Chalk River Tough Target

Kathleen Harris
The Ottawa Sun
September 28, 2001

An airborne terrorist attack on the Chalk River nuclear facility would likely cause only limited destruction, say atomic power experts.

Fred Boyd, a spokesman for the Ottawa-based Canadian Nuclear Association, says the research reactor at Chalk River is heavily protected by concrete and reinforced steel. It would not be easily penetrated, but it would be possible with the force of an air attack, he speculated.

“It would be nothing like a nuclear bomb,” he said. “In terms of damage, it would be no worse than the accident in 1952.”

A mishap destroyed the core of the reactor that year, causing some fuel to melt and the release of radioactive contamination into the air and water.

If the reactor, which contains a combination of uranium fuel and heavy water, were penetrated now, stringent safety measures would immediately shut it down to minimize the release of radioactive material, he said. Security is also in place to prevent potential contamination of nearby water supplies.

“Some could get out of the heavy piping and leak into the water system, but the likelihood is extremely small,” Boyd said.

Because the potential level of destruction is relatively low, the Chalk River site would not be high on the list for terrorists.

“The risk of terrorists targeting a nuclear research reactor is very small because there are so many lines of protection,” he said.

Response by Energy Probe

Energy Probe has communicated with the Canadian government advising that certain facilities at the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories are vulnerable to attack or sabotage. Energy Probe has recommended military protection for those facilities. We believe that there are other facilities on the site that present a more serious danger than the research reactor.


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