. . . pour les nouvelles en français

. . . back to List of News Stories

Dec 13/99 - ''Unusual'' MOX fuel data ~ inspector's comments sow confusion.

Nuclear Fuel

by Pearl Marshall.

Confusion reigned in Japan and the UK late last week after a Sellafield site inspector revealed that the data   [ related to ]   some mixed-oxide (MOX) pellets recently shipped in fuel assemblies by BNFL   [ British Nuclear Fuels Limited ]   to KEOPCO's Takahama-4 PWR in Japan had been classed as "unusual".

UK Nuclear Installations Inspectorate's Fred Brookes, who is the key liaison between NII and BNFL's Sellafield site, appeared to draw a distinction between the unusual data associated with pellets in two of the eight BNFL-shipped fuel assemblies and a separate lot of pellets BNFL still held in the UK for Takahama-3 which were proven this fall to have falsified fabrication data.

BNFL has consistently maintained that no fuel sent to Japan from its MOX Demonstration Facility (MDF) had been implicated in the September imbroglio over falsification of pellet data. It continued to hold that position late last week. BNFL spokesman Peter Osborne questioned Brookes' use of the term "unusual" adding "I don't know where the inspector has got it from". Osborne referred callers to NII for clarification.

A text of Brookes' comments to the Sellafield Local Liaison Committee Dec 8th was made available at the open meeting. It appeared to suggest two categories of affected fuel pellets. Brookes said that none of the 22 pellet lots reported by BNFL in September to have falsified data "are in fuel asemblies recently shipped to Japan. However, there is one lot of pellets whose data has been classed as 'unusual'," he said, "where the pellets are in two of the eight (shipped) fuel assemblies."

NII said -- as Nuclear Fuel was going to press -- that Brookes could not be reached for further explanation because he was involved in a simulation emergency exercise in the Chapelcross Magnox station.

BNFL sacked three workers Oct 1   [ 1999 ]   over the faked data in the quality control chain. The controversy is delaying KEPCO's plan to load a small amount of MOX fuel at Takahama-4   [ nuclear reactor ] .

In November 2 Japanese environment groups, Green Action and Mihama no Kai, filed a lawsuit against KE seeking an injunction to prevent the loading of the MOX fuel. The case was based upon a study of quality control data sheets released by BNFL, according to environmentalists. Closing day for submission of evidence to the Osaka District Court was Dec 10.

"Kansais has been forced to delay their schedule of loading, but as of today still plans a January schedule for loading," claimed Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace. He said GP is pushing last week's shipped fuel revelations in order to influence Fukui legislative members before the end of their session Dec 17.

Greenpeace see the revelations as a further weapon in their fight against Japanese MOX fuel usage and a UK government go-ahead next spring to MDF's successor, the much larger 500 m SMP. Without Japanese contracts "BNFL effectively has no market for its MOX services," said GP.

"It was clear ... in September that there was every chance that the falsification extended to fuel that was being shipped to Japan," said Burnie. "Despite this, BNFL assured one of their most important clients, from one of their most important overseas client countries, that there was nothing to worry about."

The three workers fired by BNFL "for gross misconduct in the fabrication of quality control data" lost their second round of appeal against dismissal earlier this month. Their first round was at the site management level and the second round at BNFL's corporate level. They are currently considering further legal action. This would take their fight to an industrial tribunal. They claim that BNFL is making them scapegoats.

Early allegations that the workers were being pressured to meet targets were quickly quashed by BNFL. "There were no whips being cracked" said BNFL Works Manager for MOX fuels, Simon Marshall. "There are always targets to meet in a production environment,   [ but ]   we were confident we were going to finish the contract well in advance of its contractual delivery date," he told Nuclear Fuel. "Its an incident we deeply regret;   [ one ]   that's also caused our customers some embarrassment," he said

BNFL has consistently stressed that the data falsification was not a safety issue, but one of quality assurance .

Marshall said the falsification occurred during a second round of manual rechecks, the fourth step in extensive quality assurance procedures. He stressed it was detected by BNFL's own quality control team at BNFL.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Dec 12/99 - Serious safety problems re-surface at the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

Edmonton Sun
page 46

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant has malfunctioned, prompting operators to cut electrical output by 10% yesterday, a Ukrainian news agency reported. No radiation leakage was reported.

Operators found a mechanical defect in one of the eight safety valves in the sole working reactor and switched it off, the UNIAN news agency said. The device was aimed at preventing the pressure inside the reactor from rising excessively.

The plant -- whose name is generally now translated as Chornobyl -- was site of the world's worst nuclear accident in 1986, and was then closed for planned repairs from July 1 until Nov. 26. Since it restarted last month, it has suffered several breakdowns.

Western governments and environmental groups have protested against the plant's continued operation. But the Ukrainian government said due to a lack of funds, it cannot honour its previous pledge to close Chornobyl by the end of this year.

It has pledged to shut down the plant sometime in 2000 but authorities said they need two more reactors built to compensate for the energy loss when Chornobyl closes.

Meanwhile, a reactor at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant was shut down yesterday for planned tests of its safety system. The reactor was to be restarted later in the day.

Currently, 10 out of Ukraine's 14 reactors are working, producing about 40% of the country's electricity.

photo from Sun files

A worker uses a radio-controlled bulldozer
to remove topsoil near the Chernobyl accident site in 1986.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Dec 12/99 - Citizens seek injunction to block weapons plutonium shipment.

Press Release

Plaintiffs available for interviews
at close of each court day.
News briefing at lunch break
in front of federal building.
Two days of hearings anticipated.

KALAMAZOO, Michigan -- Citizens of the Great Lakes Basin are heading back to Federal District Court in Kalamazoo, MI. this Tuesday (Dec 14/99) at 9:00 a.m.

This past Tuesday (Dec 7/99) U.S. District Judge Richard Enslen issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting plutonium shipments from the U.S. to Canada until December 17. Judge Enslen will hear arguments for a preliminary injunction this Tuesday.

Peace and environmental activists throughout the world are watching the outcome of these proceedings. The Department of Energy acknowledges:

Plaintiff Alice Hirt decodes this nukespeak as: "By virtue of conducting the Parallex experiment there are nuclear proliferation ramifications. Even if this were to be a one time test, which I do not believe it to be, the potential for nuclear proliferation is immense."

"The right of Citizens to an environmental impact statement (EIS) with full public hearings has been denied by the DOE" said Plaintiff Kathryn Cumbow.

"The DOE has chopped their scheme for dispersing these dangerous U.S. and Russian plutonium stockpiles into compartmentalized bits in hopes of concealing the global implications. Such segmentation is a blatant violation of federal law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) -- and the DOE knows this. As relief we are seeking a full EIS with real public hearings. Michigan citizens asked for genuine hearings, not the hokey PR meetings that DOE staged in October," stated Cumbow.

Plaintiff Anabel Dwyer affirmed "We will not tolerate a Plutonium Economy, nor will we tolerate the proposed suspension of civil liberties (i.e. federalization of the route) in order to propagate a failed commercial industry whose products are poison and coercion."

"The U.S. Department of Energy has struck terror into the hearts of the citizens of the Great Lakes Basin. This crucible holds 20 percent of the world's surface fresh water. The DOE's intent is sacrilege!" declared Plaintiff Terry Miller.

"The gift of water, essential to life, is being violated by this man-made element plutonium, with a known lethal toxicity that lasts for tens of thousands of years. Not in my name. For what, for whom, why ?" asked Terry Miller.

Attorneys for the Plaintiffs anticipate two days of court proceedings. U.S. District Judge Richard Enslen has indicated that he will issue a ruling by December 17, 1999.

For Day Contact:

For Evening Contact:

. . . back to List of News Stories

Dec 07/99 - Judge blocks plutonium shipment through Michigan.

Associated Press


KALAMAZOO, Michigan - A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked the shipment of plutonium through Michigan, saying there are questions about whether the Department of Energy did enough study of potential environmental effects.

In a ruling from the bench, U.S. District Chief Judge Richard Enslen issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting any shipments from the United States to Canada until Dec. 17. He will hear arguments for a preliminary injunction next Tuesday.

The shipment is part of a test to determine whether commercial nuclear reactors in Canada can use material from decommissioned Russian nuclear weapons as fuel.

U.S. Department of Energy lawyers had no comment after the hearing. In court, they told the judge that delaying the shipment until Dec. 17 would not jeopardize the project, but further postponement could hurt U.S. credibility in negotiating nuclear disarmament treaties with Russia and other countries.

Alice Hirt, one of six individuals who filed the lawsuit along with the group Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, welcomed the decision.

"This is what we wanted. We have stopped them from proceeding, and now they've got to prove that they don't need to have an environmental impact statement," she said.

Specifically, the judge ruled that there may be merit to the plaintiffs' claim that the agency violated federal regulations by only looking at the environmental effects of one shipment from Los Alamos, N.M., to Canada via Michigan.

The lawsuit contends that the one shipment actually is part of a much larger plan to process U.S. and Russian weapons-grade plutonium at nuclear power plants worldwide. Energy department lawyers said Tuesday only one such shipment is planned as part of the project, although they could not completely rule out future transfers for other projects.

The judge's ruling was not based on the plaintiffs' argument that the plutonium shipment was unsafe. Enslen said he does not believe that would hold up in court.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs filed the request for a temporary restraining order Monday, alleging the federal government has not done enough to ensure the safety of its plan.

The agency conducted public meetings and an environmental assessment, but did not do a more-extensive environmental impact statement that such major federal action legally requires, according to the complaint.

"The possibility of extreme winter conditions in the Upper Great Lakes, where blizzards are a routine event is neither mentioned nor discussed" in the environmental assessment, the filing states.

"The potential impacts on the state and local government emergency response plans are not fully identified, analyzed or discussed S neither the possibility of terrorism nor local response capabilities in the event of a high-radiation accident."

DOE officials insist the shipment of 4.25 ounces of plutonium would be safe, but will not say when it might occur. In court Tuesday, the government said the plutonium will be transported in an armored tractor-trailer with heavily armed guards.

But they said the high-security arrangements come at the request of the Michigan congressional delegation, not out of any security concerns or fears.

Several Michigan groups have protested the decision to ship the plutonium through Michigan. The plutonium likely would be transported on Interstates 94, 69, 75 and cross the Mackinac Bridge before continuing to Canada across another bridge at Sault Ste. Marie.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Dec 02/99 - Chernobyl nuclear reactor shut down again after radioactive leak.

Agence France Presse

KIEV (AFP) -- The newly-reopened third reactor at Chernobyl, the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1986, has been shut down because of a malfunction in its emergency cooling system, a plant spokesman said Thursday.

"A leak was detected Wednesday night in the pipes transporting radioactive water and used to cool down the third reactor," the Chernobyl spokesman said, adding however that no increase in radioactivity was recorded.

Reactor number three, which is the only one in operation at the plant, was reopened on November 26 after five months of work to ensure the plant's safety.

The repair work included checking and reinforcing the reactor's pipe system, which was discovered in recent years to be riddled with hundreds of cracks.

An environment ministry official said the leak proved the delapidated plant was a ticking time-bomb that threatened the whole of Europe.

"We're shocked. The plant has got to be shut down for safety reasons. We cannot put the lives of the population in danger," Vadim Grichenko said.

Grichenko said Kiev was still waiting to find out if it would receive the 3.1 billion dollar compensation handouts promised by the G7 group of industrialized nations, in return for closing the plant by the year 2000.

"It is vitally important for us to know whether we are going to get this money. However, for now the safety issue has to override all financial considerations," Grichenko said.

The plant spokesman said the reactor was scheduled to start functioning again on December 8.

An independent expert said the lack of funds meant the repair work carried out on the reactor had been shoddy.

"Everything has been done in a hurry," Georgy Kochinsky said.

Employees have been forced to feel Chernobyl's financial pinch, with salaries paid irregularly.

"Staff morale is not the best, though we never refuse to work," engineer Andry Savin said.

The situation is made worse by the uncertain future that faces many Chernobyl employees when the plant is finally closed down.

"We do not know what the future holds. Those who manage to find another job will leave, the rest of us will get by as best we can," Savin said.

Reactor number four melted down on April 26, 1986, spreading a radioactive cloud over much of Europe and claiming between 3,000 and 12,000 lives, according to Ukrainian authorities.

Reactor number two was shut down in 1991 after a fire, and reactor number one was taken out of service in 1996 as part of an international agreement to decommission the plant.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Dec 04/99 - [Chrétien pushes proposed CANDU reactor sale to Turkey]

"The House"
CBC Radio

by Jennifer Fry,
CBC News Ottawa.


Aftershocks from recent earthquakes in Turkey are still being felt back here in Canada. The questions were even more pointed as the Prime Minister toured the earthquake site just two weeks ago. Jean Chrétien defended Canada's efforts to sell the reactors, but back home, opposition to the sale is mounting. People are trying to block Canada's efforts to sell the reactors, for environmental, political, and financial reasons. Here's Jennifer Fry.

[tape made on site in Turkey]


The scene is one of complete devastation. Prime Minister Chrétien tours the Turkish city of Adapazari.


You can see these buildings that might sill crumble at any moment. They have lost thousands of people and that's why the people of Canada are always happy when we can share in...


The scene made some of the reporters following Chrétien wonder why Canada is still so intent on selling nuclear reactors to Turkey. It has had two devastating earthquakes since August.


Any country where we go with a nuclear plant, we make sure that it is in a safe area, and nobody has taken any chance.


In French, he tells reporters that Turkey is a big country, and that the proposed site is in an area less prone to quakes. The proposed site is in southern Turkey, hundreds of kilometers away from the latest earthquake. The Canadian crown corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) is bidding on a deal to build two reactors in Turkey at that site -- a $3 billion deal. As sweet as that deal would be for Canada, opposition to it is strong. It has even pushed this Liberal backbencher and Chrétien loyalist to protest the Prime Minister pushing the deal.


I have family that lives there. I have my parents that are semi-retired and live in that part of the world. I am concerned about the 144 million people that live in the eastern Mediterranean region. Akkuyu, if there's an earthquake, will make Chernobyl look like a little game.


Jim Karygiannis, the Member of Parliament for Scarborough-Agincourt. He was born in Greece and has close ties to Toronto's Greek community. He says that AECL has been using old earthquake data to approve the Akkuyu site; that newer information shows a fault line running just kilometers from Akkuyu.


I have approached the Prime Minister and I said, 'I don't think that you have all the information'. I have written to the Prime Minister in the past, and I have talked to the him, and I have expressed my concerns in caucus very vocally. I have approached him and I said 'Prime Minister, I don't think that they have given you all the information that there is, and I would like to write a report and give it to you'. He has welcomed that possibility, and I will give it to him in the upcoming weeks.


Karygiannis recognizes that some people might question his opposition to a nuclear reactor in Turkey, given his Greek heritage. But he insists that his criticism is based on earthquake safety. He does however admit some security worries.


Well, see what happened in India and Pakistan. Turkey signed the Non- Proliferation Treaty in 1980. Ironically Iraq was among the first signatories, and yet Iraq developed nuclear technology. If they didn't, we would not have had UN inspectors in Iraq for the last ten years.


Kristen Ostling, of the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout has another criticism of the deal to sell a CANDU to Turkey.


Nuclear power is being phased out in Canada, and to see our Prime Minister flogging these reactors in countries like Turkey seems completely unconscionable to people like us and to Canadians in general.


Ostling says Ontario has closed eight of its twenty nuclear reactors because of problems. She says because of safety and high costs no one has ordered a new reactor in North America since the early 1980s. If we can't handle them, she asks, how can a county like Turkey?


There's a parallel between these kinds of exports and the export of pesticides to third world countries. There are pesticides that are banned in the North American market which have been off-loaded to countries in the third world. There is definitely an attempt to pass on this problem, and the only reason is that it is part of the survival strategy of the nuclear industry. It needs contracts like this in order to stay alive.


The CANDU sale to Turkey has also drawn critics of the financial details, like the Reform Party's Charlie Penson, Member of Parliament for Peace River.


I don't think taxpayers' money should be involved in it, and I think that the real test would be if AECL was privatized and they didn't use subsidized government taxpayers' credit to finance it... could they then make that sale to Turkey?


AECL gets $100 million a year from the federal government. The Turks would also get a loan from another Canadian crown corporation, the Export Development Corporation, for half of the amount, $1.5 billion. Penson says, if Turkey can't pay the loan off, Canadian taxpayers will have to. But the head of AECL, Allen Kilpatrick, says there is nothing unusual about the loan.


The financing is profitable. If you look at the Export Development Corporation's annual report, in their bottom line, they make a hell of a lot of money. This is not subsidized financing, any more that the financing for a Northern Telecom project or a mining project or anything else.


Kilpatrick defends the money that AECL gets from the federal government too. He explains that the $100 million goes to AECL's research projects like nuclear medicine and reactor safety -- projects that AECL's half-billion dollar revenue doesn't cover. But Kilpatrick saves his most vehement defence for criticism that a CANDU plant could be damaged by an earthquake in Akkuyu.


It would be absolute stupidity if for no other reasons than crass commercial reasons. For us to take any risk would be the end of the CANDU business. If we thought we were designing a CANDU in a place that was going to result in a significant accident, you might as well forget about the business for ever.


Kilpatrick says that recent earthquakes near Akkuyu could not harm a CANDU. They are built to withstand an 8 on the Richter scale. To critics who say that other countries might not operate a CANDU safely, he points to CANDUs built in Argentina, Romania and Korea that have been operating safely for years.


We have had nuclear power in Canada for 35 years, we've never had a single accident that injured anybody or killed anybody.


David Martin of the Nuclear Awareness Project is not convinced.


We believe that we need an international campaign to try to stop the construction of the Akkuyu nuclear plant in Turkey.


In the last year, Martin has visited Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and the United States to raise awareness of the proposed nuclear plant at Akkuyu. Supporters have snowed the Prime Minister's office with thousands of protest cards as a result. Martin now has new travel plans.


We intend to visit Tel Aviv and Beirut (Israel and Lebanon) in the new year. In some ways, the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria and Israel) are most at risk if you look at the possible effects of a catastrophic accident at Akkuyu. The prevailing winds are from the west, and the majority of time are blowing towards the Middle East.


Martin and many other Canadian anti-nuclear activists think that their biggest obstacle here is Jean Chrétien himself. They call him an unabashed nuclear booster -- Canada's best CANDU salesman. Chrétien heavily promoted nuclear power as energy minister in Pierre Trudeau's cabinet. He tried unsuccessfully to sell a CANDU reactor to Turkey back in the 1980s. One of his close friends and a major Liberal fundraiser, Bob Nixon, is chair of AECL's Board. But now, Chrétien has much to consider in this sale to Turkey -- heavy opposition from the Canadian Greek community, environmentalists, and critics of AECL's government funding.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Dec 06/99 - New Chalk River MAPLE reactors may use weapons-grade uranium.

Toronto Star

by Peter Calamai
Science Reporter

Plant may use bomb-grade uranium fuel :
Cost of using safer uranium feared too high

OTTAWA -- Two new nuclear reactors being built in Ontario may have to use bomb-grade enriched uranium to produce medical isotopes because switching to safer, low-enriched uranium fuel would be too costly and too troublesome.

The $120-million MAPLE reactors, under construction at Chalk River, Ont., are owned by MDS Nordion, a Canadian company that is the leading world supplier of radioactive isotopes used for medical diagnosis and treatment.

Grant Malkoske, Nordion's technology vice-president, said the company is concerned about the cost of larger waste treatment facilities that could be necessary if the switch to low-enriched uranium fuel is made. An initial feasibility study strongly suggested that the processing facilities currently being erected might not be big enough, he said.

"But we want to be able to make the change and we're still working toward that end," Malkoske said in an interview.

The potential concern over the increased waste treatment was raised by Malkoske in a Nov. 4 progress report to the U.S. state department, which has been pushing the reactor conversions as part of nuclear non-proliferation.

High-enriched uranium, which is more than 93 per cent U5,can be used by terrorists to make nuclear bombs. Low-enriched uranium, at roughly 20 per cent U5, cannot.

The Nordion letter was only recently placed on the public file at the U.S. atomic watchdog, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and released by a Washington-based advocacy group, the Nuclear Control Institute.

"We're worried that no one has said who would pay for any conversions," Alan Kuperman, the institute's expert on high-enriched uranium, said yesterday in an interview. "Once the processing facility starts up, the cost of making any changes increases 10-fold because everything is radioactive."

In June, the regulatory commission gave Kanata, Ont.-based Nordion the go-ahead to import high-enriched uranium into Canada for five years after the company pledged to investigate within three months whether the new facility could be switched to low-enriched uranium.

Nordion's Malkoske said that the first of the MAPLE reactors is scheduled to begin operating by mid-2000 but that the company hoped to decide by February if the conversion would be feasible.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Dec 04/99 - Restart of last Chernobyl reactor prompts a look back at situation.

Regina Leader-Post

by Ed Willett

This week, Ukrainian authorities restarted the last working reactor at the Chernobyl power plant, site of the world's worst nuclear disaster 13 years ago. Officials say the reactor is completely safe and free of potential Y2K bugs.

Considering that everybody living in the northern hemisphere 13 years ago was the unwilling recipient of at least a few radioactive particles from Chernobyl, we all have good reason to hope they're correct.

Nuclear reactors split uranium atoms by bombarding them with neutrons. A small portion of the atoms' mass becomes energy, and they release more neutrons, which in turn bombard other nearby atoms, splitting them and beginning a chain reaction. If the material is packed together tightly enough, this chain reaction is uncontrolled, and you get an atomic explosion. In nuclear reactors, a material called the moderator controls the chain reaction by slowing the neutrons.

In Chernobyl-style reactors, the reaction is moderated by graphite. Ordinary water is piped through the core of the reactor and heated into steam. This both cools the reactor core and drives the power turbines. Chernobyl-style reactors don't have a containment vessel -- the steel-and-concrete tower familiar from North American reactors -- and become unstable at low power, liable to sudden surges of power.

On April 25, 1986, the Number 4 reactor at Chernobyl was to be shut down for routine maintenance, and it was decided to take advantage of that to run a test of emergency power systems. Due to poor communication, a series of actions was taken that led to a dangerous situation: the reactor's power output fell to the point where it became unstable, certain safety systems were disabled, and most of the control rods, used to damp neutron output and thus shut down the reactor in a hurry, had been withdrawn.

At 1:23 a.m. on Saturday, April 26, 1986, the unstable reactor suffered a power surge estimated to be 100 times greater than normal. The fuel ruptured. Hot fuel particles hit the water system, causing a steam explosion that destroyed the reactor core. A second explosion ripped the roof off the reactor building, exposing the reactor core and sending a shower of hot, radioactive debris into the air.

The building caught fire, giving rise to more clouds of radioactive steam and dust. More than 100 firefighters fought the blaze, many of them suffering fatal radiation doses; the building fires were extinguished within a few hours, but by then the reactor's graphite had caught fire. It burned for 10 days, hurling a constant stream of radioactive material high into the atmosphere. Radioactive emissions continued in total for 20 days.

After the accident, the reactor was encased in a steel-and-concrete sarcophagus that is currently being re-fortified. Two of the other four reactors were permanently shut down. Ukraine was supposed to close all of them by 2000, but because the government can't afford to build the two new reactors it needs to replace the power it draws from Chernobyl, reactor Number 3 is now up and running again.

Immediately after the accident, 134 people showed signs of acute radiation sickness, of whom 28 died. 135,000 people were evacuated from the area; most received significant doses of radiation. Approximately 800,000 workers were brought in to try to decontaminate the area, and received varying doses of radiation. Around 270,000 people continue to live in contaminated areas.

Large portions of agricultural land were contaminated, including almost a quarter of the agricultural land in Belarus. A swath of forest near the site received so much radiation the trees died and had to be destroyed as radioactive waste. Interestingly, wildlife now abounds in the area, and although rodents are so contaminated you wouldn't want to handle them, researchers have yet to find any malformed individuals.

There has been a substantial increase in reported cases of thyroid cancer in Belarus, Ukraine and some parts of Russia. An increase in leukemia was expected, but hasn't shown up yet. Nor have there been perceived increases in other cancers -- but that could be because enough time has not yet elapsed. Nevertheless, it's estimated that, when all the health consequences are taken into account, 3,756 people have now died from the accident.

Harder to measure have been the psychosocial effects, caused by the fear of disease, the stress of being exiled from their homes, a distrust of authorities, and economic and social hardship.

Not to mention insomnia. With a nuclear reactor once again operating at Chernobyl, it's a safe bet a lot of people aren't sleeping well these days.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Dec 06/99 - Michigan group sues to block plutonium shipment to Canada.

Associated Press

A group of Michigan residents went to U.S. federal court Monday to try and block the government from shipping plutonium across the state.

In an 18-page complaint, the plaintiffs asked Chief Judge Richard Enslen to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the U.S. Department of Energy, saying the agency has not done enough to show its plan is safe.

A court hearing is scheduled this afternoon in Kalamazoo, Mich.

An Energy Department spokeswoman said the agency will fight the request for a court-ordered halt to the shipment. She spoke on condition she not be identified.

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges the agency's assessment of its transportation plan for the plutonium is inadequate. The agency conducted public meetings and an environmental assessment but no environmental-impact study, the complaint said.

"TransportSwill cause the potential for immediate and irreparable harm to the quality of the human environment, which may include irreversible damageSby radioactive pollution and irreversible damage as well to lands and waters located in and about the State of Michigan," the filing contends.

The Energy Department is shipping 120 grams of plutonium from New Mexico to Canada as part of a test to determine whether commercial nuclear reactors in Canada can use material from decommissioned Russian nuclear weapons as fuel.

Department officials insist the shipment would be safe but won't say when it might occur.

Several Michigan groups have protested the decision to ship the plutonium through Michigan. The plutonium likely be transported on Interstates 94, 69, 75 and cross the Mackinac Bridge before continuing across another bridge at Sault Ste. Marie on its way to Chalk River, Ont.

The plaintiffs include six individuals and the group Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination in Lake Station.

"We feel this is a foot in the door to do more shipments," said plaintiff Alice Hirt, a Holland, Mich., grandmother and member of a nuclear-watchdog group.

"We want to ensure the safety of future generations."

. . . back to List of News Stories

Dec 06/99 - Framatome and Siemens merge their nuclear businesses.

Agence France Presse

PARIS (AFP) -- The French state group Framatome and Siemens of Germany on Monday unveiled plans to combine their nuclear businesses and create the biggest maker of nuclear power plants in the world.

Framatome will dominate the new entity and the French government lost no time in stressing that it would retain control of Framatome.

The fusion comes at a difficult time for the nuclear industry, particularly in Europe where the market is stagnating or actually even declining in terms of volume.

In view of political resistance within Europe, controversy over the treatment of nuclear waste and increased price ressure on nuclear power plant operators as a result of the deregulation of the power markets, the construction of new nuclear plants in western Europe currently appears far from certain.

So, by joining forces, Framatome and Siemens hope to expand their presence in the key markets of North America and Asia and be "better positioned to succeed in the ever stiffer international competition," they said in a joint statement.

For the head of the state-owned Framatome, Dominique Vignon, the merger will help open up the nuclear sector to competition.

Until now, the industry had always been a closed shop under state control, he said in an interview with the French daily Le Monde.

For privately-owned Siemens, which is currently involved in an extensive reorganisation of its wide range of businesses, the move fits in with its 10-point plan to spin off non-core businesses.

With annual sales of one billion euros (dollars), Siemens's nuclear division accounts for only around a seventh of turnover at its power generation business, itself only one of a number of large divisions within the group as a whole.

Framatome generates about half of its annual sales from its nuclear division.

"Joining forces with Framatome in the field of nuclear technology is a contribution to our 10-point pogramme for achieving sustained growth in profitability," said Norbert Koenig, the head of the Siemens' power generation unit, KWU.

"We see the planned joint venture as the best way to secure our nuclear business, our know-how, and a maximum number of jobs over the long term, and retain all future opportunities," Koenig added.

Under the terms of the agreement announced on Monday -- and which will be finalised over the coming months -- Framatome will hold 66 percent in the joint venture and Siemens the other 34 percent.

Furthermore, Siemens has promised to hold on to its stake for at least 10 years.

French Industry Minister Christian Pierret said on Monday that the alliance had been made without any preconditions.

"There is no commitment to privatise Framatome or to launch the European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR) before the time is right," he said.

EPR is a project the two companies have been working on for the past 10 years, but has so far come across fierce opposition among the environmentalist Green parties in both Germany and France.

The new joint venture will be headed by a Frenchman who will be nominated by the French partner, Framatome chief Vignon told Le Monde.

That, and the fact that the new joint venture will remain under French state control, takes into account the plans by Germany to withdraw from nuclear energy altogether, even though that pullout is still decades away, said French Finance Minister Christian Sautter.

Sautter said that the merger "does not change Framatome's anchoring in the public sector" and that it would not lead to any job losses in France.

The new business will have combined sales of some 3.1 billion euros (dollars) and a workforce of around 13,000.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Dec 07/99 - Restraining order sought to stop plutonium shipments.

Kalamazoo Gazette

by Tom Haroldson

A Kalamazoo man has joined a lawsuit filed by several Michigan residents attempting to stop a shipment of plutonium through the state.

A hearing on the request for a temporary restraining order against the U.S. Department of Energy will be today before Judge Richard Enslen in U.S. District Court in Kalamazoo.

Robert Anderson of Kalamazoo, a frequent critic of the proposed plutonium shipment from New Mexico to Ontario, Canada, is one of seven plaintiffs asking for a court order to stop the shipment of mixed oxide uranium fuel, a nuclear weapons plutonium material.

The Gazette was unable to reach Anderson for a comment.

Joining Anderson in the suit are the Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination out of Lake Station, Mich., and residents from Holland, East Lansing, Brown City, Petoskey and Bay City.

The federal government had until 4 p.m. Monday to respond to the lawsuit, but no response was filed with the Kalamazoo federal court.

An Energy Department spokeswoman said the agency would fight the request for a court-ordered halt to the shipment. She spoke on the condition she not be identified.

The lawsuit challenges DOE's environmental assessment report that there would be no significant impact by the plutonium shipment.It claims the DOE report is "unlawfully narrow" and "inadequate."

The group believes that transporting the MOX fuel through the state without an environmental impact statement will cause "the potential for immediate and irreparable harm to the quality of the human environment. It also said it may cause damage by radioactive pollution, and irreversible damage to lands and waters.

Each of the plaintiffs lives within 50 miles of the announced route, which includes Interstate-94, Interstate-69, Interstate-75, across the Mackinaw Bridge and proceeding to Sault Ste. Marie, where it will pass over the International Bridge to a facility in Chalk River, Ontario.

The lawsuit charges that the group has concerns about what could happen if there is an accident involving the vehicle carrying the plutonium, especially if shipped during winter weather conditions.

The group is asking for a more complete environmental impact statement that addresses their concerns.

The plutonium shipment has sparked concerns in cities along the route, including among several Kalamazoo residents. They have repeatedly raised fears to the Kalamazoo City Commission, which for its part had asked for more hearings on the plutonium shipment.

TOM HAROLDSON can be reached at 324-9340.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Dec 08/99- U.S. judge bars Chalk River plutonium shipment for ten days.

Globe and Mail
page A10

by Martin Mittelstaedt
Environment Reporter

Michigan environmentalists obtain restraining order
against plutonium cargo
destined for testing at Ontario nuclear site

A U.S. judge has slapped a 10-day restraining order on a controversial shipment of weapons-grade plutonium to Canada by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The ruling was issued yesterday after an environmental group filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Kalamazoo, Mich., seeking an injunction to block the shipment and to force the Department of Energy to conduct an in-depth environmental study of the plan.

The plutonium is headed for Canada to be tested to see how it burns in Canadian-style nuclear reactors. The lawsuit was brought by Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, a Michigan environmental group, and six people who live within 80 kilometres of proposed shipment routes from Kalamazoo in the southern part of the state to the northern section near Sault Ste. Marie.

Terry Miller, one of the plaintiffs, said the judge will announce a decision on a longer restraining order next Tuesday. The judge also said he would rule on the request for an envirnmental study next week.

The shipment was to be trucked secretly by the Department of Energy through the state in the next week or two, to the Chalk River research laboratories of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

It will be moved in a high-security tractor-trailer normally used for nuclear weapons and accompanied by heavily armed guards who have the right to use lethal force to protect themselves, their vehicles and their cargos.

Although the Department of Energy has said the shipment, involving less than a kilogram of plutonium, might take one of seven different U.S. routes, it is widely believed the preferred courses are through Michigan, where the planned transfer has prompted widespread citizen opposition.

"DOE has announced that its security people will have 'shoot to kill' orders. Local emergency response people will not be told of the shipment or the route it is to take. The suspension of the Constitution in order to bail out a needy Canadian company is not a price the American people are willing to pay," said Alice Hirt, another plaintiff.

The plutonium will be tested with a similar shipment from Russia to see whether bomb material is suitable as fuel in Canadian-designed nuclear generating stations.

The Russian plutonium is expected to be moved by ship to Canada next spring.

The plan is a pet project of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who has offered Canada's help to burn surplus Cold War stocks of plutonium to futher world peace.

But opponents of the shipment in Michigan are worried that a highway accident causing a fire could spread an 80-kilometre-long plume of airborne radioactive contamination across the state, affecting millions of people.

Separately, Michigan Attorney-General Jennifer Granholm wrote to U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson last Friday, objecting to the movement of the plutonium through her state.

"As I am sure you are aware, this proposed shipment has raised grave concern among the citizens of Michigan as well as the citizens of other states through which this material will pass," she wrote.

She also objected to the use of the Mackinac Bridge between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan "in December, when climatological events are unpredictable and often hostile."

Copyright 1999 Michigan Live Inc.
Send Comments To:

. . . back to List of News Stories

Nov 30/99 - US may ship plutonium fuel rods to Canada beginning December 2.

Christian Science Monitor

by Ruth Walker



TORONTO -- To its defenders, the Parallex project -- an experiment to dispose of plutonium from Russian and American warheads -- is a "swords into plowshares" initiative in the noblest peacemaking traditions of Canadian foreign policy.

As early as Thursday, the first small sample of weapons-grade plutonium is allowed to leave Michigan for the Chalk River research reactor in Ontario for a three-year "test burn."

This test could open the door for Canadian commercial nuclear power plants to be running, within about 10 years, off excess military plutonium.

But to critics, the attempt risks bringing Canada into the dangerous plutonium trade and turning the country into a dumping ground for the world's nuclear waste. And the prospect of even the test shipments has caused alarm.

"What I find most perplexing is that our government is promoting this as a non-proliferation measure," says Kristin Ostling, national director for the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout in Ottawa. She calls the project "about the worst thing Canada can do to promote non-proliferation."

Environmentalists, citizens' groups, the police and firefighters' associations, and others have protested the shipment. The Mohawk Indians have threatened to block the route.

Disposal problem

At the heart of the controversy is disagreement over how best to deal with excess weapons-grade plutonium. The US can easily dispose of its own inventory in commercial reactors, but will ship its sample to Chalk River to help keep the Canadian option open for Russia. Russia, meanwhile, with its limited reactor capacity, could take 25 years to dispose of its excess on its own.

No date has been made public for the shipment of the US sample, but it could occur as early as Dec. 2. The Russian shipment is seen as likely to occur in the spring.

The Canadian scenario involves mixing the plutonium with natural uranium into so-called mixed-oxide fuel pellets, or MOX. These pellets are a sort of higher-octane nuclear fuel than natural uranium, which CANDU reactors, designed and marketed by the Crown corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL), of Mississauga, Ont., normally run on. Hence the need for the Chalk River test.

But opponents of the MOX project argue that a better solution is vitrification, encasing the plutonium in a sort of glass log, or keeping it buried under military guard.

Critics of that option counter that vitrified plutonium can be made back into nuclear weapons, unlike plutonium put into MOX pellets. "Vitrification does not destroy plutonium," AECL spokesman Larry Shewchuk says.

He adds, "There is no risk to the public in the transport of this material," which will travel in 45-gallon drums, by truck and by freight container. It will be so solidly packaged that "no accident scenario" is credible.

"The worst thing you can do with plutonium is make it part of international commerce," says Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. Any time nuclear materials travel from one point to another, particularly internationally, there is opportunity for what is delicately known as "diversion."

Why is Ottawa persisting with a project so unpopular with at least a very vocal part of the public?

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien is widely seen as a prime cheerleader for the Canadian nuclear industry. Even on tour in earthquake-ravaged Turkey recently, he continued to talk up the AECL's bid to build a reactor there, insisting it would be "perfectly safe."

Moreover, critics say AECL sees the Parallex project as an opportunity to demonstrate the capacity of CANDU reactors to run on other fuels, a marketing plus.

Who would profit

Mr. Shewchuk, of the AECL, dismisses this argument. "What makes them attractive is that they run on natural uranium, which is a cheap source of fuel -- in line with coal." Nor is there much money in all this for AECL, he adds. "It would be the utilities" that would benefit from any large-scale MOX imports.

The US is expected to chip in a few billion dollars up front to help with the cost of handling Russian plutonium. "But in the long haul, the Russians and the G-7 [the group of seven major industrialized nations] will have to work it out," says Franklyn Griffiths, a political scientist at the University of Toronto. "The US won't pay for everything." But the Russians are insisting on a full market price for this "national treasure."

"If you really want to contain nuclear proliferation, you should do something to strengthen Russia's materials-controlling capacity," Professor Griffiths says. This means such basics as "better perimeter fences" at nuclear sites, "locks on doors, things like that."

Meanwhile, Canada's own security standards have been called into question. Tom Clements of the Nuclear Control Institute in Washington has released a statement criticizing lax security procedures he observed while touring the Chalk River site. "It would be easy ... to carry a weapon or explosive device onto the ... site."

"I don't know anyone in their right mind who would be against destroying nuclear weapons," says Shewchuk. He says that after holding open houses along the transport routes to inform the public about the Parallex project, "9 out of 10 of the people who walked up to us afterward said, 'I think this is important research.... Keep going.... We support you.' "

He adds that the scientist preparing the Russian test sample in Moscow is one who earlier in his career helped develop the nuclear arsenal of what was then the USSR. "His entire research life has come full circle."

. . . back to List of News Stories

Nov 27/99 - A court challenge to the way the Chrétien cabinet sells CANDUs.

Toronto Star

by Rosemary Speirs

An environmental group battling CANDU project
says Ottawa is putting a reactor deal above the law

IN SCENIC and hilly countryside midway down China's east coast, nuclear experts from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. are overseeing the construction and commissioning of two CANDU 6 reactors.

Engineers have already bored the channels through the rock to draw in cooling water from the East China Sea and workers have poured the circular concrete walls that will enclose the reactor cores.

You'd never guess from the way the job is progressing that the Chinese nuclear plants are the target of court action at home. The Sierra Club of Canada has asked the Federal Court to order an independent environmental assessment of the Chinese project.

Such an assessment could stall or even halt construction. But to their dismay, the environmentalists themselves have been stalled -- for almost three years.

In that time, the two CANDU plants have been half completed. When finished, they will be smaller, updated replicas of the Bruce and Darlington nuclear generators that help to power Ontario's factories and homes.

One CANDU 6 reactor core, a steel honeycomb that will eventually hold the nuclear fuel, has already made the trip by flatbed truck and ship from its Quebec factory to storage in China. The second core is aboard a ship en route to Shanghai, the nearest big port up the China coast.

Early in 2003, the CANDU 6s are scheduled to start pumping 700 megawatts each on to the Chinese electrical grid. AECL's nuclear enthusiasts say the Canadian plants will supply a cleaner, more dependable power alternative to the coal-fired generating stations that now rain soot on China's teeming cities.

The two Canadian heavy-water reactors are being built on the giant Qinshan nuclear site, where Chinese authorities already operate one Chinese-designed light-water plant and plan to expand to as many as 10 reactors.

Canada fought hard to break into this power-starved Chinese market. During his first Team Canada trade mission to Asia in 1994, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien sealed the $4 billion deal with Chinese premier Li Peng. AECL's sales staff had done the advance work and president Reid Morden has described the contract for the two CANDUs as a "beachhead . . . in the fastest growing nuclear energy market in the world."

By this point, the China project is so far advanced that stopping it "isn't credible," says AECL chair Robert Nixon (a friend and appointee of Chrétien).

Trying to stop the unstoppable doesn't phase Elizabeth May, a lawyer and environmental activist, who is executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada. In January, 1997, May applied to the Federal Court for a ruling ordering the federal government to submit the Chinese reactor project to the kind of independent environmental assessment that Canadian law requires.

"Canada has a legal obligation to conduct an environmental review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which has a special section applying to publicly funded projects outside Canada," says Andrew Chisholm, policy adviser to the Sierra Club. "From an ethical standpoint as well, we have an obligation to enforce the environmental standards we would use in our own country."

May had previously written to federal cabinet ministers Paul Martin and Art Eggleton, contending that without the proper environmental assessment the reactor sale would be illegal. Eggleton eventually replied, arguing that the reactor sale was not subject to the law.

Eggleton and other cabinet ministers had signed a $1.5 billion loan to China to help finance the reactor deal. The Chinese are using the money to pay AECL and various Canadian contractors for their share of the work in Qinshan.

AECL, which is a participant in the legal case on the side of the ministers, has filed affidavits with the court arguing that Chinese nuclear regulation meets international standards and that imposing Canadian assessment would be an intolerable intrusion on China's sovereignty.

Saddled with such a requirement, Canadian companies couldn't compete against aggressive nuclear peddlers from France, Germany and the U.S. for a share of the multi-billion-dollar Asian market. (CANDUs differ from other reactors in using natural uranium as the fuel and heavy water as the coolant. Of 476 commercial nuclear reactors in operation worldwide, 30 are CANDUs.)

Anti-nuclear activists point out that the United States has not allowed its nuclear industry to sell to Communist China and they accuse Canada of undermining its long-standing commitment to nuclear non-proliferation.

Environmentalists don't trust China's record of toxic skies and poisoned water. They cite the danger of nuclear accidents if slipshod operating procedures creep in after AECL hands over the keys.

"Nuclear-generated electricity is not a sustainable alternative to coal," says a Sierra Club news release.

"The hazards posed by day-to-day operations, the potential for catastrophic accidents and the inevitable problems associated with radioactive waste disposal mean that Canada is bequeathing a legacy of environmental problems to the people of China.

"The federal government appears to have wilfully ignored the cost advantages and environmental benefits of renewable energy and conservation measures both at home and abroad."

To which AECL spokesperson Larry Shewchuk replies: "Sun and wind power are clean and great, but they can't power large urban centres."

The Third Qinshan Nuclear Power Co., after conducting its own environmental reviews, concludes the Chinese coastal site is stable and there will be no unfavourable environmental impact from the nuclear plants.

Water discharges into Hangzhou Bay won't harm fish and shrimp, the Chinese maintain. The nearest human dwellings are 1 1/2 kilometres away and the town of Qinshan is 15 minutes down the road. Normal radioactive emissions from a CANDU 6 are less than one-tenth China's national standard.

Over-all, AECL, which participated in and monitored the Chinese review, says it is a safe, environmentally friendly project, cleaner than the Chinese-designed reactors sharing the site.

The question before the Federal Court, however, isn't the soundness of the Chinese environmental review, but whether the CANDU project must first meet the specifications of the Canadian law, which is an independent process with public input.

Sources say the government is worried the court's answer will be Yes -- a ruling that could have ramifications far beyond the sale to China.

AECL is in the midst of bidding against German and French proposals for another $4 billion reactor deal, this time to build two CANDU 6s in Akkuyu, Turkey. In August, 1997, federal cabinet ministers repeated what they had done to sweeten the China bid and authorized a similar $1.5 billion loan for Turkey.

At the time, top public servants warned the cabinet that the Sierra Club court challenge could put the new megadeal at risk.

"Justice has advised that its case is not strong and that the Federal Court may well rule in favour of the Sierra Club," the ministers were advised in a confidential cabinet document written by officials in the Privy Council Office.

AECL is also bidding on a research reactor in Australia and is promoting more sales to China and South Korea. Further down the road, the Canadian nuclear agency hopes to bid to build nuclear plants in Thailand and Indonesia.

Sources say the Liberal government is worried that an adverse court ruling, by requiring an environmental assessment of the Chinese reactor deal, would jeopardize the Chrétien government's ability to fast-track future overseas megaprojects.

To finance the $1.5 billion loan to China, the cabinet dipped into the so-called "Canada Account," which comes out of general government revenues, but is administered by the Export Development Corp.

The EDC is a 45-year-old crown agency officially designated to provide financing to Canadian exporters and overseas investors. When the EDC considers a project too big and risky for its budget, the federal cabinet can override it and draw money from the Canada Account.

Billion-dollar loans flow from the account on the signatures of cabinet ministers to sweeten foreign megadeals that wouldn't otherwise meet the EDC's commercial tests.

May's affidavit specifically asks the Federal Court to hold Martin, Eggleton and a couple of other top ministers accountable for authorizing a Canada Account loan to China, while ignoring the law's requirement for an environmental review.

Chrétien has already tried a retroactive fix of this legal issue. On Nov. 7, 1997, in a move aimed at allaying Chinese government concerns about the Sierra Club case, the cabinet passed a regulation exempting overseas megaprojects from a publicly scrutinized environmental review.

The regulation wasn't made public until Nov. 27, the day after Chrétien announced that the sale of the CANDU 6s was final.

In another hurried move shepherded by EDC chair Patrick Lavelle, (who was Ontario chair of Chrétien's 1990 leadership campaign), the crown agency in March adopted a system of environmental review to be applied to future overseas projects, including nuclear plants.

But the new review system was insufficient, according to a study authorized by the foreign affairs department -- the so-called Gowlings report.

The Ottawa legal firm of Gowlings, Strathy and Henderson was retained by foreign affairs to review the operations of the EDC, including its environmental practices. The report, signed by Gowlings partner Guy David, said the EDC's new environmental review would be an "internal process" without a clear set of objective standards.

The Gowlings task force talked to Canadian business leaders and environmentalists and found considerable support for requiring overseas projects to meet environmental standards set by the World Bank, which the report said still contain some "gaps" but at least are more specific than the EDC's proposed guidelines.

In future, the EDC should decline projects that don't meet agreed- upon standards, the report said. It noted that environmentalists have deplored EDC investments in controversial projects such as the Three Gorges Dam, which will flood a vast area of China, the nuclear plants in Romania and the Omai mine in Guyana.

While the government works on its after-the-fact fixes, Federal Court Justice Denis Pelletier has made several procedural rulings, but has yet to deal with the substance of the Sierra Club's case against the federal cabinet ministers.

The court has a chronic backlog, which helps to explain why the wheels of justice are grinding so slowly in a case with such large ramifications.

"I anticipated this case might take a year," says May. "The federal strategy apparently is to keep us in court as long as possible and avoid the day we get to the actual issue. . . .

"It's like being in the Twilight Zone. But we are hoping eventually to set an important precedent, even if the Chinese reactors are already built."

AECL's lawyer, Alan Hawryluk, agrees that the court case "has left human time" behind. But he says AECL has "no long-term interest in dragging this out. . . . We'd like the issue resolved and behind us."

The reactors being built in Qinshan are the most recent version of the CANDU 6, which has operated relatively trouble-free for some years at Gentilly, Que., and Point Lepreau, N.B. Two CANDU 6s have been supplying power in Argentina since 1984. One CANDU 6 is online in Romania and a second is under construction there. As well, four CANDU 6s operate in South Korea.

AECL's boast of an accident-free record over 30 years is marred by last month's leak of radioactive water from a heavy-water pump in one of the South Korean plants, during which 22 workers were exposed to minute levels of radiation.

That leak got a lot of media attention because it came just a week after a much worse accident at a Japanese nuclear plant in Tokaimura, during which 49 people were exposed to radiation.

AECL originally supplied Canadian-designed nuclear plants to India, until India tested a nuclear bomb in 1974. Similarly, in 1977, Pakistan was cut off for conducting nuclear weapons tests after buying CANDUs through the General Electric Co. Canada has never formally acknowledged responsibility for the spread of nuclear weapon technology and AECL likes to call the Indian and Pakistan reactors "CANDU clones."

Over the years, Ottawa has sunk $5.5 billion into AECL for research. Although environment groups argue this amounts to taxpayer subsidies of the overseas sales, AECL replies that the sales are profitable and provide thousands of high-tech jobs to skilled Canadians. All Canada Account loans to purchasing foreign governments have either been repaid or are being repaid on schedule, Shewchuk says.

In the latest deal, China was given 15 years to pay back the $1.5 billion, at an interest rate of 7.3 per cent.

Chrétien has suggested AECL's sale to China has positive side effects for Canada, quite apart from the anticipated financial gains. He hopes Canada will get credit for helping clean up Chinese air pollution under the so-called Kyoto protocol on climate change, which would reduce carbon dioxide emissions to below 1990 levels.

His sale of CANDU 6s to China should be counted as part of Canada's pollution reduction pledge, Chrétien has said. Canada would get credits for cleaner air in China that could be added to Canada's balance sheet.

Environmentalists object to the idea of trading pollution credits. As well, they question how China will go about disposing of nuclear wastes from its plants. "Are they going to deposit it in Tibet?" asks May. Even in Canada, AECL and Ontario Power Generation's nuclear wastes are still in temporary storage, waiting governmental permission to begin permanent disposal in deep rock locations, such as abandoned mine shafts.

And while AECL has traditionally pointed to the success of the CANDU plants in this country -- agency chair Nixon calls CANDU technology " the safest in the world" -- recent troubles with Ontario's reactors have raised questions elsewhere.

In December, 1997, the New York Times printed a harsh criticism of AECL's nuclear sales under the headline Canadians export a type of reactor they shut down. The article criticized CANDU 9s owned by what was then Ontario Hydro and is now Ontario Power Generation. Each capable of producing 1,000 megawatts, the CANDU 9s are a bigger, older version of the CANDU 6s.

Following a scathing internal report prepared by American nuclear expert Carl Andognini, who cited a list of safety concerns, Hydro had taken seven of its 19 CANDU 9 reactors offline, the Times noted. "Yet the Canadians continue to circle the globe trying to peddle the same reactors that have proved so difficult to manage in their own backyard," the article said.

Responds AECL's Shewchuck: "The plants were not unsafe when they were taken offline, but their performance was eroded to the point it was affecting electrical output."

He insisted the Ontario Power Generation reactors will eventually go back online after being "tuned up." Meanwhile, says Shewchuk, Ontarians are suffering dirtier air because the agency has switched to fossil-fuel generation to make up the electrical supply.

In the same vein, he calls on critics of the CANDU sales to China to take a hard look at the alternative of continuing to burn coal. "Have they ever been to China? . . . When people see the air pollution, they say they'll take cleaner air, even with nuclear waste."


BIG LIFT: A CANDU 6 reactor core manufactured in Tracey, Que., is loaded on to a ship bound for Shanghai, the nearest big port to the Third Qinshan Nuclear Power Co. complex.

HALFWAY DONE: The two Canadian heavy-water reactors that are under construction share the giant Qinshan nuclear site with a light-water plant that is already in operation.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Nov 27/99 - The only remaining operational reactor at Chernobyl restarts -- slowly.

Gazette (Montreal)
page G12

Ukraine starts warming up last reactor;
will hit peak tomorrow

Ukraine began warming up the only remaining nuclear reactor at Chernobyl yesterday for what could be the last few months of operation of the troubled power plant, a top station official said.

Senior engineer Olexander Yelchishchev told Reuters by telephone from the plant that the reactor, which takes more than a day to reach full capacity, would be considered fully switched on by tomorrow.

"We restarted the unit Friday at 5:22 a.m. after five months of repair work and expect to reach the reactor's full power of 1,000 megawatts late Sunday," he said. "The reactor is now working at about 5 per cent of capacity."

The number three reactor is the last unit still in operation at Chernobyl, whose number four reactor exploded in April 1986, spewing a cloud of radioactive dust over Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and parts of western Europe.

Thirty-one people were killed outright and thousands were affected by the blast, the world's worst civil nuclear disaster. Fire and old age have since forced the closure of the two other reactors at the plant.

Ukraine has delayed the closing of the last reactor until sometime next year from the end of this year as agreed with Western governments, blaming foreign partners' failure to approve promised funds to complete replacement capacity.

The head of the former Soviet state's nuclear energy authority Energoatom said this week that running the 22-year-old plant, which requires almost six months of repairs every year, would not make economic sense after 2000.

Ukraine's five nuclear plants provide almost 50 per cent of its electricity needs.

Yelchishchev said the start of cold weather had forced the station to bring forward the originally planned date for restarting the reactor, located 110 kilometres north of Kiev, as fuel was lacking to keep the reactor's water pipes unfrozen.

But he said the early start presented no safety hazards.

"So far everything is going completely normally. We are carrying out the usual tests but we are sure that everything will be fine," he said.

"I am very happy we have already restarted the unit, because nobody knows what might have happened during the cold weather expected during the next few days. We have extremely small stocks of fuel for our boiler station."

Officials at Chernobyl insist the reactor is safe and is free of any potential Y2K bugs, whereby a computer might misread the last two digits of a date and mistake the year 2000 for 1900.

Western governments and environmental groups have long urged the Ukrainian government to close the plant, but the Ukrainian government says it needs $1.2 billion U.S. from the West to finish construction of two new reactors to replace the output that will be lost by closing Chernobyl.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which has played a leading role in the discussions on financing, was supposed to make a loan decision in September. But it has taken no action, and other potential lenders are expected to wait for the EBRD before they commit any money.

Chernobyl's reactor No. 4 has been encased in steel-and-concrete sarcophagus, and the two others have been permanently shut down. One was destroyed in the 1986 accident.

Meanwhile, workers have begun repairs on the sarcophagus, which was hastily constructed after the accident to prevent additional radiation leaks.

Ukraine continues to operate 14 reactors at five power plants, which supply about 40 per cent of the country's energy. While some Ukrainians want to see Chernobyl and other Soviet-designed nuclear plants shut, Ukrainian authorities face much greater pressure from governments and environmental groups in the West.


Photo: UNIAN, AP -- An engineer operator carries out a preparation test at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Nov 27/99 - Ukraine restarts Chernobyl, 'the most dangerous reactor in the world'.

Ottawa Citizen
page E20

Chernobyl reactor is safe, officials say

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian authorities restarted the last working nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power plant yesterday, ignoring international pressure to shut it down.

Reactor No. 3 was restarted at 5:30 a.m. yesterday after almost five months of repairs. It was initially running at about five per cent of capacity and was gradually increasing its output, said a spokeswoman for the plant who declined to give her name. She wouldn't say when the reactor was expected to reach full power.

Officials at Chernobyl insist that reactor No. 3 is safe, and is free of any potential problems from the Y2K computer bug, a problem in which computers read the last two digits of a date and mistake the year 2000 for 1900.

Western governments and environmental groups have long urged Ukraine to close the plant, and a 1995 agreement between Ukraine and the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations said the plant should be closed by 2000.

"We're completely opposed to restarting Chernobyl," Ben Pearson, an anti-nuclear campaigner in the Amsterdam office of the environmental group Greenpeace, said earlier this week. "Chernobyl is probably the most dangerous reactor in the world."

Most Ukrainians' reactions ranged from neutral to fatalistic. "Anything may happen; I rely only on God," said Halyna Yanovska, a street vendor.

Ukraine says it needs $1.2 billion U.S. from the West to finish construction of two new reactors to replace the output that will be lost by closing Chernobyl. The government says it is planning to shut down Chernobyl at an unspecified time next year.

The Chernobyl plant had four working nuclear reactors. However, reactor No. 4 exploded in April 1986, spewing radiation over much of Europe. Ukrainian authorities have blamed 8,000 deaths on the world's worst ever nuclear accident.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Nov 26/99 - Natives stand firm in opposition to proposed plutonium shipment.

Sault Star
page A1

by Dan Bellerose

Protesters form human chain
through heart of Garden River

The Union of Ontario Indians, the political voice of the 43-member Anishinabek Nation, is standing firm in its opposition to the proposed shipment of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel containing plutonium through the region.

Thursday, about 350 protesters formed a half-kilometre human chain through the heart of the Garden River First Nation community, immediately east of Sault Ste. Marie, in an attempt to send a message to the federal government on the controversial shipment.

"We cannot allow the federal government to walk over us," said Vernon Roote, grand chief of the Anishinabek Nation, which supported the peaceful 45-minute roadside demonstration organized by the North Shore Tribal Council.

"I think that this demonstration shows that we will not back down on this matter. We stand firm on our position."

Sault Ste. Marie, at the International Bridge, has been approved as an entry point by Transport Canada for about five kilograms of MOX fuel, containing about 120 grams of plutonium from dismantled U.S. nuclear warheads, originating in Los Alamos, N.M., and bound for Chalk River, Ont., in the Ottawa Valley.

The fuel, to be combined with a similar-sized shipment to arrive in Cornwall by ship from Russia, will be put through a two-year test burn at the Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. facility in Chalk River.

The testing will determine the suitability of MOX, a blend of 97 per cent uranium oxide and three per cent plutonium oxide, as a fuel source in Candu reactors.

A successful test burn is viewed by the federal government as a peace initiative and a method of disposing of surplus plutonium by making it effectively inaccessible for use in nuclear weapons.

The demonstration, which saw protesters fan out east and west along the Trans-Canada Highway near the community centre, brought together environmentalists, including Greenpeace and Northwatch, concerned citizens and neighbouring municipal leaders, but mostly First Nation residents.

Bob Goulais, communications spokesman for the UOI, said buses brought protesters from Serpent River, Nipissing, near North Bay, and Sagamok, near Massey.

"It was a show of solidarity between the native and non-native communities," said Earl Commanda, chair of the Tribal Council, representing seven First Nation communities along the Highway 17 corridor.

"The (federal) government appears to be listening, the Ministry of Natural Resources has finally agreed to meet with the First Nations to hear our concerns, but I don't know if it has been made clear to them how adamant we are in stopping this shipment."

The demonstration, organized by the council, of which Garden River is a member, was an attempt at generating a greater public awareness of the issue.

It came about on a week's notice when several federal ministries linked to the MOX shipment and test program failed to send representation to a recent information session in Garden River.

The government's lack of consultation and failure to respond has the council, with the support of the UOI, prepared to block the Trans-Canada Highway should the shipment reach Ontario.

"We are working closely with the Mohawks of Akwesasne (near Cornwall) as well as the tribes throughout Michigan to assist in locating the shipment," said Roote of the cargo, which has no set departure date from New Mexico.

"We are also exploring contacts in Los Alamos, which will allow us time to mobilize."

The First Nations will continue to explore several diplomatic avenues, including pressuring the U.S. Department of Energy and forwarding petitions of protest, but they are also prepared for action.

"If the federal government doesn't listen, doesn't stop the shipment, the demonstrations will continue, likely escalating and possibly becoming more militant," said Lyle Sayers, chief of Garden River First Nation, the first of four native communities through which the shipment will pass en route to Chalk River.

"A plan is in place to stop the shipment should the diplomatic approach fail," said Goulais, who believes the earliest the shipment could leave Los Alamos is Dec. 2.

"This is more than just a shipment of dangerous goods," said Commanda, whose demonstration slowed but did not disrupt traffic.

"Our elders have told us we have a responsibility to care for Mother Earth, which cannot be dictated by any government.

"We will decide for ourselves what is safe, and we will protect ourselves from what we feel is not safe."

Roote believes the general population has to become more vocal in its opposition to the shipment.

"If the public isn't expressing any concern over what is being planned why should the government?" he argued.

"There has been very little concern expressed out of the 905 and 416 (telephone area code) areas and they are the ones who should be speaking out.

"If there is a decision to burn the fuel commercially it will be going to reactors in their area -- Bruce, Pickering and Darlington."

Steve Shallhorn, campaign director with Greenpeace, wonders about the government agenda.

"It's not about nuclear disarmament and making the planet a safer place but keeping Canada and Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. in the nuclear and plutonium business," he said.

"Six or seven countries are attempting to use plutonium as fuel in their reactors and AECL wants to join the club."

Glen Hare, grand chief of the Robinson-Huron Treaty Region, believes the government is taking advantage of the North's low population density.

"They were afraid of public backlash so they chose the Sault instead of Niagara Falls as an entry point," said Hare.

"We are few in numbers so they believe they can walk all over us and tell us what to do. They didn't expect united, organized opposition."

Color Photo: Keith Stephen, Sault Star

About 350 people, mostly natives, lined Highway 17 East at Garden River First Nation on Thursday to protest the proposed shipment of mixed oxide fuel (MOX) through the region next spring.

The demonstration, which was organized by the North Shore Tribal Council, included representatives from native communities across Northern Ontario, the Union of Ontario Indians and environmental groups.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Nov 26/99 - Natives protest proposed plutonium shipment through their territory.

Kitchener-Waterloo Record
page A16

About 350 people formed a human chain through the heart of a First Nations community Thursday to protest a controversial weapons- grade plutonium shipment from the U.S. and Russia.

"We cannot allow the federal government to walk over us," said Vernon Roote, grand chief of the Anishinabek Nation, which supported the peaceful 45-minute roadside demonstration organized by the North Shore Tribal Council.

"I think that this demonstration shows that we will not back down on this matter. We stand firm on our position."

The council, along with the Union of Ontario Indians, has been mobilizing First Nation territories and environmental groups on both sides of the border along the proposed transportation route of the mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel samples to Chalk River, Ont., west of Ottawa.

Burning MOX fuel is being pitched as one way to play a significant role in world disarmament by helping reduce surplus stockpiles of dismantled American and Russian nuclear warheads. MOX fuel contains about three per cent plutonium.

But critics argue the transport of the highly radioactive material poses a potential threat to the environment should there be an accident. And they fear transport of it could open the weapons-grade plutonium to security breaches.

Earlier this month, Transport Canada approved emergency response plans for the shipment, designed to deal with "possible transportation incidents."

And while the U.S. has apparently scrapped plans to ship large quantities of surplus nuclear fuel beyond its borders for processing, arguing it can do it more cheaply at home using commercial facilities, Canada remains committed to transporting some plutonium for a test burn.

The MOX shipment, originating in New Mexico, will enter Canada via Sault Ste. Marie, then travel along the Trans-Canada Highway to the Ottawa Valley.


About 350 people form a human chain through the heart of a First Nations community near Sault Ste. Marie on Thursday, protesting the proposed route of weapons-grade plutonium shipments.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Nov 29/99 - Group lays criminal charges against gov't for radio-toxic pollution.

National Post
page A4

by Richard Foot

The Ontario government goes on trial today in what is believed to be the first case in Canada where private citizens are prosecuting a provincial government on criminal charges.

A citizens' group calling itself the Environmental Bureau of Investigation [EBI] is accusing Ontario's Ministry of Environment of decades of negligence at an abandoned mine and toxic, radioactive waste dump near Belleville, Ont.

Using little-known powers that allow Ontario citizens to independently bring forward criminal cases, the group has filed numerous charges against the ministry for breaking both its own environmental laws and the federal Fisheries Act, which the provincial government is responsible for enforcing.

"They pollute. We prosecute," is the EBI's slogan.

Several weeks have been set aside for the trial at the provincial courthouse in Ottawa, where the ministry will answer accusations that it has failed to clean up arsenic and other toxic leftovers from a century of smeltering and refining at the site in Deloro, Ont. -- a place the ministry itself admits is "Ontario's most contaminated land."

The ministry is also accused of failing to stop the waste from polluting rivers and lakes downstream of the site. A separate set of charges relating to radioactive waste has not yet come to trial.

The citizens' group has successfully prosecuted one government before. Last year the group managed to convict the City of Kingston for failing to prevent toxic leaks from an old municipal landfill site. The city was fined $150,000 under the federal Fisheries Act.

Janet Fletcher, the Environmental Bureau of Investigation member who led the fight against Kingston, has also filed the current charges against the Ontario government.

Although this is a private prosecution, the provincial attorney-general's office has decided to argue the prosecution's case in court, say members of the EBI, because attorney-general officials have expressed concern about Deloro's impact on human health.

The prosecution will argue that the Ministry of Environment has done little, since assuming liability for the site in the 1960s, to clean up toxins leaking into the local watershed and to warn area residents about unsafe drinking water.

EBI scientists, allied with the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, found arsenic levels reaching 16 percent -- or 160,000 parts per million -- in the Moira River, which runs from the site through local farms to recreation lands on the shores of Lake Ontario. River sediment is normally considered toxic if arsenic levels reach 2.5 parts per million.

The citizens' group has been helped in its case by former staff inside the environment ministry. One of these was the Ontario government's senior environmental policeman in the Belleville area in 1991. David Kerr says in a statement filed in Ontario Court that he was ordered by ministry officials to cover up an internal probe into the government's alleged negligence at Deloro, and to "bury or destroy" files from the investigation.

Only in 1997 did the province publicly acknowledge the leakage of what it called "highly contaminated waste" from the Deloro dumps.

"The Deloro site has been a long-standing threat to the health of the surrounding communities and waterways," said Norm Sterling, Ontario's environment minister in 1997.

The Ministry of Environment has pleaded not guilty to the current charges. It is now in the midst of an $11-million cleanup project at the site. The government has closed dangerous mine shafts, upgraded an arsenic-treatment facility on the property, and plans to install a fence around contaminated land now accessible by the public.

Government officials and members of the EBI are reluctant to discuss the criminal case in detail now that it has gone to trial. After winning the Kingston case last year, Ms. Fletcher said:

"This [prosecution] is a job that should have been done by the federal and provincial governments, but they chose not to do it. It leaves it up to people like me, who have better things to do," she said. "It's the only way to get the message through to governments that they have to do what we want them to do -- protect the environment."

The ministry will likely face a separate, class-action civil lawsuit on this matter, now being prepared by a group of Deloro residents seeking compensation for the radioactive pollution in their village, and its effect on their property values.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Nov 26/99 - Environmentalists and US government oppose Chernobyl re-start.

Ottawa Citizen
page B8

Ukraine to reactivate nuclear plant today
despite warnings of Y2K problems

KIEV, Ukraine -- Thirteen years after the world's worst nuclear accident, the Chernobyl power plant is re-emerging as a focus of environmental fears and a subject of negotiations over aid to cash-strapped Ukraine.

The reopening of the plant's only functioning reactor, scheduled for today following five months of repairs, comes after the U.S. State Department recently said Ukraine "appears to be unprepared" to confront the Y2K bug. The department warned of "a risk of potential disruption in all key sectors, especially the energy and electric services."

"We're completely opposed to restarting Chernobyl," said Ben Pearson, an anti-nuclear campaigner in the Amsterdam office of the environmental group Greenpeace. "Chernobyl is probably the most dangerous reactor in the world."

Ukrainian authorities insist the troubled plant is safe.

Under a 1995 agreement between Ukraine and the Group of Seven leading industrialized countries, Chernobyl was supposed to be permanently closed before 2000.

But Ukraine says it has not received the money it was promised to complete two new nuclear reactors, and therefore will keep Chernobyl running until an unspecified date next year.

Ukraine argues that it needs the electricity, and can't afford to risk running short during the harsh winter months.

But Mr. Pearson said that Ukrainian energy supplies exceed demand, and critics contend that Ukraine has for years been using Chernobyl as leverage to get money from the West.

"In six months' time, Ukraine may decide for political reasons that it wants to keep Chernobyl open," Mr. Pearson said.

Ever since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, the Soviet Union and then Ukraine have been under pressure to close the plant.

The explosion and fire at reactor No. 4 spewed radiation over much of Europe. The Ukrainian government has blamed at least 8,000 deaths on the accident, including those killed immediately, workers who died in the massive cleanup, and people who died of cancer and other radiation-related illnesses.

Three of Chernobyl's four reactors are now permanently shut. The last functioning reactor, No. 3, was turned off July 1 for five months of repairs.

The reactor was to be brought back on-line earlier this month, but additional maintenance forced a delay. Oleh Holoskokov, a spokesman for the plant, said tests were under way, and the plant should be back in operation today.

"Every reactor that is prepared for a restart undergoes obligatory Y2K testings," Mr. Holoskokov said.

U.S. Ambassador Steven Pifer has discussed the issue with Ukrainian leaders, who promised to allow U.S. officials to examine all vital energy facilities, including nuclear plants.

Meanwhile, about 500 workers have begun repairs on the concrete-and-steel sarcophagus that conceals the ruins of Chernobyl's exploded reactor No. 4, Mr. Holoskokov said yesterday.

The shelter was hastily built after the 1986 accident to prevent additional radiation leaks, but is riddled with cracks and needs reinforcing. The workers will strengthen the sarcophagus' concrete beams, working through December from both inside and outside the huge structure.

Ukraine says it still needs -- and was promised -- about $1.8 billion from the West to finish construction of two new reactors at the Khmelnitsky and Rivne nuclear plants in exchange for the lost Chernobyl output.

"We would not be able to survive economically without launching the (new) reactors," President Leonid Kuchma said recently.

. . . back to List of News Stories


Since March 27th 1996, there have been over
100,000 outside visitors to the CCNR web site, plus

(counter reset July 2nd 1998 at midnight)