energy production - above and beyond Quebec's own needs - has been used to help pay the interest on those very loans that permitted the dams to be built in the first place.
The economic truth is that Quebec's megaprojects have done little more than finance themselves and create a driving imperative to convert the maximum number of households to electricity.
In Ontario, electricity-generation became a means of spoon-feeding the nuclear lobby. Here, James Bay has been a dam-building scheme, and for the last 25 years, Hydro-Quebec's consumer owners effectively have subsidized a certain number of the province's construction and engineering firms.
Quebec's decision-making involves a further irony. Most of the people who control the strategic investment choices at Hydro-Quebec and in the Quebec government regard themselves as ardent nationalists. But their mega-project approach actually dispossesses Quebecers by taking ownership and control of domestic energy away from the population and transferring it to bondholders, domestic and foreign.
Indeed, Hydro-Quebec has much to offer its creditors: reliable revenue backed by the most electricity-dependent jurisdiction in North America and an industrious, docile, bill-paying population. Quebec consumers provide the permanent, dependable cash-flow that guarantees the megaproject investments; consequently, the Quebec population bears the financial weight of northern construction, and the clients serve the dams, rather than the reverse.
At the same time, these captive consumers - we, the people of Quebec - are no longer the owners of their/our own utility. The true hierarchy of ownership puts the bondholder first, then the bureaucracy of Hydro-Quebec, and last, the consumer.
The consequences of Hydro-Quebec's strategic decisions now have proved to be drastic, albeit under extreme-case conditions: reliable bond revenue, unreliable local energy.
Up to now, executives at the utility have had to worry constantly about meeting their bond payments by maximizing costs like local maintenance. And over time, Hydro-Quebec managers have come to think like the bond-holders rather than the managers of a provincial utility. Similarly, when the Quebec government puts the squeeze on Hydro to pay more dividends, then the politicians are simply acting as "rentiers" themselves, and not as responsible regulators.
As a result of its bias toward sheer production, Hydro-Quebec had no problem producing power during the ice storm. The real dilemma lay with distribution and, ultimately, consumption. What more graphic example of Hydro-Quebec's dysfunction could one want than the story of Granby? James Bay power moved on south to Vermont, then looped back here to be rerouted north and distributed to the Granby hospital.
With luck, ice storms will not return this winter, but Hydro-Quebec's deep structural problems will remain. The utility suffers from excess production whose flipside, in crisis, is failed distribution and a catastrophic collapse in consumption.
When the electricity crisis was at its worst in Montreal on Friday, Jan. 9, Le Devoir's hydro specialist, Louis-Gilles Francoeur, leaked an amazing story that has become better known since. Fifteen years ago, Hydro-Quebec's own researchers developed a remote-controlled switching system capable of localizing breaks on power lines within seconds. The technique also allows controllers to isolate quickly the collapsed segment and reactivate others. The distribution grid in Saint-Jerome installed a prototype and used the system for 10 years, without a single failure. However, Hydro-Quebec never installed the switches throughout the system, Francoeur said, "because of the lack of interest of Hydro-Quebec in modernizing electricity distribution to its residential clients."
Francoeur's article that dark Friday ended with an unequivocal statement from a Hydro-Quebec research administrator who, at that time, did not wish to be named.
"It's certainly true," said the scientist, "that the modernization of the distribution network, either by installing the switching system or burying lines, or both at once, would have cost Hydro-Quebec money, but the money available, then as now, was put aside for megaprojects, which we have never needed, or paying dividends to the government, rather than building up the reliability of the network."
Hydro-Quebec now is caught in a trap of its own making. The reliability of its domestic market, after all, has been the factor that has allowed the utility to borrow in the past, along with the demand for power in the northeastern U.S. Now that this reliability is in question, suppose as well that the present drop in U.S. demand for Quebec power becomes permanent?
Then, at last, Hydro-Quebec may be forced to return to the mandate originally envisaged for it by Jean Lesage and Rene Levesque: to supply the people and businesses of Quebec with the electricity they need.
by Richard Foot
Across the country today, thousands of Canadians are beavering away, building valves, turbines and electronic systems for two Candu nuclear reactors bound for China.
Critics of the atomic energy business say the work is a waste of time and taxpayers' money. The same people making parts for Candus could be busy in their factories building products for some other industry - one that isn't fueled by billions of dollars of public cash.
And many of the private companies that supply parts for reactors agree that the nuclear industry isn't what keeps their factories ticking. They don't need Candu contracts to survive, and aren't dependent, most say, on the $3 billion worth of federal loans now being offered by Ottawa to support sales of Candu reactors overseas.
One-and-a-half Billion Dollar Loans
But in the last two years, the federal government has embarked on an ambitious, taxpayer-funded campaign to market and finance Candu reactors abroad. In 1996, Ottawa and its nuclear crown agency Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. convinced China to buy two Candus with the help of a $1.5-billion federal loan, Canada's biggest export loan ever.
Today, the government is offering Turkey an equal amount of cash in exchange for buying two Candus of their own. Prime Minister Jean Chretien has defended these loans by saying that Canadian jobs are at stake. Candu sales overseas, he said, are valuable contracts for Canadian suppliers.
Suppliers across Ontario and Quebec say he is only partly right; if Ottawa quit flogging reactors around the world tomorrow, it's unlikely that thousands of jobs would disappear or that firms would flee the country.
To be sure, Canada's nuclear suppliers love the federal money when it comes, and they welcome any work AECL sends their way. But in the half-century since a private industry sprang up around atomic energy in this country, its members have managed to avoid any addiction to the nuclear business.
The engineers and marketers who manage private nuclear suppliers have found business outside the atomic field to sustain their plants and work forces, getting contracts for industries that make everything from perfumes and petrochemicals to flight simulators.
ReutersBy Arshad Mohammed
CHERNOBYL, Ukraine - U.S. Vice President Al Gore visited Ukraine's Chernobyl power plant on Thursday, taking in the eerie desolation that surrounds the deathly still site of the world's worst civil nuclear accident.
Gore flew to Chernobyl by helicopter, sweeping past towns long since abandoned by inhabitants fleeing the explosion of reactor Number 4 on April 26, 1986 and the ensuing radioactive cloud that spewed over large swathes of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.
He also inspected the plant on foot, posing for pictures in front of the 20-storey steel and concrete "sarcophagus" that encases the tonnes of highly radioactive fuel that remain within the destroyed reactor.
Gore, who is in the middle of a three-day visit to Ukraine and Russia, declined to comment on his reaction to Chernobyl during his two-hour tour under a hazy blue sky.
"Is this what it looks like inside?" Gore asked as he looked at a scale model of reactor Number 4 showing twisted girders and debris encased in the massive sarcophagus.
"Yes, it's even worse," replied Valentin Kupny, who is in charge of the project to repair the sarcophagus, adding after a moment that no one knew exactly what the reactor's destroyed core looked like because no one could get close enough.
U.S. officials said Gore, a long-time environmentalist, wished to visit Chernobyl to see its devastation first hand and to dramatise the need to shore up the deteriorating sarcophagus - a $760 million, eight-year undertaking.
The scene had surrealistic touches, with freshly planted beds of white, yellow and purple flowers sitting a stone's throw from the reactor complex, which is surrounded by a concrete wall and miles of barbed wire to keep people out.
Nearly all of the tens of thousands of people who once inhabited the region have long since left, tardily evacuated from the site two days after the accident as the former Soviet authorities slowly reacted to the unfolding disaster.
The U.S. vice president, who toured the area dressed in an ordinary grey suit, also visited the nearby town Pripyat.
U.S. officials said there was no danger to Gore's health from his brief visit, but they also took no chances, sending medical teams to scour the site for days ahead of time looking for "hot spots" of radiation.
Pripyat, once home to many of the plant's workers, is now a ghost town of empty concrete apartment blocks with broken windows, overgrown trees and an air of total abandonment.
The town was emptied in such haste that a summer carnival that was to open there on May 1, 1986 remains standing, its ferris wheel and bumper car arena slowly gathering dust.
Andrei Glukov, who lived in Pripyat with his wife and two children, told Gore he was woken up at one in the morning after the accident by someone who said he could not divulge what was happening, but that Glukov should look out of his window.
After the explosion, the plant burst into flames that consumed its turbines and caved in its roof.
In another surreal scene, Gore flew past dozens of trucks and helicopters used during the cleanup but now left to rust in open fields because they are too radioactive to use again.
Western nations and Ukraine are seeking to raise the $760 million needed to shore up the deteriorating sarcophagus that the Soviet authorities built around the destroyed plant, which sits next to Chernobyl's one remaining functional reactor.
So far, roughly $400 million has been raised - $300 million from the Group of Seven industrial nations, about $50 million from Ukraine and $37 million drummed up from a group of countries at a conference that Gore chaired in November.
Washington is also pressing Ukraine to honour an agreement to close Chernobyl's one remaining operational reactor by the year 2000. Kiev has threatened to keep it open unless it receives $1.2 billion to build two replacement plants.
SINTRA, Portugal - European environment ministers agreed on Thursday to cut nuclear waste discharges into the sea to "close to zero" by the year 2020.
The accord was hammered out at a meeting of the 15 member states of the 1992 OSPAR Convention for Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic.
"We shall ensure that discharges, emissions and losses of radioactive substances are reduced by the year 2020 to levels where the additional concentrations in the marine environment above historic levels, resulting from such discharges, emissions and losses, are close to zero," the countries said in a statement at the end of the conference.
The meeting was the first at ministerial level since the convention was formally ratified earlier this year.
by Yukari Iwatani
SAN FRANCISCO - Anti-nuclear activists protested on Monday as the first in a series of atomic waste shipments steamed toward San Francisco Bay on its way to a dump in Idaho.
The cargo of spent South Korean nuclear fuel rods, packed in lead-lined casks officials say are almost indestructible, was expected to arrive early on Tuesday, local news reports quoted law enforcement sources as saying.
The Department of Energy refused to confirm the speculation, citing security concerns. But officials said they hoped the protests would not interfere with the shipment.
"People are welcome to express their point of view," Department of Energy spokesman John Belluardo said.
But he added, "We've been working with local enforcement personnel to make sure that any demonstrations do not interfere with the shipment."
At the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, by the entrance to the bay, a group of about 15 protesters gathered with signs decrying the shipment.
"We really want to make it clear that everybody understands there's a lot more going on here. This is a part of a nuclear game," Tyler Snortun-Phelps, one of the demonstrators, said.
The protest, coordinated by a group called Western Communities Against Nuclear Transportation, also sent two boats into the fog-shrouded bay to watch for the cargo ship, which was widely believed to be waiting some 10 miles (16 km) off the coast for a security cordon to assemble.
The ship, escorted by the Coast Guard, was expected to wait for daylight before making its way across the bay to the Concord Naval Weapons Station, about 20 miles (32 kms) east of San Francisco.
According to Energy Department officials, the waste will then be unloaded and transported 1,000 miles (1,600 km) via railroad, passing through communities in northern California, Nevada, Utah and Idaho. It will be "temporarily stored" in Idaho until a permanent dumping ground is approved.
While Energy Department officials say the casks are safe and every precaution has been taken, anti-nuclear groups worry that the transport route is hazardous.
Specifically, they say Concord's port is near an active earthquake fault and the rail route through California's Feather River canyons is perilous. Almost 30 trains have been derailed by rockslides there over the past 15 years.
Four more shipments of nuclear waste from countries such as Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines are scheduled to move through the San Francisco Bay area by 2009.
The shipments are part of the "Atoms for Peace" programme created in the early 1950s by the Eisenhower administration. The United States agreed to supply allies with nuclear research reactors and fuel on the condition that the spent fuel was returned.
The shipments used to be secret, but new publicity has raised fears in California that the unthinkable might happen despite federal assurances that the chance of an accident is about "one in a billion."
"The chickens have come home to roost in the form of some of the most deadly and long-lasting poisons humankind has ever produced," Philip Klasky, co-director of the Bay Area Nuclear Waste Coalition, said in a statement.
"These shipments should be a wake-up call for all Americans that the proliferation of nuclear energy is a game that is just not worth the risk."
BONN - German radiation experts cast doubt on government claims that the public was never endangered in recently revealed incidents of nuclear contamination, saying current measurement standards were badly designed.
"I would say the risks are 10 to 20 times higher than indicated by the basic principles of the Radiation Protection Law," said Edmund Lengfelder, a Munich-based radiation biologist, in a radio interview on Monday.
The issue has political echoes, as the opposition Social Democrats, who are given a good chance of winning the September 27 elections, want Germany to abandon nuclear power, while Chancellor Helmut Kohl believes it should remain one of the nation's energy sources.
In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Sunday, Lengfelder and other experts said German standards of human tolerance to radiation exposure were based indirectly on studies made shortly after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The standards thus do not reflect the large number of Japanese victims who developed radiation-related diseases only in later years, they said. The standards proved incorrect in predicting the number of victims of the Chernobyl disaster.
In May, Environment Minister Angela Merkel banned further shipments of nuclear waste from German reactors to reprocessing facilities in France and Britain, pending an investigation of contamination found on the railway cars.
In some cases, the radiation was thousands of times the level considered acceptable, but Merkel and nuclear industry officials have repeatedly claimed there was no health danger to the public or to transport workers.
Gerald Hennenhoefer, the ministry official responsible for reactor security, rejected Lengfelder's criticism, saying the German norms are based on internationally accepted standards.
"The protection of the public has been fully provided for," Hennenhoefer told German radio.
The levels of exposure under discussion in the waste transport scandal are far lower than the additional exposure people receive in medical treatments, commercial airline flights, or living in high mountain areas, he said.
By Yukari Iwatani
SAN FRANCISCO - One day this month, a cargo ship will steam beneath famed Golden Gate Bridge with the first in a series of sinister shipments - deadly nuclear waste, packed in lead-lined casks.
Secrecy surrounds the exact shipping schedule for the South Korean nuclear fuel rods, the first of five planned transfers of highly radioactive Asian nuclear waste to move through California on its way to a federal storage site in Idaho.
But officials, fighting rising alarm among California environmentalists and local politicians, say the move is a key part of the U.S. government's effort to keep highly enriched uranium out of the hands of terrorists and hostile nations.
"We're concerned about the security aspects of storage in Asia, especially in unstable countries, as witnessed by the current situation in Indonesia," Department of Energy spokesman John Belluardo said. "It's much wiser to have this in the hands of the U.S. under our security than overseas."
Environmental activists in California are not so sure. They say the threat of an accident is worth worrying about and accuse the government of playing a dangerous game by shipping nuclear fuel rods through some of the state's most densely populated areas.
"One has to take these (official) assertions of safety with a sizable grain of scepticism," California Coastal Commission Executive Director Peter Douglas told a reporter. "It's been said before that something is foolproof, then, lo and behold, the unthinkable happens."
'ATOMS FOR PEACE' PLAN BRINGS WASTE TO U.S.
According to Energy Department officials, after the nuclear waste arrives at the Concord Naval Weapons Station near San Francisco it will be transported almost 1,000 miles (1,600 km) via railroad passing through communities in northern California, Nevada, Utah and Idaho. It will be "temporarily stored" in Idaho until a permanent dumping ground is approved.
Four more shipments of nuclear waste from countries such as Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines are scheduled to move through the San Francisco Bay area by 2009. In addition, up to 231 shipments from other parts of the world will be taken to the Energy Department's Savannah River storage site near Aiken, South Carolina, through Charleston.
The shipments are part of the "Atoms for Peace" programme created in the early 1950s by the Eisenhower administration in which Washington agreed to supply nuclear research reactors and fuel on the condition that the spent fuel would be returned.
Shipments used to be secret but now California's vocal environmentalists are speaking out. Their chief fear is the potential threat to residents, the environment and the local economy. For example, they say even a small accident could harm California's fishing industry because of public perceptions even if no radiation is released.
UNTHINKABLE MIGHT HAPPEN
Although the waste will be encased in casks with eight-inch (20-cm)-thick walls of lead and steel that have survived a myriad of endurance tests, they still worry that somehow the unthinkable might happen.
The state Coastal Commission's request to review federal plans before the shipments arrive has been denied and a U.S. district court threw out a lawsuit filed by two local governments seeking to block the shipment, saying the federal government had sufficiently addressed potential environmental impacts associated with the programme.
While 16 Bay Area communities have passed resolutions opposing the federal plan, the Energy Department says all necessary safety inspections and precautions have been taken and the chance of accidental leakage during transport is extremely low - on the order of one in a billion.
"Not only will these shipments be safe, they will help to make the world a safer place," acting Secretary of Energy Elizabeth Moler said in a guest editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle.
But anti-nuclear activists and lawmakers say the transport route planned for the radioactive shipments is hazardous. Specifically, they say Concord's port is near an active earthquake fault and the rail route through California's Feather River canyons is perilous.
As recently as last month, two weather-triggered landslides in the canyon derailed two rail cars and sent mobile-home-size boulders careening onto the tracks. Prior to these incidents, some 28 trains have derailed there in 15 years.
While U.S. Representative Ellen Tauscher has formally asked for a safety study before the programme begins, the Energy Department has declined. Belluardo, the department's spokesman, said Union Pacific railroad has already spent several million dollars to upgrade the tracks, bolt down loose rocks and install sensors to warn oncoming trains of any impending danger.
The department has also trained about 3,000 "emergency responders" along the route, including hospital staff, police and firefighters.
"The casks are virtually indestructible," Belluardo said. "During the past 40 years, there have been some 2,500 shipments of spent nuclear fuel, and because these casks have been so robust there's never been a radioactive release of material. From that standpoint, we have an excellent record."
ReutersBy Orhan Coskun
ANKARA - Turkey will go ahead with plans to build its first nuclear power plant despite concern by environmentalists that it may be situated in an earthquake zone, the energy minister said.
"As the government, we are going to see the nuclear plant tender through to its conclusion," Cumhur Ersumer told Reuters in an interview.
Public fears for the safety of the site at Akkuyu, on the Mediterranean Sea coast, were raised after a big earthquake shook the nearby city of Adana on June 27.
Ersumer said warnings that the proposed plant would be in danger from future tremors were unfounded. "These allegations are speculations put out by anti-nuclear groups," Ersumer said.
"Seismic studies undertaken in the Akkuyu region have shown that it is not in any earthquake zone," he said.
The epicentre of the quake, which killed more than 140 people, was about 70 km (44 miles) northeast of Akkuyu Bay.
Turkey's state power producer TEAS has said it aims to announce the tender results for Akkuyu by the end of this month. Ersumer said that he was fully confident the tender for the plant would be finalised.
"They will not be able to stop this process...it is 100 percent certain that we will conclude it," Ersumer said.
He also said the foundation for the plant would be laid this year, earlier than the original target of January 1999.
Three consortia have put in bids for the plant, scheduled to be completed in 2006.
A consortium led by NPI (Nuclear Power International) - a French-German group including Siemens, Framatome, Campenon Bernard, Hochtief, Turkey's Garanti-Koza, Simko, STFA and Tekfen - gave the lowest bid in the tender.
Its bid for unit cost of electricity production for the first alternative, which will cost $2.393 billion and have a net power capacity of 1,482 Megawatts (MW), is 2.56 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh).
NPI's second alternative is a 2,964-MW, 44.48 billion plant which will produce electricity at a unit cost of 2.28 cents/kWh.
Another consortium led by Canadian AECL offered 3.3 cents/kWh for a 1,339-MW plant that will have a price tag of $2.572 billion, and 3.1 cents/kWh for a 2,678-MW plant.
The AECL-led consortium comprises Kvaerner John Brown, Hitachi and Turkey's Guris, Gama and Bayindir.
A consortium led by U.S. Westinghouse and including Mitsubishi, Raytheon and Turkey's Enka gave 3.35 cents/kWh for a 1,218-MW plant to cost $3.279 million.
All bids are on a turn-key basis and the builders would fully finance the project.
Under the terms of the tender, Turkish companies in the winning consortium will carry out all construction work while their foreign partners will be responsible for the plant's technical make-up.
Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz, who has headed a right-left minority coalition since last June, has announced plans to form an interim government by the end of the year to take Turkey to early elections next April.