“Why would this toxic liquid brew even be transported through our precious fruit lands, the highly populated Greater Toronto Area, and other rural or urban centres?” – Susan Pruyn, St. Catharines & District Council of Women
A News Analysis from Doug Draper, Niagara At Large
Niagara’s Regional government has sent a clear message to officials in Canada and the United States that it is opposed to a plan currently on the books to truck highly dangerous radioactive waste through the region to Niagara River border bridges.
The call for a halt to the controversial plan was made at the request of the St. Catharines & District Council of Women – an almost century old public interest group in Niagara, Ontario with a mandate to raise public awareness on issues of interest and concern to the wider community.
“Our voice has been heard,” said Gracia Janes, a long-time member and vice president of the Council of Women on environmental issues, of the regional government’s approval late this past October of a motion urging authorities in both Canada and the U.S. to shelve the proposal to ship liquid radioactive wastes from Canada’s Chalk River nuclear reactor and laboratories, located in Renfrew County, Ontario in the Upper Ottawa Valley, to a facility in South Carolina where it would reportedly be enriched for use in U.S. commercial energy reactors.
The motion, sent to U.S Secretary of State John Kerry, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission Chair Dr. Michael Binder, Gordon Walker, Co-Chair of the Canada/U.S. International Joint Commission (an official watchdog body for Great Lakes waters) and others, expresses “opposition, in principle, to any shipment of radioactive waste over public roads and bridges, or on any navigable waterways, or by air.”
It also “urge(s) the governments of Canada and the United States to halt the shipment of high-level radioactive liquid waste from Chalk River Laboratories to the Savannah River site (in South Carolina), pending the outcome of full public consultations on the advisability and the potential impacts of the proposed shipments, as well as e alternative procedures to achieve the stated objectives for such shipments.”
The motion followed a presentation this past spring to the Region’s transportation committee by Susan Pruyn, a member and then-president of Council of Women, with the support of Lincoln Regional Councillor Bill Hodgson, who is a member of that committee and helped get unanimous support to move it on for final approval by the council.
Pruyn’s presentation noted that Joan Millard, head of decommissioning and waste management for Atomic Energy of Canada, once stated that “no one has ever attempted to move a lethal brew containing an estimated 161 kilograms of (nuclear waste), containing 93 per cent uranium-235, the isotope that sustains a fission chain reaction” – waste that also contains other fission products like plutonium and tritium, as well as mercury.
“Who can guarantee the safety of the transfer of (the waste) Chalk River to South Carolina,” asked Pruyn during her presentation. “Will there be public forums so that the community can raise their concerns?”
“Why would this toxic liquid brew even be transported through our precious fruitlands, the highly populated Greater Toronto Area, and other rural and urban centres, when it could be solidified and stored as was planned before the U.S./Canada agreement was made? What is the safety plan if a spill occurs? This is the first time this has ever been considered. We are the guinea pigs.”
Finally, Pruyn and her Women’s Council put the following question before regional councilors – “Will the Region, being what Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission terms ‘first responders’, look more closely into who would be responsible in case of an accident, how fast could they react, and would our Great Lakes, rivers, streams, ground water, people, soils, fruit crops be at risk?”
Serious concern about plans to ship this waste has been raised by numerous other individuals and groups on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border, including Brian Higgins, a U.S. Congressman whose represents the Buffalo, New York area.
In statement he made to Congress in Washington D.C. last year, Higgins said he has “serious concerns with the … proposal to transport liquid nuclear waste from Ontario’s Chalk River Research reactor to the Department of Energy’s Savannah River site, across several states and over the Peace Bridge, which is in my Western New York Congressional district.”
“Unlike spent nuclear fuel, which can be safely transported in solid form,” Higgins continued, “in liquid form, it is more radioactive and complicated to transfer.”
“Most concerning, in the event of a spill, liquid highly enriched uranium would be difficult to contain,” he concluded. “A major contamination in the Buffalo-Niagara region could potentially result, exacting dire consequences on the Great Lakes, the Niagara Power Project and greater Buffalo-Niagara population.”
Higgins has demanded a “thorough review” of the plan, along with a “formal environmental impact statement” developed by the parties who put the plan forward.
The concerns raised by Higgins and others, including the St. Catharines & District Council of Women and now Niagara, Ontario’s regional government, speak to the challenge countries around the world have with what to do about the highly dangerous wastes generated by nuclear power plants.
In all of the decades since the first nuclear plants went into operation in Canada, the United States and other countries, no one has come up with a way of disposing of he material that satisfies a host of health and safety concerns that have been raised around the world.
Yet inspite of this, a number of governments, including the current provincial government in Ontario, have plans to proceed and even expand nuclear power facilities. These plans often have the support of at least some citizens, including groups that oppose wind energy turbines in the communities and sometimes go on to say they want to see government invest more in nuclear energy.
Niagara At Large heard this in recent years from some of the residents in the Lincoln and West Lincoln area opposed to wind facilities there. When these residents were asked if they would accept a nuclear plant or a facility for storing the waste in their community instead, they asked why that was relevant.
It is relevant because if we go on with nuclear energy, someone’s community is going to be exposed to the risks associated with transporting, storing and ultimately disposing of the waste. If not our community, then someone else’s.
For related stories on this issue visit the following stories –
For more information on the St. Catharines & District Council of Women visit – https://niagara.cioc.ca/record/NIA1746 .
Visit Niagara At Large at www.niagaraatlarge.com for more news and commentary for and from the greater bi-national Niagara region.
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