Isotope Embarrassment

As LaRose pointed out in the post below this, the Chalk River nuclear facility has been shut down once again. This time because its aging reactor was leaking heavy water. (Again.)

This would be the same nuclear facility the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission wanted to keep closed for more maintenance back in 2007 out of concerns that the reactor might not be safe.

Former CNSC president, Linda Keen, told parliament that the odds that the reactor could fail were one in a thousand. That's one one-thousandth the international standard of one chance in a million. And that means you're 15 times more likely to see a reactor failure in Chalk River than you are to win the Regina Public Library home lottery.

Probabilities can be scary that way.

That Linda Keen, by the way, is the same CNSC president Stephen Harper had fired for being "a Liberal appointee" who wanted to keep the facility shut down for some inscrutable political purpose. Apparently, it didn't occur to him that Keen could simply be a cautious public servant trained in science who was employing science to scientifically assess the risk of a public facility going boom.

Or maybe it did. We all know what our PM thinks about science. Either way, he passed an emergency bill through parliament and had the reactor fired back up.

And here we are, two years later and it looks like maybe that Keen lady was on to something after all.

Of course, what's the big deal about a little spilt heavy water, right? The leak's been caught and is being fixed so clearly they're on top of things down there in Chalk River. Well, maybe, except it turns out the leak was only spotted after the reactor automatically shut down due to a power failure.

So when they speak of finding the heavy water leak, they might want to consider employing the adverb "inadvertently".

And, just to ladle a little local coincidence onto this, the Chalk River shutdown happened on the very same day the Leader Post launched their puffy, feel-good nuclear lovefest series. "Are nuclear reactors really safe?" wonders the headline of their first installment. It's a good question.