Long-haul opposition to the dangers of nuclear waste

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Modified from an original photo by RRJackson, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Brennain Lloyd. She is part of the Know Nuclear Waste project, which works to support individuals, groups, and communities as they respond to the dangers posed by the nuclear industry’s efforts to put high-level radioactive waste near where they live.

When the nuclear age exploded into world consciousness at the end of the Second World War, what followed was an era that combined deep fear of global annihilation with an optimism about endless energy and technological possibility that today seems naive and creepy. The down sides of the nuclear age are many: there is the enduring, deep, and unavoidable institutional connection between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons – which the nuclear energy industry works hard to downplay. There's the ever-present risk of catastrophic failure of power plants, encapsulated by place names like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. And, of course, there's the waste.

Every step of the nuclear chain generates radioactive waste. Low-level but still dangerous radioactive material is produced in exploring for, mining, and refining the uranium that is used as fuel. And once that fuel is used in a nuclear reactor, it becomes a highly radioactive and toxic mix of different isotopes that will be dangerous to any living thing that comes near it for, at a conservative guess, hundreds of thousands of years.

That means that every nuclear reactor generating power today is making high-level radioactive waste that we will have to manage and prevent from causing harm to ourselves and to the rest of the biosphere, and that human beings will have to responsibly look after basically forever – certainly for a far longer duration than any human institution has ever lasted. This high-level radioactive waste continues to be produced, and really no country in the world has figured out what to do with it.

Northwatch is a multi-issue environmental, social justice, and peace organization – with a heavy focus on the environment – that has existed in northeastern Ontario since the late 1980s. Brennain Lloyd has worked with Northwatch from the start. And all along, the nuclear waste issue has been a high priority for them.

For decades, various sites in northern Ontario have been suggested as potential destinations for all of Canada's high-level nuclear waste. And for decades, Northwatch has been actively responding to efforts by government and industry to turn that potential into a reality – particularly one long process in the first ten years of the organization's existence, and a separate one in the last ten years. The current process is driven by the nuclear industry itself, under the umbrella of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization.

Northwatch's work on the nuclear waste issue currently takes the form of the Know Nuclear Waste project, which brings together a variety of issue-based organizations along with individuals, networks, and organizations in the local communities that are being subjected to this industry process. Its focus is on empowering residents and communities, and responding to the information needs of those concerned about the hazards of transporting and storing high-level nuclear waste.

Lloyd has serious concerns about the interim measures that are currently used to store high-level nuclear waste and about the industry's vision for what to do with it in the longer term. She is particularly concerned with the current process, and argues that it is a big mistake to let the industry be in the driver's seat – instead, she argues, we need some serious efforts to develop policy and regulation by the federal and provincial governments, which is currently not happening.

Image: Modified from an original photo by RRJackson, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

Talking Radical Radio has been nominated for a Hamilton Independent Media Award. If you like the show, please vote for Scott Neigh under the category of "Best Journalist – Social Justice and Human Rights" before November 8!

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