Dangerous Cargo

Nuclear waste to be transported through the Great Lakes
October 1, 2010

Critics on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border are slamming a plan by Bruce Power, Canada’s private nuclear generating company, to ship 3,500 tonnes of nuclear waste through Lake Huron, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River, and the Atlantic Ocean to Sweden for metals recycling, beginning this fall.

     Rather than being stored on site, as the 2005 Environmental Assessment states, the 32 old radioactive steam generators – weighing about 100 tonnes each and containing thousands of radioactive pipes -- are to be transported, in two separate shipments, through waterways that provide drinking water for some 40 million people.

     Bruce Power is owned by Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. (currently under fire for its proposed Keystone XL pipeline extension), Saskatoon-based Cameco Corporation (the uranium mining company), and the BPC Generation Infrastructure Trust – a trust established by the Ontario Municipal Employees’ Retirement System, the Power Workers’ Union, and the Society of Energy Professionals.

     According to Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, the Swedish company Studsvik will partially decontaminate and recycle “up to 90%” of the radiation-laced steel, which “will be sold as scrap metal for unrestricted use, which means that small amounts of man-made radioactive materials created in the Bruce reactors (e.g., plutonium, strontium-90, cesium-137, and cobalt-60) will end up in such everyday items as pots and pans, forks and spoons, zippers and safety pins.” The materials that cannot be recycled would then be shipped back from Sweden to Halifax, and sent back to Ontario for storage.

     The planned nuclear waste shipments would begin at Owen Sound Harbour and pass by cities such as Sarnia, Windsor, Detroit, St. Catharines, Toronto, Kingston, Montreal, and Quebec City, as well as several First Nations reserves, including Cape Croker, Saugeen, Kettle Point, and Akwesasne. 

     The shipments were to have quietly begun in mid-September, but, after weeks of public pressure, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) finally on July 29 scheduled a one-day public hearing for Sept. 29 in Ottawa. The live webcast of the hearing on the Internet via the CNSC website was to be archived for viewing for 90 days.

     “The governments of Ontario and Canada,” says Edwards, “must prohibit these shipments because the transport of radioactive debris through our precious waterways should not be condoned, and the dissemination of radioactive waste into consumer goods should not be countenanced.” 

More than 60 organizations are against the shipments, along with dozens of mayors along the route, the Ontario Coalition of Aboriginal People, and thousands of individuals who have signed an online petition on the Nuclear Information and Resource Service website.


PR Exercise by the CNSC


There are numerous questions around this plan. For example, on February 23, the St. Catharines daily, The Standard, reported that Bruce Power had signed a $34 million contract with Studsvik for the metals recycling of the steam generators. But Bruce Power did not apply to the CNSC for a transport licence until April 1, indicating that it had signed the contract before getting regulatory approval for the transport. Equally problematic, The Standard had initially reported that the steam generators “are currently considered intermediate-level nuclear waste,” but, by mid-July, Bruce Power issued a statement claiming the shipments emit only “low-level radiation.”

     Intermediate-level radioactive waste requires special shielding.

     Critics say that a one-day hearing was inadequate to address the issues. Moreover, the CNSC has already received a staff report calling the shipments safe, so the hearing appeared to be little more than a public-relations exercise. The official CNSC Notice of the September Public Hearing stated: “CNSC staff has concluded that there are no safety significant issues associated with the proposed shipment. However, in light of the public concern and the value to ensuring both a proper understanding of the scope of the undertaking and the presentation of accurate information relating to the health, safety and risk, the DO [Designated Officer] has asked that the Commission review the application at a one-day public hearing.”

     In response, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility and Great Lakes United claimed that the CNSC had biased the public hearing process. John Bennett, Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada, says, “I’m sure they had no intention of holding any hearings or doing anything but rubber-stamp what Bruce Power wanted. This agency [CNSC] was created to protect the industry, not the public.”

     The CNSC staff report, made available to the public on August 21, recommends that the CNSC grant Bruce Power a transport licence to expire in one year. The report also states that an environmental assessment “is not required.”  

Aurele Gervais, a CNSC spokesman, told the Toronto Star (July 11) that “those with anti-nuclear views have a tendency to fearmonger.”

     Says Mark Mattson, president of the Toronto-based Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, “The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is a public tribunal that is required to give notice to the public and the affected parties and allow them to comment” as part of “the legal process called fairness and transparency.” But, as Canadian Senator Bob Runciman told the press, the transport plan “came as a surprise to a lot of people. If there was any communication [about the shipment], it wasn’t broadly based or widely announced.”


CNSC Deconstructed


This whole transport issue has raised significant questions about the composition and role of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (see box) under the new leadership of President and CEO Michael Binder, who replaced Linda Keen in January 2008 as interim president and was then appointed in May 2008 to a five-year term by Minister of Natural Resources Gary Lunn.

     The sole mandate of the CNSC, as the quasi-judicial independent regulator of the nuclear industry, is to protect the health, safety, and security of Canadians, but over the last two years, the Commission has sounded increasingly like a nuclear-industry promoter.

     For example, on May 28, 2009, Binder gave a power-point presentation to the Board of Directors of Cameco (one of the owners of Bruce Power), in which he discussed the nuclear industry’s “long-term growth projections,” including the following “Canadian Prospects”: “Saskatchewan Uranium Development Partnership report, Alberta Expert Panel report, Ontario new-build projects, New Brunswick feasibility study.”   The presentation ended with the slogan: “CNSC will not compromise safety... but won’t be an unnecessary bottleneck.”

     Some time between that May 2009 speech and summer 2010, the composition of the CNSC changed significantly. The two university life-science professors who were commissioners – Dr. Christopher R. Barnes, Professor at the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of Victoria, B.C.; and Dr. Louis LaPierre, Professor Emeritus in Biology at the University of Moncton, N.B. – were replaced by Jocelyne Beaudet, a public relations consultant, and Ken Pereira, a career nuclear engineer.

    In November 2009, after the Sierra Club of Canada had issued a report warning against dangerous levels of radioactive tritium in drinking water, the CNSC blasted the organization for ignoring “the important benefits of nuclear technology” and not recognizing that “nuclear power is a safe way of producing low-emission electricity.” 

     Binder often dismisses the concerns of environmental groups as “junk science,” and he told the Toronto Star (Dec. 1, 2009) that “what I take exception to is some so-called scientific observations that everything we do is unsafe,” thereby identifying himself with the nuclear industry, not with the independent Safety Commission of which he is the head.

Setting a Dangerous Precedent

“The arm’s-length independence [of the CNSC] after the whole Keen fiasco is gone,” says NDP MP Nathan Cullen. “The watchdog is not independent, and it will give a stamp of approval to whatever the [Harper] government wants. That’s what we’re hearing now.”

     Thanks to the Harper Conservatives’ deregulation of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA), the environmental assessments (EA) of nuclear projects are now carried out by the CNSC. In his May 28, 2009 power-point presentation to Cameco, Binder identified several “CNSC issues,” including “regulatory burden/duplication, integration of EA and licensing processes, and duty to consult requirements.” We are seeing all these issues unfold in the handling of Bruce Power’s transport plan.

     Critics are worried that CNSC approval of the transport will set a dangerous precedent for further nuclear waste shipments through the Great Lakes. There are 15 nuclear power plants ringing the Great Lakes, along with some 50 nuclear waste sites. Bruce Power CEO Duncan Hawthorne has said the company’s long-term plan is to refurbish all of its operational units, which contain 64 radioactive steam generators.  

     Because the old steam generators belong to Ontario Power Generation (OPG), a corporation wholly owned by the Ontario government, those opposed to the shipment plan are calling for a full environmental assessment by the Ontario government. Andrea Horwath, Ontario NDP Leader, has stated, “As host of the majority of Canada’s nuclear plants, the Ontario government has a responsibility to stand up now to stop these nuclear shipments.”      

     By press time, the Dalton McGuinty government had made no comment on the issue.


(Joyce Nelson is a freelance writer/researcher and the author of five books.)  


Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission Members

Dr. Michael Binder – President & CEO: extensive career in federal public service, including senior positions at Industry Canada, the Department of Communications, the Office of the Comptroller General of Canada, Canada Mortgage & Housing Corp., the Ministry of State for Urban Affairs, and the Defence Research Board.

Dr. Ronald J. Barriault, New Brunswick: practicing physician with the Restigouche Regional Health Authority; held various private sector positions with Imperial Oil Ltd., Brunswick Mining & Smelting (Noranda), and Canadian National Railway.

Jocelyne Beaudet, Nova Scotia: communications consultant in various fields related to the environment and public participation; expert in public consultation process.

Alan R. Graham, New Brunswick: Chair of the Joint Review Panel, Darlington New Nuclear Power Plant Project; former Deputy Premier of New Brunswick; former member of Atomic Energy Control Board; Trustee of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

André Harvey, Quebec: Consultant; former Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney; former Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development; to the Minister of Transport and the Minister for International Cooperation; to the Minister of Natural Resources; former Quebec representative on the International St. Lawrence River Board of Control of the International Joint Commission; former member of the Strategic Planning Committee of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.

Dr. J. Moyra J. McDill, Ontario: Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Carleton University, Ottawa.

Ken Pereira, Ontario: Former Vice-President of Operations at the CNSC; former Canadian delegate on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Commission on Safety Standards.

Dan D. Tolgyesi, Quebec: President and Executive Director of the Quebec Mining Association; member of the mining engineering advisory boards of McGill University, Laval University, and the Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal; held various private sector positions with Noranda Inc., Minnova Inc., and Falconbridge Ltd.

--Sources:  Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission;   www.zoominfo.com/search; wapedia-Wiki.