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[cdn-nucl-l] "Plutonium shipments win approval"
November 11, 1999
Plutonium shipments win approval
Chalk River will get radioactive goods in spring
By Laura Eggertson
Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau
OTTAWA - The federal government is set to approve a plan to ship Russian and
American plutonium along Ontario highways to its experimental reactor at
nearby Chalk River.
Transport Canada officials will announce Monday they are giving the go-ahead
to the emergency response plan Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) is
required to submit for transporting dangerous goods, government sources say.
But AECL - which manufactures Candu reactors - will likely have to delay the
shipments until spring. Transport Canada's emergency response plan is
finally complete, but it is too late in the season to move ships on the St.
``It's not likely that we have any time left to get this thing in before the
end of 1999,'' says Larry Shewchuk, AECL's spokesperson for the project.
``We're right on the cusp of running out of time to make the shipment happen
this year. ''
The shipments contain 251 grams of weapons-grade plutonium in pellets of a
radioactive mixture known as mixed oxide, or MOX. This round of shipments is
intended as a test - the first wave of a Canadian promise to import tonnes
of the plutonium from dismantled nuclear warheads in Russia and the United
States over the next 20 years.
The response plan the AECL was required to file includes its proposal on
training workers on how to unload the material from the container ship, how
truckers would handle it on route, and the communication plan should any
accident occur. Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy announced the
proposal to import plutonium last September, calling it a step forward in
dismantling nuclear weapons. The plutonium was originally to have been
shipped by the end of the year.
The AECL sells the plan as a way to protect the world from the danger of
terrorists or organized crime getting hold of tonnes of the plutonium that
is not being securely stored in the former Soviet Union.
But the project has raised the ire of environmental groups like Greenpeace,
and organizations including the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear
Responsibility, which don't believe the plutonium should be shipped around
NDP Leader Alexa McDonough has denounced the plan as thinly disguised
assistance to the country's struggling nuclear industry, rather than an
attempt to aid non-proliferation. AECL hopes to get subsidies from among the
G-7 nations - primarily the United States - to dispose of the MOX fuel.
Town councils along the shipments' route - from Sault St. Marie to Sudbury
to North Bay and Nepean - have protested. Mohawks from the Akwesasne First
Nation near Cornwall and Kahnawake near Montreal have threatened to block
the highway to stop the trucks from rolling by.
The communities are not only concerned about the safety of the shipments -
something the emergency response plan is designed to address - but also the
precedent that Canada will become the dumping ground for radioactive waste.
``We don't want this,'' Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Steve Butland said yesterday.
`` After the burn is over, I am told that you're still left with the residue
nuclear material. What do you do with that? Why don't the Americans burn it
in their own reactors?''
But Butland said he was not surprised Transport Canada was approving the
emergency response plan that gives the shipments the go-ahead.
``I suspect this was a done deal a while ago.''
Both Transport Canada and the AECL insist these protests are not the reason
the shipments are likely being delayed until spring.
But the public consultation did lengthen the deliberations and close the
window of opportunity for hiring a ship to move the plutonium before the
Seaway ices over.
``We predicted there would be a high interest in plutonium,'' said John
Read, director-general of Transport Canada's dangerous good directorate.
Shewchuk insists most of the public concern about the plutonium shipments is
defused when AECL briefs people on their plans.
Comment: Seems that Deep River's pro-MOX resolution doesn't count for
anything, since according to the Star, "Town councils along the shipments'
route - from Sault St. Marie to Sudbury to North Bay and Nepean - have
protested." ...Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Steve Butland obviously hasn't read
Jeremy's "TEN REASONS TO SUPPORT CANADA'S WEAPONS PLUTONIUM MOX INITIATIVE"