Faced with widespread opposition to plans by Bruce Power to ship 16 low-level radioactive steam generators through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway to Sweden for recycling, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has decided to hold a one-day public hearing on Sept. 29 to clear the air.
In announcing the hearing, the safety commission said it was being held “in light of the public concern and the value to ensuring both a proper understanding of the scope of the undertaking and the presentation of accurate information relating to the health, safety and risk.”
The hearing, to be held in Ottawa, falls short of the full-blown environmental assessment and related public hearings that opponents of the shipment are demanding.
“My frustration for years has been the lack of respect for the Great Lakes. We treat it like a toilet bowl,” Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley told The Toronto Star
in early July. “We don’t give it respect and don’t treat it like there needs to be public engagement.”
Bradley is among an estimated 2,500 people from 50 organizations across Canada, the United States and Europe who have since signed a petition to prevent the shipment.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission reiterated that a decision on an application for a “low-risk” shipping licence such as the one submitted by Bruce Power is normally made by staff, known as a Designated Officer, without public consultation. Staff, it said, has already concluded “there are no significant safety issues associated with the proposed shipment.”
The hearing in Ottawa is in addition to three open houses held earlier in affected communities after an outcry and charges that details of the shipment were being withheld from the public. Open houses were held in Owen Sound — from where the decommissioned steam generators are to be loaded onto ships for travel through the Great Lakes, down the St. Lawrence River to Montreal and Quebec City and on to Sweden in September — as well as Southampton and Kincardine, the two communities on either side of Bruce Power, the area’s largest employer.
According to Bruce Power, other countries have shipped the same type of generators to Sweden for recycling. And radioactive materials such as medical and industrial isotopes are shipped across Canada and around the world “on a regular basis without any risk to the public or the environment,” it writes on its website.
Each generator weighs 100 tonnes and is the size of a school bus
“The transport of nuclear materials is strictly regulated and has an impressive safety record spanning over several decades,” Bruce Power says. “No form of transport is subject to a more stringent framework of regulation.
“The only difference between this shipment and the thousands of other shipments made each year is the size of these components. Because they do not fit into the containers traditionally used for shipping low-level radioactive material, we require a special arrangement licence from our regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.”
Each generator weighs 100 tonnes and is the size of a school bus.
Bruce Power says the move is necessary “to reduce our environmental footprint by recycling 16 steam generators removed from our Bruce A facility instead of placing them into long-term storage.”
“By recycling these 100-tonne steam generators, which basically act as large kettles to make steam as part of the electricity generating process, we can reduce the amount of material going into long-term storage by approximately 90 per cent. Much of the metal can be decontaminated, melted down and sold back into the scrap metal market. The rest will be returned to the Bruce site for long-term storage.”
Despite assurances from Bruce Power and the safety commission that there is no danger in shipping 1,600 tonnes of low-level radioactive material through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway, communities along the ship’s route are worried that an accident might occur, especially in current low-water conditions.
Senator Bob Runciman said the shipment could be especially dangerous in the narrow passages of the St. Lawrence River, where a leak from one of the generators or a ship grounding would be disastrous.
“Toronto-area people are concerned ... but here this is more of a legitimate concern because of the narrowness of the passage through much of the Thousand Islands,” Runciman told the Kingston Whig-Standard
. “Who knows what the implications would be if this (accident) happened in the Thousand Islands? This is the breadbasket for the tourism industry.”
The Sept. 29 public hearing will be broadcast live on the Internet via the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission website. People wishing to make an oral presentation at the hearing, or to submit written comments on Bruce Power’s licence application must file a request to intervene with the commission’s secretary by Sept. 13. Requests can be made in writing or online
MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — August 2010