legacy wastes

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 I)

<<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

 

This is my 4th post about the nuclear waste conference I attended in Toronto from September 12-14th. This is the fun one – finally!!   

The others are

I might add that awarding prizes to the nuclear industry is something I’ve done before. Under the heading ‘Darlington Hearings’ you’ll find at least 4 postings listed/linked involving awards for folks in the nuke biz.

Being in the anti-nuke biz can get a person down, you see. It can be pretty overwhelming & discouraging work. You have to make it fun somehow! Giving out awards is a way of introducing a little levity into an otherwise crazy-making preoccupation.

OK, here goes! Some awards are pretty much self-explanatory; no further explanation necessary!

Awards for the Nuclear Industry:

  • Barefaced OUTRAGEOUS Use of Language award: A tie between AECL for daring to use the phrase “Leaving an Honourable Legacy” in the same sentence as Port Hope & Port Granby waste clean-ups, & CNSC head honcho Michael Binder for claiming the nuclear industry (or, oops, I guess he meant the CNSC??) is “not going to tax future generations” with the nuclear waste problem. Right! Sure. Got it.
  • Boyish Enthusiasm award to ADM (Assistant Deputy Minister) Mark Corey, Energy Sector, Natural Resources Canada (yeah, a government dude) for his touching enthusiasm about some fences being put up around “some areas [with] real activity” (i.e., radioactivity) in the Bancroft area (post-uranium-mining-related, you understand) & his excitement about the 70-year Nuclear Legacy Liability Program & its $3.2 billion price tag (that is the figure he used, which is not consistent with the $7B figure quoted elsewhere; I guess when you get up into the billions like this, it all gets a little fuzzy??). No matter that nuclear waste will outlive by thousands & 100s of thousands of years any 70-year government program, however excited the not-very-long-term-thinking politicians & bureaucrats may be feeling about it. I betcha Mr. Corey might think twice about buying a cottage or house near those fences he’s so excited about, eh?
  • Buckets & Buckets of Bullshit award – self-explanatory, I’d say…
  • Cognitive Dissonance awards aplenty!! There is so much cognitive dissonance pervading this industry & its various organizations that I honestly have no idea how its foot soldiers are even able to sleep at night. One glaring thing from this conference was the continually repeated claim that the industry is transparent. No one who has paid any attention to the nuclear industry would ever in a million years claim it has even the slightest understanding of the word “transparency.” Come to think of it, there oughta be a Bullshit award! Or even an Outrageous Bullshit of the Century award!!
  • Don’t Worry – Be Happy   !! award to the nuclear industry (in this case, AECL) for basically taking this attitude about the sobering & truly appalling “legacy wastes” in Port Hope & Port Granby. Citizens are supposed to just not worry & be happy because after all, the federal gravy train has come to town & is leaking millions of $$ for a clean-up of all those wastes that are Hey! Not really a problem! Just smile & be happy, everyone!!  
  • Engineering Euphoria / Boys & Their Toys award to the many engineers of the nuclear industry – the profession the nuclear industry rests upon. They’ve always got a way to explain things away, & their boyish enthusiasm for solutions is … well, absurd & foolish, really, let’s just be honest about it, shall we? No solution for nuclear waste 60 years in. No admission that some technologies are just too darn dangerous to stick with. Technological optimism apparently knows no bounds. Even now, post-Fukushima…
  • Fancy Language / Creative Use of Jargon award (weasel words to watch for from the nuclear industry) for their fancy, sneaky use of terms to conceal rather than reveal what they are really up to. Words/phrases to watch for:
    • Below regulatory limits: emissions & spills are always below regulatory limits…have you noticed? They’re always small. Always “not harmful.” Always.
    • Blending: Mixing up different categories of radioactive waste so it can be disposed of in more convenient, less expensive fashion, e.g. into a regular landfill site or an incinerator (yes, burning radioactive materials – quelle idée, huh??)
    • Conceptual model: engineers & their “conceptual models,” eh? Can’t deal with reality, so fire up a conceptual model!
    • Free-release: this is about releasing radioactive materials hither & yon, even into the global scrap metal supply - scroll down to where it says ‘Radioactive Scrap - A Major Environmental Problem’)
    • Legacy wastes: fancy term for the bad old stuff from the good old days, decades ago. Just think, the new waste being created today will one day get to be called “legacy” too!!
    • Refurbish: innocuous-sounding term for spending billions of taxpayers’ dollars to tune up a nuke plant halfway through its operational life (creating a serious shitload of new nuclear waste while they’re at it, btw). See item about refurbishment here
    • Unconditional release: !?!?!?
    • Waste characterization: Fancy term meaning the nuke industry gets to call it whatever level of waste is convenient to them. We all need to remember, though, that “low level” does not mean “low risk.
  • Fox & Henhouse / Lapdog, Not Watchdog award to, of course, our very own dear (not) CNSC. They claim to be Canada’s nuclear regulator, but it’s kind of like leaving the drunk guy at the bar in charge of how much everyone drinks. You know?? The words nuclear & safety don’t belong in the same phrase, for one thing (oxymoron alert!!!), & for another, the CNSC is about as tough on the nuclear industry in Canada as over-permissive parents who permit their bratty offspring to swing from the chandeliers. (I don’t think the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in the U.S. is a whole lot different, btw.) Good article Who controls nuclear control agencies?,” written just after the Fukushima accident, about who the nuclear “regulators” are.
  • Golden Handcuffs/ He Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune award to OPG head honcho Tom Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell, who earns (well, makes) $1,325,119.04 a year, did a charming imitation of …hmmm…the Mad Hatter maybe?? minimizing the dangers of radioactivity (an “unfounded but perceived fear of radiation”) & making a terribly reassuring pronouncement (not) about safety (“Safety is in fact our foundation”) along with a touchingly (in)sincere statement about how “those who come after us must not be” saddled with the waste problem. (Um, sir, nuke waste will be dangerous for 1 million years! Did they forget to tell you??).
  • How’d They Pull THAT One Off?? award goes to Cameco Corporation. This company (& its predecessor, a Crown Corporation called Eldorado, which is to say our federal government is in this up to its eyeballs & always has been) has created a nasty nuclear disaster in Port Hope (on Lake Ontario), a huge mess now being tackled with public money, & Cameco is selling land to the Port Granby site clean-up folks. They made the waste, made the mess that Canadian taxpayers are paying billions to have cleaned up, reaped huge profits in doing so – & now they sell land for the Port Granby clean-up?? (Am I missing something here??? Guess I should have gone to business school, eh??)
  • Hubris award goes to everyone involved in this secretive, dangerous industry. For lies & deception & the minimization of health & environmental risks from nuclear technologies, & the patronizing of those outside the industry who raise legitimate concerns, & the superior attitudes of industry insiders with their fancy jargon aimed only at shutting down questions & objections. This is an industry with a very seriously dishonest modus operandi (& that is an understatement!).
  • Kool-Aid award for everyone in attendance at the conference (apart from my fellow activist friends) for their brilliant performance of “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” – even in the wake of the very recent, unbelievably disastrous Fukushima accident, even in the full awareness of the deeply dangerous nuclear wastes that exist at the Chalk River Labs site, in Port Hope & at Port Granby, & all those sites in the U.S. & Great Britain & the nuclear holocaust that is the ongoing legacy of the Chernobyl accident. Whatever it is that goes into that Kool-Aid, the nuke folks have drunk it down well & deeply. It must be very, very tasty indeed.

Please proceed to NW Conference: Awards! (part II) to finish up with the award ceremony! Next up is the Obfuscation Well Above & Beyond the Call of Duty award…

Janet

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