Nukewatch Quarterly Summer 2014
By John LaForge
The giant Canadian utility corporation Ontario Power Generation (OPG) — which operaties 20 nuclear reactors on the Great Lakes in Ontario — would save loads of cash by not having to contain, monitor and repackage above-ground storage casks for its radioactive waste. The company intends to deeply bury some of this waste next to Lake Huron, a source of drinking water for 40 million people including 24 million US residents.
OPG officially plans to let its waste canisters leak their contents, 680 meters underground, risking long-term contamination of the Great Lakes.
OPG’s formal plans and public statements make this clear.
First, the near-lake dump would be dug into deep caverns of porous limestone. The underground caverns are to “become the container,” OPG testified last fall — because its canisters are projected to be rotted-through by the waste in five years. The company wants to bury 200,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste — everything except high-level waste fuel rods — but with a wide range of radioactivity levels.
On April 13 the Canadian government was shocked to learn that OPG has grossly understated the radioactive severity of its waste material, some of which, like cesium, is 1,000 times more radioactive than OPG has officially claimed.
The Bruce reactor complex — the world’s biggest with eight reactors — is on Lake Huron’s Bruce Peninsula and is now the storage site for radioactive waste (other than fuel rods) from all of OPG’s 20 reactors. Digging its 2,000 foot deep dump on site would save the firm money — and put the hazard out of sight, out of mind.
Second, OPG’s blithe opinion about poison was broadcast in a December 2008 handout. Radioactive contamination of the drinking water would not be a problem, OPG says, because “The dose is predicted to be negligible initially and will continue to decay over time.”
The ‘expert’ group’s report predicted that it’s possible that as much as 1,000 cubic meters of radioactively contaminated water might leach from the dump every year, but calls such pollution “highly improbable.” The mathematical basis for this “prediction” of “improbability” has to be considered in view of the US government’s 650-meter-deep Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in New Mexico. The WIPP dump was predicted to contain radiation for 10,000 years. It has failed disasterously, contaminating 22 workers on Feb. 14, after operating only 15 years. It may never reopen.
OPG’s pamphlet goes further in answer to its own question, “Will the [dump] contaminate the water?” The company claims, “…even if the entire waste volume were to be dissolved into Lake Huron, the corresponding drinking water dose would be a factor of 100 below the regulatory criteria initially, and decreasing with time.”
Last September, I testified against the proposal at formal hearings in Kincardine, Ontario. This unsubstantiated assertion made me ask in my testimony: “Why would the government spend $1 billion on a dump when it is safe to throw all the radioactive waste in the water?” Now, what I thought of then as a rhetorical outburst has become “expert” opinion.
Experts: radiation to be “diluted” by Great Lakes
On March 25, the “Report of the Independent Expert Group” was presented to Canada’s waste review panel. Experts Maurice Dusseault, Tom Isaacs, William Leiss and Greg Paoli concluded that the “immense” waters of the Great Lakes would dilute any radiation-bearing plumes leaching from the site.
Dusseault advises governments and teaches short courses at the University of Waterloo on oil production, petroleum geomechanics, waste disposal and sand control.
Paoli founded Risk Sciences International and the company’s web site notes his position on Expert and Advisory Committees of Canada’s National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy.
Isaacs, with degrees in engineering and applied physics, works at the plutonium-spewing Lawrence Livermore National Lab, studying “challenges to the effective management of the worldwide expansion of nuclear energy.” Of course, hiding radioactive waste from public scrutiny is one of his industry’s biggest challenges.
Leiss has degrees in history, accounting and philosophy, and has taught sociology, eco-research, risk communications and health risk assessment at several Canadian universities.
So what level of expertise do the experts bring? None of them have any background in water quality, limnology, radio-biology, medicine, health physics or even radiology, hazardous nuclides, health physics, or radiation risk.
As the plume of radiation spreading across the Pacific from Fukushima continues to show, nuclear reactor disasters can contaminate entire oceans. Fish large and small and other organisms bio-accumulate the cesium, strontium (which persists for 300 years), etc., in the plume. The isotopes also bio-magnify in the food chain as blue fin and albacore tuna studies continue to show.
Canada’s expert group’s opinion on how radioactive waste might spread and be diluted in Great Lakes drinking water is inane and meaningless — its cubic meter estimates and risk assessments nothing but fairy tales. You could call the report a rhetorical outburst.
— Brennain Lloyd, Northwatch (North Bay, Ontario) email communication, Apr. 22; Toronto Star, Apr. 18, & Mar. 25, 2014