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Radioactive shipment OK stirs concern

by Candice Miller on February 14, 2011

Radioactive shipment OK stirs concern
By Gina Joseph
Macomb Daily Staff Writer
Shipment from Lake Huron shores would use Great Lakes waterways
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has given Bruce Power its permission — and a 1-year license — to ship 16 old generators containing radioactive materials to a recycling plant in Sweden, via the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Bruce Power, which is located roughly 150 miles northwest of Toronto, operates the largest nuclear power plant in North America on the shores of Lake Huron.
The scrapped generators in question come from the company’s nuclear reactors. Inside each of the generators are 4,800 radioactively contaminated tubes.
The shipment to Sweden would rely upon several waterways, including the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair. The overwhelming concern is that an accident along the way could contaminate the lakes, which are the drinking water source for millions of Americans and Canadians.
“We’re very disappointed in the decision,” said Sarnia, Ontario, Mayor Mike Bradley, who opposes the plan and had sent a clarion call out to U.S., Canadian and indigenous leaders living in communities along the Great Lakes, urging them to voice their concerns.
At a public hearing last fall, their voices were heard, and loud enough to stall the plans until last Friday, when the CNSC OK’d the license.
“But I’m not surprised,” added Bradley. “I got the feeling then, of the closeness between the regulatory agency, the CNSC, and the applicant, Bruce Power. But it’s only the first round. It’s not over yet.”
Bruce Power spokesman John Peevers said the approval by CNSC to grant the license speaks for itself in terms of risk.
“We have always believed the right thing to do is reduce our (nuclear) footprint,” said Peevers. “We are pleased the soundness of the case was backed by CNSC.”
Still, regulatory agencies in Europe and the U.S. have yet to chime in.
“With the CNSC issuing their approval of Bruce Power’s shipment plan, it is now time for the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to conduct their full and complete review. Given the sensitive nature of this shipment through the Great Lakes and connecting bodies of water, there is zero room for error and we must ensure that nothing is overlooked,” said U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, a Harrison Township Republican and a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“The U.S. Coast Guard must be 100 percent involved during PHMSA’s review and should provide an escort in concert with their Canadian counterparts if these shipments are allowed to transit through the Great Lakes, as they will undoubtedly be one of the first responders in the event a disaster occurs.”
“My preference is that the shipment doesn’t take place and that it be recycled on site, which was Bruce Power’s position five years ago,” Bradley said.
In a 2005 “environmental impact assessment” Bruce Power said the steam generators were radioactive waste and would be stored permanently on site, according to Gordon Edwards, a scientist and president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.
However, Bruce Power has since entered into a $34 million agreement with Studsvik, a Swedish recycling company.
The contract calls for the generators to be trucked to the Lake Huron port at Owen Sound and loaded onto a cargo shop. From there it would travel south down Lake Huron to the narrow entrance of the St. Clair River. Once through the mouth, the shipment would traverse Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River and lakes Erie and Ontario before continuing on to the St. Lawrence Seaway and Atlantic Ocean.
As part of its agreement with Bruce Power, Studsvik plans to melt up to 90 percent of the radiation-laced steel, sell it as clean scrap on the world’s metal market, and ship the remaining back to Bruce Power to be stored at the company’s Western Waste Management facility.
Since the public first heard of the plan, Bruce Power has argued that the amount of radioactive material in each of the 100-ton generators is small — less than an ounce. The cargo is classified as low-level waste and the only reason they needed a license was because the generators cannot fit inside approved containers for radioactive cargo.
“We have as much of a stake as anybody to make sure this is done safely,” Peevers said in a previous report. “It would not be good business for us to do this if we thought it was risky.”
Critics of the plan include the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a coalition of mayors from Ontario, Quebec and eight other U.S. states and Canada’s First Nations. The First Nations include the Saugeen Ojibway Nations, the Union of Ontario Indians, Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, and Anishinabek Nation in Ontario.
These groups argue that any plan that presents even the slightest risk of an accident is too big of a gamble for the lakes, which provide drinking water to some 40 million people.
Scientists have said Bruce Power is misleading the public by stressing that the generators emit low-levels of radiation. While that might be true, it is also a fact that the generators’ components are laced with dangerous and extremely toxic plutonium isotopes.
“It might not trigger the alarms on a Geiger counter but they do give off high-levels of alpha radiation — cancer-causing agents like plutonium 239,” said Gordon Edwards, a scientist and president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.
“It’s pretty scary stuff,” said Tom Fuhrman, president of the Lake Erie Region Conservancy, for an article by the GoErie Times News. “It would seem that we should be competent to move some old boilers — but what if?” Even with a Coast Guard escort, Fuhrman knows from experience that things can go wrong.
As recently as last August, a freighter nearly struck a shoreline restaurant and ended up running aground in the St. Clair River.
In the 1970s, Fuhrman worked for a company that was shipping a large boiler to southern Texas. After being welded to a barge in Pittsburgh, the barge traveled down the Ohio River to the Mississippi and on to the Gulf of Mexico — where it sank during a storm.
“But that was only steel, nothing hazardous,” said Fuhrman.
“Neither the CNSC nor Bruce Power can guarantee that a disaster will not happen with this shipment,” said Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee, speaking for 39 member communities of the Anishinabek Nation in Ontario. “The spillage of any hazardous waste would infringe on our constitutionally-protected rights to fish, hunt, and gather lake-based traditional foods and medicines.”
In addition, if nothing happened on this trip, a dangerous precedent for shipping hazardous waste through the Great Lakes would be established, said Bradley.
Canada’s First Nations fought a similar plan with another company and won because of their indigenous, legal rights. In this case, Bruce Power still must secure approval from Transport Canada, the U.S., Britain, Norway and Denmark.
“It’s not over,” Bradley said.

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