down the rabbit hole


p.s. on Aug.6/13: Listen here to Fairewinds Associates Arnie Gundersen share his remarks at the Pickering relicencing hearing. Theme? 40 years & 1 bad day. <from the Pickering nuclear hearing>

For as long as I’ve been attending Canadian Nuclear Safety (CNSC) hearings (on & off for about 6 years now), I’ve been saying that when you’re at one, you really feel as though you’ve gone down a rabbit hole (like Alice, in the Alice in Wonderland story).

Like you’re attending a Mad Hatter’s tea party.

It’s kind of hard to explain what I really mean by this (which is why I’m always saying to people that they really need to attend one themselves, to see what it’s like).

But let me give it a bash.

I think it would be a little bit like this:

Someone in a position of “authority” (e.g. parents in a family) allows the little people in the household to speak up (after they’ve done some squawking about stuff they’re pretty upset about).

Then the whole extended family (a markedly dysfunctional one, I might add) shows up & chimes in with their big authoritative voices (& their power advantages), & everyone bafflegabs things to death for an hour or 3.

Meanwhile, the energy is really kind of going out of the discussion, kind of like the air out of a balloon, & the little people are sitting there feeling kind of perplexed.

& are left thinking more or less




That’s kind of the way it feels.

(but you really have to experience it for yourself!)


p.s. & then, btw, later on, Mom & Dad go on & on & on doing all that same awful stuff they were always doing. Like none of the so-called “adults” was actually really listening. 'cos of course, they weren't.


Down the Rabbit Hole (with books)

Well. There are rabbit holes, & there are rabbit holes…hmmm?

I always say attending a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) hearing is like going down a rabbit hole.(1) (I’ve told the CNSC tribunal about this sensation of mine on at least 2 fairly recent occasions – most recent one here).

To a degree, I feel as though I’ve been down a RH ever since the second week of March, when I went to Ottawa to watch the RNNR Committee (Canadian federal parliamentary committee on Natural Resources) talk about the 16 radioactive steam generators Bruce Power proposes to ship through the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Seaway & Atlantic Ocean, over to Studsvik, Sweden for what they are calling “recycling.” (It’s really not recycling, it’s reprocessing of dangerous nuclear wastes & ensuring they will wind up in the global scrap metal supply; can we all just say “No thanks!!”??) Those hearings were on March 8th & 10th, & then, in the morning of March 11th, I & all of us, I guess, woke to the news of the earthquake & tsunami in Japan. Straight from one nuclear craziness (monstrosity??) to another.

& then the Darlington hearings, starting March 21st, about which I’ve blogged plenty.

When the Darlington hearings finally came to an end, I’d begun to feel utterly depleted. Almost zero energy, & very low spirits.

Then I went down another kind of RH, with NO energy at all, & apparently some kind of stomach “bug.” So I went into a little hidey-hole for a couple days there & read books, books, books! Hooey, how I do love books!

I read Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom – which I found slow going for the first 200 or so pages. Asked myself “Why am I reading this??” – but I was reading it because a) I’d so loved his novel The Corrections & b) I was in that hidey-hole & wanted to read, man! & then finally c) about 200 pages in, he finally grabbed me by the throat & never let go. OMG can this man write! And nail all the various & sundry nastinesses of our sick “culture” (using that term very loosely). Venal politicians. Rapacious corporations. Greedy & deluded & endlessly-consuming citizens. Mixed-up, busted-up, confused families. You name it, he nailed it. This book was not exactly a relaxing read, but if you want to get a really accurate diagnosis of just how sick everything is in our so-called civilization, you could sure do a whole lot worse!

Then I read the novel Thirteen Moons, by Charles Frazier (author of Cold Mountain, which I read half a lifetime ago, or I guess it only feels like that, & liked very much indeed). If I was looking for “light” reading, this wasn’t it either. This tale of one man’s lifetime, in the 18 & 1900s, encompasses some of the horrors of the Americans’ treatment of Indians (or First Nations people, as we now say in Canada) in the U.S. – the long history of corrupt American politics – & right up to early 20thcentury rape of the wilderness he’d so loved. If I’d harboured any illusions about politics ever having been “clean,” (& I did, I did; my naivete or perhaps ignorance has been boundless & maybe inexcusable, even), this book dashed them. So well, though – so skilfully.

For a little lighter reading, I turned to Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman – because as it happens, I have neck issues of my own. Figured I might as well laugh about it! (It’s that or cry, & I seem to be crying a little bit often lately as it is, thanks). A delight! Clever, witty, very informative about living life in the Big Apple, about which I know very little indeed…& more than enough, as it turned out, to make me feel very, very grateful to be an impoverished backwoods hoser Canadian who feels not the slightest compunction about not waxing, or dyeing, or having regular manicures or pedicures (or heck, any manicures or pedicures) & yet being often enough a pretty contented woman all the same. I knew there had to be a pay-off for not being Rich & Famous & Living in New York! I do thank Ms. Ephron for the many good chuckles, & especially for the helpful commiseration about necks!!!! (Anyone under the age of 50 reading this will probably not know what the heck I’m talking about, & hey…lucky you! Enjoy it while it lasts!!)

Finally, then, to the John Grisham novel The Confession. Another light topic. Not. A fabulous page-turner by a master of the page-turner. Well rendered story of an innocent man on death row, falsely convicted & sentenced to death, & the utterly sick & corrupt legal system in a pukey Texas town that was responsible for his wrongful conviction, sentence & imprisonment. I won’t spoil the plot, but I sure do recommend this book for its terrifying glimpse into very deeply sick goings-on in the American “justice” system, Southern style…

If anything, all this reading brought me back full circle to the inevitability of continuing to be an activist.

What are we left with in this weird & utterly unprecedented time, but our voices…our convictions…our ability to put our asses into the breach & DO SOMETHING????

There is strength in numbers. I’m not sure there is really any other kind of strength.(2)

Okay, so, now, back to Reality: Right now we’re well into a federal election campaign in Canada. We’re being given the opportunity to trounce our right-wing, corporate agenda-driven & -promoting government & bring in politicians with some dignity & class & actual concern for “regular” people. (I will vote Green Party, & for sure, until election day on May 2nd, I will be exhorting everyone to for Goddess’s sake VOTE!! Remember the people of Egypt & Libya, many of whom would very likely give a treasured limb to have a political system with all the freedoms & choices & privileges ours does! Including the right to CHOOSE our leaders, yes?? Provided we are not so godawfully lazy & apathetic as to not exercise our privilege & responsibility to VOTE. Sheesh, already.)(3)

And also, DONATE. To help the people of Japan who are dealing with such unspeakable, unimaginable, horrendous & long-lived-for-all-the-rest-of-their-lives tragedy. Here is a helpful site to help you choose an organization to donate through (scroll down to find the list).


P.S. Lately I keep thinking that it seems almost as though an awful lot of us human beings are really not human beings at all. More like some kind of sick robot, infected with a variety of nasty viruses that make us selfish & greedy & grasping & corrupt & quite unable to see that these are unprecedented times, & that these unprecedented times call for unprecedented … bravery, flexibility, unselfishness, effort, energy, generosity, compassion, activism, actions, and…oh, responsibility, caring…you get my drift, hmm? (Another way of putting it might be that it’s a time to yank our heads out of our own backsides & DO something. Don'tcha think??)

P.P.S. I recall someone once saying in a letter to the editor (which paper & when? No idea!!) “Let us collect our wisdom rather than pooling our ignorance.” Amen to that, I say.

(1) This is a reference to the story Alice in Wonderland, which perhaps not all readers know. Main character Alice follows a rabbit, falls down a rabbit hole & has a series of crazy adventures involving growing smaller & larger (a couple of times), a grinning Cheshire Cat, a Mad Hatter & his mad tea-party, Tweedledum & Tweedledee, a homicidal Queen of Hearts who goes around shouting “Off with their heads!” & no doubt sundry other characters I am forgetting to mention.

(2) The image that comes to me often lately is that of a beehive. Lots of worker bees, all of whose efforts are valuable & necessary.

(3) In the last federal election, fully 41% of eligible voters did not vote. Shameful! One of my favourite quotations: “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.” – George Jean Nathan, 1882-1958


Darl. Hearings – March 29: WASTE Day: Awards (x 2)

I’ve been blogging about the 3-week nuclear hearings now taking place in Courtice, Ontario.

** Note: if you go here, you can find hearing info such as the public hearing schedule, transcripts, Webcasts, etc.

Courtice is a small community east of Toronto; host to the gargantuan Darlington Nuclear Generating Station that is situated right on the shores of Lake Ontario. The hearings are part of the Environmental Assessment process Ontario Power Generation (OPG) & its licensing body, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), is required to take part in as they make plans for 4 new reactors at the Darlington site (all of this at the behest of the Ontario provincial government, btw).

Taking part in hearings involving nuclear projects always puts me in mind of going down a rabbit hole, à la Alice in Wonderland. A certain Mad Hatter Tea Party ambience is unmistakable.

I’ve said it many times before: there is really no adequate way to describe what this kind of hearing is like. (I’ve written about CNSC hearings in blog postings listed under the Steam Generator heading up at the top of this blog, & in a posting called ‘Speaking truth to power.’ I’ve been very upfront with CNSC tribunal & staff about my rabbit hole analogy.)

I’ve posted recently about placards & awards during these hearings.

The other day I told some folks in Toronto that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission seems to have a somewhat limited vocabulary.

Favourite & very frequently-used CNSC words:

  • SMALL: Spills are always small (even when they’re big!)
  • LOW: Risks of nuclear activities of any sort whatsoever (including spills) are always low.
  • SAFE: Nuclear operations of any kind (including spills & emissions) are always safe & without health risk to members of the staff or public.
  • ACCEPTABLE: Nuclear proponent’s plans are always always always “acceptable.”
  • HIGHLY REGULATED: CNSC always claims the nuclear industry is “highly regulated,” but since they just kind of make up their own rules, I say, “Yeah, sure, right…”

Considering how truly risky nuclear activities genuinely are, I always say CNSC language is pretty goshdarn MINGY. UNDERwhelming…

Ok. A quick review of the placards I’d like to hold up at CNSC hearings (where we are much too polite to actually do so, & of course would get kicked out of the proceedings for):

  • Bafflegab!
  • Bullshit!
  • Obfuscation Alert!
  • Doh!
  • Turn off the lie machine!

And more awards I would like to generously offer after last Tuesday (March 29, 2011)’s presentations, which were focused on the issue of nuclear waste. [Note: transcripts & Webcast of this entire hearing can be found here Please also note that presentations by citizen/NGO intervenors have been amazing!  The Dr. Helen Caldicott one on March 24th was excellent, as was the SAGE (Safe & Green Energy) one by Dr. Ian Fairlie on March 28th. The Lake Ontario Waterkeeper one on March 28th was blow-you-right-out-of-the-water brilliant. First Nations presenters, also on Monday, March 28th, were awesomely articulate & inspiring.] The Northwatch intervention on the nuclear waste issue was also a show-stopper & generated a great deal of discussion (all of which, for my own part anyway, served to illustrate how shockingly shallow the nuclear industry’s understanding of nuclear waste actually is. Genuinely shocking…)

Understatement of the Millenium award goes to Joint Review Panel member Pereira for his brilliant observation “There are a number of challenges to be met” with respect to the proper, safe storage of high-level nuclear wastes that will be generated at the proposed new reactors.

I can’t believe you just said that! award to the OPG staffer who “reassured” panel members & the public with these shining statements about the need for containers that will last a million years: “We are looking at containers” & “We are learning as we are going along.”

OMG! & these are the folks who are “protecting” us from wildly hazardous & preposterously long-lived nuclear wastes!?!?

It leaves a person almost speechless…doesn’t it??

Other awards I recommend:

  • Robot award – multiple possible recipients among both CNSC & OPG staff & heck, let’s be generous here – the 3 JRP panel members too.
  • Lead face award – as above.
  • Asbestos award – ditto.
  • Cognitive Dissonance award to everyone employed in the nuclear industry. And all of the rest of us human beings for pretending the nuclear industry is “looking after us.” And especially to the OPG staffer who had the effrontery to state that OPG does not wish to put the burden of nuclear waste onto future generations. Talk about cognitive dissonance!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!
  • Pseudo-science award to CNSC staff for their consistent use of such deeply scientific phrases as “Tritium releases are very low.”
  • Skating on VERY thin ice award – multiple possible recipients (including all of us! Our entire species seems to be skating on mighty thin ice, I’d have to say).

Finally, to the entire nuclear industry:



I even decided to give myself an award:

The “I can’t believe I didn’t run screaming from the room when OPG staffer Laurie Swami used the phrase ‘bounding scenario’ for the 506th time” award.

(I had decided I’d rather stick a needle in my eye than hear her use this ridiculous phrase one more time.

And I’m not really all that much into sticking needles in my eyes…you know??)

Enough for now…


Darl. Hearings – Day 4 (Mar. 24): Helen Caldicott, etc.

I attended the opening session of this 3-week hearing into the proposed expansion of the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station 3 days ago. Skipped Tues. & Wed., & went back yesterday for the afternoon session of Day 4. Mostly ‘cos Dr. Helen Caldicott was on the agenda…

** Note: if you go here, you can find hearing info such as the public hearing schedule, transcripts, Webcasts, etc. March 24th written transcript here Audio here

Since my mind is not particularly coherent right now, I’m really just jotting down some random thoughts:

  • Boy can government speakers ever be … dull!? Sometimes they actually read every line of their powerpoint presentation, & not only that, they speak in a monotone. Yikes…

  • I, meanwhile, was sneaking peeks at my copy of Alice in Wonderland, Chapter 7 – “A Mad Tea-Party,” since I always find this type of hearing (i.e., nuclear hearings) very reminiscent of going down a rabbit hole & taking part in a mad tea party at which absolutely nothing the nuke folks say seems to make any sense.

  • There sure are a lot of men in the nuclear industry!!! Lotsa men, lotsa dark suits, lotsa “experts.” I suppose a person could muse on why this industry is so male-dominated, & what that says about it…couldn’t one? (even maybe just that it’s a dinosaur…with no insult intended toward those innocent ancient dinosaurs…)

  • If you want to find passion at a hearing such as this one, don’t look for it among the corporate types. Or the government types. Not gonna happen. I think I first noticed this at a meeting of the International Joint Commission on the Great Lakes in the early 90’s. The people I came to refer to as “the suits” are so dull you’d think they were already dead. Sheesh…

  • The passion comes from the citizen intervenors. This same IJC meeting I just referred to got very livened up when activist extraordinaire Lois Gibbs came onto the scene. Hooey!!! (I’ve seen the same with David Suzuki. The minute he arrives at any gathering, the energy level takes a huge spike. Talk about passion!!)

  • Yesterday the passion came from Helen Caldicott, medical doctor & very long-time anti-nuclear activist. Lots of compelling testimony from Ms. Caldicott – about the health impacts of exposure to radionuclides, her passion as a doctor for preserving life, evidence from the Three Mile Island & Chernobyl nuclear accidents, & our need as a culture to stop adding these toxins unnecessarily to our world. Feisty lady! At one point she asked, given these deliberations amid the current nuclear crisis in Japan, “Have we all got a case of nuclear psychosis?”

  • Quotable & a vast understatement from Ms. Caldicott: “This is not a benign industry.” She also asked whether the world will end with a bang (nuclear war) or a whimper (endless & ongoing damage to human genetic material from the nuclear industry).

  • The panel? They didn’t even crack a smile when Helen C. made a joke. Yikes, what a serious-looking crowd… (But I have to admit, Chair Alan Graham was more than polite today, both to Helen Caldicott & very long-time Port Hope elder/activist, Pat Lawson. I’ve witnessed CNSC (Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) head honchos being outright rude at hearings, so this was a welcome thing…

  • There was lots & lots of bafflegab & bullshit today – as usual. One teeny-tiny little thing I noticed was the continual use of the statement “There are no adverse effects from the project.” It strikes me that the tense of this is a little off. How can there be any adverse effects in the present?? It’s in the days ahead that the problems lie…

And finally, after listening to too many suits & too much bafflegab, this little phrase came to me:

Some of us are bought…& some of us are not.(1)


(1)At the time I was attending the Darlington hearings & writing these blog entries, I had not yet seen the Web site that lays out the salaries of the OPG  bigshots. It was sent to me months later. It’s here. You can see for yourself that some of these folks probably have a bit of a “golden handcuffs” problem. They earn so damn much money, they’d very likely say anything at all!? I actually had no idea how bang on I was, with my "Some of us are bought…& some of us are not" comment!!


P.S. Ms.Caldicott quoted Albert Einstein twice. “Our world faces a crisis as yet unperceived by those possessing the power to make great decisions for good and evil. The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” – Einstein (1946) & “Nuclear power is one hell of a way to boil water!” I’m rather partial to this one too: “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.” - Albert Einstein

P.P.S. It’s all enough to make a person kinda crazy. The money that’s being spent on this exercise? All the staff time? Travel expenses? Accommodation expenses? Meal expenses? This kind of cash could keep an ENGO (environmental non-government organization) going for years

P.P.P.S. Lots of great nuke quotes/resources here

Placards for Nuclear Hearings

I’ve attended too many hearings of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (an oxymoron of a title if ever there was one; geez, I guess even Homer Simpson would know better than to put the words nuclear & safety in the same phrase!) & now most recently the opening sessions of the “Darlington New Nuclear Plant Project” being presided over by the Joint Review Panel (JRP).

** Note: if you go here, you can find hearing info such as the public hearing schedule, transcripts, Webcasts, etc.

The setting is always very formal &, frankly, more than a little intimidating for the average human being (I’d hazard a guess that this is deliberate, btw).

The bigshots are seated “up high” at the front of the room, with all their supporting staff to their right & left, while we mere “peasants” sit obediently down lower, in front of their greatnesses.

I invariably wind up wishing things would get a little rowdier. People in kangaroo suits. Maybe a Mad Hatter or two walking around, uttering nonsensical things. (Attending one of these gatherings is very much like going down a rabbit hole, à la Alice In Wonderland; hence my rabbit hole reference & my frequent internal “Off with their heads!!” thoughts…)

Here are just a few placards I’d love to see the “peasants” hold up when the bullshit quotient goes right over the top (which is most of the time, anytime the current nuclear “proponent” has the floor):

  • Bafflegab!
  • (or, less politely, Bullshit!! Not to mention WTF???????)
  • Obfuscation Alert!!
  • I can’t believe you just said that!!!!!!
  • How's about turning off the lie machine?
  • Let’s not forget the uranium, eh??
  • It’s the WASTE, Stooooopid!!


P.S. I say, all future such gatherings should be conducted with everyone sitting around in a circle. No fancy suits allowed. Attire? Jeans & T-shirts. It would very soon become apparent who the real “experts” are, hmmm?


*** Before I could get these 2 postings up, I heard about the Greenpeace protesters who stopped the hearing this morning. Good onya, dudes!! Wish I was there with you. Extraordinary nonsense like nuclear energy & its phoney hearing process absolutely require extraordinary means to get public attention!!!


Steam Generators: Letters to the editor

3 so far...

October 7, 2010.

Dear Editor [Montreal Gazette]:

Nuclear concerns hysteria?

And “No less an expert than Ramzi Jammal, the chief regulatory officer of the Canadian Nuclear Regulatory Commission” has laid your fears utterly to rest?

Clearly, you have never attended a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) hearing! “Down the rabbit hole” is the operative phrase that always springs very quickly to mind.

Also, having the foxes minding the henhouse.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (yes, you got Jammal’s info wrong) has every appearance of being, as described by federal NDP MP Nathan Cullen, “a lapdog rather than a watchdog.”

I’ve been a CNSC watcher for years now, along the Ottawa River one way & another, and I attended the recent hearing about this proposed steam generator shipment.

Bruce Power has misled us with their plans and CNSC staff made serious factual errors in their reports, underestimating by 50% the shipment’s radioactive content. CNSC staff always minimize the nature of nuclear risks involved. Spills are always “small,” nuclear proponents’ plans are always “acceptable.” This is classic nuclear industry protocol.

There are so many things wrong with this plan, I can’t begin to do justice to them all in one short letter.

Rather than accepting the reassurances of the CNSC fox that minds the Canadian nuclear henhouse, I suggest you consult the expertise of the almost 80 intervenors who took their own time to marshall a boatload of valid objections to this plan. Your own province has more than 30 municipalities that are “just saying no.”

I think you need to dig a little deeper.


Janet McNeill


November 24, 2010.

Dear Editor [Sarnia Observer]:

Interesting. The Sarnia Observer piece headed “Anti-nuclear rage doesn’t hold water” is billed as a “news” item, yet reads a lot more like an angry rant. Gotta admire this DenTandt his fiery oratorical qualities – but please, let’s not call it news!

It isn’t only environmental “zealots” who strongly oppose Bruce Power’s proposed shipment of these highly radioactive steam generators through precious & irreplaceable water sources. First Nations communities, a boatload of American senators, mayors & municipalities along the route (more than 30 in Quebec, along the St. Lawrence River) and the City of Montreal are “just saying no.”

In fact, we “enviros” who oppose this scheme aren’t hysterical at all! I wish you could have heard the almost-80 intervenors who told the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission tribunal & staff in person why our reasons are so numerous & carefully-thought out. What an inspiring crowd!

CNSC staff and Bruce Power are trying to ramrod this shipment through. Gentlemen, there is no rush! The mothballed generators have been collecting dust for 15 years already.

There is a great deal to consider here. Exporting Canada’s nuclear waste & adding to the already-serious global problem of radioactivity getting into the world’s metal supplies & our consumer goods has apparently not yet hit your radar screen – but it needs to!

CNSC needs to put on the brakes and order up a full, new Environmental Assessment to go over this very controversial project with a fine-tooth comb.

Janet McNeill

February 11, 2011.

Dear Niagara Falls Review Editor:

According to Kalvin Reid, our choice is to let Bruce Power’s radioactive steam generators be shipped through precious, irreplaceable waters – or live in the dark.

I’m not sure whether this is a form of naivete, or some kind of fear-mongering.

Reid mistakes Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) claims for facts. He has not dug into the issue deeply enough to understand why the opposition to Bruce Power’s plan is so strong. This is a complex issue and he does neither it – nor his readers – justice.

Bruce Power made a commitment to keep those steam generators on site. Now they’ve changed their tune. They minimize the risks of a possible accident and offer factoids, not facts, to allay our fears. The CNSC skates along, working determinedly to smooth the way.

Those of us who’ve dealt over time with nuclear proponents (& the CNSC) know better than to take these people at their word. It is irresponsible – even immoral, in my view – to placate the public with empty promises. Municipalities that have taken the time to dig into the real risks are smart not to “buy” BP’s false assurances.

The steam generators contain far more genuinely dangerous radioactivity than Bruce Power (or CNSC) acknowledges. The risks of an accident are very real. A couple years ago some turbines were dumped into the St. John’s, New Brunswick harbour; fortunately, they were not radioactive.

This shipment is not a one-shot deal. Once this one is allowed to proceed, BP will be busy lining up more.

Bruce Power owes the Canadian public a thorough explanation of why their plan to keep the steam generators on-site has changed so massively. It also owes us an honest accounting – not half-truths – about the reprocessing that will take place in Sweden and that will likely result in radioactive materials entering the global scrap metal supply.

Canadians are entitled to a proper debate about the idea of exporting nuclear waste. Is sending our dangerous wastes across the ocean really the best solution we can come up with?

This is a good time for a thoughtful debate – not for more of the Ready, Fire!!!...Aim method of doing nuclear business.

Let’s not ever forget that 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.


Janet McNeill

SG / CNSC Interventions…# 3

I’ve been talking about the steam generators from Bruce Power in Ontario & the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) hearing held in Ottawa this past week on Bruce Power’s plan to ship 16 radioactive steam generators through a multitude of waterways to Studsvik, Sweden (Note: Webcast of the hearing can be viewed here.) My previous posts, SG/CNSC Interventions 1 & 2, gave some background info, including my “intervention letter” to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission & what I intended to say to the CNSC.

This post contains the remarks I scrambled to make once I was in Ottawa. Having taken prepared remarks, I found they were not quite adequate in light of all the things that came up during the hearing, so I did a major re-write. Here is what I actually wound up saying:

"I guess you could say that the theme of my remarks is “down the rabbit hole.” I don’t wish to be rude, but every time I attend a CNSC hearing, I get the sensation that, like Alice in Alice in Wonderland, I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole. The sensation comes over me very quickly.

As I began reading the CNSC Staff CMD [Commission Member Document] on this proposal, I learned that the steam generators are categorized as “Surface-Contaminated Waste” – yet are said to have no surface contamination. Plain language? Hmm…

I have spoken to you before, as you know, & have confessed that I am not a scientific or technically minded person.

Crazily enough, after hours & hours & hours of taking part in this hearing & listening to CNSC staff explain & defend the proponent [Bruce Power]’s plans, I find myself feeling more bamboozled, not less.

Plain speaking is not the term that comes to mind, down here in the rabbit hole.

For me, trust is the overarching issue here.

Bruce Power expects us to take them at their word.

CNSC staff expect us to believe their assertions & claims.

Bruce Power is a company that previously reported their steam generators to be radioactive waste that must remain on-site. A company that recently exposed its workers to radiation.

Bruce Power’s chairman seems to me to have a very cavalier attitude about his plan to completely change the fate of the steam generators.

He commented yesterday that concerned citizens like myself – who spend hours & hours & hours of our personal time on issues like this one & in my case, attend CNSC hearings entirely at my own expense – should be “rebuked” for researching & expressing our legitimate concerns. I’m having a hard time placing my trust there.

Studsvik – the company taking the waste – [words not exact here – I was winging this at the last minute] – is not prepared to indicate where the metal that is released will be going.

CNSC staff have a disconcerting way of appearing not to work for the citizens of Canada (& our safety), but for whichever nuclear proponent is currently before them. They go to strenuous lengths to defend & explain – in this case Bruce Power’s – plans – taking us all down the rabbit hole as they do so.

Trust? There was an “administrative error” reported at the last minute. An isotope of plutonium was left out of the staff CMD.

Trust? Yesterday, when asked when they became aware of Bruce Power’s plans, the CNSC person who responded clearly replied “April.” Yet Bruce Power requested their export license in January. I have a copy of an export license from CNSC that is dated January 26, 2010.

Has the staff…”forgotten” that this license was issued in January? Is someone lying?

Upton Sinclair once said “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

That just kind of comes to mind right about now.

I often find the language used by CNSC … not at all “scientific,” but weak – especially for an organization that lays claim to being terribly scientific.

Words often used:

  • Small (spills are always “small.”)
  • Low (risks of the nuclear proponent’s activities are always “low.”)
  • Acceptable (plans are always “acceptable.”)
  • Adequate (proponents’ plans & security measures are always “adequate.”)


Such anemic reassurances might seem more attuned to a Boy Scout exercise than to the activities of an industry whose wastes will remain dangerously radioactive for hundreds or thousands or even 10’s of thousands of years.

Assurances with a little more “oomph” & conviction would be of great comfort.

I really wish I could trust Bruce Power & CNSC staff. All their apparent “reassurances” underwhelm me. Their talk yesterday about other dangerous cargoes on the Great Lakes make me even more concerned, not less so.

My letter to you [my original “intervention letter”] is about radioactivity in metal. In consumer products. As I pointed out, I learned of this only recently. I’d be happy to share with you the policy of the Steel Manufacturers Association. It was from an executive there that I learned about nuclear facilities in the U.S. being dismantled & “recycled” into consumer goods.

I went recently to buy some cutlery for my daughter as a wedding shower gift.

Stood in the store aisle, looking at all the items “Made in China” & wondering if it has radioactive material in it.

Martin Luther King said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

For me personally, keeping silent about having radioactive waste made into consumer products is something I cannot do. My eventual grandchildren might not be too happy with me about it either. Chowing down with their toxic knives & forks. “A little plutonium with your Cheerios, Susie?”

Possibly nuclear industry & CNSC tribunal & CNSC staff personnel are comfortable with the idea of having radioactive metal in their children’s mouths (think braces) & on their bodies (think zippers & snaps) – but it doesn’t work too well for me when I think of my now-grown daughters & my potential grandchildren.

I agree with everyone here who has said that if Bruce Power wants to proceed with this plan, there has to be a new Environmental Assessment.

This project (yes – I am calling it a “project”(1) is precedent-setting, & it requires thorough scrutiny.

To conclude:

Bruce Power has the unfortunate acronym “BP.”

That other BP we’ve all heard so much about recently assured the U.S. Dept. of the Interior in 2009 that an oil spill at the Deepwater Horizon site was “unlikely.”

An environmental impact study was waived.


The steam generators at the Bruce have been sitting there for a very long time. There is no need & no justification for rushing into an ill-advised project (yes – it sure sounds like a project to me!)

Ready, Fire!!.........Aim is not the right order in which to do things.

For reasons involving

  • legal
  • procedural
  • moral/ethical
  • safety &
  • scientific

grounds, I believe the CNSC must put this plan on the back burner."

(1) CNSC staff know that a new “project” would require a new Environmental Assessment, so they deny that changing the plan from leaving the steam generators on-site at Bruce Power to loading them onto trucks, trucking them to Owen Sound, loading them onto a ship, taking the ship through a multitude of waterways, including the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River & Atlantic Ocean constitutes a … “project.”

I did warn you it was very much down the rabbit hole, did I not???

SG / CNSC Interventions…# 2

I’ve been talking about the steam generators from Bruce Power in Ontario, & the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) hearing held in Ottawa this past week on Bruce Power’s plan to ship 16 radioactive steam generators through a multitude of waterways to Studsvik, Sweden [note: Webcast of the hearing can be viewed here.] My previous post, SG/CNSC Interventions…# 1, gave some background info & also included my “intervention letter” to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

This post contains the remarks I prepared ahead of time & took to Ottawa with me. This is what I intended to say.

Then, life had its way with me, the hearing had its way, & I had to re-write my remarks (which will be in the next post).

Here is what I originally intended to say:

CNSC Tribunal members, CNSC staff, fellow intervenors:

It is awkward & perhaps a bit impolite for me to say so, but I always get the sensation at CNSC hearings that, like Alice in Alice in Wonderland, I’ve inadvertently gone down a rabbit hole.

As I began to read the CNSC staff CMD 10-H19 [CMD = Commission Member Document] on this matter, I experienced that sensation right away.

In the Executive Summary (page 1), the generators are described as “Surface Contaminated Object,” then a paragraph later are described as having no surface contamination.

It didn’t take long to fall down the rabbit hole!

Something else that comes up every time I delve into CNSC materials is that I always find myself being thoroughly underwhelmed by the language used in CNSC documents & public statements.

This is an organization – & a staff – that purport to be very “scientific.” Yet the staff always uses language such as:

  • Small (spills of heavy water at Chalk River & the Bruce are ALWAYS small)
  • Low (risks of any activity put forth by nuclear proponents are invariably low)
  • Acceptable (the nuclear proponent’s plan is ALWAYS acceptable)
  • Adequate (the nuclear proponent’s “proposed security measures” are invariably adequate.

A person might suppose from the language being used that we were dealing with baking cookies, or child’s play of some sort.

When in fact we are dealing with substances & wastes that are not merely toxic & carcinogenic, but substances & wastes that will remain highly dangerous for decades, centuries, & in some cases thousands & tens of thousands of years.

Do the CNSC Tribunal members & staff not think that in dealing with such dangerous substances it might be a little more reassuring for the public to hear language that has a little more oomph & conviction?

I for one am not at all reassured about CNSC & nuclear industry plans when they are described in the weak & utterly un-scientific language I am always hearing used in CNSC documents.

Not reassured at all.

Nor am I reassured by the assertion of Bruce Power, which “believes it has met all the requirements” & is making “adequate” provision. Pretty mingy language.

My intervention is focused on the issue of radioactive materials having become a serious problem globally. The nuclear industry’s idea of “free release” means we are all now free to buy consumer goods containing nuclear waste. Ah, freedom…

Only recently have I become aware that I – along with consumers all over the world, I assume – am now at risk of going to a store to purchase a new toaster & bringing home a lot more than I bargained for.

And this is not mere fluke. It appears the nuclear industry is doing this quite deliberately!

Nuclear facilities are being dismantled & “recycled” into consumer goods.

Citizens around the world have become unwitting recipients of this “largesse” from the nuclear industry.

Shocked & appalled would be a good way of describing my own reaction to this recent realization.

(And btw, the person who pointed this out to me works for the Steel Manufacturers Association in Washington. The industry he works for has a policy – basically, “zero tolerance” for radioactive materials. Members of the steel industry don’t want it – from a worker health perspective & of course, from a consumer perspective. I’d be happy to share their policy statement with you.)

I myself went shopping very recently to look for a wedding shower gift for my daughter.

I wanted to buy her a set of cutlery, I suppose because I recall being given a very nice set of cutlery 35 years ago, before my own wedding.

As I looked over the many consumer goods on the store shelves, I noticed that all their cutlery offerings were “Made in China.” Buying products from China has become almost inevitable, but carries some…uncertainties, lately, shall we say...

So I stood in the aisle, looking at the cutlery, wondering “Gosh. Now I have to wrestle not just with the issue of whether it is really ethical to buy products made by people who are being exploited, but whether I might also unwittingly be introducing radioactive cutlery into my daughter’s home.” Egad.

Having a social conscience is … well. It makes life complicated, doesn’t it?

Martin Luther King said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I’d say keeping silent about having radioactive waste made into consumer products is something I wouldn’t be at all happy with myself about as the years go by. My eventual grandchildren might not be too happy with me either. As they chow down with their toxic knives & forks. “A little plutonium with your Cheerios, Susie?”

The 2006 United Nations report “Recommendations on Monitoring & Response Procedures for Radioactive Scrap Metal” is quite informative on this subject. Its introduction spells out that the financial consequences for any metal processing facility that winds up with an incident involving the detection of radioactive scrap metal are very serious – often closure of the facility & an expensive clean-up. The comment is made “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.”

Yikes. I guess so!

As we all know very well, prevention is always the best way to keep a bad problem from happening. And, in this case, to keep a serious problem from growing worse.

Now, Bruce Power (a company with the unfortunate acronym of BP – an acronym none of us will soon be able to forget) expects us to “trust” them – that their plan to ship radioactive steam generators to Sweden is a safe & prudent one.

Bruce Power is known most recently for exposing its workers to alpha radiation, so the issue of trust there is not exactly straightforward, is it?

There are in fact so many reasons to oppose this plan of Bruce Power’s that it’s hard to know where to begin.

I’ve read the interventions you have received.

One intervenor calls it an insane plan. Another says it is nothing short of madness.

I have to agree with these assessments.

For starters, there was already a plan in place. What happened to that?

For another, what’s the big rush? These steam generators have been mothballed since 2007. Why the sudden rush to ship them out? Without due process, no less?

Whatever happened to the precautionary principle?

This seems more like a Ready, Fire!! …. Aim project.

It seems to me the nuclear industry (& CNSC staff) have not prepared for all possible contingencies, & simply expect the public to go along with their plans, unquestioningly.

There is tremendous opposition to this proposal, & from many quarters. Especially with the other BP’s disaster so fresh in our minds. I would remind you that 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 implore the CNSC to put this plan on the shelf.

At the very least, if there is interest in having this plan go forward, there must be an Environmental Assessment, as the terms of this new, recently-hatched plan represent a huge change from the original plans put forward by Bruce Power & approved by CNSC.

30 days is an utterly inadequate time frame in which to expect the public to scrutinize such a huge undertaking, & in which to review such voluminous & complex materials & respond with expert testimony.

Finally, of course, intervenors have been provided with no resources & have had to scramble, rendering this process unfair, undemocratic & unreasonable.

It seems to me this plan must be shelved.

For reasons that are numerous & that take in

  • legal
  • procedural
  • moral & ethical
  • safety &
  • scientific

grounds, it seems to me the CNSC Tribunal has no choice but to put this plan on the back burner.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my views on this matter.