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NEWS: Harper’s nuclear security plan means dangerous shipments, no public consultation

The Ottawa Citizen reports, “Highly radioactive nuclear reactor fuel rods are to be clandestinely shipped by road from Chalk River to the United States under a non-proliferation effort to rid the Upper Ottawa Valley site of bomb-grade uranium. News of the spent fuel shipment follows a Citizen report Monday about separate preparations to transport a lethal brew of liquid weapons-grade uranium by armed convoy through Eastern Ontario to a South Carolina reprocessing site. …The planned shipments follow Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s commitment at last year’s global nuclear security summit to return additional HEU (highly enriched uranium) inventories to the United States by 2018 to lessen the risk of nuclear terrorism.”

“Federal law prohibits officials from releasing details of the plans, including routing, timing and the number of transport truck trips planned.” That means that information is not available about potential dangers of the transportation of these materials to nearby communities, rivers and watersheds, or even the Great Lakes.

“Gordon Edwards, head of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, says the federal government should instead consider building a vitrification plant at Chalk River, where the FISST (Fissile Solution Storage Tank) solution could be solidified before transport to the U.S. Failing that, he says, ‘there should be an environmental assessment in both countries as to the environmental risks of this.’ The environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth has made a formal request for a full assessment, including public hearings, to the U.S. Department of Energy, which operates the Savannah River Site.”

But, “In Canada, a Feb. 25, 2011 federal ministerial memorandum, classified as ‘SECRET’ and obtained by The Canadian Press under Access to Information law, notes that intense public and media interest was generated by the 2010 CNSC hearings into Bruce Power’s plan to ship 16 generators through the Great Lakes, up the St. Lawrence River and on to Europe. ‘There may be an expectation that similar information be made public on the shipments of spent HEU fuel to the U.S., and that the CNSC hold public hearings,’ said the document, addressed to then natural resources minister Christian Paradis. Based on the memo, ‘the nuclear watchdog considers it unnecessary to hold public sessions that would allow citizens to ask questions and comment on the (HEU repatriations to the U.S.),’ CP reported.”

Today’s Ottawa Citizen article also notes, “The 37-square-kilometre Chalk River site along the Ottawa River, two hours upstream from Ottawa, harbours 70 per cent of all the radioactive waste ever produced by AECL and its predecessor, the National Research Council of Canada.”

The Council of Canadians was a vocal opponent of the proposed shipments of radioactive generators on the Great Lakes; a review of our campaign can be read here, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=13379. A January 2012 campaign blog noting Chalk River and the ‘Secret’ document in the news story above, can be read at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=12938. It might also be remembered that in January 2008, Harper fired Linda Keen as president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for imposing the closure of the Chalk River nuclear reactor in November 2007 over safety concerns.