Chalk River

Nuclear Waste Conference: Slimed!

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

<Sept. 21/11.>

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.”

Say what?????

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.

(More on DU here & here & here)

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!”

Sheesh.

I heard enough nuclear bromides in those 3 days to choke a horse. (Then I heard more during the Darlington refurbishment session.)

Let’s get on with it, shall we? On to the other posts…

Janet

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 hereIf 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:

 

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.”

 

NW Conference: Awards! (part II)

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

<Oct. 12/11.>

  • NW = Nuclear/nuke waste
  • AECL = Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.
  • CNSC = Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
  • OPG = Ontario Power Generation

 

Other posts about this conference are:

 

 

Awards for the Nuclear Industry (continued)

(Part I, A – K, is here)

  • Obfuscation Above & Beyond the Call of Duty award to CSA (Canadian Standards Association) staff person M. Rhodes for a completely & utterly incomprehensible presentation on CSA Guideline N292.5 – a “Guideline for the exemption or clearance from regulatory control of materials that contain, or potentially contain, nuclear substances.” (check it out here! If you've got $200, they'll let you buy a copy!!) More from the conference program: [The guideline] “was recently developed to address a need for guidance on approaches for clearance [italics mine] and of materials from facilities licensed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) consistent with Canadian and international recommendations. This guideline is also applicable to determining if an activity associated with materials that contain nuclear substances is exempt from requiring a CNSC licence. The guideline summarizes [are you snoring yet?] the regulatory requirements associated with the exemption and clearance [italics mine] of materials and provides a graded approach to designing a survey based on the risk of residual contamination being present.” In layman’s terms, this appears to be about an industry committee having loosened regulations for radioactive materials to be “re-characterized,” & thus released with less (or no) scrutiny or oversight. I think. (Note that this man has won the opposite of a plain speaking award, & that I was completely unable to cut through his incredibly dense jargon-speak.) When asked how the so-called “public consultation” on this took place, Mr. Rhodes replied that it was posted on the CSA Web site. What?? That’s what the nuclear industry/CNSC calls public consultation??? Yikes. (Surely there are rules about public consultation?? As in, um, you have to actually consult the public???)
  • Overused Phrase of the Week award goes to almost every single speaker at this 3-day conference, not one of whom, if I am not mistaken, failed to use the phrase “going forward” – quite as though they were entitled to some kind of prize for … for going forward (instead of backward? Or sideways?? Or, hmm. Maybe down a rabbit hole?? I dunno. I am just sooooooo tired of this hackneyed, overused phrase).
  • Plain Speaking award – 4-way tie here. François Bilodeau from Hydro Québec, who admitted the refurbishment of the Gentilly-2 reactor will create a huge amount of new waste. Adrian Simper from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in the UK, who was upfront about the fact that there is a VERY BIG mess of nuke waste there. (Program reads: “The UK’s nuclear legacy is a major public liability, and arguably represents the largest, most important environmental restoration programme in Europe.” (See article here) Tom Mitchell, OPG Prez & CEO, who admitted, “Nuclear waste is growing” & alluded to the “increased waste from refurbishments.” Finally, CNSC Prez/CEO Michael Binder allowed as how “We have tended to be secretive” & that “most of our conferences are us talking to ourselves” & have not included the public or the press. True story!
  • Pollyanna award – to M. Laraia of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for his skimming-very-much-along-the-surface talk about decommissioning work at Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Plant & various other locations, & his cheerful exhortation to “Be creative!” (Hmmm. Possibly his award should be for “Providing Practically No Details.”)
  • Preposterous Suggestion of the Week award to the man in the audience who suggested that nuclear waste shouldn’t be called waste – as though calling it something else would render it less dangerous. Of course it would also then be less of a concern to all those foolishly misguided members of the public (that’s us, btw) who are scared out of our wits about waste that will require careful handling for, count ‘em, one million years.
  • Refreshing Frankness award to the speaker – Ian Barnes, I believe his name was – who in discussing the decommissioning of a “redundant UK Research Facility” (AWE Aldermaston; he didn’t mention what had gone on there; not sure I want to know!) stated that an aspect of the work was “on program, which is quite unusual with decommissioning” (this right after having stated that building rubble was being released with 95% certainty of the “waste classification.” Only 95% certainty, with radioactive materials?? Yikes).
  • Rocket Science (not) / Doh!! award to many of the speakers at the conference, who seem to think they should get a prize for acknowledging the brilliant insight that, when you are dealing with nuclear projects, you need to “think about waste all the way through, not just at the end.” (Geez, & I thought I’m not a rocket scientist!?)
  • Screw the Taxpayers!! award to the nuclear industry (& our government) for, is it … $16 billion in federal tax $$ to the Nuclear Waste Management Office (NWMO)?? How much to the Nuclear Legacy Liabilities Program?? $7 billion? How much for Port Hope & Port Granby? Chalk River Labs clean-up & decommissioning costs? Taxpayers’ money, folks!! They make the waste & the profits, we get to own the wastes, & pay the clean-up costs. Quite the deal, eh? Remember that old phrase ‘corporate welfare bums’??
  • Surreal Moments award goes to – the nuclear industry!! For their “Investigation of Tritium in Groundwater” workshop at this conference. I was there! Both at the workshop & at a # of CNSC hearings that have been held regarding this preposterous situation – in the flesh, as it were. I am also intimately aware of the long, sick history of the SRB company in Pembroke, Ontario that makes glow-in-the-dark products from tritium & whose goings-on led to this ever-so-dry workshop at a nuclear industry conference where the hired gun consultant, hired to do a study & later report to this conference, utterly failed to mention how the excessive tritium emissions were discovered at great personal effort & no doubt considerable psychic cost by citizen activists who persistently went to the CNSC over years & years & years & gave about a zillion pounds of their flesh & their time to force this company to at least greatly reduce its tritium-emission-spewing (we wish they’d shut the sucker down, but at least their efforts have resulted in a massive reduction of emissions). Near the end of the workshop, someone asked how the company had managed to reduce its emissions so substantially. Guess who had to answer the question? One of those same citizen activists who has given thousands (or 10’s of thousands) of hours of his personal time over the past 20+ years to protect not only his own children’s health, but that of all the citizens of Pembroke, Ontario. Phew. Yes, I’m a little passionate about this issue, the very one that brought me to awareness of how the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission operates, how very down-the-rabbit-hole/Mad Hatter’s Tea Party the whole nuclear business is. It was surreal to hear this sanitized little workshop – this dry little consultant’s spiel – about a very, very serious situation – & hear no background whatsoever (not one single word) about the citizen activism that led to such big changes at SRB in Pembroke, & also led to the CNSC carrying out the Tritium Studies Project ...which cost Canadian taxpayers who knows how many millions of dollars, & at the public launch event of which I recall CNSC staffer Dr. Patsy Thompson sheepishly admitting that the groundwater plume had not been predicted accurately, based on CNSC's "computer modelling." I call it all the Grand Tritium Experiment. The GTE. Citizens of Pembroke, guinea pigs for the Grand Tritium Experiment. Unconscionable.
  • Team Player award to … gosh, let’s just give it to everyone in the nuke industry, shall we? The industry’s many foot soldiers are outstanding in their efforts to prop one another up, even in the face of preposterous lies & secrets, & are experts at not asking one another inconvenient questions that might lead to…actually telling the truth.
  • 3 R’s Waste Reduction Hierarchy Highjacking / We can spin that one! award for disingenuous talk about how the nuclear industry is “doing the right thing” by beginning to talk about “recycling” nuclear waste. The posting ‘Recycling: The Good, The Bad & the Ugly’ delves into this & provides links for further information.
  • Understatement of the Year award – 3-way tie here. Frank Doyle, President of the Canadian Nuclear Society (the organization that put on the conference), who said in his opening address that there is a wide variety of wastes & “significant nuclear legacy liabilities” to deal with (a huge admission from the nuclear industry, actually) & CNSC Prez/CEO Binder for two of his remarks: “Public confidence [about the nuclear industry] is waning” & “The March 11th event in Japan was a wake-up call” & finally, Tom Mitchell, Prez & CEO of OPG, who acknowledged that the accident at Fukushima is “humbling” to the nuclear industry, with its intimation that “the unthinkable might happen.”
  • Utter Obliviousness to Reality award – self-explanatory…no??
  • What a MESS!? award – self-explanatory, yes?
  • Wizard of Oz award – the nuclear genie, the nuclear expert, the nuclear booster – the politicians, the industry people who have shoved & continue to shove nukes down our throats – they are all like the Wizard of Oz. Smoke & mirrors. Sound & fury, signifying nothing. Nothing but destruction, that is. Yours, mine – even their own. They get the prize. (We get the ruined environment, incredibly long-lived waste, & the cancers – & all the heartbreak & pain associated with all those illnesses & deaths & losses).
  • You Want it in YOUR basement?? – self-explanatory, I’d say…

Awards for the Activist Crowd:

  • Can’t believe we stayed through the whole darn thing! award or, alternatively,
  • Didn’t run screaming from the room! award
  • Digging through jargon & bullshit & fancy language award
  • I TOLD YOU SO award for all the truths the environmental community has been telling for years that the nuke industry is finally having to admit to publicly (not that these mild admissions are much comfort, you understand; the waste is still there & it still has to be safely contained for a million years…), or alternatively,
  • It’s the WASTE, Stupid!!just as the environmental community has been saying all along!
  • Telling the Truth award – for telling the simple unvarnished truth, a truth any 6-year old could tell you: no nuclear power is safe.

Awards for the General Public

  • Deer in the headlights / Deeply snowed award for falling prey to nuclear bullshit / bafflegab / snow jobs / jargon. (It’s pretty easy to do!)
  • Deeply puzzled award (Why is it we taxpayers are footing the bill for all this nuke waste clean-up again??)
  • Enemy of the People award (what any person living in a nuclear community would receive for speaking up / truth-telling. See Henrik Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People).
  • Innocence & naivete award for finding the secrets, lies, deceptions & nastiness of the nuclear industry simply too much to attempt to fathom or swallow.
  • Quotation of the Year award to Frank Zappa for this gem: “Government is the Entertainment Division of the military-industrial complex.” Hooey!!!

 

The final post about this conference is here.

 

New Rules (or, if I ran the world…)

I’m a big fan of Bill Maher & the great & intelligent panel discussions & funny jokes he tells on his TV show "Real Time." Being a non-TV person myself, I watch these episodes when visiting a friend.

We laugh our socks off listening to Maher, who really does have the most interesting & insightful guests! A relatively recent one, for example, was Jack Kevorkian, who’d just been released from prison. Very clever & witty guy!

Maher also has a portion of the show called “New Rules.” He rhymes off a whole bunch of clever “new rules” about things that are in the news that are really raising his dander. They’re always incisive, well-worded & hilarious.

Now, I recently attended a Council meeting in Pembroke, Ontario. (Just for the record, this was on April 20, 2010.)

Pembroke is a small city in eastern Ontario, Canada (population? I think around 14,000) that is situated on the mighty Ottawa River. Up river from Ottawa (Canada’s capital city) & downriver from the town & nuclear facilities at Chalk River (also just for the record). Pembroke is home to the SRB tritium light facility, also. (I should say more about this, but not today… Check out this site for more. The Rick Mercer skit is a must-see!)

I couldn’t help myself during this meeting. I scrawled some notes about new rules I’d make if I ran the world – all of them coming as a result of watching the antics & shenanigans of the Council as they went about their business. (I’ve been to lots of Council meetings in my time, in several small towns. Folks used to suggest I run for Council myself back in two I used to live in, but for one thing, I used to believe I wasn't smart enough. Then too, I’ve always said the stuff small town politicians deal with is just too darn boring. Personally, I’d really rather watch paint dry…)

Well. I could say plenty about the stuff that went on at the meeting, & why I was there, & all that kind of razz-ma-tazz, but I’m going to spare you.

Instead, I’m just going to tell you the “New Rules” I came up with, OK? Here goes:

Business suits are to be abolished! Neckties also. I have always firmly believed that when men get themselves all suited up in suits & neckties, it cuts off their circulation. Their brains & good ideas. Their humanity, humour & common sense. It somehow just seems to make them lose touch with down-to-earth-ness. Off with the suits, I say!!

Henceforth, all meetings in the world will be conducted in circles. No fancy raised platforms for tribunal members, mayors, politicians or any other assorted (& self-proclaimed) experts & bigshots. Everyone sits in the same circle. Capiche?

The Lord’s prayer (almost always recited quickly, by rote, & with no depth, meaning or sincerity whatsoever) is to be replaced by a 3-minute reflection on at least 5 things for which one is grateful. This is an exercise that becomes more & more meaningful with time & practice, not less & less so, as appears to be the case with “the Lord’s Prayer.”

Democracy is under stern orders to be spruced up!! It needs to be made more fun; more… sexy?? People stay away from the political process & fail to exercise their democratic rights & responsibilities because all the folks involved seem so damn…serious. Boring. Fun-challenged. Bring on the fun, I say!! Dances. Parades. Music. Fun, dammit! We need some creativity here!!

Fancy titles & roles & any associated fancy-schmancy outfits are to be abolished immediatement. No more “Your Highness” & “Your Excellency” & “Your Worship” & other such fluffy & utterly meaningless, substance-less titles. We is all jes’ folks, hmm? It’s when we revert to roles & their trappings & their associated … bumph (did I just make up a word?) that we lose sight of our common roots & humanity. With the simple fact that we are all just people who pull our pants on one leg at a time (or heck, maybe both at once. Whatever!) Point is, no one is any damn better than anyone else. Got that?

Janet

p.s. a few bracing quotations about democracy (just ‘cos I feel like it & Hey! this is my blog; I get to say whatever I like!):

“The most serious threat to democracy is the notion that it has already been achieved.” – Source unknown

“True democracy is only possible when people have effective power over their own affairs, their own goals, and their own resources. The larger the governing unit, the less responsive it is to human needs, the more bureaucratic and inefficient its administration. Government, we must always remind ourselves, is not (or should not be) a professionally organized system to tell people how to run their affairs; it is (or should be) a means whereby people themselves are enabled to resolve matters in their own community.” ~ John Papworth in Putting Power In Its Place

“Life is a passion of activity, or it is nothing. Genuine democracy rests, not upon an attitude of pleased expectation of receiving, not upon an irresponsible sense of liberty to work one’s will, but upon unflinching self-surrender, unceasing activity in behalf of the common good. Services must be voluntarily rendered, often more strenuous than those exacted by superiors under the old feudal order. For democracy is a stern and lofty creed of willing self-denial, of responsibilities staunchly borne, or it is a chaos and a failure, a stampede of the masses for power or for gain.” – Margaret Sherwood, 1918

Tommy Douglas on Fascism: “Once more let me remind you what fascism is. It need not wear a brown shirt or a green shirt – it may even wear a dress shirt. Fascism begins the moment a ruling class, fearing the people may use their political democracy to gain economic democracy, begins to destroy political democracy in order to retain its power of exploitation and special privilege.”

“Propaganda is to democracy what violence is to totalitarianism.” ~ Noam Chomsky

“The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.” Alex Carey

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” – H.L. Mencken (1880 - 1956)[Now ain’t that one a beauty! Any recent Prez’s come to mind??]

“You want sanity, democracy, community, an intact Earth? We can’t get there, obeying Constitutional theory and law crafted by slave masters, imperialists, corporate masters, and Nature destroyers. We can’t get there, kneeling before robed lawyers stockpiling class plunder precedent up their venerable sleeves. So isn’t disobedience the challenge of our age? Principled, inventive, escalating disobedience to liberate our souls, to transfigure our work as humans on this Earth.” – Richard Grossman

“Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat, but it’s something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles.” – Abbie Hoffman

** lots more relevant quotes here