One day soon, people in Ontario may spot an armed convoy passing through their town. Heavily armed guards will be protecting trucks carrying thousands of litres of radioactive waste containing highly enriched (weapons-grade) uranium in a toxic mixture of acid and countless other radioactive isotopes. It will be the most dangerous transport of nuclear waste ever attempted in Canada.
In a move reminiscent of the 2010 decision to allow Bruce Power to ship radioactive waste through the Great Lakes and on to Sweden (which we opposed), the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has decided NOT to hold public hearings before permitting Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL) to proceed with the radioactive convoys.
Surprised? We were too.
Sierra Club Canada believes everyone has a right to be consulted before they are put at risk by the nuclear industry. We can’t stand idly by and let this undemocratic decision go unchallenged. We didn’t stand by three years ago when a Sierra Club Canada email campaign sparked such an outcry that CNSC was forced to reverse a similar decision NOT to hold public hearings (on the planned shipment of radioactive waste to Sweden via the Great Lakes). The risks are FAR GREATER this time around and we will take a stand.
It’s a sad day in Canada when the only information we can obtain about the radioactive convoy is through sources in South Carolina and the media. Here’s what we know: AECL is planning to truck 23,000 litres of highly radioactive waste (containing weapon’s grade enriched-uranium) from its Chalk River Laboratory in Renfrew County, Ontario to a U.S. Department of Energy facility (the Savannah River Site) in South Carolina. The shipments could begin as early as this summer.
The guards, though heavily armed and trained to deal with threats from terrorists and organized crime, will NOT, however, be able to protect Canadian and American communities from the effects of a nuclear spill — which could have catastrophic human health and environmental implications!
Despite the fact that the scheme would see the most dangerous cargo ever shipped through Canada, AECL and the CNSC is not consulting local authorities, First Nations or the public. It’s simply outrageous and all Canadians — not just Ontarians — should be angry as hell.
So why all the secrecy? The CNSC claims security trumps our right to know, but we don’t buy it. Is it instead because AECL and CNSC do not want to investigate alternatives to the convoy scheme? And there are alternatives! In fact, the best plan may be to leave the material where it’s being currently stored in Chalk River. It is relatively safe and secure there, and it’s isolated from the environment.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions
The waste is being moved under a U.S.-Canada agreement to return weapons-grade uranium to the United States to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. This is a noble and laudable goal, but the nature of the Chalk River waste is very, very different from the spent reactor fuel the agreement was designed to cover.
The uranium was originally shipped to Canada (in a solid, stable and easily transported form) to make medical isotopes. The process, which sees the uranium dissolved, produces a HIGHLY radioactive liquid waste containing strong acids that are extremely difficult to handle and especially dangerous to transport. Should it escape into the environment, the radioactive liquid waste would have a devastating impact. There are no specially built containers for transporting this type of liquid nuclear waste therefore AECL’s plan to use containers designed to carry solid waste is very questionable and needs further examination.
More worrying news is that the South Carolina facility where the radioactive waste is destined has no experience processing liquid nuclear waste of this type. In essence, the nuclear industry is planning a dangerous 2000-kilometre road trip into the unknown, turning the 40 million people along the route into guinea pigs.
Stop the insanity
The whole scheme is unnecessary to begin with — there is no need to subject the public to such senseless risk. Sierra Club Canada and many experts agree the safest place for this waste is right where it is now — in a secure container in Chalk River.
We have written the CNSC and formally requested a public hearing to examine the risks — and alternatives. We encourage you to join us in requesting a hearing — it only takes a few seconds.
At the time of this Action Alert, the Fukushima nuclear plant — which melted down following a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami — is facing a new and extremely serious emergency.
It will take 40 years (and billions) to ‘clean’ the Fukushima site and tens of thousands of evacuees will never return home. Act today and send our government a clear message. We want a clean, green future and we definitely don’t want Radioactive Roadtrips taking place on Canadian soil.