''Plutonium, Hell No!''


''Hello, Plutonium!''

by Gordon Edwards
written February, 1998
revised June 1998

Canadian activists are fighting Ottawa's plans to bring 50 tons of weapons grade plutonium into Canada from the United States, and another 50 tons from Russia, over a period of 25 years.

The scheme is intended to give Canada's beleaguered nuclear industry a boost by using the plutonium as mixed-oxide ("MOX") fuel in the electricity-generating reactors of Ontario, while making the plutonium less usable for bombs. Proponents of the plan portray it as a "swords into ploughshares" initiative. Opponents say otherwise.

The U.S.-Canada MOX plan calls for an initial shipment of up to 600 grams of plutonium from the U.S. nuclear research complex at Los Alamos, New Mexico, to a research reactor at Chalk River, Ontario, where a test of MOX fuel's viability for use in Canada's "CANDU"-style reactors will be conducted.

The shipment was scheduled for late last year, then moved to March or April of this year, but it has now been rescheduled for August or September. A flood of Canadian protests last fall to the U.S. Department of Energy had an effect: the U.S. Justice Department ordered DOE to analyze potential "transboundary effects" in case of a transportation accident. This caused a considerable delay. (The DOE had previously identified a credible accident scenario that would release plutonium to the environment in a form that can be inhaled -- the most dangerous type of plutonium exposure.)

Now Canadian groups are asking help from their American counterparts to stop this "MOX initiative" dead in its tracks. Authorities on both sides of the border are very skittish about public opposition; an outcry on both sides of the border late this summer and this fall could very well deliver the death blow to the entire plan.

U.S. nuclear plants are also considering use of MOX fuel. According to the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, "The Department of Energy has obtained expression of interest at one time or another from 18 utilities offering 38 reactors for burning plutonium as MOX. Not all are currently interested, but the situation is fluid."

The plutonium problem

In a nutshell, plutonium is a problem because only a few kilograms are needed to make a powerful nuclear weapon. A well-equipped group can make a nuclear weapon if they can get the required plutonium. For this reason, handling, transporting, and storing plutonium all pose great security risks. Not having access to plutonium, Iraq has tried to build a nuclear weapons capability through the much more difficult process of producing highly enriched uranium from scratch.

Other MOX Problems

The immobilization option -- mixing plutonium with highly radioactive fission products and making it difficult to handle by casting it in two-ton glass logs -- achieves all of the necessary objectives in dealing with weapons plutonium and avoids most of the problems associated with the MOX initiative. There is really no reason, aside from nuclear industry self-interest, to use MOX plutonium fuel.

Plutonium is named after Pluto, the God of Hell. People on both sides of the US/Canada border will be raising hell in the next few weeks or months in various ways.

Gordon Edwards, Ph.D., President,
Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility,
cp 236, Station Snowdon, Montreal, QC, H3X 3T4 Canada.

The CCNR is an enthusiastic supporter of the
Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout (CNP),
412-1 Nicholas St, Ottawa, ON, K1N 7B7, Canada.
Kristen Ostling, CNP coordinator: (613) 789 3634

[ The Dangers of Encouraging Plutonium Use ]
[ Bomb Makers Speak Out Against Plutonium ]

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