The Government of New Brunswick is supporting the development of next generation nukes (so-called small modular nuclear reactors or SMNRs). Misconceptions abound about the proposed next generation nukes in New Brunswick. Here are some common questions we’ve heard and our answers.
Q. What is nuclear power?
A. Nuclear power is the energy stored inside an atom, the smallest building block of matter, by the forces that hold the nucleus, or centre, together. When a large atom is split into two or more smaller atoms inside a facility called a nuclear reactor, the energy released is used to boil water into steam to turn a turbine that generates electricity. People in favour of nuclear power claim that it is clean and safe. Unfortunately, the radiation of the energy and intense radioactivity of the leftovers – the small atoms produced by splitting atoms — causes radiation sickness, cancer, birth defects, serious chronic diseases, and genetic changes in people exposed to it. At this time there is no proven safe way to keep radioactive, or radiation-emitting, waste products out of the environment for many centuries, millennia, even millions, of years.
Q. Did some people oppose nuclear power when it started?
A. Nuclear power was first used in weaponry, as two atomic bombs were dropped on Japanese cities in 1945. In the 1970s, as the nuclear power industry started to expand, the anti-nuclear movement organized to oppose it on the grounds that nuclear power was unsafe, unnecessary and uneconomical, and left behind an enormous radioactive legacy. This opposition, along with construction delays and cost overruns, and the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, the first major nuclear accident in the Western world, basically put an end to the growth of the commercial nuclear power industry in North America. Two subsequent nuclear disasters, at Chernobyl in Ukraine (1986) and Fukushima in Japan (2011), have kept the nuclear power industry from re-establishing a foothold.
Next generation nukes
Q. What are the next generation nukes (so-called Small Modular Nuclear Reactors SMNRs)?
A. The next generation nukes are a type of atom-splitting reactor. Some have “modules” manufactured at a central plant and transported to a site to be assembled. They range in size from 10 megawatts (MW) or less to 300 MW, almost half the size of the 675 MW reactor at Point Lepreau. The next generation nukes are not small like the military-grade reactors used in submarines. The installations surrounding the next generation nukes are not small. They will be about the size of a gymnasium or larger. With plans to add hundreds more next generation nukes, these facilities could be scattered across large areas.
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