In the wake of Fukushima’s nuclear accident, Ontario Power Generation reevaluated its safety and emergency preparedness.
OPG filed a report with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission at the end of April which included a review of its systems and equipment. It concluded that Ontario’s nuclear plants are safe and will continue to be. However, there is always room for improvement and OPG is now exploring ways to better deal with spent fuel rods and excess hydrogen build up.
OPG is also stepping up safety guidelines by considering ‘beyond design basis events,’ which are highly unlikely scenarios such as the Fukushima accident. It concluded that an event like Fukushima is unlikely because Ontario has very low seismic activity and Lake Ontario is not large enough to produce a tsunami. The region also does not rest on a fault line, the shifting of which causes large waves.
But the Fukushima incident was not a uniquely geographical problem. Let’s take a Nuclear-Power-For-Dummies approach to how nuclear plants works and how Canadian plants are different.
How does a nuclear plant work?
The purpose of an energy plant is to make steam which turns a turbine. A nuclear plant does this by harnessing nuclear reactions. The process involves putting neutrons and uranium atoms together: the neutrons break up the uranium atoms which in turn produce heat. Heat boils water.
Are Canadian plants safe?
One of the serious problems at Fukushima was that it experienced a near meltdown. A meltdown occurs when the high heat actually melts the fuel rods which can damage the reactor and cause a radiation leak. Unfortunately, a broken backup generator prevented the coolant from functioning. Ontario’s Candu reactors are designed differently with the fuel rods submerged in a pressurized heavy water coolant and surrounded by a secondary light water shield tank.
Why Do We Use Nuclear Power?
The debate for nuclear power continues. So why do we use it anyway? Well, there are some big advantages such as its high efficiency. A nuclear plant fuel rod is composed of tiny uranium pellets which are the size of the tip of your finger. Despite their small size, a single pellet can power the average home for six weeks. That’s the equivalent of 807 kg of coal.
Ultimately, Ontario is not Fukushima, Japan and the conditions for such a disaster do not exist. There is no need to fear a Lake Ontario tidal wave.