Globe and Mail
by Colin Haskin
A yellow gel laden with bugs that can eat through concrete could be used to clean up dangerous radioactive contamination at nuclear sites, New Scientist reports.
Spread as a gel onto concrete surfaces, the bacteria Thiobacillus thioxidans feeds on sulphur-containing compounds and converts them into dilute sulphuric acid, which then destroys the concrete.
The process requires humidifiers to provide a moist environment. Turning the machines off allows the gel to dry and the bacteria to die.
The leftover gel and the rubble, which is still radioactive, is then sealed and stored.
by Megan Schnabel
The Roanoke Times, Virginia
Lynchburg, Va. -- High-enriched uranium and nuclear fissioning, topics usually reserved for scientists and high school chemistry students, have suddenly become hot.
The uranium-processing accident this month at a Japanese nuclear fuel plant that sent radiation levels soaring and forced temporary evacuations has focused new attention on similar facilities in the United States.
Among them are two plants in Lynchburg: Framatome Cogema Fuels and BWX Technologies Inc.
Many people, particularly longtime residents, lump the two together, and not without reason: They were once part of the same company, Babcock & Wilcox, and they're still next-door neighbors.
But Framatome, now a unit of the French-owned Framatome Technologies Group, and BWX, owned by McDermott International Inc., are very different businesses.
Framatome fabricates fuel for commercial nuclear power plants. BWX works almost exclusively on classified government contracts, providing fuel to the U.S. Navy and cleaning up Department of Energy nuclear sites.
Despite their differences, both companies have been pursued by national and international journalists after the Japanese accident. And both are in the midst of looking at their own procedures to assure themselves that Lynchburg won't be the next Tokaimura.
Framatome Cogema Fuels makes the engines that drive nuclear reactors.
Fuel assemblies, 13-foot bundles of zirconium-alloy tubes loaded with uranium pellets, are the plant's primary product.
Framatome sells its fuel assemblies to utilities including Duke Energy, Tennessee Valley Authority and Florida Power. The company last year produced about 650 fuel assem-blies, or, as measured in the industry, 300 tons of fuel. Each assembly costs about $500,000; $430,000 of that is the cost of the uranium.
Ordinary machine shops, testing areas and assembly rooms occupy most of the building. This is where the grids that hold the fuel rods in place are made, and where the components of the fuel assemblies are fitted and welded together.
It's precise work -- welds must be exact and measurements can't be off by a hair -- but not hazardous. The plant's 200 employees walk around in jeans and T-shirts, not radiation "moon suits." Only in the glassed-off room where the uranium is handled is protective gear required, and there lab coats and shoe covers must be worn.
No uranium processing is done at the plant, a fact that makes "criticalities" as serious as the one in Japan unlikely.
The uranium is in pellet form by the time it is delivered to the plant. The inch-long pellets are loaded into zirconium tubes, which are bundled together into the fuel assemblies that are installed in power plants' reactor cores.
Framatome and other companies that fabricate fuel for commercial power plants use only low-enriched uranium, a mixture that's less than 5 percent U-235, the type of uranium atom that sustains a chain reaction. In comparison, the Japanese incident involved uranium enriched to 19 percent U-235, meaning a smaller volume would suffice for a chain reaction.
In other words, the worst-case scenario at Framatome is much less severe than the worst-case scenario at the Japanese facility.
"Their chances of achieving so-called criticality is ... very, very low and unlikely," said Philip Ting, chief of the fuel cycle operations branch of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
But the plant still is under the close scrutiny of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal body that licenses and inspects facilities that handle uranium.
And Framatome has been cited for violations. In most cases, Ting said, the violations caused no safety hazards, and the agency just "slapped their wrist" to drive home the importance of following all regulations.
But there have been exceptions. Most recent were two $12,500 civil fines imposed on Framatome -- then still called B&W Fuel Co. -- in 1996 and 1997. According to NRC documents, the first incident involved shipping materials on "multiple occasions" in noncompliant packages; the second fine was levied after the company mistakenly shipped a fuel assembly to Germany in 1996.
Neither incident caused a safety threat, but they still represented significant violations, Ting said.
"We really put our foot down," he said.
In recent years, Framatome has been operating safely, Ting said.
Business has been tight for the company, partly because of excess capacity and not enough new customers in the industry, said John Matheson, vice president of operations at the plant.
Framatome plans to lay off about six people next year, he said. The plant also has scheduled two one-week vacation shutdowns, but no furloughs, for 2000.
"It's very competitive," he said. "And it's very hard to make money in this business."
Matheson credits the plant's employees with keeping layoffs to a minimum. The company in recent years implemented a team-based manufacturing approach that allows employees to make decisions. Some of those decisions, he said, have saved the company quite a bit of money.
The fuel facility represents a small part of the company's Lynchburg operations. Framatome Technologies Inc., headquartered on the other side of town, employs about 800 people who inspect, repair and otherwise service nuclear power plants.
About three-quarters of the staff is out in the field this time of year. Spring and fall are the busy seasons for FTI. Utilities don't like to take their power plants off-line during the peak summer and winter months, so they handle most of their repairs now or wait until the spring thaw.
Fall is, by contrast, a slow season at the fuel plant. Production tends to be heaviest during summer and winter, so the finished fuel assemblies will be ready to go when the plants are shut down for repairs.
FTI and Framatome Cogema Fuels also have been working together on a Department of Energy project in Nevada, where they're designing storage casks for nuclear waste. Government work is a growing part of the company's business, said spokeswoman Liz Smith.
Behind the Framatome plant, visible over a slight rise, is the campus of BWX Technologies.
Security, tight at Framatome, is even more restrictive at BWX, where armed guards patrol. The hush-hush atmosphere is a necessary by-product of holding confidential government contracts, which account for more than 90 percent of the company's work. Among them: The company supplies the U.S. Navy with nuclear fuel components and manages environmental cleanup at federal nuclear sites.
BWX, which employs 2,000 people in Lynchburg, also fabricates fuel for research and test reactors at colleges and national laboratories. And B&W Services Inc. shuts down and deactivates facilities contaminated with radiation.
Because so much of what the company does is government work, the "vast majority" of the nuclear fuel processes there are classified, said company spokesman Ron Hite. Even information about the form in which uranium arrives at the plant, and what is done to it, is classified, he said.
But this much is public knowledge: BWX is licensed to process high-enriched uranium, enriched to 19 percent to 93 percent U-235.
The processes at the BWX plant are similar, in very general terms, to those at the Japanese plant, Hite said. But there are enough "significant differences" to make such an accident unlikely, he said.
Safeguards built into the facility are classified, but Hite said the plant and its components are designed to make it impossible for certain materials to be amassed in certain forms or in certain quantities.
Additionally, many of the sensitive processes are automated, to remove some chance of human error.
The plant also sits in a fairly isolated location, on a peninsula in the James River.
BWX has an on-site emergency response team trained to handle accidents. A primary criticism of the way the Japanese accident was handled was that emergency teams, which had to be brought in from remote locations, were slow to arrive.
In the United States, particularly high-risk sites, including the BWX plant, have on-site NRC inspectors. As with Framatome, there have been violations, most of them minor, Ting said. A somewhat more serious warning was handed down in 1997, when BWX was cited for exceeding the amount of U-235 allowed on a transfer cart. BWX could have been slapped with a $13,750 fine, but NRC decided not to issue a penalty because the company had not been the subject of such an enforcement action during the preceding two years.
Based on NRC inspections to date, the BWX facility is "one of the better plants" licensed by the agency, Ting said.
The accident at the JCO Co. plant in Tokaimura has prompted a wave of industry self-examination on this side of the Pacific.
Although Framatome's operations are fundamentally different from those at the Japanese plant, the accident is a wake-up call. "We're going to be reviewing all of our operations here," Matheson said.
Although experts have said such an accident is unlikely in the United States, organizations including the Nuclear Energy Institute are reviewing the accident and trying to apply lessons to U.S. facilities. Representatives from NEI and its member companies including BWX Technologies and Framatome Cogema Fuels will participate in the review.
All U.S. facilities are licensed by the NRC, which conducts frequent inspections at all licensed sites, looking at areas including fire safety, training and radiation.
Plants are reviewed before they receive their licenses, and again every time the licenses are up for renewal.
They're required to have two independent safety systems, so that both would have to fail simultaneously to create a "criticality." The sites are required to report any failures to the NRC or face increased penalties for trying to hide them.
"It's in their interest to report everything," Ting said.
Lynchburg also has its own emergency plan, coordinated with the plants. Barry Martin, director of emergency communications for the city, said evacuation distances depend on the weather, the severity of the accident, and the wind direction.
At the end of the Cold War, some years ago, Soviet nuclear warheads were shipped to BWX to be dismantled. The project got considerable publicity, but people didn't seem too worried, Martin said:
"I never got a single call."
by Kathleen Kenna
WASHINGTON - Canada was among 27 countries and territories where nuclear weapons from the United States were stored during the Cold War, according to an analysis to be released today.
Thousands of U.S. nuclear weapons were kept overseas in countries whose citizens weren't aware of their presence, three nuclear analysts charge in the cover story of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
That included Japan, which was to have been used as a staging platform for U.S. nuclear bombing of China or the Soviet Union if war broke out, the analysts contend.
Non-nuclear bomb components -- to be coupled swiftly with nuclear parts if the need arose -- were stored in Japan from 1954 until June, 1965.
"The U.S. government has never acknowledged their presence given the sensitivity of the issue in U.S.-Japan relations," the article states.
Another revelation from the analysts is that Iceland also stored complete nuclear bombs for the U.S. from 1956 until 1959 and non-nuclear bomb parts from 1956 to 1996 - despite its enduring image as an anti-nuclear nation.
The analysis is based on newly declassified Pentagon documents - heavily blacked-out - released under a Freedom of Information Act request originally filed in 1985.
The U.S. removed the last of its nuclear bomb components from Canada in June, 1972, but had originally deployed bombs on Canadian soil as far back as 1950.
The report doesn't list sites or numbers. But it does cite a 40-year-old accident in Canada as proof of the danger unwittingly faced by citizens unaware that their countries were hosting U.S. weapons.
"Very few members of the Canadian government knew of this arrangement (in the 1950s)," the authors state.
After prime minister Louis St. Laurent approved a six-week deployment in July and August, 1950, a U.S. bomber had engine trouble while ferrying bomb assemblies from an Arizona air force base to Goose Bay, Labrador.
The U.S. "lost" a bomb assembly in the St. Lawrence River in 1950 and didn't acknowledge the accident until Pentagon documents were declassified in 1990, the scientists write.
The Star reported in January, 1997 -- based on a study of nuclear weapons in Canada by military historian John Clearwater -- that the bomb, without its nuclear components aboard, was detonated at 760 metres over the St. Lawrence near Rivière-du-Loup on Nov. 10, 1950.
Canadian officials last night declined comment on the report, saying they had only seen a brief synopsis.
Canada officially does not allow U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory, although anti-nuclear activists have long contended it permits U.S. ships carrying nuclear bombs into its waters.
"It's been on the public record since 1984 that the Canadian government allows no nuclears [bombs] on Canadian soil," Foreign Affairs spokesperson Michael O'Shaughnessy said last night.
LONDON - Plans by British Nuclear Fuels to operate a 300 million pound nuclear fuel plant are uneconomic and potentially dangerous, an independent study said yesterday.
The Oxford Research Group said foreseeable future demand for MOX fuel, a combination of plutonium and uranium oxide would be far lower than supply, leading to stockpiles and raising doubts about the economic sense of making a product people don't want.
The group, an independent think tank, also said the ease of getting plutonium from MOX fuel and using it for nuclear bombs raises concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation.
The report comes at an awkward time for Britain's BNFL which is to be partially privatised before 2002. Its chief executive recently visited Japan to apologise for his company's falsification of certain records relating to BNFL's first shipment of MOX fuel to Japanese customers.
A shadow of doubt already looms over MOX's future in Britain. BNFL's 300 million pound showcase Sellafield Mox Plant (SMP) designed to produce the fuel pellets still does not have an operating licence two years after building work finished.
The British government has delayed approving the start of full operations at SMP several times. The delays centre around the government's requirement that the plant is commcercially viable and able to return a profit.
The report says "Economically, even if fast breeders were eventually introduced, it will still be cheaper for utilities to rely on low-cost natural uranium than to reprocess MOX fuel."
Fast breeders are a design of nuclear reactor almost universally discredited, with Japan the only country still with a development programme.
The study also said there was little economic justification for BNFL's two billion pound Thorp nuclear fuel reprocessing plant and both the company and its customers would be better off if it were shut.
City analysts looking at BNFL ahead of the planned sell-off agree there are some economic inconsistencies with nuclear reprocessing. The world market has changed from when Sellafield was first on the drawing board, they say.
"Thorp was set up when uranium prices were high and there was concern about supply. But now uranium is plentiful," says Nigel Hawkins, a utility analyst at Williams de Broe.
But supporters of MOX say the fuel cuts uranium consumption and is a means of using the plutonium that accumulates from spent nuclear fuel. Burning MOX keeps plutonium out of the hands of those who wish to convert it into bombs and is cheaper than storing the plutonium, they say.
"We would not have built the MOX plant if we didn't feel there was a demand for the fuel," said a BNFL spokesman, adding there have been no instances of the fuel leading to nuclear weapons proliferation.
The Oxford Research Group study says the plutonium in MOX can be chemically separated and used to produce nuclear weapons with "minimal technical expertise." A growing international trade in MOX will present "greatly increased opportunities for theft and diversion", it said.
by Robert Fisk
NATO has refused to co-operate with a United Nations team investigating the use of the depleted uranium (DU) munitions in the former Yugoslavia.
The alliance insists no scientific study has ever proved DU shells could cause cancer in Iraq or Kosovo.
Pekka Haavisto, chairman of the UN's Balkan environment task force, says NATO refused to co-operate with his team and that " immediate action is necessary to obtain information from NATO confirming if, how and where DU was used."
There is, of course, no "if" about it. NATO admitted in answer to a question from The Independent in May that U.S. A-10 aircraft had used DU shells -- designed to penetrate thick armour -- against Serb targets, a statement the U.S. Department of Defence later repeated.
A NATO spokesman claimed -- inaccurately -- that a Rand Corporation study had proved DU munitions caused no harm.
Hundreds of tons of DU were used in the 1991 Gulf War. In the years that followed, there was an epidemic of cancers among Iraqis living near the battlefields -- many of whom showed symptoms identical or similar to those of thousands of Allied veterans now suffering from Gulf War syndrome.
Scientists fear similar contamination has taken place in ex- Yugoslavia. Yet when NATO was asked for the locations in Kosovo where DU was used, a spokesman said the information was "not releasable."
The UN got the same runaround. "NATO always replied to our letters," an official in Haavisto's office said. "But they never gave the answers we were expecting ... They said it was 'security."'
Inquiries by The Independent have established that NATO knows target areas against which DU weapons were used. They include districts close to Djakovica, Mitrovica, Pristina, Urahovac and in Serbia proper.
In private, NATO officers have been telling humanitarian officials in Kosovo to stay away from any area where DU was used -- while still refusing to state where they are.
Haavisto's report recommends "a thorough review of the effects on health of medium and long-term exposure to DU" by the World Health Organization. Yet two years ago the Iraqis asked the WHO for just such a report. It was never produced.
Now the UN says -- in its DU report -- that "during and immediately after any attack where depleted uranium was used, some people in the immediate vicinity may have been heavily exposed to depleted uranium by inhalation."
The UN says health examinations are needed, but possible contamination of land need not prevent refugees from returning to their villages.
But "hot spot" target areas must be identified as soon as possible and arrangements made "for the secure storage of contaminated material."
This, of course, cannot be done -- because NATO is keeping the information secret.
by Steve Goldstein
WASHINGTON - It was October 1962. The United States and the Soviet Union were at each other's throats over the presence of Soviet missiles on Cuban soil. The nuclear nightmare loomed as John F. Kennedy, the U.S. president, told Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to get the missiles out of Cuba. Or else.
But there was something even Mr. Kennedy did not know. Stored on the island at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo were as many as two dozen nuclear weapons assemblies. The plutonium to make them into active bombs was a short flight away in Florida.
The revelation that U.S. nuclear-capable weapons were on Cuban soil during the 1962 crisis is contained in a newly declassified 1978 Pentagon history of the deployment of nuclear weapons outside the United States during the Cold War.
According to Where They Were, an article based on the Pentagon report and published in the November/December issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the United States stored nuclear weapons in 27 countries and territories, generally U.S. military bases, between 1951 and 1977 -- in some cases in places whose governments did not know they were there.
"We now know for the first time that we had nuclear weapons in Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis," said nuclear analyst William M. Arkin, co-author of the article.
Mr. Arkin said that between 12 and 24 non-nuclear depth bombs, used in anti-submarine warfare, were stored at Guantanamo from December, 1961, until approximately September, 1963. In the event of conflict, they could have been armed with plutonium capsules -- called pits -- flown in from the Naval Air Station-Cecil Field in Jacksonville.
Non-nuclear assemblies were deployed for two reasons. First, the technology at the time required that the nuclear "capsule" be kept separate from the assembly. Scientists from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission maintained custody of the nuclear material until the president asked that it be turned over to the military.
Second, by deploying these assemblies separate from the nuclear material, the United States could say truthfully that nuclear bombs were not being kept on the host country's territory. At the same time, the host country could honestly attest that it had not accepted nuclear weapons from the United States.
In practice, however, as these documents confirm, the United States did not always tell the host country when assemblies became armed nuclear weapons.
In Cuba, Mr. Kennedy's ultimatum was enforced by a U.S. naval quarantine around the island and a veiled threat of nuclear retribution. Mr. Khrushchev relented, but the Cold War arms race had begun.
The authors of the article said the documents didn't show conclusively whether Mr. Kennedy or his secretary of defence, Robert McNamara, knew the weapons were stored in Cuba.
Mr. McNamara said yesterday he had "no recollection" they were there.
"If we had known about them, I'm certain President Kennedy and I would have talked about it in October, 1962," he said in a telephone interview. "There was a question about whether our forces preparing to invade Cuba needed to be equipped with nuclear weapons."
In fact, however, Mr. Kennedy only had to know that the nuclear material was in Florida. He did not have to know that the bombs awaiting this material were already based in Cuba.
The authors, Mr. Arkin and Robert S. Morris, also learned that U.S. nuclear weapons were stored in such unlikely locales as Japan, Greenland, Iceland and Taiwan -- all declared non-nuclear nations and far less plausible sites for deployment than, say, NATO countries.
But Mr. McNamara said that the United States intentionally did not fully inform even host countries in Europe.
"Under U.S. efforts to avoid disclosure of nuclear plans, the U.S. withheld information even from its allies on the nature and location of these weapons and plans for their use," he said. Some, like West Germany, invited the United States to deploy nuclear weapons on their soil. But it is unclear which ones were fully informed of the extent of deployment.
Apart from providing a heretofore secret map of the U.S. nuclear arms buildup during the Cold War, the Pentagon documents reveal a willingness to keep host countries uninformed about the weapons on their soil.
"Until now, there has never been official information on where, when and what kinds of nuclear weapons were deployed overseas," said Mr. Norris, an analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, environmental advocacy group.
The history also shows there was no central repository for information about nuclear deployments, so the picture is "incomplete," according to Mr. Arkin, who made the first Freedom of Information Act request for the documents in 1985.
"We're talking about the most important objects on the planet and we still don't completely know where they've been and when," he said.
As weapons technology and the political landscape changed through the 1960s and '70s, the weapons were withdrawn from many bases as quietly as they had come. The United States is currently the only nation with nuclear weapons deployed outside its borders but the hosts today number only seven: Belgium, Britain, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
Globe and Mail
by Martin Mittelstaedt
Document says nuclear-bomb material
too costly to burn in province's reactors
Toronto -- Ontario Power Generation and the province vehemently oppose the federal government's plans to burn weapon-grade plutonium from Cold War nuclear arsenals at Ontario nuclear reactors, according to a document obtained by The Globe and Mail.
The document, released under the Freedom of Information Act, indicates high-level and unusually blunt opposition within Ontario Power to plutonium fuel, as well as an unwillingness on the part of the province to spend anything on the controversial proposal.
Ontario Power, one of the companies set up by the province to take over the operations of Ontario Hydro, doesn't want to burn the plutonium because it fears the plan is a "distraction," a "nuisance" and a poor business decision with the ready availability of inexpensive uranium fuel.
Despite the opposition in the province, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the federally owned nuclear company, is planning a test burn of plutonium at its Chalk River research laboratories.
But the documents are the strongest indications yet that the plutonium project has next to no support in a province whose participation in the plan would be crucial for its success.
Burning plutonium, also known as mixed oxide fuel or MOX, is a pet project of Prime Minister Jean Chretien and is backed by AECL.
The federal government says it has pursued the idea of using the plutonium as a replacement fuel for uranium as a "swords to plowshares" venture that would help world peace.
Ontario Power was supposed to make its reactors available for the plan, but the document, written in March by Warren Peabody, then the utility's chief nuclear engineer, casts extreme doubt on the company's commitment, first made in 1994, to explore using plutonium.
"My position is simple, the [Ontario Power] business unit cannot afford MOX," Mr. Peabody wrote to his boss, Carl Andognini, the utility's executive vice-president. "The ratepayers can't afford MOX. A generating company that is troubled doesn't need MOX. It's a distraction. We have plenty of CHEAP uranium. We just don't need this nuisance/political football. I think I have been clear."
Mr. Peabody, who is now a consultant to Ontario Power, also said the provincial government is not interested in the project.
The document was prepared a week before federal officials were to meet with the province and Ontario Power to discuss Ontario's policy on the project.
Another document indicates Ontario Power has no staff on the plutonium project, and hasn't done any work on it for two years.
The Globe requested all the utility's records since 1995 on the plutonium project. The company agreed to divulge about a third of its records, but is refusing to make public the rest, saying their release would prejudice the conduct of intergovernmental relations, reveal confidential information from other governments, and harm the Ontario government's financial interests.
Although AECL continues to push ahead with the project, Ontario Power has notified the federal government of its lack of interest, according to other documents.
A letter sent in April by Ontario Power president Ronald Osborne to Jean McCloskey, deputy minister of Natural Resources Canada, said the utility's board has other priorities.
He told Natural Resources, one of the lead federal departments on the plutonium project, that the "number one focus" of the utility's nuclear power division "is the recovery program for our nuclear stations."
He said any plan to burn plutonium "would clearly be predicated on two essential criteria -- safety (both public and employee) and commercial viability."
Mr. Osborne sent Ms. McCloskey a March 26 internal memo distributed to the utility's staff written by Mr. Andognini and sent to staff that said "there is no work currently being done to study this option in [Ontario Power], nor has there been any work in this area since I arrived here two years ago."
Mr. Andognini told staff that the utility's focus should be on nuclear improvement "and we must not be distracted from this."
Other documents estimated the licensing and safety work for the plutonium project would require at least 100 people working full time.
The United States and Russia have about 100 tonnes of leftover plutonium because of steps taken toward disarmament since the end of the Cold War.
The documents also reveal Ontario Power was seeking what it called a "plutonium disposition fee" for taking the nuclear bomb material from Russia and the United States.
The utility expected the U.S. to pay $10-million (U.S.) for every tonne of plutonium accepted as fuel.
For using the utility's Bruce A reactor on Lake Huron, the utility estimated it would earn an extra $40-million (Canadian) each year.
by Todd Lihou
Cornwall, Ontario -- Akwesasne Grand Chief Mike Mitchell got more than he expected from a meeting Monday with Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine.
Mitchell spoke with Fontaine about a shipment of mixed oxide, or MOX. nuclear fuel set to arrive in Cornwall later this year.
Fontaine made a four-part promise to Mitchell to get the ball rolling at the federal level in a fight to keep the shipment away from first nations.
The plan includes:
Mitchell said there was no formal meeting between Akwesasne and federal officials -- a contravention of federal law.
Mitchell said a Supreme Court of Canada decision mandates a consultative process in situations like this.
"I would say I got more than I expected," said Mitchell. "He wants to be as available and proactive as possible."
Natives in first nations communities along the St. Lawrence River and in western Ontario are concerned about the safety of the MOX shipments.
The Russian shipment will arrive in Cornwall by boat, while the American MOX will come via truck through Sault Ste. Marie.
The nuclear shipment will be tested at a Chalk River facility to determine its power generating ability.
It also promises to destroy many tonnes of surplus weapons grade plutonium.
Globe and Mail
The stick of tax breaks is much better
than the rod of tax disincentives
It is not that reducing greenhouse emissions isn't a good idea. The general consensus of atmospheric scientists is that by the next century human activity will have raised the Earth's average temperature by 1.5 to 4.5 degrees. If so, ice caps may melt, tides rise, precipitation patterns change, diseases spread and a whole host of other unpredictable things occur. And while adapting to these make some sense, if they happen quickly and in large measures, they will tax our abilities to change with them.
And there are other realities. The United States, our biggest trading partner, remains bogged down in its efforts to live up to promises it made in Kyoto to cut emissions by 7 per cent below 1990 levels. While President Bill Clinton favours moving ahead, the U.S. Senate is a much more recalcitrant beast. It is being fed studies that suggest stiffer emission standards could cut as much as $2-trillion (U.S.) from the American GDP between 2008 and 2012.
The problem for this country is, if the United States does not go forward with its emissions pledges, what do we do if Mr. Anderson's "green taxes" raise relative costs of manufacturing, transportation, farming etc. vis-a-vis the United States? Are we willing for our economy to martyr itself for the good of global temperature?
Then there are internal Canadian politics. Alberta is already decrying any precipitous change as a potential threat to its oil and gas industries. Green taxes touch the unhealed sense of grievance that the National Energy Program created in the 1970s when the Trudeau Liberals tried to cap Canadian fossil-fuel prices.
This all suggests Mr. Anderson will have to be a clever puss if he wants to avoid an unwilling enrolment in the ranks of the noble army of greenhouse-gas political martyrs.
Given these realities, green taxes probably make less sense than green tax breaks. Ways of encouraging energy conservation -- decrease taxes on new energy-efficient cars, increase tax breaks for retrofits of polluting factories -- may create a political landscape where doing good is seen as bringing economic good for Canada in return.
by Andrew Duffy
OTTAWA-- Canada's attempt to push nuclear energy as green power was roundly criticized Saturday by European leaders attending an international forum on climate change.
At the end of two days of private talks which brought officials from 26 countries, ministers from Great Britain and Norway said Canada's stance on nuclear energy was misguided and unnecessary.
During the Kyoto conference and in subsequent international negotiating sessions, Canada has insisted that it wants emission credits for selling natural gas and CANDU reactors to countries which would otherwise use dirtier power sources, such as coal plants.
Federal Environment Minister David Anderson said Saturday that CANDU rectors cannot be left out of the equation.
"We believe in the overall situation that while nuclear definitely has concerns, legitimate concerns, nevertheless in terms of the issue of carbon dioxide emissions, that aspect of nuclear should not be ruled out."
He said the CANDU reactor system the world's safest and best. The reactors produce no greenhouse gas emissions, but leave behind radioactive waste that remains harmful for 10,000 years.
Norway's environment minister, Guro Fjellanger, told reporters that Canada's position would replace one environmental hazard, greenhouse gases, with another: nuclear waste.
"I think it's very important to see that fulfilling the Kyoto protocol doesn't increase environmental problems in other areas,"she said.
Two years ago in Kyoto, Japan, Canada agreed to cut its greenhouse gas production by six per cent from 1990 levels between the years 2008 and 2012.
Canadian officials agreed to sign onto the deal, however, only on the strength of the treaty's market-based "flexibility mechanisms," details of which are still being worked out.
A sixth round of international negotiations is scheduled next year to finalize the mechanisms, which were the subject of informal talks in Ottawa over the past two days.
In broad terms, the mechanisms would allow countries to trade emission credits, develop joint reduction schemes and allow industrialized nations to finance green power projects in developing countries in return for emission credits.
The federal government has used the world's increasing concern over climate change to highlight the environmental benefits of CANDU reactors.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien has also insisted that Canada should gain emission credits for exporting the technology to countries such as China.
Britain's minister for the environment, Michael Meacher, called the Canadian scheme "highly contentious" during an interview Saturday.
"Nuclear is not a creator of carbon dioxide but it's not a renewable source of energy in quite the same category as wind or water power, and, of course, the safety considerations are always uppermost in everyone's minds," he said.
by Caroline Van Luit
BLIND RIVER -- A nuclear accident that occurred in Japan last week could not happen at a Cameco facility in Canada let alone in Blind River, says Cameco spokesman Elaine Kergot.
Kergot said that in the processing of nuclear fuel, in order to achieve fission or criticality -- which occurred at the plant in Japan -- one has to work with what is called enriched uranium.
At the plant in Blind River as well as at the plant in Port Hope,Ont., Cameco does not use enriched uranium.
"So it would be a physically impossibility for that occur," Kergot said in a telephone interview from her Saskatchewan office.
What Cameco does use at these two plants is "natural uranium." Fissioning cannot occur with the types of products the company works with, Kergot explained.
In the nuclear fuel cycle, there are several stages and Cameco is involved in three of them, said Kergot.
The company transports concentrated uranium from mines in Saskatchewan to Blind River.
In Blind River, it is further refined to what is called triuranium octoxide or UO3, which is an intermediate step.
It is then shipped to Port Hope,where it is converted to other products.
"Throughout this stage we are dealing with natural uranium," Kergot said.
From Port Hope, the uranium moves on to other countries where it is enriched.
"After it reaches that point of enrichment, there would be the potential of criticality, and it is managed in a way by proper vessels and safety precautions," she said.
"The case in Japan, that did not occur."
According to reports, workers in Japan were mixing enriched uranium with nitric acid to make nuclear fuel but used too much uranium and set off the accidental uncontrolled reaction. Kergot emphasized that in terms of what Cameco does in Canada and the type of material it deals with, "it would be physically impossible to achieve that kind of chain reaction that occurred in Japan."
SEOUL (AP-CP) - Both human error and mechanical problems led to a radioactive leak at a South Korean nuclear power plant this week which exposed 22 workers to radiation, a parliamentary investigation team said yesterday.
Forty-five litres of radioactive water leaked inside a Canadian-designed reactor at Wolsung, on South Korea's southeast coast, on Monday.
The radiation from the leak was negligible. But the accident aroused public concern over safety controls at 14 nuclear power plants in South Korea.
The leak occurred when two workers opened a pipe connection to replace a broken bearing inside. Twenty workers were dispatched to collect radioactive "heavy water" spilled from the pipe.
The Canadian-designed CANDU reactors use heavy water to generate electricity.
Heavy water behaves like ordinary water, but contains a heavier version of hydrogen. It is not naturally radioactive, but as it circulates in pipes it can pick up traces of radioactive metals. So when workers handle the water, they treat it as radioactive.
"About 60 per cent of the cause apparently stemmed from human error," said Lee Sang-hee, who headed the three-member parliamentary investigation team.
Lee said his team found that workers opened the pipe connection without taking proper safety measures, including shutting a valve which could have blocked the spill.
Lee also said the malfunctioning bearing inside the pipe connection was found to have abraded too easily.
The Korean accident drew special attention because of last week's accident at Japan's Tokaimura uranium processing plant, northeast of Tokyo. In that accident, at least 49 people were contaminated, three of them critically.
The state-run Korea Electric Power Corp., which owns and operates the reactor, said it would dismantle parts that malfunctioned to determine the cause of the leak.
In 1984, 23.5 tonnes of heavy water leaked from another CANDU reactor inside the Wolsung plant. No one was injured.
by Thomas Walkom
Toronto Star National Affairs Reporter
But the real question is whether it makes sense
to burn the stuff of atomic bombs in our reactors . . . .
SOMETIME WITHIN the next few weeks, an American truck will cross the international bridge at Sault Ste. Marie. At about the same time, a Russian ship will be making its way up the St. Lawrence River to Cornwall.
Inside each will be one metal drum, somewhere between 200 and 300 litres in size -- like a big oil drum. Each drum will contain padding and insulation surrounding one or more smaller metal canisters filled with rigid foam.
Stuck into the foam in one canister in each drum will be nine zirconium alloy tubes, each about half a metre long. Each tube will contain small pellets of a radioactive mixture known as mixed oxide or MOX. Most of the MOX -- which will weigh 10 kilograms in all -- will be uranium oxide.
But mixed into this uranium oxide in the two drums will be a total of 251 grams of plutonium -- as in atomic bomb.
This is the stuff of nuclear nightmare, for there are few substances more chilling, or indeed more toxic, than the gun-metal gray, radioactive metal which, since 1945, has served as the staple of the world's nuclear arsenal.
Put five kilograms of plutonium together and you risk a nuclear explosion. Sniff plutonium dust and you die. For while the radiation itself is mild (plutonium is used to power some heart pacemakers) the dust -- a powerful carcinogen -- is fatal if inhaled.
Predictably, many of the communities along the routes the plutonium is supposed to travel on its way to the federal government's Chalk River experimental reactor northwest of Ottawa, are in an uproar.
Town councils in Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, North Bay, Nepean and Cornwall have denounced the shipments. Native bands at Akwesasne near Cornwall, Kahnawake near Montreal and Garden River near Sault Ste. Marie have threatened to physically block them.
Their anger is directed less at the two shipments themselves (even the most fervid critics of the scheme don't expect Sault Ste. Marie to go up in a mushroom cloud next month) than at the precedent. If the Chalk River experiments are deemed successful, the federal government has tentatively agreed to import tonnes of Russian and U.S. weapons-grade plutonium over the next couple of decades for use in Canadian nuclear reactors.
Critics say this would simply turn Canada into a garbage dump for the superpowers by saddling the country with tonnes of highly radioactive plutonium waste. Ottawa, however, prefers to view its pledge as a step toward world peace.
"This . . . is a step forward in getting rid of nuclear weapons," Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy said in giving the go-ahead last month.
In fact, the real story behind Canada's new romance with plutonium is far murkier than either explanation suggests. In part, it has to do with this country's long-standing foreign policy role as Washington's pal.
But in large part it stems from the trials and tribulations of the struggling nuclear industry. While Ottawa seems reluctant to admit as much, the great plutonium scheme seems designed to support and subsidize a domestic industry which has fallen on hard times.
Ironically, Canada used to pride itself on the fact that its CANDU nuclear reactors do not require exotic -- and dangerous -- fuels such as plutonium.
The CANDU was built to use the low-grade, natural uranium so abundant in Canada. Unlike the man-made enriched uranium fuels used in U.S. reactors, natural uranium burned in a CANDU does not require expensive and potentially dangerous processing.
True, some plutonium is produced during the controlled nuclear reaction inside a CANDU. But the amounts are minuscule, and -- until India used Canadian-built reactors to produce enough plutonium for a nuclear device -- were deemed of little concern.
That was in 1974. And it was India's surprise accession to the nuclear club which helped motivate the big atomic powers to try to put a lid on the proliferation of plutonium.
By 1977, the U.S. had banned both the use of MOX fuel and the reprocessing of spent nuclear waste to produce plutonium. The American argument, articulated by presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, was that plutonium was simply too dangerous. The more it was used as a source of civilian energy, the more it would become available to rogue nations that wanted to manufacture their own nuclear weaponry.
But while the U.S. dropped out of the reprocessing industry, others did not. By the 1980s, France, Britain and Japan were involved in a complex system of reprocessing waste from civilian reactors in order to mine the plutonium. Once extracted, this so-called civilian plutonium would then be mixed with uranium oxides to create MOX, which in turn would be sold to nuclear utilities for fuel.
Within the nuclear industry, the technology of plutonium developed a new cachet. In Washington, Congressional critics began to argue that the ban on plutonium reprocessing was causing the U.S. to fall behind.
Curiously, the new interest in plutonium reprocessing seemed to defy the raw economics. Reprocessing is expensive and MOX costs considerably more than low-grade nuclear fuel. As well, from Japan to Germany, there was considerable popular opposition to the idea of using plutonium in civilian reactors.
Nonetheless, governments seemed bewitched by the idea. For some, plutonium technology held out the promise of energy independence (theoretically, plutonium reactors can breed even more plutonium). For others, the weapons potential of the technology was a drawing card.
Whatever the reason, by the '90s nations such as South Korea and China were expressing interest in both plutonium reprocessing and MOX technology.
By happy coincidence, South Korea and China are also two of the Canadian nuclear industry's best customers.
It's trying -- so far with no success -- to sell the remainder.
Repair costs have been horrendous. In one celebrated case, workers repairing the Bruce Generating Station on Lake Huron left a $50 lead blanket inside a reactor. Rather than spend an estimated $200 million to repair the mistake, Hydro mothballed the reactor -- 22 years before the end of its expected life span.
Earlier this month, the Atomic Energy Control Board, Canada's nuclear watchdog, gave Ontario Power a thorough dressing-down over the remaining four Bruce reactors. On-going safety problems were deemed so severe that the board threatened to shut down some reactors in six months unless the utility improved its practices.
With even Canada increasingly allergic to nuclear power, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., CANDU's manufacturer, has had to look to the developing world. But even there, the record has been spotty. From Romania to China, AECL has had to go head to head against other heavily subsidized, state-supported nuclear giants.
It is a marketplace in which millions of dollars in sales can be affected by the smallest gesture -- a well-placed bribe, a timely visit from a head of government, a willingness on the part of the manufacturer to provide what the industry calls technological flexibility.
And these days, a proven ability to burn plutonium is a mark of flexibility.
All of this provides some of the context for Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's 1996 announcement in Moscow that Canada would be prepared to help Russia and the U.S. dispose of up to 100 tonnes of excess weapons-grade plutonium.
Don't worry, Chrétien told his superpower friends then: We'll burn it.
It is only when the idea is examined more closely that the logic behind Canada's gesture begins to crumble.
In the first place, as University of Toronto political scientist Franklyn Griffiths points out in a 1997 paper on the topic, the amount of plutonium for disposal is relatively modest.
Both Russia and the U.S. are jettisoning only the plutonium they don't want. Both countries will still maintain a ready supply of nuclear warheads.
Even more telling, the world is already awash with so-called civilian plutonium -- about 1,200 tonnes of it.
While not quite as efficient a killer as warhead plutonium (the two contain different proportions of the various plutonium isotopes), the civilian variety is still lethal. If inhaled as a dust it will cause cancer and eventually death. A few kilograms is sufficient to make a nuclear bomb.
Second, the Russian and U.S. plutonium will not, in fact, be destroyed by burning it in a CANDU reactor. Some will. But not all.
Bob Gadsby, the director of the MOX project for AECL, says that 50 per cent of the plutonium burned in a CANDU reactor will be left in the residue.
If Canada were to import 100 tonnes of Russian and U.S. plutonium, therefore, it would -- at the end of the process -- be left with 50 tonnes of the material.
AECL spokesperson Larry Shewchuk says that this plutonium will be so firmly embedded in waste that it would be hard for any would-be nuclear terrorist to extract.
But it would still leave this country with tonnes of plutonium waste -- on top of the huge stockpile of Canadian nuclear waste which already exists. (Theoretically, the government has plans to bury Canada's nuclear waste somewhere in the Canadian Shield. But these plans have stalled since no community has been found willing to act as a host for the radioactive material.)
Third, Ottawa wants to burn the Russian and U.S. plutonium at Bruce. But four Bruce reactors have been shut down. And the remaining four are so old that they will need to be rebuilt by 2009 -- about the time that, if the Canadian proposal goes according to plan, the foreign plutonium will start to arrive in bulk.
In short, the Canadian offer to help rid the world of nuclear weapons seems lacking: It doesn't put much of a dent in the global supply of either nuclear weapons or plutonium; it only destroys about half of the plutonium imported into Canada, leaving half in the form of waste which we will have to deal with; it is supposed to be burned in reactors which, by the time the plutonium arrives, may not be working.
These were some of the reasons why an all-party Commons committee looking into the plutonium proposal last year unanimously recommended that it be scrapped.
When a reporter asked a spokesperson at the foreign affairs ministry to respond to the arguments of the Commons committee, he was told to contact AECL.
AECL officials said they couldn't comment on political matters.
The U.S. is now no longer interested in sending its excess warhead plutonium to Canada, says Shewchuk of AECL. Instead, it plans to burn much of it in its own civilian nuclear reactors.
As for Russia, it now has decided that only 34 tonnes of warhead plutonium is excess to its needs. Russia's government is still happy to send this plutonium to Canada but only if someone pays full market value. After all, the Russians consider plutonium a valuable commodity.
Indeed, the Russian government is so enamoured of plutonium that it wants to import more. Russia has offered itself up as a repository for nuclear waste generated in the rest of Europe. Eventually, the Russian government hopes to reprocess this imported waste to extract plutonium for sale.
Gadsby of AECL says this particular Russian scheme is going nowhere. Pity. For it involves a certain elegant symmetry:
Left hanging in all of this is the question of who eventually does pay. Canada has already said it won't be stuck with any bills. Gadsby says that Canadian power producers will import plutonium MOX only if they receive subsidies themselves.
But subsidies from whom? Gadsby says the G-8 group of nations -- which includes Canada and Russia -- have offered to pay. Since neither Canada nor Russia is willing to ante up, that leaves the other six -- Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Japan and the U.S.
In the end, presumably, it will be the Americans who will be asked to bear the brunt of the as yet unspecified subsidy.
Yet Gadsby says the subsidy is essential. Without it, he says, the whole plan just wouldn't make any economic sense.
Conversely, if the Russians want to make use of their plutonium, why don't they burn it in their own reactors?
"It would take 25 years," answers Atomic Energy's Shewchuk. "That's too long. The U.S. wants to do it twice as fast." (Using AECL's own figures, the Canadian scheme to burn 34 tonnes of Russian plutonium would take an estimated 16 years.)
But the most telling criticism, and one raised by the Commons all-party committee, is the fact that there is an alternative to burning the plutonium. It is called vitrification -- literally, encasing the material in glass.
In fact, the U.S. is already planning to vitrify at least some of its excess stockpile.
Critics, such as Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, say Russia could do the same. The vitrified plutonium wouldn't be any more dangerous than MOX fuel. Sure, terrorists could extract the plutonium from glass. But terrorists can extract plutonium from both MOX and MOX residue.
At least there wouldn't be tonnes of the stuff moving around the world.
Indeed, the only motive that does seem to make sense is Ottawa's unstated desire to protect and further the nuclear industry -- an industry which successive governments have long deemed strategic.
Importing tonnes of Russian plutonium can bring two potential benefits to this industry.
This would go a considerable way to fixing up Ontario's ailing nuclear generating plants. Ontario Power estimates the cost of refurbishing one of its working reactors at about $265 million.
But more important, says Griffiths, the Canadian industry would gain a toehold in plutonium technology itself.
"In the eyes of the industry, plutonium is sexier, more interesting," he says. "It's a more advanced technology and it's in widespread use in Europe, Japan and now the U.S. The question for the Canadian industry is how to make the transition. And this (the warhead imports) does it."
'The much bigger issue is the accepting of Russian and U.S. plutonium. Is this for the greater Canadian good? Personally, I don't think so' - Steve Butlin, Mayor, Sault Ste. Marie
The government says it is going ahead anyway.
Given Ottawa's assurances that the whole process is entirely safe, the amount of preparation going into the plutonium shipments may seem surprising. Government documents show that the roundabout route for the U.S. shipment -- along Highway 17 through Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury and North Bay -- was chosen so as to avoid heavily populated areas.
But it should be recalled that these two test shipments are deliberately tiny.
When the testing of this batch is completed after three years, and if, after a few more years, Canada honours Chrétien's 1996 pledge, trucks will be carting at least four tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium (mixed into even more tonnes of MOX) along Ontario highways annually.
Even so, many critics say the shipment of plutonium is not the real issue.
"I believe the transport will be completely safe through our town," says Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Steve Butlin. "The much bigger issue is the accepting of Russian and U.S. plutonium. Is this for the greater Canadian good? Personally, I don't think so."
Sudbury Mayor Jim Gordon echoes the point. "The problem is the residue, not the transport. We can talk about how terrorists can get a-hold of this. But there's a deeper problem. I don't think one country should send another its garbage."
by Leanne Yohemas-Hayes
Ottawa wants green credit for nuclear energy Foreign environment ministers bemused by Canadian proposal
Ottawa - Environment ministers from other countries said Saturday that the notion of giving Canada credit for its nuclear technology could become a sticking point for future negotiations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
"I guess that is one of the few points that we disagree with," said Guro Fjellanger, Norway's environment minister.
"I think it's very important that the fulfilling of the Kyoto protocol doesn't increase environmental problems in other areas."
She made the comments at a news conference at the close of a forum where nearly 30 delegates, including environment ministers and technical experts from around the world, discussed ways to meet targets set at the Kyoto environmental conference.
Canada committed two years ago in Kyoto, Japan, to cut greenhouse- gas emissions by six per cent from 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.
Michael Meacher, Britain's environment minister, agreed with Fjellanger, calling the nuclear issue highly contentious.
"Like Norway, we would certainly have reservations against allowing credits for that," he said.
"It's not a creator of CO2 but at the same time it's not a renewable source of energy in quite the same category as wind or water power, hydro power."
The Ottawa meetings were held to prepare for the UN-sanctioned negotiations in Bonn, Germany, beginning Oct. 25.
At issue are technical aspects concerning how to reduce greehouse- gas emissions on a global front.
One of the issues to be negotiated is how countries might be credited for actions they initiate outside their borders.
Federal Environment Minister David Anderson said Canada should get recognition for exporting its nuclear technology.
"The Candu reactor system, which is the world's safest, and I might add, the world's best, obviously would be an important part of the examination," he said.
"This doesn't mean to say this is the solution to the world's problems, it simply means to say there are applications where this should not be ruled out for consideration."
His comments come a few days after a Canadian-designed reactor leaked radioactive water inside a South Korean nuclear power plant during repair work, exposing 22 workers to small amounts of radiation.
But Gerry Scott, climate change campaign director for the David Suzuki Foundation, said selling Candu reactors does little to reduce pollution locally.
"That won't help clean air in Toronto or Montreal or anywhere else," said Scott.
"And some of these other ideas - like buying rain forests in Borneo - that won't help make Canadian industry more energy efficient."
Although Anderson called the discussions with other ministers, including his counterparts from Alberta and Quebec, excellent, he acknowledged that coming up with a collective strategy will take time.
"This is an extremely difficult process," he said, adding that there are no "quick and easy results."
Last year Ottawa launched an elaborate consultation to determine how the Kyoto targets can be met. Additionally, it committed $150 million through the Climate Change Action Fund to support projects that will reduce greenhouse gas.
Anderson's appointment to the environment portfolio in early August from the Fisheries Department has been viewed as a signal that Ottawa is moving towards a more active role in protecting the environment.
Meanwhile, Ottawa is between three and six months away from creating a strategy on climate change, said David McGuinty, executive director of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, an independent agency of the federal government that promotes sustainable development in Canada.
McGuinty predicts that there will be some measures announced in the federal budget dealing greenhouse-gas reductions.
"You are going to see the measures which cost nothing or very little coming in first," he said.
by Andrew Seymour
Ontario's environment minister says there isn't much the province can do to stop the federal government from transporting weapons grade plutonium through Ottawa-Carleton.
"There's a limited amount we can do because it's outside our jurisdiction," said Environment Minister Tony Clement, who was in Ottawa yesterday to meet with federal Environment Minister David Anderson.
"We've expressed our concern to the federal government.
"We want assurances it can be transported safely and that they're pulling out all the stops to ensure precautions are taken," he said.
Atomic Energy of Canada plans to transport MOX -- a blend of plutonium and uranium oxides used as fuel in nuclear power plants to the Chalk River nuclear facility.
The MOX is being taken from American warheads and is supposed to pass through the the region via Hwys. 416 and 417.
Nepean, as well as five other Ontario municipalities and two aboriginal groups, have opposed the shipment.
Clement suggested municipalities opposed to the transport of the plutonium contact the province's Liberal MPs.
by Kathryn Tolbert
TOKYO - The nuclear-fuel plant accident in Tokaimura may have been more serious and affected more people than initially reported, government and environmental activists fear.
Officials said they are likely to raise the accident's rating from level four to level five on the international scale of seven - the same as the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear-power plant accident in Pennsylvania. That would indicate they believe the risk of contamination outside the plant was extensive.
The government decided to expand its examination of people possibly exposed to radiation near the uranium processing plant in Tokaimura, about 120 kilometres northeast of Tokyo, according to a spokesman for the Science and Technology Agency.
Sixty-three people have been identified as exposed to radiation, including 14 workers who went to the site to stop the nuclear reaction, and the three involved in the accident. Two workers are in serious condition.
"Initially we did not see the accident as being so serious," Masaru Hashimoto, governor of Ibaraki prefecture, said yesterday.
The environmental group Greenpeace said yesterday that, based on its own analysis of samples near the plant, beyond the area evacuated by the government, the number of people exposed to radiation was certainly higher than government estimates.
The Los Angeles Times reported the group had found the radioactive isotope sodium-24 in salt collected from private homes 160 metres from the plant and in soil collected 455 metres away. The isotopes are the result of passing neutrons that travel through buildings, cars and human bodies, potentially causing DNA damage
by Dan Bellerose
Nuclear energy as a whole, not just the impending shipment of weapons-grade plutonium through Sault Ste. Marie en route to Chalk River, Ont., dominated the agenda Wednesday at a public forum at the Civic Centre into the controversial cargo.
For more than four hours, federal government officials explained the reasons for trucking about five kilograms of mixed oxide fuel from Los Alamos, N.M. to Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. laboratories in the Ottawa Valley -- along with the precautions that will be taken.
They listened to 13 presentations from concerned individuals. The meeting attracted more than 100 people, some travelling from North Bay, Kingston, Manitoba and lower Michigan.
The MOX shipment, which would contain about 120 grams of weapons-grade plutonium from dismantled U.S. atomic warheads, will be put through a test burn at Chalk River to determine its suitability as fuel in Candu reactors.
A similar-sized shipment, whose contents are 97 per cent uranium oxide and three per cent plutonium oxide, will arrive by ship in Cornwall from Russia and be trucked to Chalk River.
"There was a lot of passion and an equal amount of nervousness and distrust towards us by the speakers, but it appeared to be directed towards nuclear energy as a whole and not this initiative in particular," said Mark Gwodzoski, representing Foreign Affairs and International Trade, at the conclusion of the meeting.
"People were worried about nuclear waste, nuclear accidents throughout the world, the reliability of reactors, whether there is a hidden agenda, but little about this initiative.
"We knew beforehand we wouldn't be applauded coming here, that we would be open to criticism and complaints, but nuclear energy is a hot-button issue and we got the feedback we wanted all along."
Mayor Steve Butland, whose city council had pushed for a public hearing instead of an open-house with a private session for municipal officials, was pleased with the outcome.
"If we accept at face value what they say, that the shipment is not a foregone conclusion, then they will be bringing back a lot of passionate opinions to their ministers," said Butland at the conclusion of the meeting. "Coun. Mary Pascuzzi summed it up best with the words `information overload.' I would rather have too much background than be left in the dark and wondering about what's happening."
The forum also involved representatives from Natural Resources Canada, Transport Canada and AECL.
Gwodzoski, who described the capacity audience as one of the largest to attend an information session on the initiative, stressed that the test is only a first step.
"The only commitment made by the federal government is to test the mixture for viability in a Candu reactor," said Gwodzoski of the plutonium retrieved, or in the process of being retrieved, from the dismantling of 10,000 nuclear warheads in the U.S. and Russia.
"Any full-blown commercial application for using MOX fuel is still six or seven years down the road and it's not a certainty."
Brian Moore, representing Natural Resources Canada, echoed Gwodzoski's assessment.
"We have only committed to a performance test," said Moore.
"It will take two years for the testing to be completed and before commercial use could even be considered there must be a formal request (from the U.S. and/or Russia) to dispose of the fuel in Canadian reactors as well as commerical arrangements, none of which have been requested, and full public input."
It's estimated that the U.S. and Russia have 50 tons each of retreived plutonium but it doesn't mean 100 tons of plutonium would be bound for Canada if the MOX initiative went commercial.
"We would be a supplementary option to the U.S. for disposing of surplus plutonium," said Moore.
"They plan to burn it in their own reactors as well as get rid of it through immobilization, where it's encased and buried deep in the ground."
As much as 16 tons of plutonium, according to Moore, would be disposed of through immobilization.
David Cox, representing AECL, believes that American disposal initiatives will result in only one shipment of test fuel instead of the maximum three 120 gram shipments allowable on the import licence.
"The Russians don't appear to have as many options as the Americans; they won't use immobilization, so the maximum three test shipments from there are a real possibility," said Cox.
He expects the fuel to be shipped late this fall and the test burn to begin before year's end.
John Read, representing Transport Canada, whose ministry will accept public feedback on proposed routes and emergency response until Oct. 16, says 50 million fuel pins, similar to the type being imported, have been transported across Canada through the years. He said there are 27 million shipments of dangerous goods in Canada each year.
"We demand the same precautions for 120 grams of plutonium as we would for a ton of plutonium."
The transport vehicle from the U.S. will have a satellite transmitter so its position is continually monitored. Technicians will accompany the shipment to monitor the cargo in the event of an accident and unprecedented security is being requested to ease fears.
Gwodzoski argues that calls for full environmental assessment for a test shipment are premature.
Concerns expressed by those in attendance included:
by Juliet Hindell
Police plan to charge the operator of a factory where Japan's worst nuclear accident took place last week.
They are investigating JCO, which runs the plant, and trying to find out who was in charge and why inexperienced workers were involved.
Workers at the plant in Tokaimura, 144 kilometres northeast of Tokyo, were apparently following an illegal manual when they mixed too much uranium in a settling tank, causing nuclear fission.
Government figures show 49 people were exposed to radiation. The environmental group Greenpeace said the real figure would be much higher.
Japanese newspapers reported that JCO was trying to cut costs. "Even though it was illegal, we thought we would be all right as long as we made sure we got the right amount of fuel," a JCO official was quoted as telling police.
The firm admitted its business had been under pressure from cheap foreign nuclear fuel imports. JCO's revenue dropped by 30 per cent in the last five years and staff has been cut.
Many in Japan suspect they are not being told the whole story.
Greenpeace conducted tests on table salt belonging to a family who live 175 metres from the plant.
When salt is bombarded with neutron radiation, the radio-isotope sodium 24 is created. Scientists found that the sodium 24 measured 41 becquerels per kilogram, four days after the accident. Sodium 24 has a short life and soon disappears. So Greenpeace has calculated that at the time of the accident the level of neutron radiation in the area was 7,400 becquerels per kilogram.
By Stuart Laidlaw
The world of privately owned nuclear plants that Ontario is about to enter is going through a consolidation as companies build worldwide conglomerates that dwarf the province's utility.
"There's a lot of buying and selling going on," said Pat Kane, an analyst with Federated Investors in Pittsburgh.
For the last three years or so, American state governments have been deregulating the electricity sector, leading to a wave of utilities selling nuclear reactors.
The trend has extended internationally, with Britain and Norway shifting their nuclear plants to the private sector in hopes of making them more efficient.
"The nuclear industry is really consolidating," said Tom Adams of Energy Probe, a power industry watchdog group based in Toronto.
Ontario Power Generation Inc. announced this week it's seeking private investment for its nuclear operations. Ontario has 20 reactors, only 12 of them functioning at the moment.
Ontario Power Generation is one of five successor companies to Ontario Hydro, the Crown utility broken up under the Ontario government's plan to open up the province's 90-year-old electricity monopoly to competition next year.
In announcing the move to nuclear privatization, Ontario Power Generation president Ron Osborne said Ontario will likely have to look to foreign companies for investment because no Canadian companies exist that could run the plants.
This will take the province into a tumultuous industry where traditionally staid utilities suddenly find themselves selling off entire divisions, buying others and mapping out new strategies.
In the U.S., while power generation companies have been privately owned for decades, they have until recently been heavily regulated.
Now the power generation field has moved out of regulation, while prices and profits in power-line operations have remained regulated, said Kane.
As a result, utilities have had to decide whether to be unregulated power generators or regulated distributors. Once they decide which side of the company to concentrate on, they sell the other part.
"Once they sell off, they are suddenly half the size," said Kane. " They need to get some scale back," which has led to consolidation.
British Energy took its nine nuclear plants private in 1996, and has since been buying up nuclear plants abroad. It has an office in Toronto.
The British company has also set up a joint venture in the U.S. with Peco Energy called AmerGen, which is buying half-a-dozen reactors.
Peco, meanwhile, plans to merge with Unicom Corp. to form the largest utility in the United States, with 14 nuclear reactors and sales of $12.4 billion US.
Another company, Entergy Corp., operates six reactors and has been looking to buy more.
The moves have resulted in a web of companies controlling more than 30 reactors, and Kane expects much more consolidation as companies continue to look for ways to cut costs and boost profits.
Kane said consolidation makes sense since companies can no longer count on state regulators to guarantee a return on investment.
"Nobody seems to want to take on nuclear, except for Peco and Entergy," he said.
They have been acquiring atomic plants at a fraction of the cost it took to build them.
Creating a network of nuclear plants allows a company to cut staff to improve profits. For instance, a company with 10 nuclear plants could operate safely with five fire protection engineers -- one for every two plants, Kane said.
"But if you only have one plant, you still need one engineer. You can't have half."
TOKYO -- Telltale signs of neutron radiation found in a gold bracelet, coins, leaves and household salt leave little doubt that people in the neighbourhood of Japan's worst nuclear accident were exposed to a potentially damaging bombardment, environmentalists and scholars said yesterday.
"Of course the people who were within 500 (yards of the plant) were irradiated," said Hiroaki Koide of Kyoto University's Reactor Research Institute. "The only question is the degree."
The Japanese government has said that at least 49 people, 33 of them plant workers, were exposed to radiation last Thursday during a surprise nuclear fission reaction at a uranium fuel processing plant in Tokaimura, northeast of Tokyo.
However, the environmental group Greenpeace, after collecting its own samples of soil, leaves and household salt and sending it to a chemistry lab at Rikkyo University for analysis, announced it believes several hundred people may have been exposed during the 20-hour crisis.
The group said it found the radioactive isotope sodium-24 in salt collected from private homes near the plant and in soil collected further afield.