Letter to the Montreal Gazette

William W. Zuzak, Ph.D., P.Eng.
May 5th 1991

Letter to the Montreal Gazette

604 des Fauvettes
Ste. Julie, Que.
May 5, 1991

Letters to Editor
The Gazette
250 St. Antoine St. W.
Montreal H2Y 3R7
Fax: 987-2399

Dear sirs:

The half page advertisement of the Canadian Nuclear Association on the fifth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion in the April 26 issue of your newspaper is both scientifically misleading and particularly insensitive to the plight of hundreds of thousands of radiation victims in Byelorussia and Ukraine.

It is misleading to suggest that "massive steam pressure... blew the reactor open". Simple over-pressurization would not have destroyed the inner core of the reactor. The presence of large chunks of graphite moderator and reactor fuel scattered for several kilometres around the reactor indicates the existence of highly supersonic shock waves typical of a prompt critical nuclear explosion.

It is true that "the Chernobyl station did not have a separate containment building" comparable to that of the Canadian CANDU or the American PWR. However, it is extremely unlikely that these containment buildings would have been able to withstand a Chernobyl magnitude explosion and thus prevent radioactive contamination of the surrounding countryside.

It is, of course, axiomatic that "the Chernobyl incident could not occur in Canada" since this type of reactor is not present in Canada. The public would be more reassured if the CNA had categorically stated that a prompt critical explosion is impossible in a CANDU reactor. Indeed, because the CANDU reactor is fuelled with natural uranium which contains only 0.7% of fissile U-235, in contrast with 2.0% enrichment for the Chernobyl RBMK and 2.4% for the American PWR, a prompt critical runaway of the neutron flux in a CANDU is far less likely to lead to a catastrophic explosion than in the other two types.

It is not clear what the CNA has "learned from the Chernobyl reactor accident". To my knowledge, all debriefings of eyewitnesses and plant personnel by the KGB and/or MVD remains classified. Certainly, no comprehensive study of the physics of the accident has as yet been done.

Finally, I would suggest that in lieu of expensive newspaper advertising, the cause of nuclear energy would be far better served if the CNA expressed a little human concern and donated medical supplies and radiation monitoring equipment to the hundreds of villages in Ukraine and Byelorussia which remain contaminated by radioactive fallout.

William Zuzak
CHORN_91.E05 = Letter to Gazette

Copyright © 1991 Dr. W. Zuzak

since March 1st 1997