Keep Plutonium Fuel Out Of Canada

prepared by
Nuclear Awareness Project
April 1996

Your help is needed to keep plutonium fuel out of Canada.

The Canadian government, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), and Ontario Hydro are promoting a scheme to use plutonium fuel at the CANDU reactors of the Bruce "A" Nuclear Generating Station on Lake Huron. This so-called "mixed oxide" (MOX) fuel would contain plutonium from dismantled U.S. and Russian nuclear bombs.

Nuclear Awareness Project has identified a number of concerns with the CANDU plutonium fuel scheme:

Nuclear Awareness Project supports 'immobilization' of plutonium in the country of origin, which avoids the need to transport it to Canada and to run the aging Bruce "A" reactors for a further 25 years. In addition, the immobilized waste would stay in the country of origin.

Please read the attached "Nuclear Watchdog Bulletin" for further information and write two letters based on the above points:

  1. Tell the Prime Minister that you oppose the import of plutonium fuel and that you want him to stop supporting it.
  2. The Right Honourable Jean Chrétien,
    Prime Minister of Canada,
    Room 309-S, Centre Block, House of Commons,
    Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6 (postage-free)
    fax = 613-941-6900

  3. Tell the U.S. Department of Energy that you don't want plutonium fuel imported into Canada (the deadline is May 7, 1996 -- re: Storage and Disposition of Weapons-Usable Fissile Materials, Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement).
  4. U.S. Department of Energy,
    Office of Fissile Materials Disposition
    P.O. Box 23786 Washington, D.C., 20026-3786 U.S.A.
    fax = 202-586- 2710

For further information contact: Nuclear Awareness Project
P.O. Box 104 Uxbridge, ON L9P 1M6 Canada
phone/fax = 905-852-0571 email =

Nuclear Watchdog Bulletin

No. 3 -- April 1996
published by Nuclear Awareness Project

U.S. DoE Considers Plutonium for CANDUs

The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) is reviewing a proposal being promoted by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) and Ontario Hydro to use plutonium fuel in the Bruce "A" Nuclear Station. The AECL proposal is one of several options being considered under a current DoE environmental assessment process.

The DoE needs to decide how to manage about 50 tonnes of plutonium that has been removed from dismantled American nuclear bombs. The U.S. is also negotiating the purchase of a further 50 to 100 tonnes of plutonium from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons, in order to ensure that it is not stolen for use in bombs.

The options being considered include:

Both the immobilization and the reactor fuel option have the same objective ~ to simply make the plutonium difficult and hazardous to handle and also less usable for nuclear bombs.

None of these options will actually eliminate the plutonium.

Use of Plutonium Fuel in CANDUs

The AECL proposal involves the production of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel containing about 1% plutonium for use in two of the four Bruce "A" CANDU nuclear reactors located on the shore of Lake Huron in Ontario.

The AECL report "Plutonium Consumption Program, CANDU Reactor Option", issued in July 1994, proposes that the plutonium fuel be transported by truck from the DoE's Hanford facility in Washington State (where a fuel production factory would have to be built), to the Bruce Nuclear Power Development, via Sarnia, Ontario. It would take 25 years to convert 50 tonnes of plutonium into spent fuel using two reactors.

Security around the plutonium fuel would have to be very tight, with each shipment having an armed escort and constant satellite surveillance. The Bruce site would have to be "hardened" against terrorist attacks.

Rebuilding the Bruce "A" Reactors

The plutonium fuel scheme put forward by AECL wrongly assumes that it will be economic to retube the Bruce "A" reactors to produce electricity.

Retubing is the rebuilding of a CANDU reactor core where all fuel channels are replaced at a cost now estimated by Ontario Hydro at about $300 million per reactor. Bruce reactor 2 was shut down in 1995 to avoid this cost and other major repairs. The other three Bruce "A" reactors are scheduled for retubing starting in 2000, but could instead be shut down at that time.

It is unlikely that Ontario Hydro will be able to justify the expense of retubing its reactors when faced with increasing competition in the electricity sector. AECL also optimistically claims that the reactors will be able to run at an 80% capacity factor for an additional 25 year period. This is extremely unrealistic given the age of the Bruce "A" Station, which first opened in 1977, and the history of CANDU reactor performance, which reveals a sharp decline in the capacity factors of older CANDU models.

Plutonium Fuel Scheme Will Be Costly

The price tag for this venture is estimated by AECL at over $2.2 billion (1993 U.S.$), not including the cost of retubing the Bruce "A" reactors or improving security at the Bruce site.

The price of the plutonium fuel production and shipping is estimated at $70 million per year ~ about three to four times the cost of CANDU uranium fuel.

While U.S. subsidies to Canada might cover the extra cost of the plutonium fuel, Ontario Hydro ratepayers would likely have to pay what the CANDU uranium fuel would have otherwise cost, as well as paying for reactor retubing and the extraordinary security measures required at the Bruce site.

High Risk, But No Assessment?

Plutonium poses an environmental, public health and security risk. Plutonium fuel can go "critical" (undergo a sustained nuclear chain reaction) even before it has been inserted in the reactor core. Certain transportation and handling accidents could have disastrous consequences.

Ingestion or inhalation of plutonium can cause cancer. Serious security risks in storing, handling and transporting plutonium exist because of the threat that it could be stolen for use in nuclear bombs, or for threatening populations with direct exposure to plutonium.

However AECL and Ontario Hydro could avoid a provincial Environmental Assessment by including the plutonium fuel scheme under the exemption granted by the provincial government to Bruce "A" in 1976.

Will Canada Become an International Nuclear Waste Dump?

The end result of using plutonium fuel in CANDU reactors is that foreign military radioactive waste would remain in Canada, thus setting a dangerous precedent.

The issue of high level radioactive waste burial in Canada is currently being reviewed by a federal Environmental Assessment Panel. However, the EA Panel does not consider the topic of used plutonium fuel management and burial to be within the mandate of its Review.

The undertaking would be regulated by the Atomic Energy Control Board, which may not require a hearing under Canada's Environmental Assessment Act.

Chrétien Gives His Support, Despite Existing Canadian Policy

The use of plutonium fuel requires the approval of the Canadian government, since Canada has previously supported only the use of 'natural' uranium fuel in power reactors.

On April 1, 1996 the "Globe & Mail" reported that Prime Minister Chrétien supports the plutonium-MOX fuel proposal, including importing Russian plutonium for use at the Bruce reactors. This report was confirmed when the Prime Minister signed a Memorandum of Understanding to that effect in Moscow during the recent G-7 meeting (April 19-20, 1996).

The federal government is reported to have funded a feasibility study on the option of producing plutonium fuel in Russia and shipping it to the Bruce site by sea or air. Chrétien apparently has endorsed the whole scheme at the Nuclear Safety & Security Summit, April 19 20, 1996 in Moscow, without any public or parliamentary debate having taken place in Canada.

Use Of Plutonium Fuel Violates Non-Proliferation Policy

The use of plutonium fuel would violate the spirit of Canada's non-proliferation stance, which is intended to isolate the Canadian nuclear industry from the military nuclear weapons programs of other countries.

The use of plutonium fuel made from U.S. and/or Russian nuclear weapons would integrate Canada into the nuclear weapons programs of those countries, through

a) making Ontario Hydro a commercial recipient of military fissile material,

b) undertaking security measures within Canada for fissile plutonium of foreign origin, and

c) providing radioactive waste disposal for foreign decommissioned nuclear weapons.

Even with current disarmament programs, both the U.S. and Russia are still maintaining huge arsenals of nuclear warheads, estimated currently at 8,000 in the U.S. and 12,000 in Russia.

Ontario Hydro Hides Plutonium Info

Nuclear Awareness Project first requested a copy of the AECL / Ontario Hydro submission to the U.S. DoE beginning in fall 1994, and -- after a year of run-around -- filed a request under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act in November, 1995.

Ontario Hydro responded that the report was available only through the U.S. DoE, but when contacted, the DoE said it was available from AECL's Washington office.

A copy was finally obtained in March 1996, one and a half years after it had been submitted to the DoE. Nuclear Awareness Project also requested a copy of the results of a public opinion poll conducted for Ontario Hydro on the plutonium fuel issue in 1995. The script of the poll was released -- however, Hydro refused to reveal the results and analysis under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, noting:

"The survey will be used in Federal Cabinet policy discussion. Release of the survey would interfere with a fair and unbiased Cabinet review of the issues".
Hydro's reply also noted that:
"... release of the survey could generate negative news coverage that would affect the economic interests of Ontario Hydro."

The "Nuclear Watchdog Bulletin" is a special service of Nuclear Awareness Project supported by the Laidlaw Foundation.

For more information please contact: Nuclear Awareness Project,
Box 104 Uxbridge, ON, L9P 1M6 Canada
tel/fax: 905-852-0571 -- e-mail:

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