Ottawa Seems Determined to Import Plutonium from US and Russia
This Summer (1999)


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Apr 22, 1999 - Questioning plans to dump foreign nuclear junk here is not silly.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Record, page A11

by Rosemary Speirs

Liberal ministers sometimes dismiss NDP leader Alexa McDonough as though she were too dimwitted to signify.

Example: The reply from Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy earlier this week when McDonough asked him why Canada has agreed to dispose of surplus plutonium from stockpiled American and Russian warheads.

"Why are we risking Canada's environment? Why is Canada not telling the Americans and Russians to clean up their own mess?" she demanded.

Axworthy's response: "In all my years in Parliament, I think that is just about the most foolish question I have ever heard, frankly."

McDonough's question hardly qualifies as the "most foolish" ever posed in Parliament. Only four months ago, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, representing all five parties in Parliament, raised similar doubts.

The committee's report unanimously recommended that Canada withdraw from even the proposed test-burn of plutonium fuel later this year at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.'s Chalk River research facility.

The experimental burning of minute quantities of plutonium follows a promise made five years ago by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. He agreed in principle that Canada would take Russian and American surplus-weapons plutonium to encourage the superpowers' stockpile reduction and reduce the danger of nuclear proliferation.

Russians call their plutonium stockpile a "national treasure." They hope to turn surplus warhead plutonium into a profit by sales to Ontario Hydro. Hydro would use it to partially replace uranium in the production of electricity.

Like the U.S., the former Soviet countries have an estimated 50 metric tonnes of surplus plutonium. Canada and its allies fear the stockpiles will "leak" to rogue states or terrorist organizations.

The Americans say they'll build a fabrication plant in South Carolina to mix surplus plutonium with depleted uranium oxides, producing pellets of so-called MOX fuel. The MOX would be clad in metal and shipped in 45-gallon drums.

Russia, too, would build a MOX plant, although it's begging for international financing. All the surplus plutonium would thus enter Canada as stable MOX pellets and be shipped to Ontario Hydro's Bruce generating station.

When burned, the plutonium would no longer be weapons-grade, says the government's Web site, and it would be 15 per cent smaller than a similar quantity of spent uranium fuel. The spent fuel would be temporarily stored at the reactor sites, pending the day when the government finally gets approval for burying radioactive waste underground.

But all this, of course, is a decade at least away (years while Russia's plutonium may be "leaking"). First comes test burning of tiny samples of MOX at Chalk River.

It sounds altruistic -- using Candu reactors in Ontario to convert part of the world's biggest nuclear stockpiles into electricity. But the Parliamentary committee heard from scientists and activists with deep concerns.

They pointed out that several Ontario Hydro plants are already decommissioned because of safety problems. Some suggested the burning of surplus weapons plutonium is an excuse for extending the life of the Canadian nuclear power program.

The critics argued that after burning, manufactured plutonium cools more slowly than naturally occurring uranium. They wanted more proof it is a "safeguardable substance."

Most of all, they are angry that the test-burn is going ahead without public hearings, although the Americans are conducting an environmental assessment and notifying communities along the proposed transport route.

Axworthy argues that no Canadian purchase of Russian or American MOX fuels will occur without meeting all of Canada's environmental and transport safety regulations. This is a "swords to plowshares" initiative, the government says, which peaceloving Canadians should all support.

The Liberals are clearly worried that Chrétien's undertaking to burn weapons' grade plutonium will run afoul of a "not in my backyard" movement. Which is sufficient, perhaps, to explain Axworthy's dismissive reply to McDonough. But putting her down, and disregarding the committee report, only increase suspicions.

The government should lay the pros and cons out clearly, so we can judge whether we really want to be a "safe" depository for the radioactive relics of others' nuclear madness.

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Apr 23, 1999 - Secret session on Nova Scotia plutonium shipments is scrapped.

The Halifax Chronicle-Herald, page A1
also The Globe and Mail, National News, page A7

by Amy Smith and Brian Underhill


Canadian Press

A secret session on transporting plutonium through Nova Scotia was scrapped after it became public knowledge Thursday.

John Read of Transport Canada said the department cancelled the meeting, planned for today in Truro, because "it turned out we startled people, which was not our intention."

He said officials didn't want Nova Scotians to think government was "pulling a fast one."

The session was organized to train fire chiefs and emergency measures personnel how to handle plutonium in case of an emergency.

Mr. Read said there was no need to make it public.

A memo saying plutonium will definitely be shipped through the Port of Halifax was a mistake, he said.

"It was wrong," Mr. Read said. "I spoke to the person who wrote that."

The memo, from the Nova Scotia Emergency Measures Organization, said one sample of MOX fuel (a combination of plutonium and uranium) would come from Russia by ship, enter Canada at Halifax and be moved by road to Chalk River, Ont., this summer. A second sample, from the United States, would be transported through Southern Ontario.

Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. plans to burn about 1,200 grams of weapons-grade plutonium from dismantled American and Russian warheads in the Chalk River nuclear reactor this summer. The exercise would determine the feasibility of disposing of the material by using it to fuel Candu-type nuclear reactors.

Transport Minister David Collenette said Thursday in Ottawa that discussions about transporting the radioactive material are premature because Atomic Energy Canada has not made an application to transport the material.

"We have 800,000 (radioactive material) shipments a year (in Canada), so having meetings with local communities and fire chiefs and other response organizations on how you deal with radioactive spillage is not unusual," he said in an interview.

But officials in his department expect to get a request from the agency sometime next month. "And then it's a question of deciding where ... the route would go," he said.

Environment Minister Michel Samson said it's not a certainty that Halifax will be the entry point for plutonium.

"It's a federal issue and that's what we're dealing with," he said Thursday during a break from cabinet.

"Certainly at this point, they haven't made it clear to us that they do plan to use the port." He said he had not seen the EMO memo.

Tory transportation critic Brooke Taylor said it's obvious a shipment will come through Halifax.

"I think the minister is being very coy here," he said.

"I think the government knows ... quite well, that a shipment is coming in from Russia by ship to the Port of Halifax."

Mr. Taylor said he believes the material can be transported through the province safely.

Opposition Leader Robert Chisholm said plans involving plutonium shouldn't be kept from the public.

"The fact that they are cancelling the meeting is not good enough," he said.

"We need some answers (about) exactly what's going on because clearly, there is a lot of confusion at some very high levels on this issue."

Steve Shallhorn, campaign co-ordinator with Greenpeace, said his organization plans to visit all of the communities along the proposed route.

He called Canada's role in burning of the material a bad idea dressed up as a good one.

"It's a group I would call the 'Nuclear Mafia' that support it."

Federal NDP Leader Alexa McDonough said Nova Scotians deserve to know the federal government's plans.

"The government cannot go on deceiving the people of Halifax or the citizens of any other affected community," Ms. McDonough said.

"With stockpiles of up to 50 tonnes of plutonium in Russia alone, and plans for the construction of factories to produce MOX pellets, clearly this is the first run of many."

Cumberland-Colchester MP Bill Casey, who raised the issue in the House, said he's convinced the federal government will proceed with the proposed tests at Chalk River.

"Whether they will import it through Halifax or some other port, whether they will transport this small sample by train or car or truck or what, I don't know," he said.

He said he plans to follow up because the plutonium could be transported through his riding.

Mr. Casey said he's been assured the risk is minimal, but he wants make sure it is safe.

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Apr 22, 1999 - Halifax probable entry point for plutonium from Russia - EMO.

Canadian Press

TRURO, N.S. (CP) - The Port of Halifax is a probable entry point for weapons-grade plutonium destined for a test burn this summer in Ontario, says a memo obtained by the Truro News.

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. has said Canada will proceed with the test burn of U.S. and Russian material to determine whether plutonium can be efficiently destroyed in Candu-type nuclear reactors.

Ottawa has said burning plutonium could help with nuclear disarmament.

The Truro News said today it has obtained a memo from the Nova Scotia Emergency Measures Organization suggesting one sample will come from Russia by ship, enter Canada in Halifax and be moved by road to Chalk River, Ont.

The other sample, from the United States, will enter Canada in southern Ontario. Some reports have suggested this material will cross the border at Sarnia.

Federal and Nova Scotia government officials will meet Friday in Truro to discuss the idea of plutonium being shipped through the province.

Michel Samson, Nova Scotia's environment minister, said he wants to make sure Ottawa consults with the public on the issue.

Samson said people have concerns, but added the Port of Halifax already handles many dangerous goods.

The Truro newspaper also said officials in Nova Scotia are quietly training emergency response personnel on how to handle plutonium in the event of an accident.

More than 30 emergency measures co-ordinators and firefighters will meet with Transport Canada official John Read on Friday in Truro for a training session.

The unpublicized meeting is one of several scheduled for the Maritime provinces, said Read.

The three-hour meeting will deal with safety issues surrounding the transportation of MOX fuel, including characteristics of the fuel and emergency plans. MOX is a mixture of plutonium and depleted uranium.

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. must have an acceptable emergency response plan in place before registering with Transport Canada to ship plutonium across the province.

AECL hasn't applied to the transportation of dangerous goods division of Transport Canada as yet, but Read expects an application by the end of May.

"We don't have the application or an informal application that it is coming to Halifax," said Read.

Halifax is but one possible port of entry for the 150 grams of Russian weapons-grade plutonium. Other places considered possible entry points are Saint John, N.B., Quebec City and Montreal.

But the Emergency Measures Organization memo indicates Halifax is a probable entry point.

"One sample will come from the U.S. and will enter Canada in southern Ontario," reads the memo. "The other sample will come from Russia by ship, will enter Canada in Halifax and be moved by road to Chalk River, Ontario."

The memo was marked urgent and footnoted "this meeting is not to be publicized."

Read said none of the ports have a preferred status as an entry point, but neither Montreal nor Quebec City have been contacted for emergency training sessions as yet.

Read said his department approached Nova Scotia and Sarnia for the training sessions after news reports indicated city officials were worried about the hazards of transporting radioactive material through their areas.

Sarnia borders the States at Port Huron, Mich.

Read said it would take at least a month to approve the emergency response plans before AECL can start moving the plutonium.

Following a meeting Wednesday with federal Transportation Minister David Collenette and federal Natural Resources Minister Ralph Goodale, Tory transport critic Bill Casey said he has been assured Ottawa has not yet received an application for the transportation of nuclear waste.

"Nothing can happen until minister Collenette OKs it," said Casey, a Nova Scotia MP. "(Collenette) hasn't even seen an application."

Both Collenette and Goodale were caught off guard by the provincial memo, said Casey.

"They told me no port routes have been selected," said Casey." (Collenette) said this memo was very premature."

But officials from the Nova Scotia departments of environment, transportation and public works confirmed they were aware of the training program in Nova Scotia and yet it was not made public.

Robert Chisholm, Nova Scotia's NDP leader, said people shouldn't be kept in the dark on the issue.

"What the government seems to be making clear to us is they don't believe that Nova Scotians deserve to know," said Chisholm. "I say that is just unsatisfactory -- that's not good enough." (Truro News)

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Apr 22, 1999 - "Do We Really Want Plutonium Scraps from Nuclear Bombs?"

The Globe and Mail, page A13

by Franklyn Griffiths
Professor of Peace Studies
University of Toronto




Toronto: The federal government is offering Russia and the United States an opportunity to rid themselves of up to 50 tonnes of plutonium each.

This would be done by converting plutonium into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel for continuous shipment to and irradiation at Ontario's Bruce nuclear generating station, beginning around 2005 and continuing into the 2030s at the latest. The resulting nuclear waste would be held forever in a planned depository cut deep into the Canadian Shield. The plutonium-fuel scheme is presented as an opportunity for Canadians to contribute to world peace. No mention is made of the costs to Canadians, and to Ontarians and the Ontario environment in particular.

To do the federal government a favour, let's say nothing about costs, and consider only the nuclear disarmament benefits claimed for this scheme.

Together, Russia and the United States hold an estimated 300 tonnes of plutonium accumulated during two generations of military-industrial activity. Of this total, Moscow and Washington have agreed to dispose of 50 tonnes each. (The amount that might come to Canada could be considerably smaller, since the U.S., for one, will wish to "immobilize" a substantial amount of material not fit for use in reactors, so that it cannot be used for weapons.) This will leave the U.S. with 50 tonnes and Russia with an astonishing 150 tonnes, if we include its 30 tonnes of weapons-usable separated plutonium for civil reactors.

Right away it's evident that the two principals are determined to withhold vast amounts of plutonium from the nuclear-disarmament process.

The U.S. in particular intends to maintain indefinitely a force of 2,500 deployed strategic nuclear warheads, plus 2,500 warheads in an inactive reserve, plus an additional 5,000 plutonium "pits" for replacement in deployed and inactive warheads. Russia can be expected to follow suit as best it can.

Holding on to what the Americans call the "sweet stuff," the two suppliers of plutonium for use at the Bruce station would divest themselves of what amounts to nuclear waste. Canada would receive plutonium formulated for obsolete warheads, reactor plutonium in fresh and irradiated form, scraps and residues, process waste, and material used for peaceful purposes.

On this last point -- peaceful uses -- well over a third of the declared U.S. excess of "weapons" plutonium that's intended for disposal in reactors consists of non-weapons plutonium used in testing breeder-reactor fuel, and in studies of plutonium criticality or spontaneous ignition.

The Russians are sure to have plenty of the same. Impoverished, and valuing plutonium a great deal, they will gather and purify everything but lean scraps in order to maximize payment for disposal from the G7 group of industrial states.

Given the extraordinary secrecy that surrounds these matters in both countries, Canada would not be in a position to know what forms of plutonium were being fabricated into Candu MOX fuel. We'd have to take what was provided.

It is truly difficult to find hilarity in plutonium. Canada could be the first to do so in striving earnestly to reduce the likelihood and the destructiveness of nuclear war by irradiating plutonium made for peaceful purposes.

Proponents of the fuel scheme will reply that whatever came our way would be sourced only from warheads and from plutonium made expressly for warheads. But how could any such claim be verified, especially at the Russian end?

Ottawa is proposing to enter Canadians into a shell game with exceedingly wily suppliers. In their different ways, Moscow and Washington will contrive to retain excessive amounts of plutonium for excessive numbers of warheads of latest design, and to divest themselves of elderly weapons plutonium laced with substantial amounts of accumulated industrial and military shop-floor waste. It is hard to see much benefit in this for nuclear disarmament.

Moreover, in acting on the fuel scheme as it stands, Canadians would actually underwrite the intention of the United States, which sets the pace for other nuclear-weapons states, to maintain an outrageously large strategic nuclear force into the indefinite future. U.S. willingness to countenance major reductions in its inactive strategic reserve and stockpile of replacement pits should be a precondition for any action on the federal government's scheme.

Far better for Ottawa to drop the whole idea right now. Leave the United States, which is fully capable of dealing with its own plutonium safely and efficiently, to its own devices. And see to it that Russia is paid a premium by the G7 to demilitarize and secure that part of its 50-tonne excess which cannot safely be wasted in Russian nuclear reactors.

Franklyn Griffiths holds the Ignatieff Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto. He is the author of a study of the plutonium fuel project that influenced the recent unanimous decision of a Commons committee to recommend abandoning the project. The study, MOX Experience, is available at

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Apr 22, 1999 - John Herron M.P. questions the wisdom of plutonium imports.

House of Commons
Hansard, Question Period


Mr. John Herron (Fundy--Royal, PC): Mr. Speaker, Canada has a long term nuclear waste disposal problem. The material is currently stored at temporary sites at Canada's 22 nuclear reactor stations. According to the Seaborn panel, Canadians still need to be convinced that the solution is to bury it deep in the Canadian shield. Despite all of this, the government is looking at importing weapons grade plutonium from the U.S. and Russia to burn at Canadian reactors.

My question is for the Minister of Natural Resources. Does the minister have any plans to ensure that this imported plutonium will not compound Canada's nuclear waste disposal problems?

Hon. Ralph E. Goodale (Minister of Natural Resources, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I guess this is now the 19th time I have responded to the details of this question.

If there were to be a commercial MOX proposal, that would go forward. In addition to a number of other conditions that would need to be satisfied, all relevant environmental, health and safety regulations in Canada, whether federal or provincial, would have to be fully satisfied. On a scientific basis the waste that would be created by this MOX product is less than the more conventional product.

Mr. John Herron: Mr. Speaker, we do not have to be asked to participate in the program. The Prime Minister is practically writing letters to the President of the United States perhaps even demanding to participate in the MOX program. For something that we do not have to be asked to participate in, the government is spending an awful lot of money on it. The feasibility study performed by the government indicated that the plan to burn Russian and American weapons grade plutonium would cost Canadian taxpayers $2.2 billion. The study itself has already cost Canadians $1.5 million.

How much does the government have to spend before getting the support of the Canadian parliament? Is this really a spending priority of the Canadian people?

Hon. Ralph E. Goodale: Mr. Speaker, we are now on to number 20.

The fact is that the testing that may be undertaken later this year is fully within the regulatory authority and the regulatory licence afforded to AECL. It is covered within the financial arrangements provided to AECL. If there were to be a commercial program pursued after that, one of the conditions that I referred to generically in my first answer is that it would have to be on a commercial basis with no subsidization by the Government of Canada.

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Apr 20, 1999 - Minister rejects recommendation to scrap plutonium imports.

House of Commons
Hansard, Question Period


Mr. John Herron (Fundy-Royal, PC): Mr. Speaker, a foreign affairs committee called a plan to burn weapons grade plutonium in Canada totally infeasible. A recent U.S. environmental assessment on the project stated activities conducted in Canada would be the sole responsibility of the Canadian government.

Given Canada's poor record on enforcement as pointed out by the environment committee last year and that superficial screenings account for 99% of Canada's environmental assessment as pointed out by the auditor general, what assurances can the Minister of the Environment provide that the decision to burn U.S. and Russian weapons plutonium will be environmentally safe and secure for all Canadians?

Hon. Ralph E. Goodale (Minister of Natural Resources, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we received no request to participate in the MOX program. We have not yet conducted any feasibility testing that would come within the licence of the Chalk River laboratory. If we were to proceed,there would be full, open and transparent proceedings under relevant federal and provincial law with respect to the protection of the environment, health and safety. We would also ensure that there is no subsidization involved on the part of Canada and that the process, if it is to go forward at all many years into the future is conducted with complete safety in Canada.

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Apr 20, 1999 - Ottawa responds to Report on nuclear weapons and plutonium.

CBC National News

Sasa Petricic reports:

OTTAWA - The federal government has issued a controversial report on Canada's nuclear policy.

The report is a response to a series of recommendations made last year by the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs. The committee looked at several issues, including whether Canada should accept shipments of what's known as MOX fuel.

That's material enriched with plutonium from Russian and American nuclear missiles. It can be burned in commercial nuclear reactors.

The committee decided it would be a bad idea to accept these shipments. It said transporting the fuel would be difficult.

People living along the route might worry an accident could cause nuclear contamination. The government rejected the committee's objection. It says MOX fuel is used in Europe and there are no technical, health or safety problems.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy says by burning this fuel, Canada could also help the cause of nuclear disarmament. "We have to be very careful that nuclear materials do not end up in the wrong hands, that they do not get proliferated. And, so, one way to ensure it is to burn it, to get rid of it," he said.

Axworthy says Canada has not decided whether it will accept large-scale shipments of MOX fuel. But he says the government has authorized a test burn at a Canadian reactor this year.

The federal New Democrats are upset with the government's decision. NDP Leader Alexa McDonough says Canada should not become a nuclear dumping ground. "We have a unanimous recommendation of a parliamentary committee after careful and detailed consideration that's recommended against it. It's absolutely clear that the only reason the government wants to proceed with this testing is they want to take us down that road."

The government report contains another controversial proposal. The foreign affairs committee looked at whether Canada should urge NATO to reconsider its first strike policy on nuclear weapons.

The committee said Canada should urge the alliance to change that and the government accepted the recommendation.

That means Canada may begin lobbying NATO to promise to use nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack.

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July 12, 1999 - Canada facing opposition in plan to burn weapons-grade plutonium.

The Boston Globe, page A1
Monday City Edition

by Colin Nickerson, Globe Staff

OTTAWA -- It seemed a high-minded if impetuous offer, the sort of sweeping international gesture for which Canada has become famous. At a 1996 disarmament summit in Moscow, Canada's prime minister, Jean Chretien, volunteered his country's nuclear reactors for the task of turning "nuclear swords into plowshares" by destroying plutonium from Russian and American nuclear missiles.

But as the country prepares for its first "test burn" of weapons-grade plutonium, as early as this month, the government is facing intense opposition, not only from environmentalists but also from peace activists, mainstream politicians, transportation officials, small-town mayors, and even a national association of firefighters.

"Why is Canada risking its own environment?" demanded Alexa McDonough, who represents a Nova Scotia district in Canada's Parliament. "Why should Canada be cleaning up the nuclear mess made by Americans and Russians?"

At best, scoffers say, Canada's scheme to transform warheads into electricity is a symbolic exercise that will barely dent nuclear weapons stockpiles, but might very well turn Canada into a target for terrorists or agents of renegade regimes seeking to steal plutonium to make their own nuclear devices.

At worst, harsher critics say, the proposal represents a cynical ploy by Ottawa to rejuvenate Canada's ailing nuclear power industry by using weapons plutonium as fuel, thereby justifying the continued existence of trouble-prone reactors, most of them in Ontario, that are facing possible closure.

The uproar is surprising given that Canadians are usually quick to rally around efforts to make the world a safer place, and take real pride in their country's reputation as a superpower in the push for peace. It was Canada that created the concept of United Nations peacekeeping forces, and that more recently led the crusade for an international ban on land mines.

Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, who is thought to have been the "almost" contender for the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize because of his leadership in the land mine effort, has sought to make pursuit of peace the defining goal of Canada's foreign policy.

But Axworthy's own image is taking a drubbing on the plutonium issue, as many Canadians are deeply suspicious of a government plan still veiled in secrecy. Part of the suspicion is grounded in the fact that the proposal is also championed by the country's nuclear power industry.

Axworthy insists that Canada is determined to test the feasibility of using weapons plutonium as nuclear fuel in an experimental burn at the Chalk River reactor in Ontario, as early as this month. He said Canada is going ahead, at least with the test phase, because it wants "to be a prime leader in nuclear disarmament."

He argues that Canada has a moral duty to do whatever it can to help rid the world of nuclear weapons. It is irrelevant, he says, that the plutonium is a product of the nuclear arms race between the United States and the former Soviet Union, a race Canada resolutely refused to join despite its close military alliance with Washington.

"We live in a dangerous nuclear world, and we all share responsibility," Axworthy said. "We have to be very careful that nuclear materials do not end up in the wrong hands, that they don't get proliferated. One way . . . is to burn them."

But opponents say the government in Ottawa is less interested in promoting world peace than in propping up Canada's tottering nuclear industry, which is already heavily subsidized. In recent years, a third of Canada's 21 reactors have been shuttered because of concerns over safety, cost overruns, or spectacular mismanagement, including technicians drunk on the job.

For Ontario Hydro -- North America's largest utility and operator of all but two of Canada's nuclear -powered power plants -- and the federally owned corporation Atomic Energy Canada Ltd., the plutonium-to-fuel plan might prove a godsend.

Some nuclear scientists believe that so-called mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel bundles, made from weapons plutonium and uranium oxide, will make an ideal fuel for Canada's unique Candu reactors, which the country vigorously seeks to sell abroad.

Aside from producing power, the public relations spinoff could be enormous, with a much-maligned industry suddenly able to boast of converting weapons of doom into electricity for the baby-room night lights, coffee machines, and personal computers of peace-loving Canadians.

That prospect, almost as much as the practical issues of using warheads for fuel, has opponents of the nuclear power industry in a dither.

"This is a red herring concocted by Canada's nuclear mafia," said Steve Shallhorn, the Canadian campaign director for Greenpeace. "This is about protecting the nuclear industry, not containing risks posed by surplus plutonium."

Greenpeace is joined by opponents that include some disarmament specialists as well as professional firefighters and alarmed citizens along potential routes that the plutonium will travel to reach Ontario's reactors.

Bill Robinson, program associate at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in Waterloo, Ontario, said: "This is going down the wrong path. This is not a serious step toward nuclear disarmament."

Sean McManus, Canadian director for the International Association of Fire Fighters, said: "We fear for the public safety in the event of an accident involving plutonium. "

Mike Bradley, mayor of Sarnia, Ontario, on the Michigan border along the most likely trucking route of the plutonium for this summer's test burn, said: "Why is Canada taking on this risk? Didn't the US and Russia create these huge stockpiles? Now they want other countries to clean the mess."

The plan has divided disarmament experts and peace activists, and has its proponents.

"People want a perfect solution, but this is not a perfect world," said Tariq Rauf, an arms control specialist at California's Monterey Institute. "The criticisms are valid, the concerns are real, but at the end of the day we still have warheads. Sanity dictates we should make them less dangerous," Rauf said. "For all the controversy, this is still a workable plan for turning nuclear warheads into a material that could not so easily be converted to weapons. Canada's plan would reduce the risk of nuclear war in a real way."

Plutonium, a manmade element produced from uranium, is tricky stuff. Radiation from plutonium can be safely blocked by thin barriers; even a paper shield is sufficient for small amounts. But a microscopic speck, if inhaled, is not only sufficient but almost certain to cause cancer -- making it a nightmare in the event of a bad accident, although special protective transport canisters have been designed to withstand major crashes.

But the true horror of the stuff is that just a few pounds is sufficient to make a powerful nuclear device, even without extensive atomic facilities. Indeed, the greatest risk of transporting plutonium, according to most experts, is that it might be seized by terrorists.

For security reasons, no date has been announced for the Chalk River test burn. But it is expected to occur in the next few months, after the first batch of plutonium arrives overland from the United States nuclear weapons facility in Los Alamos, N.M.

The initial test at Chalk River will involve minuscule amounts of plutonium, just 300 grams encapsulated in mixed-oxide fuel. Canada's long-range vision, however, is to use 100 tons of weapons plutonium, 50 each from the United States and Russia, over 20 years as fuel for Ontario Hydro's Bruce Nuclear Power Station, near Port Elgin on Lake Huron. The Chalk River research reactor lies 90 miles northwest of Ottawa.

The plutonium would be converted into mixed oxide fuel bundles in the United States and Russia before shipment to Canada. Critics complain that even after burning in nuclear reactors, MOX fuel still contains a form of plutonium that might be retrieved and converted back to weapons grade, although with great difficulty.

Under treaties, the United States and Russia are to dismantle 40,000 warheads over the next several years, and dispose of tons of plutonium The weapons material that might be burned in Canadian reactors would come from existing stockpiles.

The Canadian proposal has generated little controversy in the United States, even though the plutonium fuel bundle shipments would have to be trucked through a number of American states. The first samples of fuel will come from New Mexico, but long-range plans call for a fuel fabrication plant in South Carolina to mix surplus plutonium with depleted uranium oxides.

The Russian plutonium would come from the Bochvar nuclear laboratories near Moscow, and probably would travel to Canada in cargo ships, entering the country through Halifax or Montreal.

If the test burn is successful, Canada has pledged to hold hearings and conduct rigorous environmental and safety reviews.

No final decision will be made until calculation is made on environment, safety, transportation, and the availability of a user reactor, Axworthy said.

    Plutonium from Russian and US nuclear missiles may be burned at Ontario Hydro's Bruce Nuclear Power Plant.

    Weapons plutonium some day may be used to fuel Ontario Hydro's Bruce Nuclear Power Station.

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June 21, 1999 - Canada's controversial plutonium scheme is on the ropes.

Time Magazine
Canadian Edition

by Stephen Handelman

Fission Impossible?

A  controversial Canada-US-Russia
nuclear-recycling scheme is on the ropes

No one would call U.S. Senator Jesse Helms a friend of Canada's. Yet the belligerent Republican from North Carolina, who once suggested that Ottawa's relationship with Cuba was akin to "treason", should be hailed as a hero in Canadian antinuclear circles. As Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Helms is campaigning against a Washington plan to convert plutonium from U.S. nuclear warheads into civilian reactor fuel. If he wins, he will doom one of the most ambitious and controversial Canadian foreign policy initiatives since the end of the cold war.

Unless Helms dive-bombs the scheme, about 150 grams of reprocessed plutonium, known as Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel, are to be shipped to the CANDU research reactor at Chalk River, Ont., later this year. The dangerous radioactive material is to be blended with 150 grams of similar fuel shipped at the same time from Russia, then burned to produce energy. It's a test of a comprehensive warheads-to-megawatts program first proposed by U.S. and Canadian scientists in 1993.

The program seemed a productive way of dealing with the estimated 100 tons of "surplus" plutonium from Soviet and U.S. strategic missiles dismantled under the START I nuclear-arms-reduction treaty. With a half-life of 24,000 years, plutonium is a permanent environmental and security threat. CANDU heavy-water reactor technology, which can consume plutonium more efficiently than light-water reactors, offered a technical solution to disposal -- and Canada's disarmament credentials made its involvement politically acceptable to both sides. But the devil has been in the details. Negotiations between Washington, Ottawa and Moscow have often bogged down over issues such as cost and environmental safety.

By last year the outlines of an agreement to conduct a test dubbed Parallex were in view. The two-year experiment would be subsidized entirely by the U.S.; fuel bundles would be shipped under tight security. But doubts about the project still put supporters on the defensive. "If you are going to be a prime leader in nuclear disarmament then you have to do your share," Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy argued after a parliamentary debate on the program last April.

U.S. and Canadian officials insisted last week that the Chalk River MOX-up would go ahead, but the projected start-up date has been pushed back from midsummer to late fall. Jesse Helms' objections have added a new element of uncertainty. "The MOX option will undercut our decades-long nonproliferation policy," thundered Helms a few days after Axworthy's remarks. The Senator served notice that he would block planned construction of a facility in Savannah, Ca., where MOX for Canadian reactors would be produced.

With a few well-chosen words, Helms may have all but destroyed External Affairs' dream of Canada as the honest broker in a major program to rid the world of fissile plutonium. Even if Parallex goes ahead, Washington has been alarmed enough by the domestic opposition to look for alternatives to MOX. Many experts favor encasing the plutonium in glass -- a method they claim provides better security and which is being explored in Europe.

The MOX project rested on shaky premises from the start. The original plan envisioned using plutonium-spiked fuel from warheads as a substitute for natural uranium in CANDU heavy-water reactors-a concept that offered hope for reviving Canada's troubled nuclear-power industry, largely because of the U.S. subsidies involved. Analysts predicted that MOX fuel could generate cheap power for more than 500,000 people in southern Ontario for the next 25 years. The problem was that Canada, like the U.S., had previously resisted reprocessing plutonium waste from civilian reactors for energy use-a technique widespread in Europe -- on the grounds that it could end hopes of restraining the spread of plutonium reprocessing around the world. The warhead recycling deal doesn't look much different from that.

In any case, the potential benefits of burning plutonium in Canada have probably faded along with the fortunes of Ontario Hydro. Seven of the utility's 19 CANDU reactors were shut for safety reasons in 1997. "MOX is not an issue we are considering right now," said a spokesman for the just privatized company, renamed Ontario Power Generation.

A climb-down on Parallex may dampen Ottawa's foreign policy ambitions, but it won't hurt Atomic Energy Canada Ltd., overseer of the scheme. Parallex is one of dozens of research contracts the agency is developing with U.S. clients. The 40-hectare Chalk River site in the lush Ottawa Valley, built in 1944 to explore ways of making plutonium for the Allies' wartime atomic-weapons program, is forging a new role as a leader in North American nuclear technology. Last week technicians there were conducting neutron-beam tests of materials for a U.S. auto company. Compared with the challenges of Parallex, that was a breeze.

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Apr 17, 1999 - Firefighters use possible plutonium shipments to ask for new technology.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Record
page A4

Firefighters, capitalizing on the current controversy about possible plutonium shipment to Canada, are in Ottawa today to lobby for a new system that could shave minutes off response time in emergencies involving hazardous substances.

In a chemical fire or spill, a couple of minutes could mean life or death, said Sean McManus, Canadian director of the International Association of Firefighters.

That's why firefighters want the federal government to help fund Operation Respond, a technology that shaves minutes off response time in rail and highway disasters involving hazardous materials.

Currently, when firefighters arrive at a road or rail accident or spill, they must look at a placard on the vehicle to see what it is carrying, then phone a chemist at the federal transportation department for instruction on what precautions to take.

Operation Respond, a computer software program, allows firefighters at the scene to tap into the shipping company's database by punching in a number listed on the back of a tanker-trailer or railway car. Almost immediately, a message would tell them the type of chemical they're up against and what method they should use to neutralize it. It will also alert the originating company, which often sends its own response unit for support.

"Instantaneously, it tells you what is in that particular unit so that you can know how to fight it because it's critical that you should know whether to be using foam, whether you should be using water," McManus said.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Apr 26, 1999 - Greenpeace asks PM to stop promoting plutonium; will tour shipment routes.

Canada News-Wire

Halifax: Greenpeace launched a national campaign to stop plutonium imports into Canada today with a tour along plutonium shipment routes. From Halifax, which is one of the cities identified as a port of entry for the plutonium, the international anti-nuclear organization called on Prime Minister Chrétien to:

"The Prime Minister is subsidizing a global plutonium economy which will increase the threat of nuclear war" said Greenpeace campaign director Steve Shallhorn. "Plutonium is attractive to terrorists and governments interested in building nuclear weapons. The more plutonium in world-wide circulation, the greater the risk of nuclear proliferation."

In coming weeks, the Greenpeace campaign bus will visit dozens of communities throughout eastern and central Canada on roads that could be used to ship the Russian and U.S. plutonium to the Atomic Energy of Canada's (AECL) Chalk River experimental labs in Ontario. The plan has been called "totally unfeasible" by an all-party Parliamentary standing committee.

"The nuclear industry has received billions in subsidies from the government and this proposal intends to keep that money flowing" said Shallhorn. "In 1996/97 AECL received $197 million in direct subsidies and that was $23.5 million more than what was budgeted."

During its tour Greenpeace will recommend that municipal councils follow the lead of US and Canadian communities and pass resolutions against having the plutonium pass through their communities. Greenpeace activists will also distribute postcards to be mailed to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien demanding that the proposed test is stopped.

Although the first test shipments from the US and Russia will be small, up to 100 tonnes of plutonium may be imported into Canada over 25 years. The shipments would require heavily armed guards.

For the first test shipment to Chalk River from the US by commercial carrier, the U.S. Department of Energy has identified three possible border crossings: at Emerson, Manitoba, Sarnia, Ontario and Thousand Islands, Ontario. (1) A Nova Scotia Emergency Measures Organization document released by The Truro Daily News stated the Russian shipment will enter Canada in Halifax.

Greenpeace refuted AECL's claim that plutonium fuel use contributes to nuclear disarmament. "Not a single nuclear warhead will be dismantled because Canada accepts nuclear garbage from nuclear weapons states. If Jean Chrétien is serious about disarmament, he should offer Canada's assistance to keep plutonium under lock and key in nuclear weapons countries" said Shallhorn.

During the first leg of the tour, Greenpeace will visit communities along the Trans-Canada Highway in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The Greenpeace tour will include:

Editor's notes: Some of the many towns and cities through which the first U.S. test shipment could travel include,
    in Ontario:
      Timmins, Kapuskasing, Thunder Bay, Dryden, Kenora, London, Woodstock, Brantford, Cambridge, Toronto, Oshawa, Belleville, Kingston, Smith Falls, Arnprior, Pembroke;

    in Manitoba:

      Ste. Agathe, Morris, Pinawa, Winnipeg.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Apr 27, 1999 - Firefighters' Association seeks to stop plutonium imports.

The Ottawa Citizen
page A5

Canadian firefighters have asked the federal government to shelve its plan to import weapons-grade plutonium, saying they can't ensure a "reasonable level of public safety" in the event of an accident.

Sean McManus, the Canadian director of the International Association of Fire Fighters, issued the warning yesterday as part of a campaign to win federal funding for a new computer system that provides emergency crews with fast, detailed information about hazardous materials.

Mr. McManus said firefighters need the computer program, known as Operation Respond, to deal with possible spills involving plutonium and other hazardous chemicals.

The firefighters' charge, however, brought heated responses yesterday from Transport Minister David Collenette and officials with the Atomic Energy Control Board. Outside the House of Commons, Mr. Collenette accused the firefighters of misleading Canadians. The existing system for dealing with hazardous material, he said, is better than the one the firefighters propose to use.

"This is something you'll have to ask them why they're pushing," he said.

The Liberal government has agreed to test a small amount of Russian and American weapons-grade plutonium as fuel in Ontario's Chalk River nuclear reactor later this year.

If the test is successful, it could lead to a large-scale program designed to eliminate the Cold War stockpile of plutonium.

McManus said the current system can leave firefighters idling at a scene, waiting to find out what chemicals have been spilled and how they might react to water or air.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Apr 5, 1999 - Plutonium transportation reports worry Halifax port workers.

The Halifax Chronicle-Herald
page C1

by Eva Hoare

Halifax longshoremen say they have the right to know if plutonium is shipped through the port.

"We work with it. We're right next to it," said Pat Murphy, president of Local 269 of the International Longshoremen's Association in Halifax.

"We're working this cargo and we don't even know what we're working most of the time."

Mr. Murphy said many of his members became concerned after reading reports that the Port of Halifax is being considered as a drop-off point for the shipment of Russian plutonium.

The plutonium would be shipped through Halifax and then trucked to be burned at Chalk River, Ont. If the plan proceeds, 50 tonnes could be transported through Halifax in 2005.

A secret session planned for last Friday in Truro to discuss transportation of plutonium through Nova Scotia was scrapped after it became public knowledge the previous day.

Mr. Murphy said his members object to that kind of secrecy when safety is at issue.

He said longshoremen can identify symbols on the sides of containers that indicate hazardous materials. But beyond dialing 911 for emergency help, they don't have much other information.

"The general membership, I think if you were to go out and ask any given one of them what would they do in the situation of a chemical spill, they wouldn't have a clue.

"We have many, many cargoes coming through this port and we don't have a sweet clue on what we're handling here. We've handled anything from missiles to canned goods."

Mr. Murphy said there are safety committees in place, but the discussions don't always seep out to the general longshoremen membership.

He is calling for more information now before any such shipments occur.

"We would like to know when it's coming through this particular port, " Mr. Murphy said.

"We would like to be involved in a meeting as to how it's going to be handled and so we could have some input, ... some knowledge as to what we're handling here."

Mr. Murphy said information about what to do if a container is dropped during the loading process, for example, is not available.

"If we had a dangerous chemical spill, we'd be dead before we knew what happened. ... This has been a complaint by my membership for years."

The secret meeting last week had been organized to train fire chiefs and emergency measures staff how to handle plutonium in the event of an emergency.

Federal Transport Minister David Collenette said discussions about shipping plutonium were premature because Atomic Energy Canada had not made an application to transport the material.

But such an application is expected in the next month or so.

If plutonium does get shipped to Halifax, Mr. Murphy suggested the establishment of a separate designated area for hazardous goods on the waterfront.

A representative from the Halifax Port Authority was not available for comment Monday.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Apr 27, 1999 - Firefighters oppose plutonium nuclear-fuel transportation plan.

Edmonton Journal, page A10

Firefighters are calling for a moratorium on the shipment of plutonium fuel into Canada until the government sets up a computer system to help them deal with possible spills and accidents.

But officials at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. say the plutonium fuel is less dangerous than other materials, such as medical isotopes, that are routinely carried on Canadian roads.

They promise that emergency-response personnel in communities along the route of the shipments will be fully briefed about possible hazards as soon as a route has been chosen.

They say the plutonium fuel, known as MOX, is not highly radioactive, and cannot explode or burn.

Transport Minister David Collenette says about 800,000 shipments of radioactive material already occur in Canada each year and there is an elaborate response system to deal with accidents.

"We have a tracking system and safety and response systems that make sure that all emergencies are attended to," Collenette said Monday in the Commons.

Atomic Energy has said it will conduct a test burn this summer of nuclear-reactor fuel containing plutonium from surplus U.S. and Russian warheads.

The goal of the experiment is to determine whether plutonium fuel works well in Candu reactors. If it does, a large-scale program might be set up to help rid the world of dangerous surplus warheads.

Greenpeace and other environmental groups are vocally opposed to the plan.

Larry Shewchuk, an official at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., said firefighters have no reason to fear shipments of plutonium.

The material is not highly radioactive and has no detonator, which means it cannot explode.

Even if an accident happened en route, he said, a single piece of paper could block the radiation from the plutonium, which will be encased in zirconium alloy tubes and packed in a container that cannot spill, ignite or explode on impact.

. . . back to List of News Stories

Apr 27, 1999 - "Plutonium project risky": Greenpeace raises spectre of high-risk accident, theft.

The Halifax Chronicle-Herald, page A1

by Christine Doucet
(with Canadian Press)

HALIFAX -- People in every town and city between Halifax and an Ontario nuclear reactor will be at risk if plutonium is imported through Halifax, say Greenpeace activists.

"This project does nothing but increase the probability of a high- risk accident," Michael Khoo, part of a Greenpeace bus tour of possible shipment routes, said Monday during a Halifax news conference.

If Halifax does become the entry point for plutonium from dismantled Russian warheads, the project could also lead to a wider problem, said Steve Shallhorn, Greenpeace campaign director.

"There is a threat of theft - theft that could lead to the material finding its way into a nuclear bomb program of one of the many countries that have nuclear weapons or one of the nuclear wannabes."

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. plans to test the Russian plutonium, as well as some from the United States, for suitability as fuel for Candu-type nuclear reactors.

Defenders of the project say it will increase international nuclear disarmament.

"In fact, this project could lead to the opposite - nuclear proliferation. The moving of so much plutonium around the globe is simply not a good idea," Mr. Shallhorn said.

"Not a single nuclear weapon will be destroyed by this program.

All it is is a program designed to help Russia and the United States clean up the nuclear garbage left over from warheads that have already been dismantled."

Plutonium is still being manufactured every day, Mr. Shallhorn said.

If Canada takes on the project, which could begin in 2005, it may burn 100 tonnes of plutonium, half from Russia and half from the United States.

An initial small shipment, bound for testing at the Chalk River, Ont. , experimental reactor, is expected in Halifax within weeks, Mr. Shallhorn said. Chalk River is about 170 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.

Also Monday, firefighters called for a moratorium on the shipments until the federal government sets up a computer system to help them deal with possible spills and accidents.

"We fear for public safety in the event of an accident involving plutonium or some other deadly substance if we arrive on the scene without knowing what we're dealing with," said Sean McManus, the Canadian director of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which is holding its convention in Ottawa.

But officials at Atomic Energy of Canada say the plutonium fuel is less dangerous than other materials, such as medical isotopes, routinely carried on Canadian roads.

They promise that emergency-response personnel in communities along the route of the shipments will be fully briefed about possible hazards as soon as a route has been chosen.

When it arrives, the material - a mixture of 97 per cent uranium and three per cent plutonium, known as MOX - will not be particularly radioactive, Mr. Shallhorn said. But if the canister splits open and the contents come into contact with water or catch fire, people could ingest or inhale plutonium, which is associated with a high risk of cancer, Greenpeace literature says.

"The transport canisters are only rated to withstand an impact of 30 miles (48 kilometres) an hour," Mr. Khoo said. "We find this woefully inadequate."

He said there are many examples of accidents that have occurred while nuclear material was being transported.

"We'd like to know when it's coming through this port," said Pat Murphy, president of Local 269 of the International Longshoremen's Association.

"It concerns us. ... We're actually handling the cargo."

Mr. Murphy wants his group to be given special instructions on how to deal with the material.

"Maybe what they should do is have a designated area for all hazardous cargo. Let's start with this particular item (plutonium)."

Greenpeace recommends that plutonium be discarded through a process called vitrification, storage in above-ground facilities that can be monitored.

"Then Canada might be able to contribute to some sort of international security commission to make sure that it does stay under lock and key," Mr. Shallhorn said.

"It's not a great solution, admittedly, but it's a lot better than moving this stuff around, only having half of it being disposed of in a reactor, and then we'd be stuck with it."

Mr. Shallhorn said half the plutonium will remain after the material is burned, and Canada will have to find a way to dispose of it.

"This program brings no net benefits to Canada. We're not going to get a single watt of extra electricity from this program."

. . . back to List of News Stories

Apr 25, 1999 - Greenpeace to launch tour of plutonium shipment routes

Canada News-Wire


What: Press Conference to raise concerns about shipment of plutonium through Canadian communities.

Where: Point Pleasant Park (east parking lot, adjacent to container port), Halifax

When: 11 a.m., Monday, April 26th, 1999

On Monday in Halifax the international anti-nuclear organization Greenpeace will launch a tour of routes to be used to ship plutonium, bound for use at Atomic Energy of Canada's (AECL) experimental reactor in Chalk River, Ontario.

Using a Greenpeace campaign bus, activists will mobilize opposition in dozens of communities in central and eastern Canada through which Russian and U.S. nuclear bomb material may travel.

The plutonium import scheme is part of Atomic Energy of Canada's plan to develop use of plutonium fuel at Candu reactors in Ontario. It has been endorsed by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, even though a parliamentary committee called the plan "totally unfeasible".

An Emergency Measures Organization document leaked last week states that Halifax is the port of entry for the Russian plutonium. The U.S. Department of Energy has identified three potential routes through Ontario and Manitoba for its plutonium shipment, expected in coming weeks.

During Monday morning's press conference, Greenpeace national campaign director Steve Shallhorn will outline why communities along a variety of routes should be especially concerned with the AECL plan, and what they can do to stop it. He will also explain why importing plutonium will increase the threat from nuclear weapons, world-wide.

. . . back to List of News Stories

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