The threat from a nuclear dump would be gigantic. To transport the 1.8 million spent fuel bundles totaling 40,000 tonnes that had accumulated in eastern Canada by 2004 would require thousands of truckloads over several decades. And the industry estimates that double this amount, 3.6 million fuel bundles, will be created by the time existing nuclear plants are shut down. With less than 200 fuel bundles to a load this would require nearly 20,000 truckloads of high-level wastes. The likelihood of nuclear accidents and the carbon footprint from moving these wastes make a mockery of the nuclear industry’s claim to be “clean energy”.
This shows why the ecologically-responsible, moral thing is to quickly phase-in renewable energy and phase-out nuclear power to reduce the magnitude of the waste burden for future generations. This would also be the most cost-effective strategy for reducing carbon and tackling climate change. If only this transition to renewables had been taken seriously in 1978, when Ontario’s Porter Commission report, A Race Against Time, recommended a moratorium on nuclear power because there was no credible plan to address the build-up of wastes!
A GIGANTIC RISK FOR OUR PROVINCE
These deadly wastes would be transported past food-producing farms and the towns and cities where most of us live. This should not be the decision of the industry negotiating with one northern community. What about all the people living along the route, which would likely be along the Yellowhead Highway and by Prince Albert into the north? And, what of all the people in the north, including those living in Treaty areas, with interwoven eco-systems and waterways? This clearly is a matter for all the people of the province.
Canadians across the west would be at risk from transporting these highly radioactive wastes day in and day out virtually in perpetuity. If deep geological burial is ever to happen it should be as close as possible to the nuclear reactors producing the waste, which means near southern Ontario. But even the concept of deep geological burial is being questioned. The U.S. began its search for such a site 28 years ago, and it, too, looked west, far away from the nuclear plants, to unceded indigenous (Shoshone) territory. However, after U.S. taxpayers spent $13 billion, the nuclear dump at Yucca Mountain, Nevada was cancelled for environmental and economic reasons. Canada only started down this same path eight years ago, with the creation of the industry Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), and this was done even though the federal (Seaborne) inquiry concluded that Canadians didn’t support this “out of sight, out of mind” approach.
REPROCESSING FOR PLUTONIUM IN THE FUTURE
Nuclear waste contains over 200 chemicals “which are radioactive for thousands of years”, as the United Church noted when it called for a provincial ban. The major reason the industry keeps pushing for storing these highly radioactive wastes at one location is not because it is the safest thing to do, but so these wastes are available at a later date for reprocessing to get plutonium. The Uranium Development Partnership (UDP) report in 2009 was quite transparent about this, supporting nuclear wastes coming here and promoting the erroneous view that reprocessing makes them safer to manage. Reprocessing plants are not only very dangerous but exorbitantly expensive; the Sellafield plant in the United Kingdom has now gone bankrupt. Many countries, including the U.S., Germany and Switzerland, ban reprocessing because of the danger of weapons proliferation.
Bruce Power has accumulated 42% of Canada’s nuclear wastes. And along with its corporate partner, Cameco, it was on the UDP when it proposed a nuclear dump as a way to “add-value” to the uranium industry. The only thing that nuclear wastes “add” to uranium is more toxic radioactivity.
THE NUCLEAR INDUSTRY’S MOVE WEST
The Atomic energy of Canada Limited (AECL) produced the Candu nuclear power plants that generate most nuclear wastes in Canada. In 1977 it floated the idea of creating a deep geological nuclear dump near the Ontario town of Madoc. When people realized what was happening, the AECL was forced to leave. The same thing happened when it started drilling near Atikokan, in northern Ontario. That’s when the AECL left Ontario. In 1980 it relocated just east of Winnipeg in the Rural Municipality of Lac du Bonnet. But opposition to their plans grew quickly there, too, and in 1987 the NDP government banned the storage of nuclear wastes anywhere in Manitoba. Nevertheless, they barged on into Saskatchewan in 1991, trying to make a deal with the Meadow Lake and District Chiefs to host a nuclear dump. Ironically these were the same Chiefs who had called for a moratorium on uranium mining in 1978. Several “native grandmothers” opposed the AECL plan and it was finally abandoned. Later, during the federal (Seaborne) review, the AECL failed to get the go-ahead for their plan. But the industry is now back in a different guise, as the NWMO, negotiating a nuclear dump with two new northern communities; Pinehouse and English River.
THIS IS A PAN-CANADIAN STRUGGLE
People along the whole nuclear fuel system are becoming aware that nuclear wastes constitute an ongoing danger to environmental health. There is widespread opposition to Bruce Power moving radioactive steam generators across the Great Lakes on route to Sweden for reprocessing. Seventy member cities of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, including Toronto, oppose this plan. Thirty Quebec municipalities have passed resolutions against this plan, and the Mohawk First Nation is opposed. Seven U.S. Senators wrote the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and Harper’s Environmental Minister, Jim Prentice, expressing concern that Bruce Power might be exempted from “the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) standards and regulations.” They also requested “a complete and reliable list of radioisotopes contained within a (nuclear) steam generator” and that this be “independently peer-reviewed.” They wanted consideration of “safer alternatives” such as “on-site storage”, which, when you consider energy usage and transport accidents, make sense. The Senators ended: “This decision appears to set a significant new precedent for the use of the Great Lakes for the shipment of radioactive waste, including potentially high-level radioactive waste.”
WE MUST STOP RADIOACTIVE DUMPING
The United Nations is trying to stop toxic dumping in areas of the “Third World” left impoverished by neo-colonial economic development. Transporting high-level nuclear wastes from southern Ontario to northern Saskatchewan would amount to the same thing: radioactive toxic dumping! The Wall-led government and Lingenfelter-led NDP opposition, which already has a party policy supporting a nuclear waste ban, should now put the greater public interest, and the interest of our future kin, above all else. They should co-sponsor legislation to ban the transportation and storage of nuclear wastes in the province. If they don’t do this the broader public needs to ensure that a nuclear waste ban becomes a central issue in the 2011 provincial election. It is worth voting for!
And the people of Pinehouse and English River, who are presently being bribed to host a nuclear dump, must be supported in finding sustainable economic alternatives that don’t threaten to contaminate the land, water and air for all time.