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[cdn-nucl-l] Canadians: Get Informed about nuclear waste
Posted in the Toronto Star on March 31, 2003 and at:
Read the first annual report of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization
(NWMO) released March 28, 2003 at:
Canadians uninformed about nuclear waste
Study uncovers lack of interest
OTTAWA-Even usually well-informed Canadians know next to nothing about
nuclear waste, don't trust their governments with the problem and hold
anti-nuclear attitudes largely shaped by shows like The Simpsons.
This picture of widespread ignorance and indifference emerges from a study
commissioned by a new federal agency responsible for recommending how Canada
can safely dispose of nuclear reactor waste that is dangerously radioactive
for more than 10,000 years.
The Nuclear Waste Management Organization has a November, 2005, deadline to
advise the federal government whether to bury and forget used reactor fuel
or try to store it safely above ground for 10 millennia.
Yet when Canadians in seven cities were asked about nuclear waste, they were
so uninformed they couldn't discuss disposal options intelligently, the
agency told MPs recently in its first annual report. The findings were based
on participants chosen for their news awareness or involvement with current
issues. The two Ontario cities in the study were London and Pickering, site
of an aging and troublesome nuclear power station.
The waste management agency was set up last year after Atomic Energy of
Canada Ltd., owned by Ottawa, had spent 20 years and $700 million working
out how radioactive waste could be safely stored deep inside the Canadian
A federal environmental assessment said the bury-and-forget idea did not
enjoy broad public support and, after a delay of more than four years, the
government tossed the hot potato to the new agency.
The agency's president, respected environmentalist Elizabeth Dowdeswell,
noted recently that a solution to the disposal problem has eluded Canada
despite decades of scientific and technical research.
She told the annual meeting of the Canadian Nuclear Association that the
agency was planning an extensive citizen engagement process, relying heavily
on its Web site.
But the survey of public attitudes carried out last November shows that the
agency could face its biggest challenge in simply convincing Canadians to
care about nuclear waste.
Even these more plugged-in Canadians mostly thought nuclear waste remained
hazardous for no more than centuries and couldn't even guess about how much
existed now from decades of operation of more than three dozen power and
research reactors. Told current high-level radioactive waste would fill five
hockey rinks up to the top of the boards, the discussion group participants
invariably asked how fast the waste was accumulating.
The most contentious issue for all groups was the contradictory role of the
federal government which promotes nuclear energy with large subsidies and
will make the final choice about the disposal option recommended by the
waste control agency.
But these supposedly more-involved Canadians still preferred to hand the
waste decision over to some sort of arm's-length agency, like the NWMO,
rather than make any major effort to become informed on such a complex
"Many participants said they would engage on the issue only if they believe
their own backyard was threatened," says the Web site report. For most, that
meant a waste disposal site in their neighbourhood or being on a disposal
Asked what contributed to their attitudes about nuclear waste, participants
referred to The Simpson's TV program (Homer Simpson works in a nuclear power
plant) or films like China Syndrome (a radioactive core meltdown plunging
through the Earth) and Erin Brockovich (corporate deceit about environmental
Additional articles by Peter Calamai