NW Conference: Kool-Aid & other insights

<<December 2011: The Ottawa Citizen (Canadian newspaper based in our capital city) is doing a series on nuclear waste.>>

<Sept. 22/11.>

NW = Nuke waste

Other posts on this conference are

I’ve been to an awful lot of environmental conferences over the past 20+ years – but this was my 1st nuclear industry one ever.

So I learned a few things:

  • Nuclear industry conferences run on time! (There may be tons of completely inappropriate optimism & plans & statements & engineering euphoria & … hmmm, well, deception… but they run ‘em on time!!)
  • Nuke industry events (I guess any industry events) are a heck of a lot more extravagant than the conferences I’m used to! Fancy location, accommodations, meals, you name it (I bet we activists have more fun, though!)
  • Radioactive waste is not defined in the Nuclear Safety & Control Act (so explained Don Howard of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission or CNSC). In other words, the nuclear industry gets to play around & fuzzify what is classified as low-level, intermediate level & high-level waste (see ‘Nuclear Industry Phrases to watch for – & what they really mean’ in previous post. (This is a recurring theme in the nuke biz, btw: the way the industry uses loose terms & shifts the goal posts around in the absence of public scrutiny).
  • Canadian taxpayers are on the hook for the costs of dealing with the nuclear wastes left behind in Chalk River & Port Hope & Port Granby (& everywhere else, I guess!).  I haven’t quite figured out how this works. The industry gets the profits, we citizens/taxpayers get the building overrun costs, the refurbishment costs, & the costs of handling the waste. (Geez, lucky us, eh? Not. )
  • The degree of collusion between the nuclear industry & our government is mind-boggling!! Mark Corey, Assistant Deputy Minister, Energy Sector, Natural Resources Canada, spoke at the opening of the conference. His boyish, golly-gee enthusiasm about nuclear energy was touching, if more than a little misguided. He’s very excited about the tar sands, too. “We’re really lucky in Canada to have it,” he said. (It made me think that the joke-y alternative name for Natural Resources Canada that some friends & I came up with recently must be pretty bang-on: Grab the Resources & Run! Or maybe Exploitation Central.)
  • Very serious boatload of money to be made in this industry!!!! If you have lots of boyish/girlish enthusiasm & a startling lack of interest in connecting the dots, the nuclear industry certainly has a job for you. Not just a job, mind you – a career! Involving hefty pay & benefits packages, too. (Just be sure to leave those moral/ethical sensibilities back in the sandbox where they belong, OK?) If you want to get a sense of what the OPG (Ontario Power Generation) bigshots earn, have a look at this Web site (scroll down to OPG). Wish I had the figures for the AECL (Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.) crowd too – I’m sure their bigshots make plenty too.
  • There is something maybe sort of like a “frat boy” dynamic among the engineering-dominated crowd one encounters in the nuclear industry (this industry runs on “engineering euphoria”). Lots of enthusiasm for complicated technologies & machines. Seemingly also a corresponding lack of independent or critical thinking. I guess the money is so good that one does not stop to question the ethics/morality of what one is taking part in.
  • Kool-Aid. I’ve reached the sad conclusion that nuclear industry bigshots (& maybe littleshots, I dunno) have simply swallowed some kind of Kool-Aid that others of us have never found to our liking. The Kool-Aid apparently enables the drinker to deal with the overwhelming cognitive dissonance this industry positively brims with. Nukes are safe! Waste is not a problem! (or, alternatively, it is, but we’ll solve it! It’s been 60 years & we haven’t solved it yet, but Hey! We are “can do” people; keep waiting; we’ll solve it!) It takes millions/billions of $$ to clean up, but…don’t worry; be happy (while we take the money & run!).
  • What does the nuclear industry have in mind for dealing with the planet’s dangerous burden of long-lived nuclear wastes? Looks like there are 3 key strategies:
    • Export (from Canada to the U.S. in some cases & maybe the other way around, I dunno. Not sure what they will do elsewhere. Same kind of thing, very likely.)
    • Incineration e.g., export waste from the Point Lepreau refurbishment project in New Brunswick, Canada to Tennessee in the U.S. – for burning. I wonder how the folks in Tennessee feel about that?? Burning waste from Fukushima; quick 2-minute YouTube about this here
    • Free-release (nuke waste, nuke waste everywhere!!!!!)

Some Stuff You Might Not Know

  • Nuclear energy is very, very good for the economy. Not so good for the environment, mind you, & not so good for the taxpayers who are on the hook for cost overruns & nuke waste clean-ups – & not in the slightest bit good for human health – but it sure does create a lot of jobs & “economic activity”! (Tell that to communities where people are sick from nuclear operations, eh?? They might think it’s time for a new kind of economics & an end to this voodoo kind that doesn’t seem to give a damn about people. Schumacher’s brilliant quotation about this, here, springs to mind.)
  • There seems to be a black hole inside the brains of nuclear promoters where simple common sense does not penetrate. CNSC (Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) President Michael Binder seems naively puzzled as to why the public is terrified of nuclear energy & nuclear waste. Maybe the big paycheque knocks out brain cells or fries brain circuitry.
  • Lots of fancy language! Some of these dudes can talk for 20 minutes without uttering a single intelligible sentence (& I have a pretty decent grasp of the English language, you know??). See Awards post, Obfuscation award for details on M. Rhodes, Canadian Standards Association dude who could win a contest in how to pepper a talk with acronyms, use enough jargon to choke a horse, & fuzzify a seemingly straightforward conversation such that no one within 10 miles can make sense of a word he says.
  • Nuclear Legacy Liabilities Program From the conference program: “In 2006, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) and Natural Resources Canada began implementing a $7B CDN, 70-year Nuclear Legacy Liabilities Program (NLLP) to deal with legacy decommissioning and environmental issues at AECL nuclear sites.” Etc. Pssst. If you’re a Canadian taxpayer, guess what? You’re paying for it!!
  • Obfuscation: The nuclear industry uses fancy language to make things deliberately obscure so peasants like you & me will just buzz off & leave them alone. One teeny-tiny example: we want to talk about radioactive waste. Radioactivity in the environment. Health impacts from radioactive pollution. They talk about radiation, & how it is everywhere. “There is an unfounded but perceived fear of radiation. Radiation is a natural part of life,” gushes Tom Mitchell, President & CEO of Ontario Power Generation (annual salary: $1,325,119.04) at the nuke waste conference. Typical nuclear industry fuzzifying B.S. (This goes hand-in-hand with complete minimization of health impacts. Don’t worry, be happy!! What’s a little cancer between friends?? Or a little Strontium 90? Or maybe quite a lot of tritium, eh??)
  • We Canadian taxpayers are on the hook for nuclear waste clean-ups in Port Hope, Port Granby, Chalk River & goodness knows where-all else (I suspect there are plenty of locations). One speaker at the conference (Ken Nash from the nuclear industry-created Nuclear Waste Management Office) brightly suggested that those who benefit from nuclear energy have to pay. He meant taxpayers! Yikes! I guess he doesn’t see all those salaries being paid to all those nuclear hotshots & bigshots & littleshots, & the risks entailed as being something the industry itself needs to worry its pretty little head about. It’s up to you & me to pay for all that, & we are paying for it, dear Reader; we are indeed!
  • The nuclear industry appears to finally be admitting – using carefully crafted, understated language – that they have created a very large mess of nuclear waste on this planet. This would be a laudable & welcome development if one sensed that they plan to clean it up, finally, in responsible fashion. What one sees instead (as mentioned above) is that the real plan is to minimize-minimize-minimize. Lower standards & regulations. Call dangerous wastes by another name so they sound sweeter – & release them, release them, release them. This is an industry with a very, very severe hubris problem.
  • Finally, something I had known, but which was strongly reinforced: this is one depressing, difficult & discouraging issue to deal with; not gonna lie to you! It could make you go right cuckoo. But you know what? Ignoring it won’t make it go away. If it weren’t bad enough that the nuclear industry has blanketed the planet in nuclear waste for the past 60+ years, they now plan to add insult to injury by spreading it all over every square inch of our one & only planet, & our lives. More public involvement is needed!!


p.s. Highly recommended viewing for the full A- Z take on the nuclear industry – the 8-part short film “Knocking on the Devil’s Door – Our Deadly Nuclear Legacy.” The posting here also lists a decent # of groups I’m aware of in North America that are active on nuke issues (& they can all use help!!).

p.p.s. ‘Nuclear Roulette: The Case Against the “Nuclear Renaissance' is an excellent resource! (I donated a copy to my local library.)

p.p.p.s. Another good read: Killing Our Own – The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation by Harvey Wasserman & Norman Solomon (1982). Sobering, scary, essential reading!

p.s. # 4: Very important paper on what the nuke industry is up to in the report 'Out of Control - on Purpose."

p.s. # 5: Fact sheets on nuke waste here (down below the Scream YouTube).

# 6: Plenty of good nuke-related quotations here