Nuclear energy

NuclearPlantNuclear power is generated in steam turbines that are driven by the heat produced as uranium decays.

On this page, we address the following topics related to nuclear energy in Manitoba:

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Advantages

Nuclear power does not directly generate any greenhouse gases (GHG) other than water vapour.

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Difficulties

On this page, we deal with these key difficulties with nuclear power:

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Nuclear waste

Nuclear power creates radioactive waste and there is no accepted method of managing that waste. As of 2000, Canada had 35,000 tonnes of highly radioactive nuclear waste, with nowhere to put it. With a radioactive half-life of 25,000 years, nuclear waste remains dangerous for 250,000 years. (1)

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Mining and refining uranium

Mining and refining uranium is extremely energy-intensive. The result is that nuclear power is, in fact, a considerable source of greenhouse gases (GHG). (1)

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Safety & health issues

Nuclear plants routinely emit radioactive material, especially as they age. This imposes cancer risks on plant workers, their families, and people in surrounding communities. Power plants can also leak other hazardous materials. For example, Pickering reactor #4 had a heavy water leak in April 1996 that released radioactive tritium into Lake Ontario, contaminating drinking water supplies. (1)

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Plants are expensive

The last reactor built in Canada cost $4,000 per kilowatt of capacity. There were large cost overruns on this project (2) but the last 20 reactors built in the U.S. had an average cost of $5,000 per kilowatt. The current price for large-scale wind power is $1,200 per kilowatt and for a natural gas plant, it’s currently $1,000 per kilowatt. (1)

Between 1956 and 2000, Canada’s state-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) received subsidies totaling $16.6 billion. These figures do not include costs from environmental and health damage, accidents, cleanup, waste disposal, or plant decommissioning. (1)

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Nuclear meltdown risk

The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 was the most severe in history, causing a huge release of radioactivity over large parts of Europe and western Asia. (3) This accident was due to a flawed reactor design that was operated with inadequately trained personnel and without proper regard for safety. (4)

There are currently 11 Soviet-designed nuclear reactors like the Chernobyl plant in operation in the former Eastern Bloc countries. The current energy demand in these countries is such that there is little flexibility for closing even those plants which are least safe. (4)

There are other designs, such as the Canadian CANDU slowpoke reactor, that are much safer. While the Chernobyl reactor core was filled with very hot, flammable graphite, the CANDU reactor core is filled with heavy water, and cannot burn. (5)

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Weapons proliferation

Nuclear reactors provide an opportunity to obtain the plutonium necessary to manufacture nuclear bombs. In fact, sales of Canadian nuclear power technology enabled India to develop weapons grade plutonium and the manufacturing and testing of its first nuclear bomb in 1974.

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Current situation

From 1974 to 1976, Manitoba Hydro considered the possibility of using nuclear power for electricity. (6) It concluded that all hydroelectric resources should be developed first before construction of any nuclear facility.

There are two Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) nuclear research reactors in Pinawa, Manitoba but no nuclear generating capacity has ever been constructed in Manitoba.

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Future possibilities

Currently, there are no plans to build any nuclear reactors in Manitoba.

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