Sorry, we won’t shut up and be quiet about nuclear

John Bennett —

The “Radioactive Road Trip”, thanks to you and many others on both sides of the US/Canada border, is still parked. You’ll remember that Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL) proposed shipping the highly toxic and unstable enriched uranium (dissolved in nitric acid) to the Savannah River facility in Carolina for ‘reprocessing’. It’s been stalled by U.S. officials asking excellent questions about the use of dry containers (designed for dry, solid waste) to carry the dangerous radioactive liquid concoction. Apparently the U.S. also has restrictions on shipping radioactive materials in winter.AECL and its cheerleader the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) ignored questions about the inadequate containers — and risks posed to communities living along the 1000 kilometer route through Ontario, New York and several other states—when we raised them this past March.

Of course, under the guise of ‘security concerns’ neither Canada nor the U.S. will hold public hearings on the risky roadtrip. That’s simply unacceptable—perpetually citing ‘security’ concerns to avoid public scrutiny just doesn’t cut it anymore. A democratic society makes room for debate and input on issues that AFFECT the public. As I told the Ottawa Citizen earlier this year, hearings should be held because it’s a public safety issue.

We used to have a law that required proponents to consider and assess the alternatives in their project applications. They had to demonstrate their plan was not just sound, but superior.

Keep in mind, AECL is proposing to send 76 highly-unstable radioactive convoys over 1000 kilometers, crossing numerous lakes and rivers and through hundreds of communities home to millions. And also keep in mind, you — the Canadian taxpayer – are picking up the $60 million tab.

We don’t even know (and aren’t capable of knowing) if alternative approaches were even taken into consideration. The approach taken by ACEL and CNSC reminds me of past parenting failures when I resorted to the “because I said so, that’s why” line of argument. Well AECL & CNSC aren’t my parents so they’re not getting away with that. Just because a company or a government really wants to do something, it shouldn’t guarantee an automatic green light – that’s a really bad idea.

We do know that AECL has the technology to solidify liquid nuclear waste, making it substantially less dangerous to ship and process. Yet, AECL is hell-bent on taking a far riskier route and CNSC is backing them. Why? How is this possible? Aren’t we entitled to an explanation? After all, we’re paying the $60 million bill and bear all the risk. Canadians deserve more than being told to shut up and be quiet.

You’ll likely remember two years ago when Sierra Club Canada raised the alarm over Bruce Power’s plan to ship 1600 tonnes of radioactive waste through the Great Lakes and across the Atlantic Ocean to Sweden (so it could be melted down and used in consumer products). We learned in 2013 that Bruce Power had given up on the plan and will abide by the terms of the original environmental assessment (store the contaminated steam generators on site in Kincardine, Ontario) as we had argued they should. We started that campaign with over 1000 of YOUR emails to the CNSC. It soon snowballed and we succeeded.

Taking on the ‘Radioactive Road Trip’ is déjà vu all over again. It’s essentially the same battle. We’ve demanded a hearing and the paternalistic nuclear industry is telling us to shut up and be quiet.

Again we asked you to act and YOU sent over a 1000 emails to the CNSC. Those emails are still being ignored, but don’t be discouraged. This is how our victory to stop the transport of the radioactive waste to Sweden started — with a thousand thoroughly ignored emails.

Our work on the nuclear file goes well beyond these campaigns:

We raised important questions at CNSC hearings on the future of the Darlington nuclear plant;

We raised important questions at CNSC hearings on expanding the uranium mines near LaRonge, Saskatchewan;

We raised important questions at Ontario Power Generation (OPG) hearings in Kincardine about OPG’s scheme to transport low-to-medium radioactive waste to the shore of Lake Huron and put it in a hole; and

We helped an Alberta truck driver tell his story of heroism. He suffered burns disconnecting a burning truck from a trailer containing 34,000 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride (nasty stuff).


Despite tireless years of work on the nuclear file, no foundation or donor has come forward to help cover the costs of our important work (and we have asked, believe me). I’ll do my best to keep it going (and not shut up) in 2014, but if you can make a year-end donation to support our nuclear work, I’ll truly be grateful and will promise to see every penny goes to making the biggest impact possible.