Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

Real People. Real Jobs. Real Adventures.

Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Will Estevan glow in the dark?...

Posted 3/17/20 (Tue)

For several weeks we’ve been wrangling with officials in Saskatchewan about nuclear power and its implications.

Back in November 2019, the Saskatchewan Growth Plan was released and part of it describes how the coal-fired power plants and some of the hydro power generating stations are going to be replaced with nuclear reactors with a start date of 2030.

That’s only 10 years from now. In 10 years, a nuclear reactor capable of supplying 350,000 homes will most likely be situated less than 13 miles from the North Dakota border near Noonan in North Dakota and Estevan in Saskatchewan.

Estevan is where transmission lines already exist so the infrastructure is already in place.

Provincial officials don’t want to talk to reporters about it. The Saskatchewan minister of Environment didn’t return phone calls seeking comment, but the mayor of Estevan did answer questions regarding nuclear power in his city.

What’s even more disturbing is that our officials in the Department of Environmental Quality in Bismarck weren’t aware this was being planned in Saskatchewan.

The plan is to implement nuclear power to help fight climate change and bring the province to 50 percent renewable energy by 2050.

For all intents and purposes nuclear power is safe and is more efficient than coal or hydro power.

However, these small, modular nuclear reactors as they are called, were built by humans so the possibility of human error exists.

If you don’t want to believe me, consider all the recalls in the auto industry. Things can go wrong and do.

What if it does? Then what? North Dakota most likely doesn’t have a plan to evacuate those communities near the border that would be affected?

When we say the word nuclear, the first thing we think of is Chernobyl and how that explosion in 1986 turned eastern Europe upside down for a very long time.

It was also the first time in my life I saw a Russian president (Mikail Gorbachev) pre-empt an American television program to announce what had happened at Chernobyl.

The measurement of radiation released has never been placed in the public domain, but it caused all kinds of diseases, including thyroid cancer in children. There were unconfirmed reports that rats grew to be the size of small dogs and pine cones were found the size of basketballs.

If you go back to 1945, you’ll know that Hiroshima was a city of about 350,000 people that was leveled by a small (20 kiloton) nuclear bomb.

Hiroshima still “glows in the dark.” In nuclear circles we talk about half life, which means over a period of time, the radiation is reduced in half and again in half and so on, depending on the power of the blast.

The thing about half life that a lot of people don’t understand is that it will never cease to exist. It will become smaller to a point that it’s irrelevant, but it will never cease.

So is that a possibility in Estevan? Yes, anything is possible and Estevan could glow in the dark, but the consequence would be much less intense because the reactors would be much smaller than Chernobyl or Three Mile Island.

OK, that’s the bad news. And yes, there is some good news about nuclear power.

It’s clean, it’s efficient and it’s cost effective. Maintenance is minimal and in Estevan’s case, there’s plenty of uranium right there in Saskatchewan when refueling is needed, approximately every seven years.

This new generation of reactor is quite portable as well. You can transport it by rail, ship or truck and can be set up and placed just about anywhere.

These reactors can produce as little as 3 megawatts of power up to 350 megawatts. It’s very futuristic and will most likely become the norm in the next 50 years. And over that time, it is expected the devices will become safer as well.

Chernobyl was doomed from the start. It was built on that old, Soviet style... on the cheap, just like Sputnik or Soyuz.

Most of France is powered by nuclear and we don’t hear of “accidents” going on there. The French government and its people are very pleased with nuclear power and see themselves as being ahead of the rest of Europe by 50 years because of it.

Here at home, we continue to promote crude oil and coal. Yes, we have it, but it’s something that the renewable world is leaving behind.

Just 13 miles north of the border, it’ll be 50 years into the future.