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Foolish woman that I am, I recently spent 3 full days (Sept. 12-14th) at a nuclear waste conference held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Apparently I am a glutton for punishment???)
The conference was held at Toronto’s downtown Marriott Hotel, & in a perhaps fitting irony, the many small workshops held each afternoon on different aspects of nuclear waste were conducted in a series of small rooms named Trinity 1 through Trinity 5. Trinity was the name given to the U.S. Manhattan Project’s first atom bomb, set off on July 16, 1945 in the New Mexico desert. Ah, life’s odd little ironies, hmmm?
The official conference title was “Waste Management, Decommissioning and Environmental Restoration for Canada’s Nuclear Activities.” It was organized by the Canadian Nuclear Society (CNS) in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) & co-sponsored by the American Nuclear Society, the Argentina Nuclear Technology Association, the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, the Chinese Nuclear Society, the Indian Nuclear Society, the Korean Nuclear Society, the Nuclear Energy Agency of the OECD & the Romanian Nuclear Energy Association. (Yikes! & you should see the conference sponsors & exhibitors list!? Full program here )
I attended the conference at my own expense, as a retiree. No way do I have the kind of $$ for the regular conference fee they were charging. As pointed out elsewhere on this blog, I’ve been “downwardly socially mobile” all my life & live on peanuts, more or less. (Joyfully, I might add; I’m not complaining! )
The conference was for the nuclear industry, not for members of the public & certainly not for activists…although several of us in the latter category did attend. There were no members of the mainstream press present, & for sure I heard some publicity-worthy remarks made that would have garnered attention had the press been there (it is not an accident that media was/were absent, yes?).
I also spent a half-day the following week at OPG (Ontario Power Generation)’s University & College location in Toronto for a discussion about OPG’s plans to “refurbish” the 4 existing reactors at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station east of Toronto (right on the shores of Lake Ontario), at an estimated cost of $8-14 billion. (Other refurbishments currently underway in Canada, at Point Lepreau in New Brunswick & Bruce Power near Owen Sound are each running $2 billion over budget. Somehow, nuke projects always run late, & over budget, don’t they?? The 2 OPG staff members who gave the presentation about the planned Darlington refurbishment, btw, did not mention the expected price tag, & some of the inconvenient facts that should have come out in response to questions asked, such as, for example, how much waste it will generate, were put off.)
Though not a rocket scientist, I generally manage to learn a thing or two everywhere I go, & these two events proved no exception.
The best way to describe how I felt, though, if I try to articulate what it was like to spend 3 days surrounded by talk of nuclear waste, is … slimed. (1)
Yes, this is a nasty, judgmental & insulting thing to say, & no one knows better than I that the foot soldiers of the nuclear industry (quite a # of whom I know personally) are people too – living, breathing human beings like you & me who care for their families & want to “make a decent living.”
But I’m a truth-teller (it’s right there in my job description!), & the only accurate way to describe how I felt is…slimed.
I’ll be doing several postings about the conference – about things I learned, some things you might want (or more to the point need) to know, & lots of awards for the nuclear industry. I love giving out awards!! (You can find quite a few here, under the Darlington Hearings heading on this blog).
Nuclear industry types (maybe only the bigshots?? I dunno) are very practiced at speaking out of both sides of their faces. They will say with perfectly straight faces (in this case, to quote Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission Prez/CEO Michael Binder) things like “We have a real challenge” (as regards the nuclear operations they oversee) & “We’re not going to tax future generations.”
Nuclear waste by its very definition will tax future generations so far into the future you’d be forgiven for thinking human beings are moral cretins for entertaining for even one moment the notion that creating it is anything less than moronic – perhaps even evil. What kind of human being can utter such things without sprouting an immediate Pinocchio nose on the spot??
There was plenty of this kind of talk during the 3-day conference.
For example, Cameco Corporation’s Karen Chovan said one moment that most of Cameco Corporation’s waste is “low level or even very low level,” yet a moment later spoke of sending their 2010 inventory of depleted uranium (DU) to a recycler in the U.S. You’d have thought she was talking about used diapers, not a horrendous substance being used by the world’s militaries to slice through enemy tanks, leaving its traces inside soldiers’ bodies (& civilian ones, “collateral damage” victims, hmmm?) & causing horrific birth defects &…
Well, my mind boggled. It kept boggling & boggling & boggling.
I heard quite a bit about the Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) site (very near where I lived for 6 years, btw(2)) – a site generously endowed, shall we say, with “legacy wastes” from the early nuclear years (yes, the Manhattan Project & Cold War era) that leach into the Ottawa River (source of drinking water for the 100s of 1000s of citizens of Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, actually), & I also heard about waste sites (so-called “legacy sites”) in Port Hope(2) & Port Granby, Ontario (on the shores of Lake Ontario).
Nuclear industry people will tell you in the first half of a sentence that most of its waste is “low level or even very low level.” Then, in the next breath they will tell you how many millions or billions of dollars (of taxpayers’ money, btw) the Canadian government is giving them to clean up these “legacy” wastes. With – I repeat – straight faces.
A classic example of cognitive dissonance, something I find one encounters quite routinely in the nuclear biz.
“Don’t worry, be happy!! Our wastes are not a problem! It will only cost billions of $$ to clean up our messes!”
Let’s get on with it, shall we? On to the other posts…
P.S. On the first day of the conference, there was an explosion at a nuclear facility in the south of France. I only heard about this because one of my colleagues at the conference (Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility president Dr. Gordon Edwards) told our group about it. Not one word about this accident came up at the conference. (You can find some info about it here. If French is not your first language, take advantage of the Google translating option.)
P.P.S. There are 6 posts altogether on this conference. The others are:
- NW Conference: Words ‘R Important
- NW Conference: Kool-Aid & other insights
- NW Conference: Awards! (part 1)
- NW Conference: Awards! (part 2)
- NW Conference: Final thoughts
P.P.P.S. Very important paper on what the nuke industry is up to in the report 'Out of Control - on Purpose."
(1) A dear friend of mine tells me her sister used to say “If you sit on a candle, you’re gonna get your arse burned!” These folks in the nuke biz have to be prepared to stand up to the scrutiny the public is more than entitled to put them under, considering the hard truths about nuclear waste – its price tag in $$$ & in unparalleled risks to our fellow humans – both those living now & future generations.
(2) The Chalk River Labs, a sprawling facility built during the 1940s, are downriver from the community of Deep River, a quite stunningly beautiful small town about halfway between Ottawa & North Bay that was established as a bedroom community for the CRL scientists (Manhattan Project era). It is not, shall we say, by accident that the town of Deep River is located upriver (& mostly upwind) from Chalk River Labs…you hear what I’m saying?
(3) Three books I’m aware of that you can read about the Port Hope scene are Blind Faith, by Penny Sanger & Port Hope – Canada’s Nuclear Wasteland & Nuclear Genocide in Canada by Pat McNamara. You will be shocked & appalled at what you learn. But, as Elizabeth Cady Stanton once said, “Truth is the only safe ground to stand on.”