Risks of Operating Candu 6 Nuclear Power Plants

Publication - November 30, 2008
The new report commissioned by Greenpeace warns that Canada’s CANDU-6 nuclear reactor, designed by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) in the 1970s, is unsafe and too dangerous to build according to modern regulatory standards.

Risks of Operating Candu 6 Nuclear Power Plants

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Executive summary: The report, “The Risks of Operating Candu 6 Nuclear Power Plants,” warns that countries hoping to buy new reactors, such as Romania, Turkey, Argentina and Jordan, would have to forgo thorough safety reviews if they were to build a CANDU-6. These include standards intended to prevent catastrophic radiation releases from terrorist attacks or accidents.

In 2006, Ontario abandoned its plan to build a new CANDU-6 because of the design changes required for the CANDU-6 to meet modern standards. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, however, is allowing CANDU-6s in New Brunswick and Quebec to be rebuilt without upgrades needed to meet international standards. In fact, Hydro-Quebec has yet to undertake the safety studies required for the refurbishment.

“The federal government must stop CANDU-6 exports and rebuilds here in Canada,” said Shawn-Patrick Stensil, an energy campaigner with Greenpeace. “In a post September 11th, post Chernobyl world, Canada should not export a reactor deemed too dangerous to build here at home.”

The report highlights a litany of problems with the CANDU-6 design:

  • The same design flaw that contributed to the Chernobyl explosion and to the world’s first nuclear accident in1952 at AECL’s Chalk River laboratories. This design flaw does not meet modern safety standards.
  • The CANDU 6 would not resist a terrorist attack and would not meet post-9/11 safety standards.
  • Its emergency shut-down systems are untested and unproven. Confidence in the ability of these systems to operate in accident situations is low.
  • Its use of natural uranium and online fueling makes it attractive to countries hoping to acquire the capacity to divert plutonium from used fuel to build atomic weapons. India used a Canadian reactor to build an atomic bomb; AECL stated last week it would like to sell additional reactors to India.

“The record of Canadian reactors being used to produce bombs is alarming. Selling more CANDU-6s would contribute to the risk of further arms proliferation. It’s time to say no CANDU,” said Stensil.

Despite public emphasis on its prototype, the Advanced CANDU reactor, the CANDU-6 design remains central to AECL’s business plans. The Harper government is currently considering the privatization of AECL.

The report was written by Gordon Thompson, a nuclear expert and professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. He was educated in Australia and the UK, in engineering and science, obtaining his doctorate from Oxford University in 1973.

Num. pages: 12