Steam Generators: Losing Steam?

I’ve been blogging about this issue since last Fall (all the steam generator-related blog posts are listed here). The issue just won’t go away – for a boatload of reasons (heh heh).

Short form: Bruce Power (BP, eh?) is a for-profit nuclear outfit (the 2nd-largest nuclear facility in the world & the largest in North America in terms of output) near Kincardine, Ontario, on the shores of Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes. Two (of the Bruce’s eight) reactors are being “refurbished” & there are 16 retired, heavily radioactive steam generators (SGs) – each weighing around 1000 tonnes & the size of a school bus – that BP wants to ship through the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River & across the Atlantic Ocean to Studsvik, Sweden for what they call “recycling.” The Canadian federal agency that regulates all nuclear goings-on in Canada – the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission or CNSC – has given Bruce Power the go-ahead. (Go here to see what the SGs look like on the inside, & here for a list of their radioactive contaminants & here for plutonium details.)

Problem? Tons of opposition to this project & shipment has been mobilizing & growing since last April when news of it first hit. Opposition has not flagged & has in fact continued to grow. CNSC reluctantly held a “one day” hearing on the SGs (it took 2 days, given the near-80 intervenors who had to say their piece, but CNSC insisted on calling it a “one day hearing.” As it happens, with this agency, you do seem to fall down into an Alice in Wonderland-like rabbit hole very quickly. I speak from experience…).

Who is Opposed? Well, an awful lot of “mere” individuals with no particular group affiliation, a very large number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), a small army of First Nations/Aboriginal communities, mayors of many municipalities in Ontario & especially in Quebec, &, most recently, the Environment Minister of the province of Quebec. Oh, & also the members of both the federal & provincial New Democratic Party (NDP). The Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Cities Initiative group (hardly a hotbed of knee jerk, anti-nuclear types) is firmly opposed & has made very reasoned arguments against BP’s plans. You can read their materials here

Where Do We Stand Now? Well, the CNSC took a long time to make its decision. Initially, before there was so much vocal response to their original plan to allow one staff person to render a decision on this & provide Bruce Power with its necessary transportation license (CNSC had very quickly rubber-stamped the necessary export license last January, i.e. Jan. 2010), we all expected a quick decision after the (two-day) one-day hearing last Fall, Sept. 28 & 29th. But CNSC was quietly going around behind closed doors, trying to turn municipal opposition in Quebec into support. On February 11th, in spite of fierce opposition from so many quarters, CNSC gave Bruce Power the go-ahead for its (first) shipment.

Now what? Opposition has not abated & continues to grow on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border, & also on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. There actually seem to be very few supporters of this plan to fill a ship with 16,000 tonnes of radioactively contaminated steam generators & allow the ship to sail through the drinking water of 40 million people & hope that nothing bad happens. (The other BP assured the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2009 that an oil spill at the Deepwater Horizon site was “unlikely,” & an environmental impact study was therefore waived. I want to say “Oops,” except that that would be a very flippant comment in light of the disaster that resulted from that (dare I say criminal) oversight. How about YIKES…let’s not keep on doing such criminally stupid stuff, hmmmm??????)

Upcoming: Canadian politicians (representing all of our elected political parties) who are members of Canada’s federal Natural Resources Committee have set aside 2 days to discuss this matter (March 8 & 10th). Activists with many years’ experience in nuclear issues say the CNSC is exceeding its authority by not merely licensing nuclear operations in Canada – but actually setting policy & even advocating on behalf of nuclear proponents. This is clearly not properly the role of the CNSC. Surely, sending nuclear wastes around the world is properly a matter for public & political debate. One hopes our politicians will agree! (Not a sure thing, mind you, in our Conservative-led government...)

Your Role? You can consult the fact sheet “15 facts citizens need to know” about the steam generators. This being a complex issue, it can easily be misconstrued & misrepresented by zealous members of the nuclear industry & its supporters. Unfortunately, our federal nuclear “regulator” appears to be one of the latter, quite inappropriately, as previously mentioned, & needs to be reined in. It’s an issue Canadians need to get our heads around! This fact sheet will help readers grasp the many complexities of this issue.

You can also sign onto a resolution opposing the shipment here

I’d say speaking up with letters to the editor & letters to politicians would also be most helpful. I’ll post my own shortly, along with some suggested names & addresses of politicians to contact.

And Lordy Lordy, I almost forgot to mention the factor that got me involved in this issue in the first place!! That of the growing problem of radioactive materials getting into the global metal supply (see UN report on this here & Steel Manufacturers Association position here). My first posting on this issue, ‘Radioactive Cutlery, Anyone?’ gives you a decent introduction to this really sobering aspect of what Bruce Power & its buddies in the nuclear industry are really up to. It ain’t pretty…


P.S. You need not be an anti-nuclear activist, btw, to be anti-steam generator shipment. I am anti-nuclear, & have been for as long as I can remember. But there are many pro-nuclear people who oppose this BP plan. Because there are a boatload of reasons to oppose it.

P.P.S. There is a very good blog post with lots of important details about this issue here