Background: June 12 2015
Under Canadian Law, the Environment Minister is supposed to announce the government’s decision within 120 days after receiving the recommendations of an Environmental Assessment Panel. But there is an election coming up in the fall, and the government would rather not be “cornered” into making a decision NOW on this contentious Lake Huron Nuclear Dump.
So the Minister has asked the CEAA (Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency) to invite public comments on what kind of “conditions” to impose on OPG before giving the nuclear utility permission to go ahead. That will buy the government time to decide until December, instead of September, when it could have become an election issue for the fall election
Comments can be sent to ceaa.conditions.acee@ceaa-
The Lake Huron Nuclear Dump is intended to receive only Low-Level and Intermediate-Level Wastes (LLW & ILW).
The nuclear industry often uses language to deceive. A good example of this is the use of the terms “low-level” and “medium-level” nuclear wastes to suggest that these wastes are of little concern. In fact, the industry has decreed that the only wastes that are allowed to be called “high-level” nuclear wastes are the irradiated fuel elements, whether in solid or liquid form.
High-level radioactive waste is by far the most dangerous material on Earth. The Ontario Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning noted in 1978 that a single irradiated CANDU fuel bundle, freshly discharged from the reactor, is so intensely radioactive that it would kill any unprotected human being at a distance of one metre in about 20 seconds. The same report notes that the irradiated fuel discharged in one year from one CANDU reactor is initially so radiotoxic that it would require a volume of water approximately equal to Lake Superior just to dilute the waste down to the maximum legally allowed limit of radioactive contamination. Even after a hundred years, the volume of water needed would be about 1/10 of Lake Superior.
But anything that is not irradiated nuclear fuel cannot be called high-level waste, no matter how radioactive it may be. At Fukushima, over 1,500 huge tanks contain 280,000 tonnes of radioactively contaminated water that is considered, at worst, medium-level wastes. Yet a single puddle spilled from one of these tanks was found to be so radioactive that a man standing two feet away for an hour would receive a dose of radiation equivalent to the maximum permitted exposure of an atomic worker for five years. And the radioactive materials in the contaminated water are the same materials that are found in irradiated nuclear fuel; indeed, that’s precisely where they came from!
Even after the irradiated fuel has been removed from a nuclear reactor, the inner structures have become so radioactive that the dismantlement of the core area, resulting in thousands of truckloads of radioactive rubble, is typically delayed for 40 years in order to reduce the radiation exposure of the workers assigned to carry out this odious task. Yet for each of OPG’s 20 power reactors, all of this “decommissioning waste” is intended to go into the Lake Huron underground dump.
Some of the less radioactive components in the primary cooling system of a CANDU reactor are the 8 huge steam generators, each containing about 5000 narrow tubes that become permanently contaminated with radioactive deposits from the core of the reactor. Many of these deposits have radioactive half-lives measured in the tens of thousands or even millions of years, and about 90 percent of them are isotopes of plutonium.
OPG plans to “segment” over 300 of these steam generators, each weighing about 100 tonnes — that’s 30,000 tonnes — before emplacing them in the underground repository. Each decommissioned CANDU reactor also yields thousands of highly radioactive pressure tubes, calandria tubes, and feeder pipes. At Bruce, while taking these pipes apart, over 500 workers were exposed to breathing plutonium-laden dust for a period of almost four weeks without benefit of a respirator. At one point the workers refused to work because a radiation alarm went off, but they were told by a radiation safety authority to return to work because it was perfectly safe. No one has accepted responsibility for this episode although it is clear that the radiation exposure of these workers was irresponsible. They will carry a body burden of plutonium for years, perhaps for the rest of their lives.
The CNSC boasts that “We will never compromise safety”. It appears that when they do, they just don’t admit it.
Extended deadline called ‘political posturing’ by NDP MP Brian Masse
Nuclear-waste disposal near the Great Lakes has been a political hot potato for months and now it’s been dropped into the upcoming federal election.
Rather than decide for or against a plan to build an underground vault for low- and mid-level waste near Kincardine’s Bruce Nuclear power plant, Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq has extended the deadline to Sept. 1 for commenting on a recommendation that the project go ahead.
That means the matter would be decided after the fall federal election, not before it.
“It’s to try to play it both ways,” charged MP Brian Masse (NDP – Windsor), who is his party’s opposition critic for Great Lakes and the Canada-US border. “They’re looking to [attract] voters that oppose and support this issue.”
He called the delay “political posturing” that could backfire at election time this autumn.
Last month, a joint review panel recommended the federal environment ministry give the go-ahead to building the repository to hold about as much waste as would fill a big-box store.
It would be 680 metres below the surface, in 450-million-year-old rock, less than two kilometres from the shore of Lake Huron. It would hold dry low-level nuclear waste — such as incinerated mops, rags, clothing — and medium-level waste such as used reactor filters from Bruce, Darlington and Pickering nuclear power plants.
Initially, Aglukkaq had been expected to render a decision by September; now that’s delayed to December to give critics more time to comment on some of the science behind the panel’s recommendations.
If it becomes an election issue, opponents are ready for it, says Beverly Fernandez, head of an opposition group called Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump: “All Canadians deserve to have a voice on this issue and what better time than during an election.”
The New Democrats want an entirely different process to assess how and where nuclear waste is managed, while the Green Party says it’s “unthinkable” that the Great lakes would be considered a host site for nuclear waste.
At local and international levels, though, the voices have been even louder:
- 80,000 people have signed a petition against the plan.
- Politicians in 155 communities representing 21-million people oppose the deep geologic repository.
- Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk has sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking the matter be subject to an environmental review by the International Joint Commission.
Proponents say the vault would be impermeable except under catastrophic circumstance such as a continent-rending earthquake.
Opponents say any risk, however slight, jeopardizes the entire Great Lakes basin, including the water on which 40-million people depend.
The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a group of 114 lakes-dependent mayors, has said no to burying nuclear waste anywhere in the Great Lakes basin.
That group gathers in Sarnia next week for its annual meeting and the issue will arise during morning meetings.
But there isn’t universal opposition there either. Mitch Twolan, Mayor of Huron-Kinloss, is set to become chairperson of the group and he favours building the underground vault.
Some mayors have toured the proposed site but there have been no visits scheduled by Great Lakes mayors before or after their meeting in Sarnia, Ontario Power Generation spokesperson Neal Kelly said.
“We continue to have an open door” if any of them want to visit, Kelly said. Ontario Power Generation would own and operate the site.