Mac’s nuclear reactor ‘just cannot go boom’

Dana Brown
The Hamilton Spectator
March 31, 2007

If we’re going to have a nuclear reactor in our back yard, McMaster’s unit isn’t so bad.

“You’ve got a device that just cannot go boom,” says Tom Adams, executive director of Energy Probe, a consumer and environmental research group.

Although there are concerns about what could happen if a terrorist strike targeted a larger nuclear facility, such as Darlington or Pickering, Adams said the damage that could be done at Mac just isn’t comparable.

The facility isn’t capable of producing enough heat to cause a meltdown. The threat from the facility is more like that of handling hazardous waste, he said.

Erika Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Western Ontario, said Canada has not started to ask questions about our nuclear facilities, such as how vulnerable they are to air attacks. The United States recently began asking those questions, she said.

Someone wanting to do harm with a small research reactor like McMaster’s wouldn’t get very far. The plant is in the process of switching to low enriched uranium, which has never been successfully used to make a nuclear bomb.

The best someone could do, Simpson said, would be to steal materials and use them as part of a “dirty bomb.”

“But it’s not going to kill more than a maximum 3,000 people in a small area – maximum. And even then they’d have to be really successful.”

Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie said he hasn’t heard any concerns from the community about the renewal of the reactor’s operating licence. McHattie said he’ll look into the matter to see if the city needs to be involved.

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