U.S. and Canadian nuclear officials are cooperating on a plan to send somewhere between 100 & 150 truckloads of extremely dangerous liquid nuclear waste along 2000 kilometres of roadways in Canada & the U.S. over the next several years. These trucks will take highly radioactive liquid waste from the Chalk River facility northeast of Ottawa, Ontario to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. (Unless the brakes are put on the scheme, at any rate.)
There is a lot more to this proposed project than meets the eye – or that officials are acknowledging.
& I must correct myself. This is not just a proposed project; for all we know, these shipments may already be underway. The officials in question have obtained the necessary permits & approvals to proceed – in spite of the fact that there is a considerable amount of opposition from concerned citizens, activists, & some politicians – on both sides of the border. (See lengthy media items list under 'Resources,' below.)
** Note on June 20/17: indeed, the shipments are underway.
This scheme has been in the planning stages since 2008. Nuclear officials claim it’s necessary to do it in order to meet “non-proliferation” targets – but my colleagues believe it is nothing more than a “make-work project for the people down at Savannah River site in South Carolina.”
You have to ask yourself these questions:
Why are officials playing fast & loose with the real nature of the witch’s brew, as the slide presentation indicates?
Why do they not acknowledge the material can be safely handled in its current location? Indonesia has recently "downblended" its HEU (highly-enriched uranium). (Backgrounder on HRLM). That can be done here as well.
Why would politicians who have been well-briefed on the issue (on both sides of the border) have said they do not want this scheme to proceed without proper scrutiny? (i.e., an Environmental Impact Statement, in order to assess possible risks & viable alternatives.)
& about those casks? They were “approved” for use in the past … but not for liquid materials, for solid nuclear waste. (Even a fan of nuclear energy can see that liquid waste will not behave as solid waste would in the event of an accident or spill.)
Did you know that accidents do happen with fuel waste falling into pools at reactor sites? (Read a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission memo about this from January 2016 CNSC Memo-Jan'16-incident Nov'15 & Minutes-CNSC January 28, 2016 – the 2nd item also deals with a spill in Saskatchewan in early 2016.)
Doesn’t everyone know that transportation of nuclear waste on public roads is an extremely risky business? So risky that mayors in the U.S. have resolved they want to minimize these risks by seeing nuclear wastes treated as near as possible to their source location. U.S. Mayors 2014 Resolution on Nuke Transport
Finally, once you know that recent events have shown that accidents really DO happen (not even rarely!) – incidents like a burning bridge; a recent tractor trailer accident that resulted in a spill of toxic cargo, necessitating emergency response & later decontamination of the 1st responders, and, a few years back, a burning truck containing nuclear material – an accident that was not even reported to the Canadian nuclear authorities! - you know you have to sit back for a bit & wonder...
Leading to this final question: Can we really trust the nuclear “authorities” when they say shipments are “routine” & “safe?”
Politicians in Niagara Region (Ontario) Have Taken Action
The regional government in the Niagara Region west of Toronto passed a resolution in June 2015 stating:
“That Regional Council EXPRESS opposition, in principle to any shipment of radioactive liquid waste over public roads and bridge, or on any navigable waterways, or by air, recognizing that such waste can be, has been and should solidified so that it is far less accessible to the environment and living things, and,
That Regional Council URGE the governments of Canada and the United States to halt the shipment of high-level radioactive liquid waste from Chalk river Laboratories to the Savannah river, pending the outcome of full public consultations on the advisability and the potential adverse impacts of the proposed shipments, as well as the alternative procedures to achieve the stated objectives for such shipments.”
You can read more about it in the article Regional Government Joins Women’s Council In Calling For Halt To Plans To Ship High-Grade Nuclear Waste Through Niagara To Border Crossings.
On the U.S. side, there is citizen opposition in Michigan, New York State & North Carolina. New York State Congressman Brian Higgins has been speaking out against the liquid shipment scheme for some time now.
What to do? What to do?
If this project has been in the works for darn near 10 years already (it has), & the scene vis-à-vis “downblending” has changed (it has), & knowing that the transportation of nuclear waste carries tremendous risks (we know it does)
& if the plan is so safe that it really ought to be able to proceed…
Why not put on the brakes & initiate a public process that will involve public agencies (including those in charge of emergency response) … & the public … taking a very thorough look at this plan, the necessity of moving ahead with these 100-150 truckloads, and a careful examination of viable alternatives?
Transparency – & public scrutiny – are surely called for here … are they not??
What can be done?
“Transportation is the Achilles’ heel of nuclear security and everyone knows that,” said Bruce Blair, a retired Air Force missile officer, Princeton University researcher and founder of Global Zero, a nonprofit group that seeks elimination of nuclear weapons.
The danger is not a traffic accident — even a fiery crash is not supposed to explode a warhead — but a heist.
“In an age of terrorism, you’re taking a big risk any time you decide to move nuclear material into the public space over long distances via ground transport,” Blair said. “Bad things happen.”
From this recent article:
** A petition regarding this dangerous, unnecessary project is now before the federal government.
PETITION TO THE GOVERNMENT OF CANADA
We, the undersigned, Citizens of Canada draw the attention of the Government of Canada to the following, that
- The nuclear regulators of Canada and the United States have approved the shipment of 23,000 litres of highly radioactive liquid – to be trucked over 2000 kilometres from Chalk River, Ontario to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina;
- These shipments are to utilize casks never physically tested for liquid contents;
- The nature of the liquid material has been mischaracterized by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) as “Uranyl Nitrate Liquid,” whereas the liquid solution contains dozens of radioactive waste materials collectively more than a thousand times more radioactive than uranyl nitrate;
- This project is projected to consist of between 100 and 150 truckloads over a period of several years;
- There is considerable opposition to this project in both countries by both citizens and elected officials;
- Calculations show that one litre of this liquid is sufficient, in principle, to ruin the drinking water supply for any city in North America;
- There is no need for these shipments, given that the highly enriched uranium can be eliminated by “downblending” at the Chalk River site; and
- The radioactive liquid can also be solidified at the Chalk River site as has been done for similar radioactive liquids at Chalk River over the past 14 years.
Therefore, your petitioners call upon the Government of Canada to suspend these shipments immediately, pending an independent environmental assessment that will consider alternatives such as down-blending and solidification of the liquid, as originally planned.