nuclear waste conference

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: Final thoughts

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

When I was spending 3 days at the nuke waste conference I’ve been blogging about here

I was feeling repeatedly appalled (& yes, slimed, as I said), & decided I was going to really summon up my courage & get up & say some brave things to the large crowd of nuclear industry people (there were several hundred of them).

I wrote down these notes, & of course, lost my will & courage & decided it was not the right venue for what I’d planned to say. But here it is, just for the record. What the heck, eh??

This what I wanted to say:

Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Grey Panthers, once said “Speak your mind, even when your voice shakes.” I hesitate to speak up in this crowd, so I expect my voice is shaking. There are many so-called “experts” here, & that’s intimidating to decidedly un-expert me, but another wise woman (urban life & affairs guru Jane Jacobs) once said, “Always be prepared to believe that experts are stupid. They very often are.”

I’ve noticed a few things here, these past few days.

I’ve noticed there is a real “team spirit” that operates among all you nuclear industry folks. A kind of “Let’s not let our buddies down” ethic.

I can’t help but wish we would all share instead a strong call to preserve our planet & all the species here on it (including our own).

Also in the past 3 days, I’ve been learning what the nuclear industry is planning for nuclear waste in the days & years ahead:

I want to ask you all a question. Are you all proud of the work you do?

Would your parents – your ancestors – be proud of the work you do?

Will your children (& grandchildren) be proud of you, & the work you do?

I am proud of the work I do, as an environmental activist. I am very proud of my amazing, smart colleagues who have worked very, very hard to learn how the nuclear industry operates. They blow me away with their courage & their smarts.

My mother, who may have had quite different things in mind for me, did tell me once that she was proud of me for my environmental work. That meant a lot to me.

My children have expressed to me that they are grateful for the work I do, which they understand quite well I do on their behalf.

I do it on behalf of you, & your children as well, actually…& everyone else’s, of course!

So I just want to ask you this: please take my questions away with you, & give them some thought.

& since I’m known for being a big fan of thoughtful & inspiring quotations, let me leave this one with you:

“No matter how far you’ve gone down a wrong road, TURN BACK!” (Source unknown)

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It’s now over a month that I’ve been working on these postings. Something about their tone has kept me from posting them sooner.

It’s this: the nuclear industry makes me mad. (I think it ought to make us all furious, actually – so furious we would all rise up & do what needs to be done to put an end to it, once & for all!)

& yet, I know when I’m angry & become rude or sarcastic, it sort of doesn’t make me feel all that good…you know??

I also know that, even if every single human being on the planet did rise up & put an end to the production of nuclear energy (& nuclear arms) right this very minute, we’re still going to be stuck with a ferocious quantity of nuclear waste – for a very, very, very long time indeed.

It’s the same deal with all stubborn issues, you know? Seeing things in simple black & white, “us and them” terms is ultimately not going to bring us any permanent solutions. Any lasting peace.(1)

It’s pretty tempting to demonize those who prop up the nuclear industry. There are no doubt some seriously scuzzy characters involved. (This is a polite understatement, btw. If you’d read Atomic Accomplice – How Canada deals in deadly deceit, you’d understand what I’m saying.)

But the problem of the waste remains.

For the record, I’ve been appealing to the nuclear industry for several years now, in various submissions to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, to recognize that, like it or not, we all share this planet & are simply going to have to work together to clean up the nuclear mess. (My most recent submission, to the Joint Review Panel regarding the proposal to build new reactors at Darlington, is here.)

Not gonna lie to you. I despair at times, particularly over the issue of the genuinely horrific mess the nuclear industry has created on our planet. It is deeply, deeply horrifying, & the more I learn, the more horrified I become. Some days, I wake up tempted to simply stay in bed, covers pulled up around me, & read novels all day. Some days, I do! (No kidding!)

Most days, though, I know that (to quote myself), action is the best possible antidote to despair.

I’m a great admirer of the work of Joanna Macy, who’s done a very great deal of work on the nuclear issue, including pioneering the concept of “nuclear guardianship communities” – a brilliant concept I think we all need to do plenty of talking & thinking & planning & learning about! The sooner, the better…

It all reminds me a little of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which I read about in Antjie Krog’s amazing book, Country of My Skull – Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa !(2)(I blogged about this amazing book in ‘Courage, Apathy & Evil’).

The old “us & them” mentality never takes us very far. Or, hmmm. I guess it does take us far, but down the wrong road entirely.

To put it another way (this just popped into my head as my pen is racing across the page), it’s unfortunately the case now that Nukes ‘R Us. If we are not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem.

Janet

P.S. Lots of great nuke-related quotations here

P.P.S. “Nuclear Roulette – The Case Against a “Nuclear Renaissance” is excellent; check it out!

P.P.P.S. Excellent short on-line film called “Knocking on the Devil’s Door – Our Deadly Nuclear Legacy.” The post ‘Nuclear Free Planet’ lists a bunch of groups active on nuclear issues.

P.S. # 4: Another good read: Killing Our Own – The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation, by Harvey Wasserman & Norman Solomon (1982). Sobering, scary, essential reading!

P.S. # 5: On October 29th I attended a powerful workshop, an “Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream” symposium, at which participants were reminded of the image of a spider web & the inescapable truth that, just as whatever one does to any part of the web affects the entire web, whatever we do to the Earth, we are doing to ourselves. We understand now that there is no “away” for us to send our garbage, waste & nuclear wastes to. Can it be there are still some of us who do not grasp this??

Quote of the day: “The problem of nuclear power is it’s not built on concrete, it’s built on lies.” - Greg Palast, author & investigator


 

(1) Jane Fonda said in her autobiography My Life So Far “It dawns on me that war is easy. Peace is harder. This sophisticated striving to build bridges is harder.” – Jane Fonda

(2) Times Books/Random House, 1998.