Let me tell you about nuclear reactors and me. Because suddenly, on Sunday, a nuclear calamity was on everybody’s mind, GTA residents jolted into a queasy awareness of the aging Pickering facility when emergency officials “accidentally” issued a false alarm during testing of the alert system.
A vast complex hunkered down on the shore of Lake Ontario which, we learned just a day later — lousy timing — the Doug Ford government now intends to extend the life of the facility beyond its planned 2024 shuttering. One of the largest nuclear power stations in the world — with six active CANDU reactors — and one of the oldest. Should have been taken offline years ago, as environmentalists urged.
It does not engender much faith in the competence of the nuclear station’s management when they botch a simple communications exercise. Two hours passed before they reversed the erroneous warning. What if it had been a real emergency? Is it seriously possible that Ontario Power Generation is still relying on Amber Alert-type notification for the public’s protection?
Not to scare the bejeezus out of folks, but … An ordinary chest x-ray measures 0.1 millisievert (mSv) of radiation. The average person in North America is exposed to about 3 mSv a year — “background doses” — from natural radiation, which includes cosmic radiation from outer space.
Exposure to 4 sieverts of radiation will kill one out every two people. Just 1 sievert can lead to hair loss, cataracts and infertility. Six years after the 2011 meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima generating station in Japan — caused by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami — a robot was finally able to access a location near the reactor 2 core to measure then-current radiation levels: a jaw-dropping 530 sieverts of radiation per hour.