by Laura Eggertson
OTTAWA -- The federal government is set to approve a plan to ship Russian and American plutonium along Ontario highways to its experimental reactor at nearby Chalk River.
Transport Canada officials will announce Monday they are giving the go-ahead to the emergency response plan Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) is required to submit for transporting dangerous goods, government sources say.
But AECL -- which manufactures Candu reactors -- will likely have to delay the shipments until spring. Transport Canada's emergency response plan is finally complete, but it is too late in the season to move ships on the St. Lawrence Seaway.
"It's not likely that we have any time left to get this thing in before the end of 1999," says Larry Shewchuk, AECL's spokesperson for the project.
"We're right on the cusp of running out of time to make the shipment happen this year. "
The shipments contain 251 grams of weapons-grade plutonium in pellets of a radioactive mixture known as mixed oxide, or MOX. This round of shipments is intended as a test -- the first wave of a Canadian promise to import tonnes of the plutonium from dismantled nuclear warheads in Russia and the United States over the next 20 years.
The response plan the AECL was required to file includes its proposal on training workers on how to unload the material from the container ship, how truckers would handle it on route, and the communication plan should any accident occur.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy announced the proposal to import plutonium last September, calling it a step forward in dismantling nuclear weapons. The plutonium was originally to have been shipped by the end of the year.
The AECL sells the plan as a way to protect the world from the danger of terrorists or organized crime getting hold of tonnes of the plutonium that is not being securely stored in the former Soviet Union.
But the project has raised the ire of environmental groups like Greenpeace, and organizations including the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, which don't believe the plutonium should be shipped around the world.
NDP Leader Alexa McDonough has denounced the plan as thinly disguised assistance to the country's struggling nuclear industry, rather than an attempt to aid non-proliferation. AECL hopes to get subsidies from among the G-7 nations -- primarily the United States -- to dispose of the MOX fuel.
Town councils along the shipments' route -- from Sault Ste. Marie to Sudbury to North Bay and Nepean -- have protested. Mohawks from the Akwesasne First Nation near Cornwall and Kahnawake near Montreal have threatened to block the highway to stop the trucks from rolling by.
The communities are not only concerned about the safety of the shipments -- something the emergency response plan is designed to address -- but also the precedent that Canada will become the dumping ground for radioactive waste. "We don't want this," Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Steve Butland said yesterday.
" After the burn is over, I am told that you're still left with the residue nuclear material. What do you do with that? Why don't the Americans burn it in their own reactors?"
But Butland said he was not surprised Transport Canada was approving the emergency response plan that gives the shipments the go-ahead.
"I suspect this was a done deal a while ago."
Both Transport Canada and the AECL insist these protests are not the reason the shipments are likely being delayed until spring.
But the public consultation did lengthen the deliberations and close the window of opportunity for hiring a ship to move the plutonium before the Seaway ices over.
"We predicted there would be a high interest in plutonium," said John Read, director-general of Transport Canada's dangerous good directorate.
Shewchuk insists most of the public concern about the plutonium shipments is defused when AECL briefs people on their plans.
Fredericton Daily Gleaner
by Morrison Campbell
Officials from New Brunswick's nuclear power station are explaining today why they are falling behind their own performance review.
The Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB) is hearing evidence at a meeting in Ottawa that the plant is not meeting requirements under the AECB-ordered Performance Improvement Program.
"AECB staff reiterates its concern that, into the third year of its Performance Improvement Program, NB Power still appears to be struggling to implement the necessary building blocks of improvement, " says the report.
"Although the station continues to be operated safely in the short- term, and we have seen isolated examples of improvement, we have not observed the improvements in key station processes."
These include organizational and supervisory effectiveness, work planning, safety culture and quality assurance.
Noting that the number of problems is rising again, the report adds: "There are some potentially worrying trends. AECB staff is concerned that these trends may jeopardize the station's long-term improvement plans."
The number of "performance problems" during the five-month period ending in August was almost double that of any period in the past three years, NB Power reports.
In the last five-month period, there were 33 incidents.
However, the report suggests that NB Power was "under-reporting" events in the past.
"We have observed an increase in the number of licence non- compliances, which (AECB) staff said last year needed to be improved. Part of this increase is due to AECB staff identifying that NB Power was under-reporting events. None of the events individually had a significant negative effect on safety."
The Performance Improvement Program was ordered by AECB in 1996 as part of the two-year licence renewal for the 16-year-old 600-megawatt nuclear power station after several serious mishaps. In 1997 and 1998, the plant suffered two major shutdowns and had a dozen serious reportable nuclear incidents.
In its written submission, NB Power said the Performance Improvement Program was behind schedule because the time needed was under- estimated. NB Power added that there was nevertheless significant improvement.
"The current rate of progress is disappointing but management remains confident that the new transformation initiative will result in an increased rate of improvement."
NB Power reports quarterly to AECB on its Performance Improvement Program. The current operating licence expires Oct. 31, 2000. The plant -- the only Candu reactor in Atlantic Canada -- is expected to continue operating until 2014.
Control room operators at the Point Lepreau nuclear power station joined others across the country to denounce a proposal to establish a national competency test.
The proposal, made by the Atomic Energy Control Board this summer, would subject the nuclear power station operators to written and simulated tests every five years to ensure they retain the skills needed to operate reactors.
The AECB staff noted that many other countries in the world establish national competency tests for key positions in nuclear power stations, and recommended that Canada should follow suit.
There are national certification and re-certification programs in the United States, Spain, Japan, France, Hungary, Brazil, Belgium and Argentina.
"The purpose is to periodically review that everyone is continuing to be competent," said an AECB staff member.
Dana Moore, the control room operator from Point Lepreau, and Jim McIntosh, a shift supervisor, denounced the plan as counter- productive.
"We do not believe that an expiry date on anything is required," Moore said.
The training programs offered by NB Power are sufficient to maintain the competency of control room operators, they said. Any interference by AECB would simply divert resources and attention away from the current efforts into pointless training for written tests and simulated, imaginary scenarios.
As an example, Moore said a medical doctor passes a national test to start a career in medicine, but is not required to pass another test every five years to be re-certified. By forcing the doctor to take time away from the regular efforts to keep abreast of new developments would, in fact, weaken his competency, he suggested.
Furthermore, half the control room staff at Point Lepreau would consider another career rather than be pushed into artificial tests every five years, he said.
NB Power said the AECB could continue to audit the training programs at each separate utility rather than establishing its own separate testing program.
NB Power was the last utility to address the idea, and the previous ones, from Ontario and Quebec, also rejected the plan for similar reasons.
"All the presentations have been prepared independently yet all have very similar conclusions," Moore observed.
Under questioning from the board of directors, AECB staff said they were prepared to back away from the specific proposal of tests every five years, but added that the objective of ensuring a competency in the control rooms remains.
Officials from Atlantic Canada's only nuclear power plant will be on the hot seat this week as they brief the Atomic Energy Control Board on operations at the aging station.
The 16-year-old Point Lepreau plant in southern New Brunswick is under a special watch by the AECB, Canada's nuclear regulator, following the discovery three years ago of weaknesses in safety and management at the Candu reactor.
Officials from NB Power, the provincial Crown corporation that owns and operates the nuclear station, will appear before the control board on Thursday to outline improvements and ongoing problems.
"There are always challenges and areas we need additional work in, even though we're doing fairly well at running the plant," said Rob White, the utility's vice-president for nuclear operations.
"We're on a continuous improvement program. We can see some areas where we have some weaker trends and we're focusing on those things."
The latest report by AECB staff on the performance of Canada's nuclear power industry described quality assurance at Point Lepreau as unacceptable.
That doesn't mean, however, that the plant is unsafe. In fact, the AECB makes it clear that all stations operated safely in 1998.
But Ken Pereira of AECB's performance evaluation division said Lepreau's quality assurance program, which governs work assignments, regulations and workplace roles, needs to be modernized.
"The program at Point Lepreau is no longer appropriate for conditions of the plant, the age of the plant and the experience of the plant."
White said the problem is well in hand. He said the 1998 concerns are "history" that the utility has addressed.
"It's an issue but it's one we're working on and have made fairly good progress on," he said. "In fact, we had meetings with the board and presented where we were and where we were going in our approach."
NB Power has to report to the AECB every six months as a condition of its two-year operating licence.
Pereira said the control board won't take the utility's word for improvements it plans. He said there will be visits to the plant to confirm that the utility's promises of change are being realized.
"Point Lepreau is putting in place a sustained effort to address the weaknesses, to take effective control of the work programs and to carry out the type of changes in their procedures that will remedy the deficiencies of the past," he said.
Point Lepreau is currently operating at full throttle and appears to have overcome the embarrassing series of technical glitches that kept it off-line for long stretches of 1997 and 1998. Still, the province has to make some big decisions about the nuclear plant within the next few years.
A recent government report found that Lepreau will need a major and expensive overhaul to last its expected lifespan.
The report warned the plant will need a complete refurbishment sometime between 2005 and 2011 if it's to last beyond its expected closure date of 2014. It's estimated the overhaul would cost at least $1 billion.
By Amran Abocar
TORONTO (Reuters) -- Canada, often the boy scout on the world scene, undoubtedly thought it was doing the right thing when it offered in 1996 to burn weapons-grade plutonium, fallout from superpower disarmament agreements.
But the good deed from the heart of Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien is turning into a glowing hot potato. Environmentalists say it will provide countries that have bought nuclear power plants from Canada with a blueprint with which to tap their own plutonium supplies to build nuclear weapons.
And Canadian Indians, along with other groups, are up in arms over the idea of transporting even tiny amounts of radioactive material through their communities.
Some time in the next few weeks, Transport Canada will oversee delivery through Ontario of nine small tubes of uranium dioxide and weapons-grade plutonium from dismantled Russian and U.S. warheads.
Canada is taking the tubes -- containing 97 percent uranium dioxode and 3 percent plutonium -- to its Chalk River, Ontario, research facility to burn as part of its contribution to nuclear disarmament. The plan is to see whether the mixture, called mixed oxide fuel, or MOX, can safely be used in Canadian Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) reactors, which are designed to operate on natural uranium.
If the three-year test is successful, Canada says it could remove more excess military plutonium from Russia.
But watchdog group Energy Probe claims the test will simply provide a how-to manual for other CANDU-owners that aspire to become nuclear powers. Canada has sold CANDU reactors to Romania, South Korea, India, China, Argentina and is negotiating to sell more to Turkey.
"The worst thing about the test is that it will prove the feasibility of something nice intelligent people don't want to prove," said Norm Rubin, director of nuclear research at Energy Probe. "If you prove that the CANDU is really good at using plutonium fuel, there are nasty intelligent people who would love to make nuclear weapons under the peaceful camouflage.
"This just gets you too close to this dual use, ambiguous thing that would-be nuclear weapons states are so fond of."
Larry Shewchuk of Atomic Energy Canada Ltd., the organization conducting the test, dismissed that suggestion, citing stringent international safeguards that would catch any offenders very quickly.
"You would be found out so quickly, and you would have so many international sanctions slapped on you, to the point of running your economy into the ground," Shewchuk told Reuters. "From a practical point of view, I could not see anyone going down that path."
Calling the test-burning "irresponsible," environmental group Greenpeace accuses AECL of trying to create a new industry for itself.
"AECL is setting Canada up as the nuclear waste dump for the world," said Greenpeace's Mary MacNutt. "AECL is desperate for ways to market their product abroad and this adds value to their reactor."
AECL's Shewchuk said Canada only offered to burn the Russian plutonium because it would take Russia too long -- 25 years -- to dispose of the 50 tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium it has identified as excess. Canada's sole intent is to further nuclear disarmament, he said.
He said AECL is being paid "less than C$5 million" by the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct the tests and will hand over responsibility for any program that develops to Ontario Power Generation, a spinoff from the debt-laden, chronically troubled public utility Ontario Hydro.
Ontario Power operates three nuclear power complexes in the province with 20 CANDU reactors, only 12 of which are operational.
Ironically, even Ontario Power wants nothing to with the plutonium. In published reports, Ontario Power has said the program was not a priority. In addition, MOX fuel is more expensive than natural uranium fuel, leaving no cost advantage for the utility.
Shewchuck conceded that was among the wrinkles that needed to be ironed out, adding any dialogue involving Ontario Power is years away.
Indian communities in eastern Ontario and Quebec, where one shipment is expected to arrive by ship from Russia, say they are tracking the delivery to ensure it does not go through their lands.
"We have put out a resolution that it is not going through Akwesasne (Indian reserve) and it's not going through Kahnawake either. Whatever it takes to stop the shipment, that's what we're going to do," said Larry White, emergency measures coordinator for the Mohawk council on the Akwesasne reserve.
Akwesasne, near Cornwall, Ontario, straddles the U.S.-Canada border while the Kahnawake native community is located near Montreal.
White said the matter was not a "Mohawk versus the government problem," adding his community was working in tandem with other groups opposed to the plan.
"It's plutonium, it's a radioactive thing and it's going to set a precedent," White said. "It's not going to come through because we know the results of what's going to happen."
RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) -- Hundreds of former Hanford nuclear reservation workers are reporting a number of work-related ailments, mostly diseased lungs and hearing loss, researchers said.
In one of two national medical screening projects, 98 per cent of 900 construction workers surveyed believed they had been exposed to hazards at Hanford, and 86 per cent believed their health had been affected.
"These perceptions of workers about concerns for their health (are) largely borne out in results we're getting from (subsequent) medical examinations," said Knut Ringen, project director for The Center to Protect Workers Rights.
A summary of early findings from Ringen's project -- the Hanford Building Trades Medical Screening Program -- and the University of Washington Former Hanford Worker Medical Program were presented at a news conference Tuesday.
The screenings are the first independent, science-based evaluations of health risks to former production and construction workers who worked at Hanford anytime in its 56-year history.
Hanford was established as part of the secret Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb during the Second World War. Today, the mission at the 1,450-square-kilometre site in southeastern Washington state is cleaning up the radioactive and hazardous waste created during 40 years of plutonium production for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
The screening programs, paid for by the Energy Department, were ordered by Congress and started three years ago to determine whether workers experienced significant health risks as a result of their jobs at DOE sites.
Roger Briggs, Hanford health studies co-ordinator for the DOE in Richland, said the findings will help the agency find better ways to protect current worker health and safety.
The projects also found:
by Brandon Haddock
Delay may affect U.S. talks with Russia
Some nuclear activists question why no funding was granted for a proposed Savannah River Site plant that would help rid the nation of surplus plutonium.
The proposed "plutonium immobilization" plant was slated to receive $21million in fiscal year 2000, which began Oct. 1. But by the time President Clinton signed the budget into law, the funding was gone.
"It's hard to understand why this was done," said Tom Clements, executive director of the Nuclear Control Institute in Washington. "It appears to be a retreat from the commitment made to immobilization.
"There's no reason not to go forward with timely construction of the immobilization facility at Savannah River. The earlier it's constructed, the more likely the project is going to be kept on track."
But the plant cannot go forward until a replacement is built for another facility at SRS, said Andre Sygelman, director of materials and immobilization for the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington.
The second plant, the $489 million In-Tank Precipitation Facility, was declared inoperable in January 1998 after SRS workers could not prevent flammable benzene from building up within its tanks.
The facility's replacement, estimated to cost as much as $1 billion, will perform a crucial first step in the immobilization process, Mr. Sygelman said.
The immobilization plant, estimated to cost from $478 million to $484 million, is one tine of the nation's two-pronged approach to disposal of surplus plutonium. The dangerous metal, which remains highly radioactive for thousands of years, is a key component of nuclear weapons.
The United States and Russia are negotiating to rid themselves of some plutonium to ensure it is never again used in weapons.
At the plant, about 19 tons of plutonium would be combined with ceramics and baked in a kiln at extremely high temperatures to create a "puck." The pucks would be sealed into small stainless-steel cans, which in turn would be placed into large stainless-steel canisters.
At another plant, the canisters would be filled with a superheated mixture of fine sand and highly radioactive liquid waste. When the mixture cools, it would harden into a radioactive glass, or vitrify, around the cans of plutonium pucks inside the canisters.
The glass would be radioactive enough to kill anyone who tried to mine the plutonium pucks from it, thus acting as a defense against those who would retrieve the plutonium for reuse in weapons.
But the glass won't be radioactive enough without cesium-137, an extremely radioactive material that the in-tank replacement plant is supposed to process, Mr. Sygelman said.
At the earliest, the in-tank replacement will be ready in 2008, and the immobilization plant was on track to be completed in 2007, Mr. Sygelman said.
Rather than spending money to complete the immobilization plant before it could be used, Mr. Sygelman said, he recommended funding be suspended. Now, scientists will have another year to further develop the immobilization procedure before the plant is designed and construction begins, he said.
"That way, we reduce the risk of the design effort in that we will be able to do more development work before we get into the design," Mr. Sygelman said during a telephone interview Friday. "We're going full speed ahead (on development). We haven't slowed any of that down."
But Mr. Clements of the Nuclear Control Institute said he was suspicious of that logic.
"They could put this facility in operation to be immobilizing materials awaiting disposition in the larger canisters of high-level waste without the vitrification problem being solved," he said.
The delay also might affect U.S. negotiations with Russia, some activists said.
Russia has been reluctant to pursue an immobilization program itself and may further stonewall if it sees the United States postpone its plant, said Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.
"I think the saving grace of the disposition policy of plutonium in the United States has been the immobilization program," Dr. Makhijani said. "Zeroing out immobilization is a really unwise step.
"I think this is a very, very severe setback to the plutonium disposition program and to getting a very, very quick answer as to how to prevent terrorists, third parties and black marketeers from getting their hands on plutonium in Russia," he said.
at (706) 823-3409
NEW WATERFORD, N.S. (CP) - Eight Cape Breton coal miners were exposed to high levels of radiation from a faulty piece of equipment, says a report by their federal employer.
The Cape Breton Development Corp., in a report dated Oct. 18, said Atomic Energy of Canada detected problems earlier this year with a device that uses a beam of radiation to detect obstructions in a coal chute.
"They didn't know it was a radiation source," Hugh MacArthur, a health and safety officer for the United Mineworkers Union, said Wednesday about the exposed workers.
MacArthur said the men were exposed to levels of radiation "well over the regular limit" and accused Devco of not training employees to handle radioactive equipment.
He said workers had unknowingly been exposed since 1987 to radiation emitting from the 40-kilogram device bolted to the inside of the chute on the surface of the Phalen mine in New Waterford.
MacArthur said electricians often handled the device's radioactive isotope because it would fall out and have to be replaced.
"They thought it was OK because it was still in some sort of a container, but they didn't realize they were dealing with the exposed material itself," he said.
Devco president George White said the company has several safety procedures for the device, including special locks and warning signs.
"There were keys, there were locking mechanisms, there were signs," White said, adding there are fail-safe mechanisms on the device that prevent the material from being easily removed.
But White couldn't say if the workers were specifically trained to handle radioactive material.
Atomic Energy of Canada, the country's nuclear regulator, is conducting its own investigation into the incident. A report is expected in the next few weeks.
Mike Grace, a spokesman for the regulator, said it was unclear if anyone's health has been damaged by the radiation since absorption levels depend on proximity and length of exposure.
MacArthur said at least two miners suspect they've developed health problems because of the device. One was diagnosed with cancer and another has suspicious growths on his neck, he said.
The union official said a lead shutter on the radioactive device was faulty and may have emitted cancer-causing rays for as long as 10 years.
"Small doses one time may not be something to be concerned about, but this was exposure over a long period of time," said MacArthur.
The federal government announced in January it intends to unload the money-losing Crown corporation. Devco's Phalen mine closed recently after a series of roof collapses. Ottawa is trying to find a buyer for the Prince mine.
by Peter Calamai
Princess Margaret loses a licence
over 'critical' problems
OTTAWA -- Maintenance workers and medical staff are running a daily risk of excess radiation exposure because of sloppy safety procedures at Toronto's Princess Margaret Hospital, says the nuclear safety watchdog.
The "critical" safety problems -- which led to the cancellation of one of the hospital's handling licences -- include the temporary loss of highly radioactive "seeds" used in cancer treatment.
Hospital workers told inspectors from Atomic Energy Control Board last month that an unspecified number of the seed-like thin tubes had gone missing over the past year.
The seeds emit enough radiation that someone sitting next to one would receive the maximum annual radiation dose in less than 10 minutes, according to an official of the control board.
All the seeds were eventually recovered.
"We had a procedural breakdown," said Dr. Michael Guerriere, chief operating officer for the University Health Network, which includes Princess Margaret, Toronto General and Toronto Western hospitals.
Guerriere insisted that there was no risk to patients or the general public from the numerous and prolonged failures to carry out the federal radiation safety procedures.
Richard Cawthorn, a licence assessment officer, told members of the control board that a five-day inspection last month showed radiation protection problems "had reached a critical point."
In addition to the missing radioactive therapy seeds, the problems included:
No health monitoring of an employee who regularly handled radioactive iodine.
No inspections for two years of the lock that stops a research irradiator from being switched on until a protective shield is in place. The lock was supposed to be checked daily under the board's licence conditions.
Servicing of radiation treatment devices by electricians and other maintenance staff not trained to protect themselves.
Because of the sloppy safety procedures, the control board is cancelling the licence that allows Princess Margaret to service its own radiation machines, including cobalt therapy. Maintenance will now be done by the manufacturer.
An aboriginal group will do everything it can to stop a shipment of plutonium from passing through the city, including lying down in front of the trucks carrying the material, a Mohawk chief said yesterday.
"If (stopping the shipment) means . . . lying down in front of the trucks that's what we'll do," Dooley Thompson said during a protest of the federal government's plan to transport mixed oxide nuclear fuel to Chalk River later this fall.
Cornwall is scheduled to be a port of entry for the shipment of fuel derived from U.S. and Russian surplus weapons-grade plutonium.
The fuel is known as MOX, or mixed oxide, and scientists believe it will burn in Canadian reactors, thus destroying weapons-grade plutonium.
But opponents say it poses too great a health risk and that terrorists may be tempted to try and steal some of the shipment.
Yesterday's protest, organized by the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, included a convoy of about 100 vehicles over the Seaway International Bridge.
Globe & Mail
by Mark MacKinnon
Ottawa -- A Canadian plan that would reward countries that export nuclear reactors with emissions credits has been denounced by the German government as "incompatible" with the Kyoto process.
Canada has been pushing hard in negotiations for credits that would allow it to miss its stated target of cutting its greenhouse-gas emissions to 6 per cent lower than 1990 levels by 2012. The hope was that the other 36 countries participating in the campaign to reduce air pollution would allow Canada to set aside its emission-reduction goals as a reward for exporting nuclear technology -- which emits less carbon dioxide than burning oil or coal -- to developing nations. The German condemnation of the plan comes less than three weeks after Britain and Norway warned the nuclear issue could be a major sticking point in negotiations to establish a framework for implementing the Kyoto agreement.
Germany released a strongly worded statement during the weekend that avoided naming Canada, but was clear.
"Germany rejects the use of nuclear energy, including as an option for preliminary climate protection," Michael Schroeren, a spokesman for the German environment ministry, said in a statement.
"We believe these types of projects are incompatible with the vision of sustainable development and of a sustainable, future-oriented energy supply system.
"Nuclear power plants make inefficient use of energy, are economically non-competitive and prevent the shift to an energy policy based on efficiency and renewable energies."
Scientists believe the carbon dioxide released when fossil fuels are burned warms the lower atmosphere, causing changes in the planet's climate. Two years ago in Kyoto, Japan, 37 countries agreed to a plan to reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions to 5 per cent lower than 1990 levels by 2012. Global emissions, however, have continued to rise.
The German statement was made during an international conference on climate change being held this week in Bonn. The conference is the final major meeting before next year's conference in The Hague, where the rules and timetable for the implementation of the Kyoto agreement are expected to be finalized.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Environment Minister David Anderson are both outspoken supporters of nuclear energy and the Candu reactor program.
In a letter to a former Turkish prime minister last year, Mr. Chretien said he was "convinced" of the role nuclear energy would play in reducing greenhouse emissions.
Many environmentalists, however, see nuclear energy as of questionable environmental benefit, and say it poses long-term health and waste-disposal concerns. Steven Guilbeault, a climate specialist with Greenpeace, said he expects opposition to Canada's plan will continue to mount.
"There's a very, very strong push against the inclusion of nuclear industry," he said. "I'm expecting to hear a lot more ministers speak out against it...."
The mega-problem the Mike Harris government faced when it came to power -- nuclear power -- was not of its own making.
But the huge gamble the government took to fix the nukes is the government's alone.
It decided to spend billions restoring the reactors -- a bit of high rolling with the public purse.
And it turned to coal power -- from its own and U.S. plants -- for stopgap power. The effect was a double whammy in health terms. Acid rain is back full force, in lakes and lungs. Smog is killing 1,800 people a year -- 400 in Toronto.
Coal now provides a third of our power. Ontario Power Generation is the province's biggest single smog maker. Its U.S. supplier -- American Electric Power -- is sending more emissions across the border.
Health damage -- and crop damage -- can only worsen. A policy change is essential.
It is becoming clear that nuclear power is in big trouble and unlikely to offer any sure relief from smog any time soon. And the bills are getting bigger.
The Atomic Energy Control Board says Ontario Power is 2 1/2 years behind schedule, and even now "only between 30 and 40 per cent" of scheduled maintenance is being completed as planned.
The May budget quietly changed $9 billion in old Hydro debt into taxpayer "equity."
Ontario Power boosted its reserve by $3 billion to decommission reactors. It's now up to $19 billion.
More may be needed for a nuclear waste disposal system -- if Ottawa approves -- that may be the only way to attract U.S. and British buyers for the nukes.
So this has become a system with two kings. One is coal. The other is uncertain costs.
To escape both, Ontario Power should begin to convert its coal-fired boilers to cleaner, cheaper, healthier natural gas.
And if Ontario Power doesn't want to do that, the government should tell it to. It should tell Ontario Power, as well, to find a cleaner U.S. power provider.
Ontario Power, however, prefers accounting tricks that keep the books clean but the air dirty.
Next year, the utility will exceed its emission limits by a third. But it wants the government to allow it to offset the dirtier air with "credits" for cleaner air 10 years ago.
It also wants to use credits bought from a Connecticut company which captures methane from landfill projects.
Pollution credits are an untried and highly dubious idea. A plan for such credits hasn't even been posted on the government's Environmental Registry, as required by law.
Moreover, the whole notion that dirtier air now can be offset by clean air years ago gives polluters an excuse to to delay badly needed changes in their procedures.
Harris should tell Ontario Power to abandon accounting tricks and convert to cleaner fuels -- better for Ontarians' health now, better for Ontario Power's market position in future.
Better, too, for the environmental reputation of a government whose decisions so far have only served to take a problem it didn't create and make it -- not just worse -- but lethal.
Ontario is showing a disappointing lack of leadership on a global environmental issue of extreme importance. The province is dragging its feet in co-operating with Ottawa's generous proposal to try to dispose of a frightening Cold War legacy -- vast amounts of deadly plutonium once used in Russia's nuclear warheads.
The Ontario nuclear authority that Ottawa may eventually call upon to burn the radioactive material is not anxious to do so. Ontario Power Generation has told the federal government it has other priorities.
In an internal memo written last March, the authority's chief nuclear engineer describes Ottawa's plan as a "distraction," a "nuisance" and "a political football."
What precisely is this plan that the memo so dismissively calls a "distraction?" It merely happens to be a scheme with the potential to save millions of lives.
Crisis-racked Russia lacks the ability to dispose of this radioactive headache. If even a few kilos of plutonium were to waft into the environment or fall into the hands of terrorists or a rogue state, the consequences could be catastrophic.
We in Canada can turn our backs to this problem. Or we can offer, for a fee, to help get rid of it. That's what the Chretien government is doing in a spirit of civic citizenship, global-style.
In the Not in My Back Yard department, Ontario's nuclear authority has plenty of company. Mayors of several Ontario cities, including Cornwall, don't want plutonium shipments passing through their towns. Nor do leaders of the Kahnawake and
Akwesasne reserves, who have threatened to resist passage of plutonium-toting ships through the Seaway.
These are understandable concerns. But if Canada goes ahead with the plan, it is reasonable to insist on a very high level of security shielding the plutonium shipments -- far superior to that which Russia provides. Considering the alternative, whatever risk Canadians face is very acceptable.
The fact is that few if any countries are better placed than Canada for reducing this nuclear menace. The new stress on safety at Ontario's reactors makes them logical places for burning the stuff.
At a time when environmental disasters can be global, defusing such a problem is a matter of self-interest.
by Fred Weir
MOSCOW -- Svetlana Batinova hovers over a box of tomatoes in Moscow's Danilovsky market, looking intently at the readout of her hand-held geiger counter. Down the aisle, someone is doing something similar with a pile of watermelons.
"You cannot trust anything the government says, and you certainly can't believe what vendors in the market tell you," says Batinova, a 34-year-old accountant. "If you want to know, you'd better have the means to find out for yourself."
Her geiger-counter is a grey, battery-driven, palm-sized device that looks like a calculator. When switched on and held up to an object, it supposedly measures the radioactivity. She paid about $50 for the gizmo last year in a Moscow electronics shop.
Batinova routinely inspects fruits and vegetables, clothing and other products for radiation before she buys them. Once she even went to a playground used by her nine-year-old son and carefully scoured every inch of it.
"Just last week a woman tried to sell me cranberries she said were from Vladimir region," just east of Moscow. "But when I checked them, the thing started beeping like crazy and giving all kinds of numbers. Probably the berries were really from Chernobyl or someplace like that."
Thousands of Muscovites like Batinova have already armed themselves with radiation detectors, and the gadgets are still moving briskly.
Officials at RADON, the Moscow government department charged with monitoring radiation hazards in the city, say the fad for personal geiger counters is out of all proportion to the threat. But they admit there is a problem.
"Moscow was always the main scientific centre of the country, and a lot of nuclear-related research facilities and industries were concentrated here," says Tatiana Minina, a RADON spokeswoman.
"In the first decades of atomic power, standards were very lax," she said. "Radioactive wastes were buried without any precautions at all, and sometimes housing projects were built over them."
The Soviet atomic bomb project in the 1940's was headquartered at the Kurchatov Institute, in what was then a secluded area just outside Moscow. Today it is surrounded by a forest of high-rise apartment blocks.
The institute still operates several research reactors and environmentalists say its grounds are littered with old nuclear waste dumps and radioactive trash.
The Moscow government long ago resolved to shut down all working reactors and move waste dumps to distant locations. It hasn't been done because of the millions of dollars it would cost.
Every year approximately 50 radioactive "hotspots" are uncovered around Moscow. Often they are extremely difficult to clean up.
"In Soviet times, radioactive wastes were sometimes mixed with concrete and used in building projects, or as filler in roads," said Minina. "It was buried in unmarked sites or regular garbage tips. We keep finding radioactive wastes in the strangest places."
The RADON people insist they have the problem under control. They argue that the proliferation of private geiger counters is more hazardous than the occasional risk of radioactive food or clothing.
"What is a geiger counter?" Minina says. "It's a device that itself contains radioactive isotopes. If it breaks open it can pose a serious threat to health."
by Don Moniak
Amarillo, Texas -- A March 1999 Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) report  calls into question the ability of the lab to successfully fabricate Mixed Oxide (MOX) test fuel using weapons-grade plutonium.
One root of the problem appears to be that "weapons- grade plutonium morphology (shape) differs significantly than that of reactor-grade plutonium." This fundamental fact is generally omitted by the Department of Energy and MOX fuel promoters hell-bent on invigorating the decades-old dream of a plutonium fuel economy.
Los Alamos is the lead laboratory for the MOX fuel fabrication program while Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the lead lab for irradiating the fuel made at LANL and "post-irradiation" exams of that fuel, barring major accidents. The Department of EnergyŐs goal was to begin conducting a "High Power Test" of MOX fuel pellets during April, 1999 in the "Advanced Test Reactor" (ATR) at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.  This milestone appears to be another DOE pipe dream.
According to the March report, LANL has failed to make satisfactory MOX test fuel that involves uranium oxide powder derived from the "Ammonium Uranyl Carbonate" (AUC) process --the same process that has supplied uranium oxide for more than 90 percent of the worldŐs supply of commercial MOX fuel. Since making MOX fuel for Light Water Nuclear Reactors generally involves a mix of 3-5 percent plutonium oxide powder and 95-97 percent uranium oxide powder, it is obvious that the uranium must be compatible with the plutonium.
In the past two years alone, the Department of Energy has allocated $3.425 million for MOX fuel fabrication research and development work at Los Alamos, and another $10.075 million on the Los Alamos/Oak Ridge program to irradiate the test pellets in the Advanced Test Reactor  . To date, fourteen batches of MOX test fuel pellets for this project have failed to meet technical specification and/or had some or all of the following unacceptable problems:
These dismal results involved plutonium oxide powder produced from both dry (pyroprocessing) and wet (liquid acid) plutonium metal-to-oxide conversion processes. While the authors complained of running low on plutonium made from DOEŐs preferred conversion alternative called HYDOX, they failed to mention that in 1998 HYDOX was "retracted from the ARIES line by NMT-DO for safety reasons." 
Even though Los Alamos plutonium programs -- HYDOX, MOX, TIGR--continue to encounter delays and failures, the lab remains the DepartmentŐs "preferred alternative" to fabricate MOX "Lead Test Assemblies" for use in commercial reactors.
The Department has provided no indication that the Los Alamos R&D projects have been marked (so far) by failure, so it is unknown whether the problem is one of site-specific incompetency or generic technical difficulty associated with handling and processing weapons-grade plutonium of different shape, size distribution, and elemental composition than reactor-grade plutonium.
- Americans and Canadians join to oppose plutonium.
Most people attending a hearing Sunday on the planned shipment of plutonium across Michigan and into Ontario said it should not be allowed.
``You can talk all you want about `This is safe,' and an accident will be `one in a million,' " said Verna Courtemanche of Swartz Creek, whose town lies along the Interstate 69 -- the shipping route.
``All it takes is one in a million. You're talking about destroying the Great Lakes for time immemorial."
The majority of the 100 people who attended the hearing on the proposal was opposed, as were those at an earling hearings in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
A fourth hearing is slated for today in Saginaw, Mich.
``Where is your logic? Where is your humanity?" said Alice Hirt of Holland, a member of Don't Waste Michigan.
``This is my home, and I don't want your pollution here" said Cathy Variano of Lansing. ``Don't send it to Canada through Michigan; they don't want it."
A number of Canadian group are also opposed to the shipment and there have been news reports that Ontario Power Generation and the province strongly oppose the federal government's plans to burn nuclear-bomb material at Ontario nuclear reactors.
It was left to a handful of federal and state officials to tell the disbelieving crowd there was nothing to worry about.
``What we're talking about is an extraordinarily safe shipment," said Laura Holgate, director of the office of fissile material disposition at U.S. Department of Energy.
``We believe this shipment can be done safely," said Thor Strong, associate commissioner of the Michigan Low-Level Radioactive Waste Authority.
``It is not anything close to weapons-grade plutonium," Strong said before the hearing. ``Just the word `plutonium' causes people concern."
Under the federal plan, nine fuel rods containing about 119 grams of plutonium from disassembled weapons are to be trucked sometime in the next two months from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to an Atomic Energy of Canada reactor in Chalk River, Ont.
Officials have not yet specified a date for the movement.
Officials have said the shipment will be part of an experiment to help the United States and Russia develop standards for disposing of excess plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons. Both countries are sending plutonium to Canada, where it will be used as nuclear reactor fuel.
After considering seven possible routes, U.S. and Canadian officials agreed to send the truck through six states on its journey northward.
It would enter southwestern Michigan on Interstate 94, continue on I-96 past Lansing, then head north on I-75 at Flint. It would cross the Mackinac Bridge into the Upper Peninsula before continuing to Canada by crossing another bridge at Sault Ste. Marie.
The fact the truck would be skirting the Great Lakes and then cross two bridges above them drew heated criticism Sunday.
``It makes us all involuntary guinea pigs," Corinne Carey of Grand Rapids said of the shipment.
Federal officials said the shipment was a one-time event and that Michigan would not become part of a permanent route for hauling plutonium.
That, too, was met with disbelief.
``This is the wedge that opens the door," said Kay Cumbow.
She is a member of Citizens for a Healthy Planet and Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination.
"People ought to be concerned."
- Plutonium shipment lacks support, wins only opposition.
by Rik Hayman
A plan to ship plutonium through mid-Michigan brought a standing-room-only crowd of skeptics to a public hearing Monday at Saginaw City Hall.
Those in the group -- including law enforcement officers, emergency management leaders and politicians -- weren't buying the federal government's safety assurances.
Not a single person stood to support the shipment.
In fact, Saginaw real estate agent Judy Sarmiento even suggested forming a human blockade to prevent trucking the plutonium to Canada via Interstate 75.
After Monday's hearing, she said she contacted environmental activists from all over the state, and that she plans to see what local support the protest may have.
"I can't believe that in a democracy we have to do this, but we have the right," Sarmiento said.
"I will be seeing what's out there."
Department of Energy officials maintain that the shipment -- part of their "Parallex Project" to dispose of nuclear waste -- poses no threat to Saginaw residents or anyone else.
The plutonium would arrive in southwestern Michigan on Interstate 94, continue on Interstate 96 past Lansing, then head north on I-75 at Flint. It would cross the Mackinac Bridge into the Upper Peninsula before continuing to Canada by crossing another bridge at Sault Ste. Marie.
"We're going the extra mile to make sure that this is just as safe as possible," said Laura Holgate, director of the Department of Energy's Office of Fissile Material Disposition.
Holgate's comments did little to reassure members of the gathering, who didn't mask their distrust of Holgate and other government officials explaining the plan.
"The more one reads of the Parallex Project, the more it sounds like bad science fiction," said Bay City resident Terry Miller, president of the Lone Tree Council environmental group.
Holgate tried to assure the crowd that the Department of Energy has looked at all the angles and taken every precaution.
"If this is so extraordinarily safe, why can't you put it on a plane and fly it up to Canada?" one woman asked.
An overhead projector illuminated the phrase, "No fatalities are projected."
Statistical analysis bolstered Holgate's assertions, she said.
A truck driver, who stands the greatest risk of exposure, would have to make the trip 1,000 times to receive the same dose of radiation as a single chest X-ray, Holgate said.
An ordinary individual along the proposed route would have to suffer exposure from an accidental release on 140 occasions to equal radiation received from one chest X-ray, she said.
Statisticians have calculated the risk of a traffic crash resulting in the release of plutonium at four in 1 million, the same probability of getting struck by lightning, she said.
Earlier hearings in Sault Ste. Marie and Lansing drew similar responses from attendees.
Terry Suchowesky, a 44-year-old mother of five from near Houghton Lake, drove to Saginaw to attend the hearing. She questioned whether authorities were prepared for either an accident or a terrorist act involving the shipment.
"No one was prepared for the Oklahoma City bombing, but it happened," Suchowesky said.
Holgate responded that terrorists likely wouldn't target such a shipment because the amount of plutonium is small and chemically difficult to extract into a form usable for nuclear weapons.
"This kind of a shipment isn't going to be very attractive from a terrorist point of view," she said.
Saginaw Mayor Gary Loster joined the opposition and asked for review of the route and of the selection process.
"There are a number of large cities along this route that are inner cities," he said. "We are opposed to the utilization of this route S on behalf of the citizens and the City Council of Saginaw."
Others, including a Flint Township fire official and United Auto Workers Local 599 President Art McGee, worried about the ability of local emergency management agencies to to handle clean-up.
The plan calls for shipping nine fuel rods containing about 4 ounces of plutonium -- about the size of a single "AA" battery -- from disassembled nuclear weapons from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to a reactor in Chalk River, Ontario.
The surplus plutonium, in the form of plutonium oxide mixed with uranium oxide, will not explode, dissolve, create a plume, emit gases, or burn, Holgate said.
Special containers would shield its radiation, she said.
Officials have not yet specified a date for the movement, but it could come within the next two months, Holgate said.
The shipment is part of an experiment to help the United States and Russia develop standards for disposing of excess plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons. Both countries are sending plutonium to Canada to fuel nuclear reactors there.
After considering seven possible routes, U.S. and Canadian officials agreed to send the truck through six states on the 3,300-mile trip. The Sault Ste. Marie crossing was the only one to which the Canadians agreed, Holgate said.
U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, a Midland Republican, questioned why the Canadians were dictating the terms.
"This may be a route that answers Canadian concerns, but it is not a route that answers concerns of the United States of America," said Camp, drawing applause.
Camp co-sponsored the hearing with Rep. James A. Barcia, a Bay City Democrat, who also attended.
Some wondered whether the shipment would open the door to more down the road.
Barcia said he "certainly hopes not."
"We have tried to sensitize the Department of Energy to our concerns, that this not become a permanent route," he said.
Barcia said he also wondered why government officials didn't fly the plutonium to its destination. By plane, the trip would take three hours, he said.
Fear of a crash is the main reason why officials won't allow such a trip, Barcia said, yet they fly "nuclear weapons all the time."
"I don't understand that," he said.
Holgate called the shipment a one-time event and said it would not lead to making Michigan part of a permanent route for hauling plutonium.
Saginaw County Sheriff Charles Brown echoed a question many asked publicly and privately.
"Can we stop this shipment from going through and, if so, how?" Brown asked.
The time for public comment closed today, but the department still could reconsider the route it will use," Holgate said.
- Without Ontario support, plutonium plan unlikely ~ official.
Globe and Mail
by Martin Mittelstaedt
The federal plan to burn Cold War stocks of plutonium in Canadian nuclear reactors appears to be in difficulty because Ontario Power Generation, the provincially owned utility, has little interest in using its generating stations for this purpose. Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. president Allen Kilpatrick was unwilling to answer a question yesterday on the prospects for the plutonium proposal, which has been a pet project of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.
"I really think you have to ask that of somebody who owns and operates reactors," Mr. Kilpatrick said in an interview. "I don't think I should be the one to answer that question."
Ontario Power Generation released documents earlier this week under a Globe and Mail freedom of information request indicating that it viewed the plutonium plan as a "nuisance" and "political football" that would be expensive for ratepayers.
John Embury, a spokesman for Natural Resources Minister Ralph Goodale said "[Ontario Power officials] haven't officially told us this, that they're not interested."
He added, however, that "if they're not interested, I think that speaks for itself."
According to the records obtained by The Globe, Ontario Power president Ronald Osborne wrote to Mr. Goodale's deputy minister in April, saying the plutonium plan was not a priority.
He also attached for the federal official an internal utility memo indicating that Ontario Power was doing no work on plutonium and hadn't for at least the past two years.
But Mr. Embury said the government is "not at the point of saying [the plutonium proposal is] dead, alive or anything else."
Mr. Chrétien has offered to have Canada burn excess Russian and U.S. stockpiles of plutonium as a contribution to world peace and security.
The federal plan envisioned Ontario Power reactors at the Bruce nuclear complex on the shores of Lake Huron being used for this purpose.
Environmental critics of the plan have asserted that the federal offer was motivated by the commercial needs of AECL, a suggestion that Mr. Kilpatrick denied.
He said there is a "misperception that this whole thing has been driven by us," adding that the venture has no commercial benefit for the company, other than revenue it is earning for conducting experimental burns of plutonium at its Chalk River research facility to check the feasibility of using the material at Canadian-style reactors.
Ontario Power records indicates that the test burns, which are about to begin, will earn AECL $10-million. Mr. Kilpatrick disputed that figure, saying it is "much, much smaller" and only about 10 per cent of what Ontario Power said.
AECL would be able to burn large quantities of plutonium itself if it purchased Ontario Power's Bruce facility.
Mr. Kilpatrick said, however, that such an action would be "highly unlikely." Ontario Power Generation recently put the Bruce operation up for sale.
Some opponents of the plutonium fuel proposal were delighted at Ontario Power's lack of interest.
Windsor Mayor Michael Hurst said yesterday that plutonium should not be brought into Canada because of the risk of accidents and terrorist attacks during transportation.
He opposes shipments moving through his city, saying it "introduces something that is rather risky."
He said any release of plutonium into the Great Lakes would be "disastrous for Canada and the United States."
- Radiation found in baby teeth near nuke plants.
Higher-than-expected levels of a cancer-causing element first introduced as a by-product of nuclear-bomb tests has been found in baby teeth collected near nuclear-power plants in three U.S. states, researchers said Thursday.
Directors of the non-profit Radiation and Public Health Project said at a news conference levels of the element, radioisotope Strontium- 90, should have dropped to almost zero once all global aboveground nuclear-bomb testing ended in 1980.
Most of the 515 teeth analyzed were from the 1979-1992 period and had similar concentrations of Strontium-90 as those found in children in the mid-1950s when the United States and the Soviet Union were still doing atmospheric nuclear-bomb tests, said initial findings of a RPHP study.
"There is cancer-causing Strontium-90 in children's teeth. It shouldn't be there," Ernest Sternglass, Professor Emeritus of Radiological Physics at the University of Pittsburgh said in releasing the initial findings of independent laboratory analysis conducted on 515 baby teeth from New York, New Jersey and Florida.
RPHP said the chemical structure of Strontium-90 is similar to calcium and the body is deceived by it and deposits Sr-90 in bones and teeth where it remains, emitting cancer-causing radiation.
RPHP directors attributed some of the radioactivity to accidents such as the Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania in 1979 and the Chernobyl reactor disaster in 1986. They said state and U.S. government records showed a large amount of airborne emissions in the early 1980s from four nuclear reactors located near Suffolk County, N.Y.
"If it is not underground testing or aboveground testing, clearly the prime suspects are nuclear reactors or nuclear-reactor accidents, " Sternglass said.
"The world has become too small for nuclear accidents to affect only the 10-mile zone of evacuation."
RPHP is calling for a national study by the U.S. government. It said a private foundation is supporting RPHP's plans to collect and analyze 5,000 baby teeth from across the country in "nuclear" and "non-nuclear" counties.
The teeth for the RPHP study were collected as part of the Tooth Fairy Project, an appeal to parents by actor Alec Baldwin to send in baby teeth they put under their children's pillows for the Tooth Fairy after they fell out. Baldwin, a resident of Suffolk County on Long Island where RPHP focused part of its study, said he sent out 15,000 letters to parents in February 1999.
"The initial findings are disturbing," Baldwin said at the news conference. He added: "The same results (as in the mid-50s) should merit the same level of concern."
Strontium-90 was linked to childhood cancer during the 1950s, causing health concerns that led the late president John Kennedy to sign the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union in 1963 banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water. France and China continued aboveground testing until 1980.
- Lloyd Axworthy blasts American nuclear weapons policy.
Globe and Mail
by Jeff Sallot
Canadians concerned by the superpower's
failure to live up to its moral resonsibility
to lead the fight for disarmament,
Ottawa -- Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy travelled to the United States yesterday to attack U.S. nuclear policy, saying the world's only superpower has a moral responsibility to lead the fight for disarmament.
Instead, he told a Boston audience, the United States is moving backward on a series of nuclear issues.
U.S. efforts to build a national missile defence system, Mr. Axworthy said, could threaten the international nuclear arms-control regime. Mr. Axworthy also chastised the U.S. Senate for its recent vote to shelve a nuclear test-ban treaty, and urged the Clinton administration to reverse course and support Canada's call for a review of NATO's nuclear war-fighting doctrine.
Canadians are greatly concerned that the United States is retreating from its traditional leadership role in the field of nuclear disarmament and arms control, he said in a speech to the United Nations Association of Boston.
"By far the greatest threat to our children -- indeed to all humanity -- remains the spectre of nuclear annihilation and the hazards posed by other weapons of mass destruction."
The speech is one of the Canadian government's most detailed policy statements on the threat of nuclear weapons since the Liberals were elected in 1993. Mr. Axworthy chose to give it to the American audience in Boston, and in condensed form later in the day in a lecture to the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in nearby Medford, Mass.
Mr. Axworthy, who received an award from the UN Association for spearheading a global ban on land mines, said in an interview he thinks President Bill Clinton can still lead the international effort to reduce nuclear weapons despite the setback of the Senate vote.
"What we are saying is you're the leader of this thing. You are front and centre. Let's not let this thing drop off and go on to something else. Let's take the Senate vote as wakeup call, and let's really get back in gear."
For more than a year, Mr. Axworthy and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer have been trying to nudge the United States and other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization away from a reliance on nuclear weapons in alliance defence strategies.
Ottawa sources say the Senate vote last week to postpone ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has added urgency to Mr. Axworthy's efforts to not just advance the ball within NATO circles, but to try to shore up the endangered international nuclear arms control regime.
Ottawa is also watching with increased concern the diplomatic battle between Washington and Moscow about proposed U.S. revisions to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
The ABM treaty has been "the cornerstone of strategic stability" and must be respected, Mr. Axworthy told the Boston audience.
He added that great care is needed to make sure U.S. deployment of a national missile defence system does not damage the web of arms-control agreements that has "underpinned nuclear restraint and allowed for nuclear reductions."
Both Russia and China have warned that U.S. deployment of such a system could set off a new nuclear arms race.
Two days of U.S.-Russian arms-reduction talks broke down in Moscow yesterday because of continued deadlock on the ABM treaty issue.
Washington appears to be stepping up efforts to amend the ABM treaty following the successful test firing of an interceptor missile over the Pacific three weeks ago. The interceptor tracked and shot down a high-altitude ballistic warhead, a technical feat that some defence analysts have described as hitting a bullet with a bullet.
The U.S. government has allocated billions of dollars for further research and development and may decide as early as next year that it has perfected a system that is ready to be deployed.
Mr. Axworthy has said in the past that deployment could have implications for Canada because the Pentagon wants to use NORAD -- the Canada-U.S. North American Aerospace Defence Command -- to control the missile defence system.
He said yesterday it is too early to say what Canada would do if the United States ever tried to deploy a national missile defence system over Russian objections.
Liberal policy has been ambivalent on nuclear weapons since the last U.S. warheads were removed from Canada during Pierre Trudeau's final administration, which ended in 1984. Official party policy calls for the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons in the world. Yet the Liberals, in and out of power, have supported NATO's policy of keeping the option to be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict.
Mr. Axworthy is now trying to wean NATO away from this Cold War-era "first-use" doctrine.