Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources
Issue 3 - Evidence
OTTAWA, Tuesday, February 22, 2000
The Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, met
this day at 5:15 p.m. to examine issues relating to energy, the environment and natural
resources generally in Canada (nuclear reactor safety).
Senator Mira Spivak (Chairman) in the Chair.
The Chairman: I welcome our witnesses today from Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. I am
pleased that you could find time to be with us. You are our first witnesses in our study
on nuclear safety. I know that you have received information about what we hope to do.
I am sure you have a presentation you would like to make. I do not want to limit you
except to tell you that we would rather it was shorter than longer so that we have time to
Mr. David Torgerson, Vice-President, Research and Product Development, Atomic Energy of
Canada Limited: Thank you, Madam Chair and honourable senators, for inviting Atomic Energy
of Canada Limited to appear before you. With me is Dr. Victor Snell, who is the director
of safety and licensing at AECL.
We are happy to be here this evening to answer the Committee's questions concerning the
AECL and nuclear reactor safety.
We recognize that the committee is just starting its deliberations on this very
important topic, and therefore I thought I would begin with an overview of AECL to
familiarize the committee with it and the Canadian nuclear industry. Then Dr. Snell will
give you a few more details on CANDU reactor safety. Of course we would be happy to answer
questions when you are further in the process.
I will begin with a few points about AECL. As you know, we are 100 per cent owned by
the federal government. We are a commercial Crown corporation that reports to the Minister
of Natural Resources Canada. We have 3300 employees made up mainly of scientists and
engineers. We are very much a high technology organization -- one of the few real high
technology organizations in Canada. There are two main sites, in Chalk River and in
Mississauga, and we do business all over the world.
This slide shows the Chalk River laboratories where the nuclear program was born. That
site opened in 1944. The next slide shows where our engineering centre is in Mississauga.
Those are our two major sites.
The next slide shows our commercial revenues, which are about $600 million a year. Our
main products and business lines are CANDU power reactors and MAPLE research reactors. I
will explain more about that later. We do research and development. We have developed such
technologies and products as MACSTOR, which is a methodology for storing fuel in dry
storage, and we provide nuclear products and services.
The next slide shows our latest design, a CANDU 9, and it shows that we do this design
in three dimensional CADDs, which means computer-aided design and drafting, so we are
using all modern engineering tools in developing this state-of-the art product.
Senator Taylor: What would be the distance?
Mr. Torgerson: The distance of a containment building? Typically, the buildings now in
existence are about 41 meters in diameter and 45 meters tall. Those are the CANDU 6s that
you commonly see in New Brunswick, Korea and Quebec. Those are large containment buildings
that are one of the safety features that Dr. Snell will be discussing a little later.
In addition to power reactors, this is an example of a MAPLE research reactor. This is
one that AECL sold to Korea. This is used to perform research and development. It can be
used to produce medical isotopes. This is an operating reactor that AECL sold to Korea
some years ago.
The next overhead is a picture of a spent fuel dry storage system that AECL developed
many years ago. We have also marketed and are using dry spent fuel storage facilities in
Canada and around the world.
The next slide indicates a little about the background. As I mentioned, Chalk River
opened in 1944. We were established in 1952 as a national laboratory for nuclear. A
national laboratory is a repository of knowledge. That is where your scientists and
engineers go not to read books but to write them, because they are creating the new
knowledge. What really brought Canada to the front of the line in terms of nuclear
technology was the establishment of this national lab in 1952.
We were driven by a very ambitious domestic and export reactor program. There are 20
reactors in Ontario, one in New Brunswick, one in Quebec, four in Korea, one in Argentina,
one in Romania now, and other reactors of course pending, such as two being built in
Senator Cochrane: Where is the reactor in New Brunswick?
Mr. Torgerson: It is near Saint John.
One of the significant events that occurred was the 1995 program review, which reduced
a sales appropriation for performing research and development from $174 million to $100
million. At the same time, we were directed to focus on the CANDU heavy water reactor
business. That meant that we had to close all but two sites, Mississauga and Chalk River.
However, the program review also noted the need for a new research reactor facility in
Canada called the Canadian Neutron Facility, and I will come back to that later. This is
what it looks like.
The Chairman: If could I interrupt you, could you tell us the difference between a
research reactor and a reactor for power generation?
Mr. Torgerson: Yes. A power reactor produces electricity. It is a commercial reactor
meant to produce electricity for use in industry and homes, so it is a power-producing
reactor. A research reactor is simply used to do research. Typically, you would make
medical isotopes on it. You would perform fundamental research into physics, materials,
chemistry, biology, and development of materials for advanced reactors. It is a tool that
is used by chemists, physicists, engineers, biologists, many different disciplines, in
order to advance scientific knowledge.
The Chairman: In other words, it is also used for development of power. What would the
percentage be? What parts of the research are for medical uses and other uses?
Mr. Torgerson: That can vary from week to week, depending on what the reactor is used
for. I would say that typically a reactor in a country like Canada would be used about 50
per cent for development of advanced technology for nuclear power reactors and about 50
per cent for more fundamental work into materials. Biology is a growing area. I do not
want to go into details, but this particular reactor will have a facility that creates
very slow-moving neutrons that can go into biological materials and scatter off them, and
from that you can get a lot of information about the structure of membranes, for example,
on cells. A lot of very exciting, cutting-edge research will be done with this kind of
I will mention a bit about CANDU R & D. The parliamentary appropriation to AECL of
$100 million pays for part of the national CANDU R & D program but not for operating
costs for AECL. The appropriation from Parliament pays for about half of the R & D
costs. Therefore, the R & D is important to improving and advancing power reactors,
and the new research reactor is important to both nuclear and non-nuclear industries
AECL in general has been a very good return on investment for Canada. Every dollar
spent on research and development has returned about $5 to the gross domestic product. We
like to underline the contribution to the economy by the investments in R & D and
point out that Canada's dollars have been used twice as efficiently as those in other
countries in terms of the amount of nuclear power generated.
There have been many other benefits in knowledge and innovation, such as medical
product isotopes, and Canada now dominates world markets for medical isotopes because of
the pioneering nuclear research and development done in this country.
In terms of scope, there are 25,000 direct jobs in the industry and about $5 billion to
$6 billion a year of gross domestic product -- electricity, uranium and CANDU exports of
equipment and services. We are the world's largest uranium exporter. We supply 80 per cent
of the world's cobalt 60 that is used in cancer therapy. About 150 supplier companies are
involved in supplying equipment and services built for CANDU-built projects, and there are
about 3,000 sub-suppliers to those 150 companies across Canada. AECL is at the front of
the technology, but it does not in general manufacture. That is done by these 150 Canadian
Currently, CANDU reactors provide about 15 per cent of Canadian electricity. It is
quite high in Ontario, 50 per cent, and quite high in New Brunswick, 30 per cent. There
are 27,000 person-years per CANDU sale created across Canada, and about 80 per cent of
that flows into the private sector. Nuclear industry jobs are generally high-skill,
high-quality, well paid and value-added -- every superlative that you can imagine in the
area of science and technology.
There have also been environmental benefits of the nuclear industry in Canada. Probably
1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 have been avoided to date in Canada by using CANDU. Each CANDU
reactor avoids about 5 million tonnes of CO2 per year. In Canada, that is about 100
megatonnes per year total when you have 20 operating reactors. Without nuclear energy,
greenhouse and acid gas pollution from Canadian electric power sources would double. If we
did not have nuclear energy, the total Canadian greenhouse gases would increase by 15 per
cent to 20 per cent. CANDU plants in Canada avoid the equivalent of all the carbon
pollution of Canada's motor vehicles every year. We believe quite strongly that CANDU is a
key to meeting the Kyoto targets.
Let us look at our projects now. Our international projects are implemented with
private-sector industries, as I pointed out before. That was worth about $4 billion to the
Canadian economy in the 1990s. The biggest beneficiaries have been small and medium
businesses, which are the most productive and create the most jobs in Canada.
To date, China has placed over $1 billion in purchase orders in Canada. As you are
aware, we are building two CANDU 6 reactors in China. They are scheduled to be completed
in 2003. This activity has generated over 200 purchase orders to the private sector.
The Chinese are very pleased with progress and CANDU Team Canada. I will show you a
picture of the project. Those are two Canadian buildings on which you could put maple
leaves. As I previously mentioned, those two containment buildings are 41 meters by 45
meters -- quite large. On the left of the picture, you can see a very heavy lift crane
that is used for lifting equipment into the reactors. This is the China site. The next
slide shows "Maple Village" where the 200 Canadian engineers and technical
people live on site while the project is ongoing.
In Korea, we completed the fourth CANDU station in 1999. We have had over 20 years of
high-tech cooperation with the Koreans. We are also marketing quite hard to sell our
advance CANDU 9 product to Korea. We expect that that decision will be made some time this
year, possibly in the first half of this year.
The next slide shows the Wolsong site. It is one of the largest Canadian foreign
projects ever carried out. There are four CANDU reactors at the Wolsong site. You will
notice that there is no smoke, no nothing, only clean electricity.
In Romania, the first unit is operating very well. The capacity factors are 87 per
cent. The Romanians have said it is a priority to complete unit two. As background, I
should mention that the Romanians started on a very ambitious CANDU program in 1979 when
their leader wanted to build several of these units. AECL was asked to leave this project
shortly after it was started. However, the Romanians asked us back into the project after
the reorganization of their country. We completed unit one and now they want us to
complete unit two, which is 40 per cent complete. We hope that possibly by the end of this
year we will have some agreement in place to continue with the development of that unit.
Each of these units generates about $250-million worth of electricity per year. That is
very important to the Romanians because it is domestic production. It offsets a cost of
$160 million of oil imports for them and, of course, avoids a lot of CO2 emissions.
Let me turn the discussion now to safety. Nuclear energy is strictly regulated in
Canada by the Atomic Energy Control Board. The AECB will be talking to you later this
week, I understand.
We believe, for reasons that Dr. Snell will point out, that CANDU is the safest reactor
design in the world. The safety record is excellent. There has been no serious injury or
death to workers or the public in over 30 years of operation of CANDU reactors in this
country. I do not think many industries could make that statement or that claim.
The next slide indicates that CANDU offshore reactors are the same as those in Canada,
ensuring safety and environmental protection. You cannot build a reactor offshore that is
not licensable in Canada. It must meet all Canadian safety and environmental standards.
Every CANDU is engineered to meet all site characteristics, no matter where in the world
it is built. CANDU, in fact, meets or exceeds all host country and international
regulations and standards. Dr. Snell will delve into that a little later.
I want to stress that we sell nuclear technology for peaceful purposes only. All buyers
must adhere to the non-proliferation treaty and the test ban. They must adhere to an even
stricter nuclear cooperation agreement with Canada. They must agree to full scope
safeguards and 24-hour monitoring enforced by International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA,
inspectors to ensure that no nuclear material is diverted for any other use than power
production. They must agree to nuclear export permits and licences.
I would stress that the amount of nuclear waste that comes from a nuclear reactor is
small in volume. It is contained and safely managed at the station sites. After about 30
years, the total amount of high-level waste in Canada would fill a soccer field to the
depth of about one meter. The waste is a solid ceramic material. It is not liquid; it does
not run. Sometimes you may see pictures of liquid wastes and other materials that are
called nuclear wastes, but our high-level waste is a solid ceramic material. In fact, it
is hard to tell the difference between the fuel that goes into the reactor and the fuel
that comes out of the reactor.
AECL has developed a deep disposal concept that was judged to be technically sound by
the Seaborn Panel. The Seaborn Panel also pointed out that public acceptance for this
concept had not yet been achieved. Until that public acceptance is achieved, it is
difficult to move on with this concept for permanent disposal.
AECL's above-ground storage, however, is a safe, proven and available technology. We
have stored fuel for several decades using that dry storage technology. As volume of fuel
is so small, it is very easy to store it on the site.
The ultimate disposal, however, would be in a geologic formation, as shown in this
picture. The material would be stored in a vault that would be about 50 metres to 1,000
meters deep in the Canadian Shield, in the Canadian context. There would be a number of
tunnels. The material would be put into the tunnels and sealed with a number of engineered
barriers. Eventually, after many years, the whole facility could be sealed off and left.
Incidentally, this approach is very similar to how nature ties up this material. There
are uranium deposits in this country that are 1.2 billion years old. They have remained
stable for that length of time because the geologic formation and geochemistry and is just
right for that to occur. In this engineered facility, we would replicate essentially what
nature has done in order to store the materials indefinitely.
I should now like to turn quickly to Chalk River laboratories. We are 160 kilometres
northwest on about 3,700 hectares of land. There is a high-tech workforce of about 2000
people. It has world-class expertise, and is second to none in physics, metallurgy,
chemistry, biology and engineering.
Canada was the first nation outside the United States to have a reactor go critical.
That was in 1945. We were the second nuclear country in the world.
The next slide shows the home to the National Reactor Universal -- NRU research
reactor. This provides the majority of the world's radioisotopes for the diagnosis and
treatment of cancer and other diseases. It is also used for materials research and nuclear
fuel testing and nuclear materials tests. It is getting pretty old. It will have to be
shut down before 2005. It is approaching its 50th birthday.
There are also other reactors at Chalk River. There are two new small MAPLE reactors
that are owned by MDS Nordion. MDS Nordion is the company that was spun out of AECL into
the private sector to produce medical isotopes. The first of these reactors went critical
this weekend. At some time in the future it will begin to make isotopes for medical
We have proposed the Canadian Neutron Facility to replace NRU. This is a joint National
Research Council-AECL project to ensure that the industry and universities have advanced
facilities to conduct materials research and development and that the Canadian nuclear
industry has the facility to advance and improve the CANDU product. All high technology
products must constantly be improved, and high-tech knowledge must constantly be added
into those products to keep them competitive. That is what this facility is to do.
In the next slide you see a photograph of the two MAPLE production reactors at Chalk
River, where the isotopes are made. The isotopes are then transferred into the isotope
processing facility, which you can see in the background, where they are transferred to a
form that can then be shipped to Nordion, and from there they are shipped all around the
The next slide shows an artist's rendition of what the Canadian Neutron Facility will
look like once it is built. We are hopeful that the forthcoming budget will allow for the
initiation of this particular project.
Our R & D focus is shown on the next slide. We improve and advance CANDU power
reactor technology in the environment. We have scientists investigating environmental
protection research. In biology, health sciences are ensuring the health and well-being of
workers and the public. Then we have a number of solid-state people, physicists and
technologists who are investigating the fundamentals of materials using neutron
scattering. That is the current area of our R & D focus.
Senator Taylor: Are you able to provide me with an example of environmental research?
Mr. Torgerson: Within environmental research, we develop and understand dispersion
models. Whenever there are emissions of anything from a smokestack from any industry,
there is a dispersion that goes out through the environment. We develop models that can
describe the pathways through the environment and we can apply that to almost any
industry. We also do fundamental research in order to prove out the models.
To give you some history, since the 1950s, research at Chalk River has been the first
step in developing many new materials. These are materials we now take for granted, like
microchips in computers, television and electronics. Millions of jobs have been created in
new industries as a result of that kind of development work.
Nuclear technology has applications in many different fields. That is why many
countries that do not have nuclear reactors do have nuclear technology. They have research
reactors, but not nuclear power reactors. Nuclear technology on its own is an extremely
important discipline of science and engineering, quite apart from applying it to produce
power. One of my colleagues in nuclear medicine who is on our R & D advisory panel has
pointed out that all Nobel Prizes for the medical advances since World War II have
depended on nuclear research technology.
Madam Chair, at this point I should like to stop and turn the floor over to my
colleague Victor Snell who will say a few words about CANDU safety.
Mr. Victor Snell, Director, Nuclear Safety and Licensing, Atomic Energy of Canada
Limited: Honourable senators, in the next six minutes, with about 11 slides, I shall
provide you with a quick overview of CANDU safety. Hopefully it will provide a foundation
for much of what you will be hearing in your deliberations in the next many months.
To start off with the actual safety record, no one has yet been killed or injured as a
result of a nuclear accident in CANDU. That is an amazing safety record. Part of the
reason for that is that, as designers, we assume that accidents and human errors are
possible and we put in systems to prevent and control them. One of my colleagues once said
that a reactor need not be perfect to be safe. That is a good viewpoint to take.
In all of CANDU operational history there has been no significant damage to the fuel
due to an accident. And we do pay a significant amount of attention to experience, both in
Canada and overseas, in order to incorporate lessons learned into our own designs. As you
know, AECL is a designer, not an operator, but we pay a lot of attention to operating
On the next slide we have outlined the fundamentals of safety. There are four different
functions that one must have in order to have a safe reactor. We hear these over and over
again. The first is to control the reactor power and, if necessary, shut down the reactor.
Once you shut it down, you still have to take away heat, so the second is to remove the
heat after the reactor is shut down. Third, if you have an accident that releases
radioactivity from the fuel, you must be able to contain that radioactivity within the
plant. Fourth, you must know what is going on inside the plant at any time, so you must
monitor the state of the plant.
In CANDU we have two separate independent groups of systems that we call, with great
imagination, group 1 and group 2, and each can perform all the required safety functions.
The thinking there is that if something leaks, if one of the groups is unavailable, you
can still do all the safety functions with the other group. Group 2 systems are built to
withstand the largest earthquake appropriate to the site.
I shall address each of those four safety functions briefly. The first is reactor power
control, and in CANDU we have three different ways of shutting down the reactor. We have
the normal reactor control system in CANDU that is run by two independent computers.
Either computer can by itself shut the reactor down. If a fault occurs in one computer,
the other computer will take over and will shut the reactor down if necessary.
Separate from the computers, using completely independent devices and instruments, we
have two dedicated shutdown systems whose only function is to shut the reactor down in
case of need. We call them shutdown system one and shutdown system two. Shutdown system
one consists of about 28 rods that fall into the reactor under gravity, absorb neutrons
and shut it down. It takes about two seconds. Shutdown system two involves horizontal
pipes that squirt a gadolinium nitrate liquid into the reactor; again, that can shut it
down in about two seconds. This solution absorbs neutrons very strongly, like salt. There
is no danger at all, because this chemical is not hazardous.
In the next slide, that round thing is the reactor. It is about 20 feet high. You can
see the shut off rods at the top; they are normally poised above the reactor. If an
accident occurs, they are released and fall by gravity into the reactor in about two
seconds. The other system is deliberately independent and separated.
In the next slide you see the tanks holding the gadolinium nitrate. They are
pressurized by helium. If you open valves here, the helium pressure forces the gadolinium
into the reactor. There are pipes that look like the hoses with little holes in them that
you lay in your garden. These hoses are metal and will squirt the liquid into the reactor,
and in about two seconds the problem is addressed. It is a fast acting system.
Senator Christensen: What do the rods do when they drop down?
Mr. Snell: They contain cadmium, which absorbs the neutrons. Neutrons that normally
cause the reactor to run are caught up in the rods instead and the reactor just shuts
down. There are not enough neutrons to keep it going.
Again, I will not go into every detail. You have a copy of this next slide in your
handouts. We have many systems to remove heat after the reactor is shut down: main
feedwater, auxiliary feedwater, shutdown cooling system, emergency water system, emergency
core cooling system. Most reactors in the world have similar systems. The ones I should
like to emphasize are those unique to CANDU. We have two very large sources of water
surrounding the core, which other reactors do not have.
The moderator, shown by the dark blue area, is needed to make the reactor run, and it
prevents core melt. It surrounds the fuel in the reactor, which is great in the case of an
accident. There are about 4,000 fuel bundles in a reactor, and they are surrounded by this
cold moderator. They sit horizontally, and they are never further than one inch away from
the moderator. If for some reason the water flowing over this fuel were lost and emergency
cooling were also lost, you could take away the heat from the moderator, which sits about
an inch away from this fuel bundle. The fuel bundle is a very concentrated form of energy.
A one-year supply of electricity for all the people in this room would be contained in two
or three of these individual "pencils". This feature is unique to CANDU. Other
reactors combine the moderator and the coolant.
The second thing we have is a shield tank, shown here as the turquoise area. Outside
the reactor, there is a very large amount of water that is normally used for shielding
but, in an accident, it slows things down. Severe accidents take about a day to progress.
Even if everything fails, this shield-tank water will slow things down to about a day.
That allows a lot of time to recover from the accident or to manage it. This feature also
is unique to CANDU.
Senator Taylor: Does that appear in every CANDU reactor?
Mr. Snell: Yes.
Senator Taylor: Ever since we started making them?
Mr. Snell: Yes, that is correct.
There is a third safety function. I have covered control and decay-heat removal. The
third one is containment. As Dr. Torgerson said, if you drive past Pickering or
Darlington, you will see buildings that look a bit like the Wolsong site. These are four
CANDU 6 reactors. What you see is not the reactor but the containment building surrounding
the reactor. That building is only for safety purposes. Its function is to contain a leak
of radioactivity that occurs inside that building. Typically, the walls are between 0.7
and 1.0 metre thick and are designed to be leak-tight.
The fourth safety function is knowing what is going on. All modern CANDUs have two
control rooms. One is used for normal or routine control. The other is used if, for some
reason, the main control room is unavailable or uninhabitable. For example, if there were
a fire in the main control room, the operators would proceed to the secondary control
area. From either of those control rooms you can perform the four safety functions. You
can shut the plant down. You can take away the heat. You can maintain the barriers to the
release of radioactivity and you can determine the plant's state.
Senator Taylor: If an explosion were introduced into the main control room by a bomb or
something like that, would there any operators left to go to the other room?
Mr. Snell: There are normally enough operators on the plant site that there would be
some available to go to the secondary control area. There are other defences against
bombs, but, if the operators in the main control room were incapacitated for some reason,
there are usually enough operators on site to man the secondary control area. There would
be people on site with enough knowledge to do that.
This slide shows CANDU 9. As Dr. Torgerson said, not only did we design the reactor
through computer-aided design, but the control room itself was also designed with the same
You will be getting a presentation from the Atomic Energy Control Board, so I will not
cover regulations other than to remark that, from the very beginnings of development in
Canada, we have had very close cooperation with the international communities. The
organization with which we have dealt mostly is the International Atomic Energy Agency,
headquartered in Vienna.
Our safety principles are very similar to those of the IAEA. I will not cover them
here, but I refer to things like defence-in-depth, which is an approach to design,
emphasis on numerical risk, and the fact that the safety responsibility is not on the
regulators, it is on the operator of the plant. The operator is the person responsible for
safety. The regulator sets requirements and audits performance. You will hear more about
that from the Atomic Energy Control Board.
In my opinion, the IAEA is gradually becoming more of a world regulator. After
Chernobyl, the influence of the IAEA increased significantly. It has started developing
essentially international safety standards. The safety guides that existed before
Chernobyl are being revised and strengthened. Many of our customers require that nuclear
vendors comply with or, in fact, use the IAEA guides directly. For example, the safety
regulations in China are based very heavily on the IAEA guides.
Canada has an important role in terms of assisting the IAEA as an expert country and in
ensuring that the guides are in fact international. Of course, we either comply directly
or meet the intent of the IAEA guides.
In conclusion, CANDU is a robust design. That means not only is it built well, but it
is tolerant of human error and mechanical failure. The unique part of CANDU is that we
have large volumes of water in the moderator and in the shield tank that slow down
accidents even if all heat removal fails. Our licensing regime encourages safe innovation
and also facilitates licensing in diverse jurisdictions.
Senator Kenny: Thank you for coming, gentlemen, and for your lucid presentation. I
found it very helpful and very constructive.
My first question -- and this may be a difficult one for you -- is this: Are we doing
something useful by examining nuclear safety? Is this something that makes sense to you
folks? Do you think it is a reasonable thing for this committee to be doing?
Second, why do nuclear reactors create so much concern amongst the public? I do not
refer to you personally and perhaps not to CANDU in particular, but why does the nuclear
energy industry have such a bad reputation amongst the public? Why are so many people
concerned about this form of energy?
Third, what tests or measures should this committee be looking for when we are
examining questions of safety? How do we know what to ask people like you when they come
before us? What sorts of things should we worry about and what sorts of questions should
we be asking to best understand whether the evidence that we hear is correct and whether
the equipment is as safe as people are suggesting?
Finally, would you comment on how much redundancy is appropriate? I know, for example,
they talk about designing an offshore rig for the hundred-year wave. I always wonder what
happens in year 101. You talked earlier about designing the facility to withstand the
worst earthquake you can imagine in the area, but how much safety is enough?
Mr. Torgerson: As you said you would, you have asked some very difficult questions. I
should like to start with your second question because I think that is germane to some of
the other questions. You asked why the public is concerned. It is difficult for those of
us who live, eat and breathe technology to understand this. From my point of view, I have,
since 1966, lived with nuclear technology. I have had my office right next to nuclear
reactors and I have raised my children living in communities next to nuclear reactors, so
clearly I do not have any fear of nuclear technology. Obviously that is because of my
knowledge of what it is. You are never concerned about things that you understand.
Therefore, my feeling is that the concern in the public comes from a lack of understanding
about what nuclear technology is all about. It has never been explained to them. We in the
nuclear industry have probably not done a particularly good job of public communication or
education of the public in the nuclear technology area. Once the public understands the
benefits of nuclear technology and nuclear medicine, nuclear power, nuclear research, and
so forth, I believe that concerns will not be so high. It is really a question of
education and understanding. I do not know how else to explain it, because it is difficult
for those who have worked so long with it sometimes to understand why there is any
concern. Confidence comes from familiarity.
That, then, I believe, answers the first question: Is it worthwhile doing this? I
believe it is worthwhile, because I see it as an opportunity to learn about safety and
then to communicate that safety to the public through what this committee is doing. In my
opinion, I think it is good for anyone to be looking into safety. Obviously I am very
confident about reactor safety and I am quite confident that as you continue to look into
it and talk with the experts you will see that, in fact, we have a very safe industry and
a very safe product. I would answer the first question then by saying that yes, examining
nuclear safety is a good thing to do, because any time you probe into something it is a
As for what you should be asking people, the best answer is "Go wherever your
curiosity takes you." Ask whatever questions you think are important. If I were
asking questions of a witness who was an expert in a technical discipline, I would, of
course, probe that person in that technical discipline. I am not sure though that that is
the type of questioning that would be particularly worthwhile. Rather, asking witnesses
what they think and what they feel about nuclear technology and what the benefits of
nuclear technology have been might be a very good way to find out more about the
technology. My only advice on tests is to fire away, wherever your curiosity takes you.
Regarding the fourth question, on redundancy, as Dr. Snell pointed out, we design CANDU
reactors for defence-in-depth. We assume everything will go wrong and then we design for
that. In my view, that is solid engineering practice, and that is the approach that we
take with our designs. Basically, all reactors designed to Western standards in fact
follow that principle of defence-in-depth. The type of redundancy that we have in these
plants may seem, from a purely technical point of view, somewhat excessive, but it is
important to design the plant in the most appropriate way and then assume that the plant
will not operate correctly and design accordingly with defence-in-depth. If you do all
that, then I believe you have built appropriate redundancy into the safety and operation
of the plant.
I hope I have at least started to answer those four very probing questions. Perhaps
those are the types of questions you want to ask almost everyone who comes before this
Senator Kenny: You have described a risk-reward sort of scenario, but you have also
described the situation in a way that makes it sound like things are pretty good. However,
I think it is fair to say there is not a nuclear plant being built in North America, nor
is there one being contemplated. That is a massive vote of non-confidence. There is a
facility in the United States that is complete in every respect but no one has turned the
key to start it working. While you have given us a persuasive demonstration here, would
you deal with this for me? Would you address the question of why there is not a single
plant going forward in all of North America and why the public so overwhelmingly rejects
what you have described as a safe and effective product?
Mr. Torgerson: First, I will say that in North America the electric power market is
such that there are no major build projects of any type going on. In North America we
have, in fact, overbuilt our capacity for generating electricity, and our demand has
slowed down. Therefore, the demand has not been there. That is not the case in other parts
of the world. They are still building nuclear plants in Japan. They are building nuclear
plants in China. They are building nuclear plants in parts of the world where demand is
continuing to increase. That has not yet happened in North America, but I must tell you
that the United States is beginning to realize that the only way that it will be able to
replace old capacity and produce new capacity that is non-polluting is to go the nuclear
route. You can see that in their policy, in the fact that the Department of Energy in the
United States is increasing the amount of research and development dollars going into
nuclear power technology, and the fact that they have just recently called together
several nuclear countries to discuss what the next generation technology should be for the
United States and for the world. What is happening in North America is just not what is
happening in the rest of the world.
I forget the second part of your question, senator. You had another comment.
Senator Kenny: I was commenting that you were giving us a risk-reward ratio and talking
about the benefits coming forward, and the benefits are substantial and significant. I
believe we are all impressed with the benefits you talked about and I think people
understand those well. Having said that, the nature of the risk seems to be so great that
people are not prepared to accept that risk, notwithstanding the benefits that you brought
Mr. Torgerson: A very interesting poll was done in the United States recently. People
were asked whether they were a supporter of nuclear energy or not. The majority of people
said yes, they were, and then they were asked how many other people they thought supported
nuclear energy, and it was a very low number. The response was typically, "I support
nuclear energy but I do not think anyone else does." Therefore, the supporters are in
fact in the majority, at least in the United States, yet they think they are in the
minority. There is more support out there for nuclear energy than is generally believed.
In fact, when Americans were asked what technology they thought would be the technology of
the future in the United States, the majority answered that it would be nuclear power. The
second most common answer was solar power. Clearly, the opposition to nuclear power is not
quite as strong as we sometimes might believe, particularly when we look at the polls.
Senator Taylor: I have three questions. The first one builds on Senator Kenny's
question regarding the confidence of the public in nuclear reactors and, in particular,
our own. How can you expect confidence from the public if you are the manufacturer, the
salesman and the person selling the safety gimmicks? In other words, would you think cars
were safe if the only people who made announcements on safety were Ford and General
Motors? You seem to have a vested interest in telling us that the skies are blue and not
cloudy all day and that everything is just lovely. Why does not anyone contemplate
separating safety inspection from making your living? You would all be dismissed if we
could not sell CANDU reactors.
Mr. Torgerson: The safety, licensing and regulation of nuclear plants is separated from
those who develop and sell nuclear plants. You will hear later this week from the Atomic
Energy Control Board, which has no connection with AECL or the development program. The
Atomic Energy Control Board licenses CANDU reactors in Canada. They will tell you that
they are neither pro-nuclear nor against nuclear, they are simply the regulator. They are
there to ensure that the reactor meets all the safety requirements.
From the development point of view, we must put together the safety case, but no one
will say, "That is nice. There is the safety case." It goes over to a completely
independent group of experts with training in nuclear technology who look at it in
meticulous detail, review it and comment on it and either agree or disagree with you and
generally regulate the nuclear reactors from the point of view of their design and also
their operation. That separation you talked about is extremely important, and that
separation exists in Canada. I believe that we have the toughest licensing environment in
the world here in Canada. You can judge that for yourselves after you discuss safety with
the Atomic Energy Control Board.
Senator Taylor: You feel that the sales arm and the safety arm are entirely separate in
spite of the fact that they are both financed by the same body, the government?
Mr. Torgerson: Yes. They are completely separated in their function. They are two
different units with two different CEOs running the two organizations. They are completely
Senator Taylor: Second, you mentioned the Vienna group, IAEA. I had the impression from
watching the slide that in general you conform with IAEA, but you do not conform 150 per
cent. That is to say, have all their safety measures been adopted with our CANDU reactors,
or are there a couple that you are arguing about that you have not told us about? If we
went to Vienna, would there be a chance that someone would take us aside and say,
"You Canadians are doing this or that and we do not like it?" Do you have their
100 per cent approval?
Mr. Torgerson: We comply with all IAEA safety standards. If you go to Vienna -- and
that would not be a bad idea -- you can ask that same question of the head of the nuclear
safety IAEA organization. He is a Canadian who was a senior official with the Atomic
Energy Control Board. The safety of CANDU technology complies with all international
Senator Taylor: Third, as an old geologist myself, I have worked in areas of
earthquake-prone California, proofing buildings for earthquakes and so on. I was intrigued
when you said that you were earthquake proof. On solid land it might take 2,000 years or
two years, but nearly always you will get an earthquake somewhere. To what Richter level
do you build and how do you build? Are you on a floating island? This is an engineering
question, but I am intrigued about what you are doing to make something "earthquake
proof" because I think that is difficult to do.
Mr. Torgerson: If I ever hear about an earthquake, I will run right for a CANDU reactor
because that will be the safest place to be. CANDU reactors are designed and built to meet
all design basis earthquakes that could occur in the area where they are built. In fact,
they are built far beyond that standard. We would never build a reactor where it could not
withstand an earthquake. The design is so robust, as Dr. Snell pointed out, that if there
were an earthquake I would run right for the reactor as fast as I could because I know it
would remain standing.
Senator Taylor: I do not want to get into an engineering argument, but I do not think
you can make anything so robust that it will withstand an earthquake. However, you can
make something that floats over an earthquake. In other words, if you are in the middle of
the ocean, an earthquake will never affect you. What do you do on solid land to make it
float free from fracturing or shifting or movement, either open or transverse?
Mr. Torgerson: These reactors are built to withstand high ground accelerations. There
are many different construction techniques that you can use, but they are also very high.
Therefore, you must build these very robust structures in order to hold everything in
place. That is how it is built. For example, at the Akkuyu site in Turkey, the seismic
requirements are that we will build a CANDU reactor that can withstand a 6.5 Richter scale
earthquake just 30 kilometres from the site. That is at least an order of magnitude more
ground acceleration than you would have in that area throughout all of history. It is
quite possible to engineer these reactors in a way that they can withstand earthquakes.
Recently, we have had examples of this in Japan, where there were earthquakes on Kobe.
Reactors there kept operating. They had to shut down simply because the grid was knocked
down, but there was no problem with the reactors. I know of no circumstances where an
earthquake has caused any problems with an operating power reactor that meets Western
Senator Christensen: I am very impressed with your presentation. It all sounds great. I
do not know why we do not have more of them. You stated that, because you understand it so
well, you have no concerns. You are there and you are building it. You know all the
precautions that have been built into it and the designs, and so on. You work with it all
the time and understand it fully so that you are very confident about it. However, there
are the three examples that most of the public is aware of: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl
and the incident in Japan last year. I am sure the people who were working with those and
who built them had the same confidence you do. What is the difference between those three
incidents and the ones that we are dealing with today? Why would you have more confidence
Mr. Torgerson: I do not want to get into a technical discussion about the different
types, but it is my technical view that the Chernobyl reactor would not have met Western
standards of safety when it was built and the way it was operated. Knowing what I know, I
would not have been comfortable with that technology. However, as far as CANDU technology
is concerned, I understand it and know it. I know that it is safe technology. I know that,
even if everything goes wrong, it still sits within a containment building. Whatever
happens, it will be contained. You could not say that about the Russian-designed Chernobyl
reactor. It had no containment building. If something went wrong, everything would come
out of it, and that is exactly what happened. Without getting into too much detail on the
technology, I am confident with CANDUs but would have been much less confident about that
Senator Christensen: What about the Three Mile Island incident and the one in Japan?
They experienced problems. I would think that they would be just as confident when they
were building those.
Mr. Torgerson: The Three Mile Island reactor in the United States had safety systems
that prevented major releases of radioactivity. It had a containment building. As you go
through that accident scenario and look at how it was helped along by some of the
decisions made, you realize that it is very important to have a containment building to
contain the radioactivity. Also, some of the natural laws of science that tied up the
radioactivity and did not allow it to get into the gas space even inside the containment
building are very important.
The incident in Japan was not a nuclear reactor incident; it was a different phenomenon
altogether. It involved someone doing what I would call very sloppy chemistry with some
radioactivity. They got into trouble as a result. It did not involve a nuclear power
Senator Wilson: You have quite ably pointed out some of the benefits of nuclear energy.
However, yours was a very familiar presentation to me. One thinks after seeing it that
there are no problems at all. I was on the Seaborn Panel. In your presentation, you stated
that the Seaborn Panel said that nuclear waste was technically safe, which is not what we
said. So that you do not have to take my word for it, I will bring copies of our
recommendations. That way you can see what we actually said about the safety of disposing
of nuclear waste. It makes me wonder about the credibility of some of the other things you
stated in your presentation.
Senator Kenny raised the question I should like to get on to now. He asked: What is
safety? Usually, safety is identified only in technical terms. However, Senator
Christensen has also raised the notion of social safety, which depends on cultural
background, historical experience and fear and dread -- none of which can be addressed by
education, incidentally. I am not talking about acceptability; I am talking about social
safety and our judgment of it. I think that really needs to be looked at by the industry.
I doubt very much whether it can be addressed in rational sessions where we are given
information that we reject. That does not really address what we fear and dread.
Mr. Torgerson: The Seaborn report states quite clearly that while AECL has demonstrated
the safety of such a concept from a technology point of view, it has not demonstrated
safety from a social point of view. I believe that is how it is worded.
Social safety is something that you have to debate among yourselves and decide what it
means. Coming from the technical side of things, I understand what technical safety means.
I am not really competent, as you say, to talk about what social safety is. Perhaps that
is something that this committee could discuss and elucidate for those of us on the
technical side of the issue.
Senator Wilson: We said that even on the technical side there were caveats. We said,
for example, "on balance, for the conceptual stage of development." We had all
sorts of caveats that did not appear in your presentation. I really object to that.
The social safety idea is now a perfectly legitimate discipline in the social sciences.
The committee needs to spend some time on what that means, because it is not simply social
acceptance. It is what Senator Christensen was talking about.
Is the industry self-regulating? Is there no one monitoring it?
Mr. Torgerson: The IAEA is an independent organization; it is not part of the nuclear
Senator Wilson: Who makes it up, then?
Mr. Torgerson: It was formed by the United Nations.
Senator Wilson: Who is in it?
Mr. Torgerson: All the nuclear countries are in the IAEA; but it is at the government
Senator Wilson: It would be the governments interested in promoting the industry, in
allowing and encouraging it.
Mr. Torgerson: Governments with an interest in nuclear technology would be members of
Senator Kelleher: When you discussed the future of the nuclear industry, you said that
there are some countries, and I think you used Japan and Korea as examples, that will have
to go to that end. At the moment, we have a little overcapacity. I read somewhere that gas
turbine generators are now more competitive with the nuclear CANDU type reactors and that
in order for the nuclear industry to remain competitive they will have to lower their
capital costs. Is that correct?
Mr. Torgerson: Yes. It is my belief that the technology must be advanced. I believe
that all high-technology products have to be aggressively advanced and that you have to
keep adding value and lowering costs. That is simply the way it goes. Our technology is no
Madam Chair, I do not want to get into a great many technical details. However, I
believe that the CANDU system has more opportunity for optimization of the technology than
do competing technologies. I like to say that we developed the CANDU reactor from the
physics up and not from the engineering down. We really got the physics of the core
optimized. Physicists did the work right up front. We did not have to fit this reactor
into a submarine and then blow it up into a larger unit to produce power. We actually
started off with optimizing a power reactor.
Because we have optimized the science of the CANDU we have more flexibility to continue
to improve the product. I am quite optimistic about our opportunities to improve the
product into the next century. It is essential that we make our product better. We have 50
years of knowledge in this country. We have been working on nuclear technology since 1945
when our first reactor went critical. We can take that knowledge base and apply it to the
CANDU into the next century and make a lot of advancements in the product. We are now
working on the next generation CANDU product. I am confident that that product will be
extremely competitive into the next century. We will need it because, frankly, it is the
only way to produce power on a large scale that does not have environmental emissions
associated with fossil fuels, including gas turbines.
Senator Kelleher: Do you believe you can make it competitive with gas turbine
Mr. Torgerson: The difficulty with gas turbine generation is that the costs of the
electricity to the public can be variable depending on the price of the gas. It is true
that gas turbines have lower capital costs, but they have variable fuel costs. With
nuclear plants, on the other hand, you have a higher initial capital cost, but the fuel
costs are very low and steady over 30 years or 40 years. You get the certainty of costs
with nuclear, whereas with gas turbine you will see fluctuations in the costs because of
the cost of the fuel. It is almost trading off, if you like, higher operating costs for
lower capital costs.
Senator Kelleher: I am confident, as you are, that from an engineering point of view
you could probably refine the construction and get the capital costs down. At the same
time, are you as confident that you can also keep the safety standards the same or better,
notwithstanding the lower costs?
Mr. Torgerson: It comes back to the point that was made earlier. We must design a plant
that meets all safety and licensing standards. We cannot be allowed to design, operate or
build a plant that does not meet those safety standards. Therefore, it goes without saying
that all safety standards will be maintained no matter what we do to the product. The
things we are thinking of doing in the product do not really affect the safety standards
or margin. In my view, we must remain diligent about maintaining those standards. A
reactor cannot be designed that backs off on safety standards. That is the simplest and
most succinct way of putting it.
Senator Kelleher: Are other countries designing and selling nuclear reactors around the
world? For example, I think the United States does. Are there any other countries that do?
Mr. Torgerson: Yes. A number of countries in the industry have sold reactors around the
world. There are some emerging countries that would like to.
All of the nuclear power technology in the world today was developed either in the
United States or in Canada originally. Those are the two countries that have developed
nuclear plants. Two types of light water reactor plants were developed in the United
States, and the heavy water reactor was developed in Canada. Germany, France, Japan and
other countries also build the two types of reactors that were developed in the United
States. When we go into China, for example, we compete with the French and others who have
developed the American type of technology.
Yes, all of the major countries have in fact developed a commercial nuclear reactor.
Senator Kelleher: As I understand it, everyone sort of uses or copies the American
light water design. We are the only ones in the world doing the heavy water thing; is that
Mr. Torgerson: That is correct. Of course, there are seven countries now operating
heavy water reactors of the Canadian design. Therefore, we are in fact expanding the base
of heavy water reactors due to some of their natural advantages. For example, you can burn
natural uranium fuel without enriching it. That is very appealing to some countries. You
can even burn waste fuel coming out of a light water reactor and get more energy out of
it. That is very appealing to some countries, especially in places like Korea. We are
hoping Korea will continue to buy and build Canadian reactors.
The technology of CANDU reactors has been developed here in Canada. We are the experts
in it. As of right now, no one else in the world has been able to develop a commercial
heavy water reactor like the CANDU. We are the only people who have been able do it.
However, there are countries that have adopted CANDU technology that I believe will start
to want to do this in the future.
Senator Kelleher: I have always had the feeling, rightly or wrongly, that it is pretty
competitive out there.
Mr. Torgerson: Oh yes.
Senator Kelleher: I know that from personal knowledge. I sense that it costs Canada a
lot of money to land one of these contracts.
The Chairman: It is not a feeling, it is a fact.
Senator Kelleher: I am being polite today. I get the feeling it is costing the Canadian
taxpayer a lot of money to stay in this field against the American, German and French
competition. As you know, EDC does not really touch it. It is done on Canada Account.
There is a heavy financial cost to Canada in this. I have always been a little dubious as
to whether we should be remaining in this field. I am not the only one who has raised that
issue. I know this comment does not touch directly on safety.
Mr. Torgerson: Let me give you my perspective on this. No CANDU reactor that we have
exported and built in another country using financing from EDC has received any kind of
subsidy from the government whatsoever. The loans made by the government for building
CANDU technology offshore, where loans have been required, have all been at OECD consensus
rates. If you were to talk to EDC, you would find out that they have made a fair bit of
money off those loans. Those are at international OECD consensus rates.
There is no subsidy whatsoever for foreign sales. It is strictly commercial. We are in
a competitive world dealing with all the other countries that have their own EDCs, which
are also providing financing at completely competitive rates. Therefore, in fact, our
success in the international marketplace has not been due to any subsidies whatsoever,
because we have not received them. We have a very competitive product. We are being
successful in the international marketplace because we are competitive.
I want to stress that it is not costing the Canadian taxpayer, in fact to the contrary.
The China program has brought $1.5 billion of orders into Canada. Any money that the EDC
has loaned will be paid back at OECD consensus rates. There has never been any default on
a loan for a CANDU reactor being sold in the international arena. The interest gets paid.
Our business makes good economic sense. It makes good sense from a banking perspective.
It certainly makes a lot of sense from the point of view of selling Canadian high
Senator Kelleher: I do not think this is the time or place to get into a deep
discussion on that, but the adherence to OECD consensus rates is more honoured in the
breach. We had a lot of trouble with the Romanian one. I happen to have been involved in
that and I think we ended up with warehouses of jam as part of the barter payment we got
on that deal. In any event, I will not get into it tonight because we are here to discuss
safety. However, I do become concerned.
Senator Christensen: I have just a small question in the interest of educating myself
on the issue. Could you very quickly define for me light and heavy water?
Mr. Torgerson: There are two different types of hydrogen isotopes in water. There is
heavy hydrogen, called deuterium, and light hydrogen, called hydrogen. The amount of heavy
water in light water is very small -- 0.015 per cent. Heavy water is a naturally occurring
substance in light water.
We use heavy water in a CANDU reactor because it is a very efficient way of slowing
down neutrons in order to have the neutrons enter into a nuclear reaction in the fuel. We
can thereby use natural uranium as it comes out of the ground. We do not have to enrich
that uranium, in the isotope uranium 235 that is the actual fuel. Light water absorbs too
many neutrons and they are lost.
We say that a heavy water reactor has high neutron economy, which means that most of
the neutrons are being used to perform the nuclear reactions. Fewer of them are being
absorbed in the water that is slowing the neutrons down. The heavy water is more efficient
at slowing down fast moving neutrons so that they can react with the uranium. It is a much
more efficient method.
The Chairman: Senator Christensen, we did get a background paper on it, and I still
have a list of people, if you do not mind.
Senator Finnerty: I just have a question following up on safety and what may happen in
the world years from now with conflicts that happen. You can withstand earthquakes. Can
you withstand a missile hit?
Mr. Torgerson: I am sorry, senator, what do you mean?
Senator Finnerty: If there were a conflict or war where you have one of these reactors,
could the reactor withstand a missile hit?
Mr. Torgerson: The reactors, of course, have a containment building around them so that
the core is not accessible to weapons. Obviously, in a war situation you would shut the
reactor down in any event. It is rather difficult for me to conceive of anyone operating a
plant when people were actually at war.
Senator Finnerty: Sometimes it happens so quickly.
Senator Kenny: To pursue the war analogy, if you are dependent on nuclear as your
source of energy and you are in the middle of a war, how do you operate your war machine
without electricity? I do not quite follow that. How do you build cars? How do you run
homes? How do you do all the things that are part of living if you are dependent on
nuclear energy? You just said that you would shut them down.
Senator Finnerty: He said they would be shut down automatically.
Mr. Torgerson: First of all, I think what you are really saying is that wars are rather
senseless, and I think I agree with that statement. When societies go to war, there is
complete disruption. You see that electricity shuts down, so everything shuts down. I
guess perhaps what you are saying is that wars just do not make any sense under any
Senator Kenny: No, I think I was saying that during a war, people try to keep their
electrical plants operating. In fact, they have found them necessary for the conduct of
war. Every effort is made to continue to have the generation of electricity, and you are
suggesting that that is not the case.
Mr. Torgerson: Well, I think we are getting into an area of speculation here.
The Chairman: I think we are. Do you mind, Senator Kenny, if we get back to the safety
Senator Kenny: The question arose as to what happens if a reactor is hit by a missile.
Maybe that is not terribly likely right now. Maybe it is not likely in Canada at all.
However, it certainly is likely in some jurisdictions around the world. Are you suggesting
that they will shut down their power plants for the duration?
Mr. Torgerson: I think the question was this: If there were a conflict in the area of a
nuclear plant, what would the operators do? Again we are speculating, but I believe the
operators would shut that plant down.
Senator Kenny: Thank you.
Senator Cochrane: I want to go back to the issue surrounding Romania, because I
understand that is one of the buyer nations. I was there about 10 years ago. In Romania at
that time, the farmers were using horses and ploughs in the fields. They were rather
backwards, about 50 years behind us. I do not know how much they have improved within the
last 10 years. I am sure that they are looking for anything new that might bring energy
and whatever to the people of that country.
When we are selling something like this to a country such as Romania that needs so much
and that is just desperate to cling on to something -- at least that is the way they were
10 years ago -- who sets the standards as to whether this is the right thing to be using,
is it safe, and what are the implications if something should happen? Who sets the
standards, and who is to say that they are the right standards for this sort of an
operation and for this CANDU reactor?
Mr. Torgerson: We must meet all Canadian safety and licensing standards when we export
a plant, so the plant built in Romania meets Canadian standards for safety and licensing.
At the same time, when you sell a plant, you are also, of course, selling or at least
transferring the technology and the background knowledge required for that plant. When we
develop a plant and sell a plant, that plant must meet Canadian standards. It has to meet
the standards in the country where the plant is being built, but it also must meet
Senator Cochrane: Who sets up our Canadian standards?
Mr. Torgerson: The standards are set by the Atomic Energy Control Board, which
regulates nuclear facilities in Canada, and they will be speaking to you later this week.
Senator Kenny: I heard Senator Cochrane ask how you know the standards are good enough.
How do we know? You have said that you meet all the standards. You not only meet the
standards in Canada but the standards of the host country and the standards of the
International Atomic Energy Agency. The question that Senator Cochrane is putting, or at
least that I am putting in conjunction with Senator Cochrane, perhaps, is this: How do we
know that those standards are any good?
Mr. Torgerson: At the end of the day, one has to reach international agreement at the
technical level that these are the standards that are appropriate. There is an
international standard espoused by the IAEA and generally recognized in what I would call
the developed countries who have nuclear power, and that standard is the absolute to which
all people compare and must be compared. We meet all those standards.
I think that if you wish to explore the standard in more detail, you probably should
direct that question to the regulator.
Senator Cochrane: How often are these standards reviewed?
Mr. Torgerson: I mentioned that Canadian safety and licensing is the most rigorous in
the world. You can ask the AECB for their opinion on that, but in Canada, for example,
approximately every two years the nuclear facilities are relicensed and looked at again.
In some jurisdictions, the licensing is for the life of the plant, but in Canada it is
Senator Cochrane: What is happening with the Pickering plant?
Mr. Torgerson: There are two parts to that plant, Pickering A and Pickering B.
Pickering A, which has the first four commercial units in Canada, is shut down now while
Pickering B continues to operate. The Pickering A units, which are the earliest first
generation CANDUs, are in the process of being refurbished. They are scheduled to be all
operating again by about 2003.
Senator Cochrane: Are the people around the area concerned? When Pickering A was shut
down what were the communities saying? What are they saying now? They probably heard it
will be reopened.
Mr. Torgerson: You would have to ask the people in the area. I would not want to speak
Senator Wilson: It seems to me that the standards are looked upon purely as technical
standards and not social standards. There must be some discussion of that in our
The Chairman: We will get into that with the community people. If there are no other
questions, I have a few. I wish to inquire into the issue of safety in terms of the new
generation and what is operating at present. I agree with Senator Wilson that this appears
to be the best of all possible worlds that you have presented to us.
The Nuclear Canada Yearbook 2000 ranks the performance of large reactors around the
world. CANDU units that started up in the 1970s look fairly weak and are only operating at
a certain percentage of capacity. To what extent do those numbers reflect safety-related
shutdowns? When we looked at the change in the act, we also reviewed the Ontario
shutdowns. There must be some safety-related incidents. Could you comment on that?
Mr. Torgerson: If there is a safety question at a plant, the plant will be shut down
immediately by the regulator. A plant cannot be operated in an unsafe condition. That
would not be acceptable to the regulator. It would not be acceptable to the operator.
I do not know which numbers you are looking at, but when you look at capacity factors
you have to factor in that Ontario Hydro has eight of its units shut down right now, which
is not helping the average at all. However, if you look at the plants that are operating,
such as the CANDU 6 plant, which is the plant that Canada has exported throughout the
world, then you will see that those capacity factors have remained quite high over their
lifetime. In any one year, a plant can be down for maintenance or any other activity, but
taken as a whole over a long period of time, these plants have averaged over 80 per cent
capacity even though some of them have been operating for a long time.
The Chairman: It would be helpful if you could perhaps communicate to us in writing
about your views of safety instances with the older reactors. In light of that, the next
generation of reactors will have passive safety systems that require no action by reactor
operators and no electricity. That is the European standard. What is the situation with
older reactors? Is it feasible to equip them with these safety standards in the next
generation? And at what cost?
Mr. Torgerson: Many of the features that we are looking at putting in advance plants
can be back-fit into existing plants. One example is that in some reactor accidents you
might generate hydrogen, an explosive gas. We have developed a passive recombiner that can
destroy the hydrogen in the containment building. That is an example of a technology that
could be back-fit into the older reactors. It is also being designed into the new ones.
CANDU has a tremendous amount of passive safety in it already because of the presence
of this large water reservoir that is passively sitting there around the core; even if
cooling of the core stopped, the heat could still be transferred into that large bulk of
water. Having the heavy water moderator surrounding the core is the greatest passive
system there is. That is why we sate that we believe that CANDU is the safest reactor
The Chairman: Are you saying that the older CANDU reactors will meet those next
generation safety standards, as the European light water reactors?
Mr. Torgerson: I will say that any reactor operating in Canada will meet whatever
safety standards there are.
The Chairman: Even the oldest reactors?
Mr. Torgerson: The oldest ones will have to meet the standards. The regulator will
insist that safety standards be met for all reactors, old or new.
The Chairman: In the Ontario situation, it was said that there were many management
problems. One thing I heard that really shocked me was the non-existence of firewalls. I
think you are familiar with that situation. In that kind of situation, when you have
employees smoking and things like that, you are not looking at the heavy water, you are
looking at what is happening inside. Is that a concern, or is that covered by what you are
Mr. Torgerson: It would be most appropriate to direct that question to Ontario Power
The Chairman: I will ask a more general question. Senator Kenny asked why there were
not more reactors being built. By the way, that is not the case just in North America;
France has a moratorium, and Germany is discussing shutting down reactors. The head of the
IAEA has said that the projection is that the share of nuclear power will fall to about 13
per cent in 2010 and 10 per cent in 2020. The future is not quite what you are painting
When we went to California we were bombarded with the subject of stranded assets. I
believe that American taxpayers are now stuck with about $112 billion, which they must
absorb after they have spent billions developing this industry. I do not know if I agree
with you that the future for nuclear looks so good.
The cost of the last 20 nuclear plants in the United States was $3,000 to $4,000 per
kilowatt of capacity, whereas the new gas-fired combined cycle plants using the latest jet
engine technology, as Senator Kelleher pointed out, cost about $400 to $600 per kilowatt.
Even if that is variable, that is a factor of 10. How would you relate those costs to what
it costs to build the CANDU reactors per kilowatt?
Mr. Torgerson: The OECD has done a survey of the costs of various technologies.
The Chairman: Was that in a recent publication?
Mr. Torgerson: Yes, I believe this information was published in 1998. It is fairly
recent. There you see the cost of a variety of different technologies. Your figures for
the gas turbine are correct, but the figures for a nuclear plant seem extremely high.
The Chairman: That is what it costs in the United States. I am asking what is the cost
Mr. Torgerson: The cost of the CANDU built in Canada would be more like $1,850, so it
is quite different.
The Chairman: You would have to reduce by about 30 per cent.
Mr. Torgerson: Not entirely. The total cost of the energy is both the fuel and the
capital cost. At the end of the day, you must take into account the natural gas price. If
natural gas is $2.50 per gigajoule, then depending on what the discount rate is for the
cash, you can be competitive. If it goes up to $4.00 per gigajoule, then you are very
I do not want to downplay the tremendous benefit that natural gas has of having a lower
initial capital cost. If you can pass the higher operating cost on to the customer, and
you only have to put up the lower capital cost to the front, then that may be appealing in
The Chairman: You also stated that nuclear is the only alternative in terms of
greenhouse gas emissions. There is also solar and wind, and the other interesting thing
coming along is the fuel cell. What is your view on that?
Mr. Torgerson: Technologies like solar and wind have their place. I do not see them as
being able to compete with large-scale energy production. Solar is just too diffuse. To
gather all that energy together would be extremely difficult. The other problem is that
when the sun does not shine, what will you do? Solar and wind energy have their place, but
I am talking about large-scale energy production.
As far as fuel cells are concerned, I am excited about them. I think that is the way to
the future. However, remember that fuel cells are not primary energy. They use something,
but they burn clean hydrogen. The only product coming from that hydrogen is water and that
is not a pollutant. However, the hydrogen must come from some place and it will either
come from electricity, electrolysis cells to make the electricity, or it will come from
natural gas, steam reforming. If you make the hydrogen from natural gas you are still
getting the CO2 emissions.
The Chairman: In the United States, they can get as much energy saved from
conservation, and that is why they are not building any further plants. I know this is not
strictly speaking a safety issue, but in your scenarios have you also built that in? If
people would do proper conservation, we could get away with using a lot less energy and
probably operate with what we have got for many years. That question obviously does not
address China or other places.
Mr. Torgerson: It is easy to conserve when you have a significant amount. However, in
places that do not have electricity, such as China, what do they have to conserve? That is
where the growth areas are. We are not building capacity because our growth is very slow.
I went to an interesting talk at the Department of Energy a couple of weeks ago. I do
not believe that conservation is working in the United States. I also believe that their
nuclear program has really turned around, because it is extremely competitive. They have
gone through a change, and you may wish to talk to people in the United States about that.
Perhaps that is not within the purview of your committee.
The Chairman: We are basically interested in safety. Thank you for appearing today and
for your presentation.