Nuclear power in the clear

Dear Editors,

Re: “Nuclear debate heats up on campus” (Oct. 13, 2009)

I’m a Queen’s graduate working in the nuclear industry and have responded in writing to many of Helen Caldicott’s opinion pieces published in Western Canadian newspapers.

Caldicott suggests people living in close proximity to nuclear reactors are in danger of developing “cancer or leukemia” from routine exposure. She’s well aware the vast bulk of radiation received by people living in the communities surrounding the Bruce, Pickering and Darlington generating stations comes from the sun and other natural sources. A typical resident receives roughly a thousand times more exposure from naturally-occurring radon gas in their basement than from any “proximity” exposure. She’s equally aware—but probably doesn’t acknowledge—that the radiation people receive living downwind from a coal plant is considerably higher. Perhaps she suffers from the misconception that the human body somehow identifies the source of radiation before developing cancer.

She appears to assume there are no peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Medical radioisotopes are used to treat and diagnose cancers and heart ailments and cobalt-60, produced in CANDU reactors, is used at North American hospitals to destroy tumors.

Sean Haberle’s comments are even stranger. I’m not sure how the health risks are “humongous” as compared to the alternatives—which are what exactly? Since he mentions Wolfe Island, I assume he’s talking about wind. Recent studies suggest your health may be more at risk from those turbines than originally thought. The “meltdown” comment is pure fear-mongering—nuclear power plants have been designed with multiply-redundant safety systems since the 1970s. Communities in the vicinity of nuclear plants don’t operate under such concerns. In southern Ontario, when the new plants were being proposed, local communities banded together to lobby the Ontario government to locate the new plants in their communities—hardly a ‘fear’ response.

I hope locals and politicians listen carefully to the debate and do their own research. Wind, solar, hydro and nuclear power are all necessary for Ontario’s energy security. Demonizing one source on the basis of misinformation and fear-mongering is a disservice to the public trust. I’d expect better from our graduates.

Vincent Tume
ArtSci ’99