Radioactive Steam Generators: 15 facts

This document can also be found (properly formatted!!) here

  • Radioactive wastes are piling up at nuclear power plants around the world. Highly radioactive spent fuel wastes, estimated to total 340,000 tonnes worldwide as of 2010, are growing by 12,000 tonnes each year. However, many other types of radioactive waste are also accumulating.These include radioactive steam generators, enormous cylindrical hulks of metal, each the size of an 18-wheeled tractor-trailer, weighing from100 to 800 tonnes.Each one contains thousands of contaminated tubes having a combined length of 1000 km or more.
  • Steam generators (SGs) are an integral part of CANDUs and many other reactors.Highly radioactive primary coolant water passes directly from the nuclear fuel rods to the inner tubes of the SGs. As they age, these tubes become increasingly radioactive, corroded and brittle.Eventually the SG needs to be replaced. According to the US Department of Energy, "In order to properly store decommissioned steam generators, mausoleums or storage vaults are designed to minimize the radiation release and exposure to plant personnel and the public.”
  • Bruce Power (BP) has 16 radioactive SGs in storage on-site near Lake Huron. Onatrio’s Bruce Power (BP) runs the largest nuclear generating station in North America, and is currently refurbishing 2 of the8 reactors there.This requires replacing the 16 steam generators.During a 2006 environmental assessment of the refurbishment project, the SGs that were removed were classified as radioactive waste.For that reason it was stated that the SGs could not be recycled and that they would be managed in perpetuity on site in a monitored waste management facility owned and operated by OPG, along with additional radioactive steam generators from the planned refurbishment of the other reactors run by BP.
  • UsedSGs are contaminated with plutonium and other radioactive materials.Ninety percent of the radioactive mass in each used SG is made up of five different varieties of plutonium. The quantity of plutonium-239 alone in the 16 SGs would be enough, in principle, to give 52 million atomic workers their maximum permissible body burden of radioactive contamination. Plutonium-239isa highly toxic radioactive element that remains hazardous for tens of thousands of years.The SGs also contain a host of other long-lived radioactive isotopes.
  • In 2010 Bruce Power asked for alicence to ship 16 SGs to Sweden for “recycling.”Disregarding earlier commitments made in 2006, BP struck a deal in 2009 with a Swedish company, Studsvik, to disassemble each SG, melt the outer, less-radioactive shell, then cut and compact the interior tubes which Studsvik describes as a “highly radioactive tube bundle”.The less radioactive metal would be sold as scrap for unrestricted use. The most radioactive portion – about 450 tonnes – would be shipped back to Halifax and then trucked back to Bruce Power.
  • The SGs would be transported via the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. BP's deal with Studsvik requires that the steam generators be hauled from Kincardine Ontario to Owen Sound, then shipped through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, across the Atlantic Ocean to the Studsvik facility in Sweden. Each steam generator contains sufficient long-lived toxic radionuclides to seriously contaminate local water bodies should an accident occur such as the recent flipping of a barge in St. John harbour, which resulted in two new 107-tonne steam turbine rotors sinking to the bottom of the harbour in October 2008.
  • When Bruce Power applied for a transport license a storm of protest erupted.Dozens of non-governmental organizations, municipalities, First Nations and other Aboriginal communities have expressed strong opposition to the shipment.Mayors and town councils of over 100 cities bordering the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River have passed resolutions challenging the proposed shipment.Many First Nations and other aboriginal communities have expressed displeasure at not being consulted or even notified about the proposed shipment.The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), which is the licensing body, was compelled to hold two days of public hearingsin September 2010 to listen to the views of 80 intervenors from Canada, the US and overseas.The CNSC extended the comment period and postponed its decision on the license application, but finally granted the licence in February 2011.
  • The radioactivity in the SGs exceeds the maximum allowed on a single vessel.The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regulations lay out the maximum amount of radioactivity allowed on a single shipment.The CNSC admits that the sixteen SGs from Bruce Power exceed the IAEA standard by a factor of at least six times. Intervenors maintain that the SGs exceed IAEA standards by more than sixty times because of the more stringent limits laid down by the IAEA for inland waterways such as the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.
  • This transport restriction has been waived under a “Special Arrangement.” In exceptional or urgent circumstances, IAEA regulations state that shipments containing higher amounts of radiation may be allowed under a “Special Arrangement.” The intervenors oppose this “Special Arrangement” on the grounds that the proponent has not demonstrated any necessity for the shipment.Ontario Power Generation (OPG), the provincial corporation that owns the Bruce reactors, can store used steam generators from all Ontario reactors on site.
  • Processing would contaminate the scrap metal market with radioactive waste. There is no market for radioactive metal.Nobody wants it.Studsvik plans to blend the radioactive metal from the SGs with uncontaminated metal in the ratio of 1 to 10.The resulting mix will be sold as scrap metal with no warning that it contains plutonium and other man-made radioactive pollutants. In recent years, the United Nations, the Steel Manufacturers Association, and the Bureau of International Recycling have condemned the alarming practice of contaminating the world’s scrap metal supply with radioactive waste materials.
  • There is an accepted and CNSC-approved alternative for the steam generators. OPG transferred ownership of the steam generators to BP in October 2009 at BPs request. Up to that time there was an accepted plan for storage of the SGs in perpetuity on site.During a 2006 environmental assessment, BP stated that the SGs would be stored in a surface facility until 2043 and underground thereafter.Meanwhile, a “segmentation facility” was to be built by the owner, OPG.This proposal was accepted by the CNSC. BP and CNSC stated in 2006 and 2007that the SGs are radioactive waste and so cannot be recycled for environmental and safety reasons.
  • Shipment of the SGwastes poses unnecessary health and environmental risks. Intervenors such as the Great Lakes Cities Initiative have demonstrated that under a worst-case accident scenario involving the SGs, an entire city's drinking water could be contaminated to a level that would require finding alternative drinking water sources.Ninety percent of the radioactive inventory in the SGs is plutonium, well known as one of the most toxic man-made radioactive materials – one that lasts for tens of thousands of years. Any major accident releasing such material could have consequences for generations.
  • Dangerous precedents will be set if this shipment of SGs is to proceed.This will be the first time that radioactive debris from old nuclear reactors has been transported through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway.If this shipment takes place, many more such shipments will follow.This will also be the first time that radioactive waste from Canada has been exportedto another country.It will be the first time that radioactive waste from Canada has been disseminated into international commerce, and the first time that radioactive waste has been importedto Canada from another country.These are dangerous precedents.
  • TheCNSC is not the proper body for setting government policy.The CNSCis a licensing agency, and unless a rule or policy forbids it, they usually grant requests from industry.But in this case there is a policy vacuum. There is no policy framework on the management of radioactive debris from refurbished or dismantled nuclear reactors at either the federal or provincial levels.Leadership has to come through our democratic institutions, after wide-ranging public consultations to determine what is in the best interest of Canadians.
  • Canada needs clear policies on so-called “low-level” radioactive wastes.In order to chart a responsible course for the future, Canada needs clear policies on the export, import, transport and classification of radioactive wastes currently described as “low-level wastes.” Better classifications are needed to discriminate between different kinds of radioactive wastes, based on toxicity and longevity.Most importantly, we need clear policies on how to keep nuclear wastes safely isolated from the environment of living things in perpetuity.

More information is available at the site of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

(Many other steam generator posts on this blog listed here)



I’m not quite sure how the dictionary defines “gobsmacked,” but I know it describes exactly how I am feeling today.

I went away for a very nice “girls’ weekend” & returned to learn that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) finally rendered its decision & will allow Bruce Power to ship 16 retired (& very dangerously radioactive) steam generators through the awesome treasure of the Great Lakes shared by Canada & the U.S., along the St. Lawrence River & across the Atlantic Ocean to Sweden – to a company (Studsvik) that will “recycle” them (using that term very, very loosely indeed).

This decision (not to mention the plan itself) is just SO off the charts of anything even vaguely resembling common sense that I am…gobsmacked! I keep sort of half (well, maybe only ¼ ) expecting CNSC – this “rogue agency” in some smart person’s words – to begin making … sensible decisions – decisions that really are about safety – but in light of its history up ‘till now, I guess a person might wonder if I am simply being Foolish and Deluded, like that dear old bear Winnie-the-Pooh in… I can’t remember now which story…


It’s an utterly appalling & also completely morally bankrupt decision. For sooooooo many reasons.

For lots of information about this issue & this travesty, you can check over my blog postings about it (all are listed here).

I also highly recommend the site of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. Tons of fabulous information there – including lots of technical details that I myself am not clever about. (For an illustration of what the steam generators look like on the inside, go here For a list of their internal radioactive contaminants, go here )

To read the news releases that have been put out in the past few days by many groups that strongly oppose this decision, please go here.

(& just in case you think all this opposition is some kind of knee jerk response from environmental groups with nothing better to do, check out the site of the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a large joint U.S./Canada organization that also strongly opposes this plan of Bruce Power’s to put 16 school-bus-sized radioactive steam generators in a ship, & pray for good results.)

E.F. Schumacher once said “No degree of prosperity could justify the accumulation of large amounts of highly toxic substances which nobody knows how to make “safe” and which remain an incalculable danger to the whole of creation for historical or even geological ages. To do such a thing is a transgression against life itself, a transgression infinitely more serious than any crime ever perpetrated by man. The idea that a civilisation could sustain itself on the basis of such a transgression is an ethical, spiritual, and metaphysical monstrosity. It means conducting the economic affairs of man as if people really did not matter at all.”

Gotta admit, I fail to see how the CNSC – or Bruce Power (or whichever of the BPs we are talking about) demonstrates even the slightest concern or care for the long-term survival of our bodies of water, our planet...or our species.

The shipment of nuclear wastes through our precious waters must be stopped!


p.s. Abraham Lincoln said “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards out of men.” Bracing, hmmm?

p.p.s.  The 'quote of the day' that was used w. this post: "Nuclear power is one hell of a way to boil water!" - Albert Einstein. Einstein also said “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

p.s. # 3: All steam generator-related postings are listed here 


Bumper Stickers for Binder!

Time for a little fun!!

After all these oh-so-serious blog posts (my last 7) about the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) & the plans of Bruce Power (BP, eh?) to ship radioactive steam generators through the Great Lakes & Atlantic Ocean to Sweden (all related posts listed/linked here), I figure it’s about time for a little levity.

CNSC tribunal president Michael Binder put me onto this the other day in Ottawa.

I was at the CNSC hearing on BP’s plans to ship 16 (& eventually another 16 & then…who knows how many more??) school-bus-sized, retired radioactive steam generators (SG) through the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Seaway & Atlantic Ocean to Studsvik, Sweden, for “recycling.” (Please see postings mentioned above for lots of info & “chat” about all this... And, if you are a real glutton for punishment, go here to find a Webcast of the hearing. Pretty amazing, enlightening, shocking & eye-opening to see how this body - the CNSC, I mean - operates. Mind-boggling!!)

(The post ‘Radioactive Cutlery, Anyone?’ explains a little about my take on this subject & why you might want to be paying attention too. It also contains, in the 3rd paragraph, several links where you can find lots more background info, e.g., a great fact sheet about reprocessing nuclear waste on the NIRS site’s Fact Sheets page.)

At the hearing, Michael Binder asked at one point what the “bumper sticker message” was after CNSC staffer Mihok had chatted on about some disagreement over international health standards – in response to the (awesome) Mark Mattson (Lake Ontario Waterkeeper) presentation.

Aha! I thought, & began creating a list of possible bumper stickers.

Here goes!

Bumper stickers inspired by Duncan Hawthorne, head of Bruce Power:

  • 2 wrongs make a right, right? Or, “Let Me Reassure You” (when informing the public that his company has “shipped over 1200 class 7 radioactive material shipments” in the past 5 years)
  • Facts are my friend! (hmmmmmm…….)
  • If you can’t nuke ‘em, rebuke ‘em! (He came right out & said, in his introductory remarks, that he’d like to see a “rebuke” issued to his opponents)
  • Let ‘em sink! (seems to be more or less his response to concerns about how the ship would be brought up after a sinking. Or, “We’ll figure that out when the time comes, eh?”)
  • Oops!Or maybe just “No comment” (when reminded of the contents of the Bruce Power 2005-2007 Environmental Assessment & the plans laid out at that time for the SGs & the risks involved then even just moving them within the Bruce Power/OPG site & the HUGE change now being proposed for them.)
  • Public discourse is “less informed” eh? (so Hawthorne says...)
  • Just trust us!

Bumper stickers inspired by CNSC Staff:

  • When is a project not a project? (in response to calls for an Environmental Assessment or EA)
  • Too busy to consult! (in response to a failure to consult properly with First Nations communities, & U.S. communities. Oh, & Canadian communities. And the entire Province of Quebec, actually…), bringing us nicely along to…
  • Oops! (after the 50% error/underestimate in their list of radioisotopes contained in the SGs)
  • Bleah, bleah, bleah, bleah, bleah (in response to soooooo many questions)
  • If you can’t speak the truth succinctly, bore ‘em to death! (ditto)
  • “Credible Marine Accident”/ BP spill: a credible (or incredible?) accident scenario?? (in response to queries about their failure to consider serious, credible potential accident scenarios)
  • We do not believe there would be a breach in the generator shell (highly reassuring ??? language from CNSC staff regarding the possibility of radioactive material leakage/escape in the case of an accident/sinking of the ship)
  • Just trust us!

CNSC Tribunal Bumper Stickers:

  • 2 wrongs add up to a right…right? Or “Let Me Reassure You!” (in response to concerns about shipments of radioactive goods – millions of them per year, apparently!)
  • "We Don’t CARE What Happens in Sweden!" (in response to queries about the processes used by Studsvik, & what percentage of radioactive material will remain &/or wind up “free-released” into global scrap metal supplies, &/or be sent back to Canada) & btw, to clarify, this is an actual quote from CNSC Head Honcho Michael Binder.
  • No Radioactive Goods Here Please! (Mr. Binder seems to think it’s OK to export radioactive waste, but not to import radioactively-contaminated metal. Kind of a “Do as I say, not as I do” scenario, I’d say…)
  • Just trust us!

Bumper Stickers Inspired by CNSC/Bruce Power Shenanigans & Claims:

  • Bafflegab!
  • BP/CNSC: who ya gonna trust?
  • BP Strikes Again!
  • Bring on the 6-year olds! (who'd know enough to shut this project down in 5 minutes flat)
  • B.S. Alert / BQ Quotient Exceeded! [BQ stands for Bullshit Quotient]
  • Deny. Diminish. Deflect. Attack the public interest groups. [Precisely what corporate folks do in the face of tough opposition]
  • Down the rabbit hole!
  • Lack of integrity alert!
  • Negligible? Or Negligent?
  • Oops! Oops, oops, oops & more Oops…
  • “Safe.” Says who?? Mr. Potato Head? Homer Simpson maybe??
  • Speaking Truth to Power (Pssst! Power isn’t Listening)
  • Startled by Strontium
  • The Emperor Has No Clothes
  • Turn off the lie machine!
  • We Are Underwhelmed (in response to BP/CNSC anemic reassurances such as “acceptable” & “adequate” & “low risk”)
  • Trust you. You’re kidding…right??
  • What’s the Darn Rush?
  • How’s about a little plutonium with that, eh?


Radioactive Cutlery, Anyone?

So, I popped into a store the other day to buy a wedding shower gift for my daughter.

I’ve been working on a nuclear issue lately – the one involving a plan to ship 16 radioactive steam generators through the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Seaway (all of which border both Canada & the U.S.) & all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to Sweden for "recycling." This shipment will be just the beginning, btw. There are 32 of these generators & all in all, this shipment looks to many of us like the thin edge of the wedge, as they say...

The GLU group (Great Lakes United) Web site has good info on this (including a resolution you can sign onto). Beyond Nuclear is another group & site to check out. The NIRS (Nuclear Information & Resource Service) site also has info (including a lot of great fact sheets on nuke-related issues of all kinds; this one of particular interest). (And yes! International Radioactive Waste Day - more here. Hint: it's on Wednesday, September 29th!)

In working on this issue, I’ve become aware that metal contaminated with radioactive waste (“radwaste”) has become a feature of life here on Planet Earth. Who knew?? Well, maybe lots of other activists knew, but I, for one, am new to this realization.

Is this appalling, or is this appalling?? (it seems more than a little appalling to me…)

Paul de Bruin, radiation safety chief for Jewometaal Stainless Processing in Rotterdam, the Netherlands (the world’s largest stainless steel scrap facility), has stated “The world is waking up very late to this.”(1)

The United Nations produced a report in 2006 called Recommendations on Monitoring & Response Procedures for Radioactive Scrap Metal, Report of an International Group of Experts convened by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

The report’s Introduction points out that the detection of radioactive contaminants bears very major economic & financial consequences (namely, often the closure of the facility where it’s been found & very expensive remedial/clean-up action). And then one finds this statement: “In addition, such incidents can lead to a loss of trust in the recycled metal industry and the associated products since consumers do not wish to have unnecessary radiation emanating from their purchases.” (italics mine)

Ya think?

Dark humour. Very dark…

So, off I go to look at cutlery for my daughter (for some illogical reason I am determined that my gift be cutlery). In addition to being a tad flabbergasted at the price of modern-day cutlery (I live under a rock, I like to joke, don’t shop much, & have been using the same cutlery – a pre-wedding gift from parents-in-law – for the past 35 years), I note that most of what I see on store shelves was “Made in China.”

This does not reassure me. I recall hearing that China has been exporting lead (& I don’t recall what-all other nasty substances) in consumer products. One has become, um, a tad hesitant about products from China, of late…

I ask myself, was this product I’m considering buying made by workers who are being paid slave wages? Working for a company that may not care in the slightest about its environmental (or social) impacts? I also now have to wonder: is it possible it contains radioactive materials??

Good Lord.

What is a person to do??

Well. I know what I’m going to do. I’ll be “intervening” at a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission hearing in Ottawa (hearing being held on Sept. 28 & 29th) & asking the CNSC to shelve its plan with Bruce Power (BP for short. Egad! Unfortunate acronym, hmm?) to ship these generators that will ultimately wind up being "free-released" & recycled into consumer products. (Turns out recycling is not always "good," hmmm??) The agenda for that hearing can be found here

I’ll be in good company there – lots of intelligent, bold and articulate interveners who have devoted tons of their time to this issue.

Problem? The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission seldom seems to pay much attention to what intervenors say at public hearings (which often strike me as mere “kangaroo courts” – but then, I’ve attended too darn many of them) – unless, of course, said intervenors are representatives of the nuclear industry. Now that’s a different ballgame…

So I’ve also written to Canadian (federal) Environment Minister Jim Prentice to tell him of my concerns, & have copied other Canadian political leaders, including my own MP (Member of Parliament). I’ve used a letter sent by Dr. Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.

If you’re Canadian, why not do the same? (A separate blog post – posted just before this one – contains the letter & info on how to send one of your own, addresses included, & how to find out your MP’s address, also.)

If you’re not Canadian, I suggest you consider digging into this issue yourself, unless you’re keen on going to your local store one day & taking home a set of radioactive cutlery. Or toaster. Or…whatever.

(or learning that the Baltic Sea, near the Swedish company that recycles radioactive materials into metal that then hits the market & becomes consumer products, is being polluted with radioactive waste. Uck…)(2)

Heaven alone knows what these…characters…will get up to next…


‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

(1) That & the following are included in my “intervention” letter to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for the hearing coming up on Sept. 28/29, 2010, in Ottawa, ON (more details on the hearing in the remainder of the blog posting).

According to a magazine article from the Bureau of International Recycling, following a conference held in 2009 in Düsseldorf, Germany, ELG Haniel Metals Chairman/Director Michael Wright warned that “Radioactive scrap is a global problem that affects every recyclable metal.”

Furthermore, it was reported that, “Worldwide, governments lose track of 200 to 400 orphan sources each year.”

And, that governments are “not accepting their responsibility” for these orphan sources.

A 2009 newspaper report from Germany states, “The German government has become increasingly concerned over the last six months by the incidence of stainless steel products exhibiting radioactive contamination. In total, some 10 tons of material have been identified so far, spread across a wide range of material forms, from stainless steel wire wool, to bars, valves, castings and flat products.”

I myself have only recently become aware that scrap metal companies, scrap dealers and steel mills must now routinely use scanning equipment to detect contaminated scrap – but as anyone with any imagination can readily surmise, there are not sufficient funds nor staff hours for every dealer to scan every single piece of metal being transported around the world.

The International Atomic Energy Association has reported that there may be more than 1 million missing radioactive sources worldwide.

(2) Check out the Swedish anti-nuclear group Milkas, which opposes the import of radioactive waste into Sweden.

Declaration of Independence: July 4/2010

At the recent Network of Spiritual Progressives conference in Washington, D.C., Rabbi Arthur Waskow spoke eloquently of the need for a brand-new Declaration of Independence.

Rabbi Waskow founded & directs The Shalom Center in Philadelphia, Pa. The Shalom Center is “a prophetic voice in Jewish, multireligious and American life that brings Jewish and other spiritual thought and practice to bear on seeking peace, pursuing justice, healing the earth and celebrating community.”

Rabbi Waskow is a fiery orator. His organization has developed a “Climate Policy: 7 Principles for Jewish & Interfaith Action.”

He proposes a new Declaration of Independence – this new one to obtain our freedom from the corporate domination that is squeezing the life out of all of us.

He also proposes “a nation-wide boycott of BP broadened into a Beyond Oil: Green Jobs Now movement” with “roving pickets and occasional sit-down strikes.”

He suggests that July 4, 2010 – America’s annual “Independence Day” – be used to call on the U.S. government for independence from “Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Pharma and Health Unsurance companies, the military-industrial complex, and Wall Street banking.”

And also call for jobs. Decent jobs, with living wages for regular folks like you & me.

Go to the Shalom Center site to sign the declaration on-line, and to join in this initiative.

(What are you waiting for??)


P.S. Someone at the conference came up with the suggestion that we begin calling & thinking of the corporations that have taken over the planet as an “alien invasive species.” Works for me!

P.P.S. You gotta watch Michael Moore’s film “Capitalism: A Love Story.” I mean it. It’s out on DVD. What are you waiting for? (Google it, okay? Looks like you can watch it on-line.)

P.P.P.S. Just came back to Toronto after the Washington trip. Holy smokes!! This city is being practically shut down for the G20 meetings about to take place here next week. The University of Toronto is being shut down! I’m amazed & appalled. Talk about a climate of fear! Our so-called leaders are trying to scare the locals with fear of the activists. Me, I’m far more afraid of the bigshots than I am of the activists. Sheesh…