Opposition emerges to radioactive waste-shipping plan

The Canadian Press: July 12, 2010

TORONTO — A plan by an Ontario nuclear plant to transport radioactive waste on the Great Lakes is angering environmentalists and politicians, despite assurances the process is safe.

Bruce Power has applied for a licence to use the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River to ship 16 decommissioned steam generators from its plant on Lake Huron to Sweden for recycling.

Ruth Lovell Stanners, the mayor of Owen Sound, Ont., said she is concerned that an accident could happen even before the generators are on the water, while they are being transferred on land to her city's port, the intended departure point.

She said Bruce Power told her the process is safe.

"My response to that was 'That's probably what was told to the people who lived in the Texas-Gulf area by British Petroleum.' Nothing is 100 per cent safe," she said.

"If some of the steam generators would become dislodged, our water treatment plant is not far away."

Bruce Power was to seek approval for use of roads from Owen Sound at a town council meeting Monday night. Lovell Stanners said council may decide then whether to approve or reject the request.

Murray Elston, a spokesman for Bruce Power, said there is a low level of radiation in the generators. He said a person would have to stand next to one for a few hours to receive the same amount of radiation they would from a chest X-ray. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission did not confirm whether another Canadian power plant has applied for a similar licence for transport over the Great Lakes in the past. It said the generators are contaminated only on the inside and don't pose a risk to the public. The steel generators, which are the size of a school bus, were in commission for about 30 years and uranium was used as fuel to heat the steam.

The plant said it filed the application in the spring and hopes to start shipments to Sweden in September if approved.

It has also applied for heavy load permits from local municipalities to transport the generators by road to Owen Sound.

Mike Bradley, mayor of Sarnia, also on Lake Huron, accused Bruce Power of not seeking public consultation.

Elston said the plant had to figure out possible scenarios before it could discuss the project with residents.

"I think we've done this in the right order, and looking at the feasibility of it and making sure that people know what we are doing," he said.

But Larry Kraemer, mayor of Kincardine, who can see the Bruce Power plant from his office window, says he has no concerns and was consulted about four months ago.

He said about 3,500 residents of his town are employed at the plant and he has stood near the generators and felt safe.

John Bennett, head of environmental group the Sierra Club said the body that regulates nuclear energy should hold public consultations into the process.

"There might be some mishap on the high seas or the Great Lakes, all of which should raise alarm bells with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission."

The commission's website says nuclear plants are responsible for managing the waste they produce, and low-level waste is often stored on site.

University of Toronto physics professor Pekka Sinervo said shipping nuclear waste by boat creates the lowest risk of leaks.

"(Numbers) showed that from a safety point of view, the boat shipment was the safest, presuming that you've done all the precautions," said Sinervo, who studies nuclear waste and radiation safety.

Sinervo said nuclear medicine procedures are increasing at hospitals, so shipments of nuclear waste will also increase until a long-term solution is found.

Bruce Power said the company in Sweden can extract and decontaminate about 90 per cent of metal, which can then be used as scrap.

Bruce Power is a private nuclear generating company located in Tiverton, Ontario, about 250 km northwest of Toronto. The plant's website says it generates more than 20 per cent of Ontario's electricity.