Asking Questions About Nuclear Waste

This was supposed to be a quick little blog post that I threw together before getting on with the work that was on my plate for this afternoon. Three phone calls and four conversations later I'm further behind than when I started. Here's sort of how my afternoon went.

If you've been following along in the local news you know that Bruce Power is asking for permission to ship 16 low-level radiactive steam generators out of the Owen Sound harbour this fall. Today's story in the Owen Sound Sun Times, by Denis Langlois, summarized the events of last night's meeting about BP. Leigh Greaves's letter to the editor asks the City of Owen Sound to deny the transport permits that BP is seeking. Gordon Edwards's letter notes that no Environmental Assessment has been completed which covers the transport of this waste. Still unclear on the actual process that we're currently in the middle of, I phoned (on the telephone!) the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and ask some of my own questions.

The phone call didn't make me feel any better (or necessarily clearer) about the process we're in the middle of, but it did answer a few of my questions. I encourage you to call the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and ask them a few questions of your own. Their phone number is 1-800-668-5284. Be polite. These are the folks that make sure all things nuclear happen "safely" in Canada. They know there is public concern and they are currently conducting their technical review of the application by Bruce Power. They don't have all the answers to your questions yet, but they will definitely do their best to answer what they can, and call you back on what they don't know. An information update was issued July 26 and more will be available as more information is released.

  • The CNSC is currently conducting a "technical review" of the application made by Bruce Power. It does not currently have all of the answers it needs to complete its review of the application.
  • Based on the review that is currently being conducted the shipment will either be considered a project (typically reserved for uranium mine-sized "projects") or not. (I'm not using the right words for the two designations, but you get the idea.) If it's a project the process goes to a tribunal and there are public hearings and staff recommendations and the whole thing is very open (but expensive). if it's not a project-sized project the technical review will turn to a "designated officer" to make a decision on whether or not to issue a transit permit to Bruce Power.
  • It was unclear to me what is needed to trigger an Environmental Assessment of a project, but the decision on whether an EA review will be conducted is part of the CNSC technical review.
  • It is not the job of CNSC to determine if it's a good idea for Bruce Power to recycle the material, just if it's safe to transport the steam generators.
  • On the return trip the nuclear waste will be stored in certified packaging that is appropriate for nuclear waste. If certified packaging is required for the trip "home" why would it not also be required for the trip out? The gentleman I spoke with from CNSC could not comment as the techincal review that is currently underway is assessing this exact question.

Ok. So with my next unanswered question I went to Bruce Power's Web site. I was specifically looking to answer the question, "but why exactly are you shipping this to Sweden?" I went to visit the "newsroom" section of the Bruce Power Web site. I read their statement on the steam generator recycling program. It states that "Bruce Power is trying to reduce their environmental footprint by recycling 16 steam generators removed from the Bruce A facility instead of placing them into long term storage." The statement is currently the front page of the newsroom. It really didn't answer my question of why "reduce their environmental footprint" is more important than the risks of transporting nuclear waste and especially when there is such public concern about what they're doing. So I decided to click onto the link to read the Statement from Bruce Power regarding Sierra Club letter.

The statement, issued July 22nd, references very specific pages in the "Screening Report." As part of the statement Bruce Power invites the public to review "these documents" which are posted on the CNSC and BP Web sites. I poked around the BP site and found nothing called a "Screening Report." So I phoned BP's media inquiry line. He's out of the office until August 9. So I called the Visitor Centre. Who redirected me to Megan who is somehow related to "media" for BP. She couldn't find the report either. But Megan did let me know that Bruce Power pays the Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to store waste by volume on-site at the Western Waste Management Facility--which houses mostly, but not entirely, Bruce Power waste. By reducing the volume of the waste they reduce their storage fees that are paid back to OPG. The shipment of waste to Sweden does not result in a net financial gain from the extracted steel, but it does result in a lower storage fee to Bruce Power.

It's been an hour or so and Megan still hasn't emailed me the report. I'm sure she's very busy, but ... um ... shouldn't this be a dead simple thing for her to find?

The search for primary sources continued. I decided that I might as well read the Sierra Club letter while I was waiting for Megan to email me the report. (This is where it gets really weird.) The Sierra Club of Canada, The Sierra Club of Ontario and "The Sierra Club" (USA) do not have an open letter to Bruce Power posted on their Web site. So I phoned the Sierra Club of Ontario to ask if they knew what Bruce Power was referring to. Uhhh, nope. They don't know either. Which means (maybe) that Bruce Power has created a response to a letter that was never written using a report that may not exist.

UPDATE: The reports have been found. Thanks Megan!

UPDATE #2: John Bennett (Executive Director of Sierra Club Canada) did mail a letter to Michael Binder (President and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission). A copy was sent to Bruce Power. However, the letter was never posted on their site. It was sent to members as an Action Alert "template" for others to also send letters. Sierra Club staffer Robb has posted an action alert to the blog with a link to the template letter that you can send to CNSC. (The letter in the template is basically the same as what Mr. Bennett sent to Mr. Binder. Your copy will go to Marc who I spoke with on the phone as part of the original blog post.)

I think I'm starting to get confused. I thought my questions were pretty basic. I thought the answers would be really easy and really straight forward. Instead I've lost half my afternoon to getting nowhere. This doesn't make me ooze with confidence about our ability to safely truck around radioactive waste.

Don't people live in that

Don't people live in that area? Aren't there houses, like just a block or two from where they want to store this stuff?

Don't kids play there? Don't people walk their dogs through there? Or is it a different Owen Sound Harbour?

I've got a bad feeling about this.


Why don't you folks ask some

Why don't you folks ask some of the people who have lived in the area surrounding the Bruce their entire lives. I've lived in both Port Elgin and now Kincardine and run the newspaper here.
'Megan' as you refer to is a very involved person in the community and is very good at what she does. Surprisingly, we never have a problem getting anything less than everything we ask for from Bruce Power in terms of media information.
If you read up on our articles, you'll see this really should be a non-issue. Low level waste is not something to fear. People get more radiation from a blackberry stuck in their ear.

Get informed. You'll see it's a hub bub over nothing. There's worse chemicals and other crap being dumped into the lakes from other sea-going vessels.
The process itself is actually a very interesting feat of technology.

There's nothing 'bad' to have a feeling about fear mongers. Smarten up.

Final storage happens at the

Final storage happens at the Western Waste Management Facility which is over near Bruce Power itself (on-site, I believe?). But Bruce Power wants to ship the steam generators to Sweden to make them smaller so that they can pay less in storage fees. To ship the decommissioned steam generators Bruce Power needs an accessible harbour ... that's where Owen Sound comes in. We've got the harbour, they want the transit license. In theory the steam generators are "low level" contaminated; however, it's high enough that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has to issue a permit to transport the material.

I've phoned the CNSC to voice my concern and ask my questions. They are working on the report that, I think, will answer my questions. Generally speaking I'm pretty sure that shipping nuclear waste in non-certified packaging is a bad and dangerous thing...if it was safe why would we have special packaging to begin with? If you'd like to follow up with Owen Sound about why they are letting potentially dangerous goods through our harbour, I recommend phoning the Mayor. You can reach her at (519) 376-4440 Ext. 1211. (Although you'll probably get Sharon Edwards.) Mayor Lovell Stanners is not in favour of the shipment.

The trick is really 'what

The trick is really 'what kind of nuclear waste' or 'how bad is it'

A dead smoke detector qualifies as nuclear waste, as does some of the materials that come out of the hospital...

'Shipping nuclear waste in non-certified packaging' might be a misnomer, if the waste is low level enough the packaging could consist of a tarp to keep the rain off.

I think more data is required here... (noting I have done zero research on this particular issue)

Absolutely agreed that more

Absolutely agreed that more data is required! I didn't think it'd be that hard to find the data--which is what blew my mind. I think the technical review that CNSC is doing right now will be the source of the data that we're looking for.

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