Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2013
In a show of authentic precautionary ethics — and in response to broad-based public opposition — Canadian authorities on July 26 canceled plans to transport 16 over-sized, radioactively contaminated steam generators from aging reactors, each weighing 100 tons, through the Great Lakes. Operators of the giant Bruce Power reactor complex in Owen Sound, Ontario, intended to ship the decommissioned nuclear power scrap through the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway and across the Atlantic to the Studsvik facility in Sweden for “recycling.”
Gordon Edwards, a co-founder of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR), said in a July 27 post, “Concerted efforts by an unusually diverse and powerful movement of ordinary citizens led to an unequivocal victory….”
“This outcome is entirely due to public opposition, since Bruce Power had received all the necessary authorizations — including a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission license — to proceed with the shipments,” Edwards said.
Mike Bradley, Mayor of Sarnia, Ontario on the southernmost tip of Lake Huron, also claimed victory. “It’s a real testament to citizen power.… We’re fighting a very large and powerful organization,” he said to the Sarnia Observer. The paper reported that the mayor “has been a vocal critic of the move, along with a growing list of Ontario mayors, coalition groups, environmental activists and US Senators.”
Extensive delays of the proposed shipments were caused by public criticism of the threats such unprecedented transports posed for potentially disastrous fresh water radiation accidents. Critics called the long-distance transport proposal “reckless endangerment” and dubbed it the “Edmund Fitzgerald Plan.”
A coalition of hundreds of community and environmental groups, led by indigenous First Nations, the CCNR, the Canadian Environmental Law Association, the Great Lakes Cities Initiative, and the Sierra Club of Canada — and 300 municipalities which passed resolutions opposing the shipments — had challenged the plan for two years. Ontario Regional First Nation Chief Angus Toulouse said in a news release then, “The Union of Ontario Indians and the Mohawk communities of Kahnawake, Akwesasne and Tyendinaga are at the forefront of opposing the shipment and the Chiefs of Ontario will support them.”
Bruce Power is the largest single nuclear reactor operation in the Western Hemisphere, with eight reactors on the eastern shore of Lake Huron. Bruce Power authorities had earlier said that they would eventually decommission 64 of the steam generators. Its plan was to set a precedent by moving the school-bus-sized behemoths by rail to Owen Sound (on the Georgian Bay of Lake Huron), then transfer the giant devices to ships for the water-borne journey through Lake Huron, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and out the Seaway — passing through the major cities of Montreal and Quebec City on the way to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and around New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to the Atlantic.
Edwards noted that, “The idea of shipping 1,600 tons of radioactive waste through the Great Lakes and along the St. Lawrence River was the main rallying point for most people. But the idea of blending [industrial] nuclear waste materials into scrap metal for general commercial use, without even any labeling to indicate that the “recycled” metal contains [radioactive] waste, was another powerful motivator driving many to oppose the Bruce Power plan.”
For its part, Bruce Power holds out some hope of another try. James Scongack, Bruce Power’s Vice President of corporate affairs, told the Sarnia paper, “We’ve indicated that if we ever decide that shipping steam generators is an initiative that we want on a certain timetable that we would reapply through the licensing process to do that.” In January 2011, spokesman John Peevers said, “We remain convinced and believe that this is the right thing to do and recycling these steam generators is going to reduce our environmental footprint.”
Some 40 million people living along the lower Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway watershed, including 106 First Nation communities, depend on its fresh water for drinking and municipal services. The Great Lakes hold about 20 percent of the world’s freshwater. — JL