New global threat: military attacks on nuclear power plants
Three medical doctors at International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War Canada are warning politicians that Russian military attacks in Ukraine on a nuclear power station risked causing a “nuclear explosion could have been similar to Chernobyl’s disaster of 1986.”
Their letter was published in The Hill Times on April 6, 2022.
Nuclear power has had its day, say doctors
Achieving global net-zero emissions by 2050 while negotiating a path away from nuclear annihilation is a major challenge of our times. Although recently funded by our federal government, pursuing the path of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) is fraught with an array of known, currently unsolvable issues. In our opinion, SMRs will not resolve the climate crisis and will increase the threat of nuclear weapons.
Using the label of “fear mongering,” the industry belittles genuine concerns including the fact that no viable underground storage for radioactive wastes has been developed anywhere. Indeed, some of these wastes will remain radioactive longer than homo sapiens have existed.
New SMR technologies propose using fuels of enriched uranium and plutonium. This practice has not been done in Canada and could destabilize international safeguards as both enriched uranium and plutonium can be used directly to make nuclear weapons.
However, it took the recent Russian military takeover of the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plants in Ukraine to reveal additional startling and extremely dangerous issues with nuclear power.
Luck alone prevented an explosive that struck the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, causing a fire in a training facility, to miss the containment pools for waste fuel. These pools typically contain more radioactive material than the fuel in the operational power plant. To prevent heating and a resultant explosion, a continuous supply of cool water is necessary.
During this critical period of waste management, plumbing, pumps, and electrical supply must remain intact at all times. If the integrity of the cooling pools had been breached at Zaporizhzhia, the resulting nuclear explosion could have been similar to Chernobyl’s disaster of 1986, thus creating another exclusion zone in the heart of Ukraine’s wheat belt and potentially scattering radioactive elements worldwide.
At Chernobyl, the military takeover caused an electrical cable rupture and auxiliary diesel fuel became necessary for cooling. Routine monitoring data from both these plants was switched off and no longer sent to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The IAEA and its Canadian counterpart, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, were formed to promote the peaceful use of nuclear power. These organizations were not designed to deal with nuclear disasters, caused by damaging weather events, acts of war, or even nuclear waste issues. The IAEA has not been able to respond to the extremely dangerous situation in Ukraine.
A future violent international conflict could easily target nuclear power plants. Small modular units, scattered in multiple locations are essentially horrendous weapons already on site and are vulnerable to attack.
The bottom line: alternative cheaper alternatives for energy already exist in the form of hydro, solar, wind, and retrofits.
Climate change is a global emergency which requires immediate action. SMRs aren’t even close to being developed, so are irrelevant in climate crisis discussions.
Why take all the risks associated with nuclear energy? Why spend so much of taxpayers’ money chasing this perilous technology? It is time that all aspects of nuclear power be discussed openly, in public and in Parliament, without the nuclear industry guiding the discussion. Nuclear power has had its day.
Dr. Nancy Covington, MD; Dr. Charles King, MD; Dr. Cathy Vakil, MD CCFP, FCFP
Members of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War Canada
(Cover: Aerial shot of Chernobyl nuclear reactors with straight canals around in spring. Via Shutterstock)