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[cdn-nucl-l] End of the (present) MOX issue?
Globe and Mail, at:
Shipping plutonium to Canada rejected
Protests persuade U.S. to destroy own waste
Monday, November 15, 1999
Amid rising controversy, the United States has decided to abandon a scheme
to export plutonium taken from U.S. nuclear weapons to Canada.
Although the U.S. Department of Energy says it reserves the right to
reconsider the action, it says it is no longer actively considering the use
of Canadian nuclear reactors to burn the surplus plutonium. The destruction
plan had been highly touted by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Atomic
Energy of Canada Ltd., the federal nuclear company, as a Canadian
contribution to removing one of the lingering legacies of the Cold War.
Antinuclear advocates yesterday hailed the U.S. decision, saying the
possibility now appears remote that Canada will become the final depository
for much of the unneeded plutonium produced by the United States.
"It's dead," Steve Shallhorn, campaign director for Greenpeace, said of the
proposal to deal with the U.S. material.
However, there is still a possibility -- considered unlikely -- that
plutonium from the former Soviet Union could be shipped to Canada.
But the U.S. decision calls into question the need for a test burn of about
200 grams of U.S. and Russian plutonium that AECL plans to undertake at its
Chalk River laboratories in Ontario to see whether the bomb material is
usable in Canadian-style Candu reactors.
The test, expected to be conducted next year, has prompted opposition from
some U.S. areas, such as Michigan, that might be on the transportation
routes for the material. Canadian border cities, such as Windsor, have also
voiced their opposition. "You really have to wonder why the U.S. is going to
send the 132 grams [for the test]," Mr. Shallhorn said.
For the past five years, Canadian federal officials have engaged in furious
lobbying of both the Russians and Americans to use Canada to dispose of
But the U.S. Department of Energy isn't interested in the Canadian offer,
saying that more than enough reactor capacity exists in the United States to
immobilize all of the 33 tonnes of plutonium it has earmarked for disposal
in commercial reactors.
The U.S. Energy Department "determined that adequate reactor capacity is
available in the United States to disposition that portion of the U.S.
surplus plutonium suitable for MOX fuel and, therefore, while still
reserving the Candu option, DOE is no longer actively pursuing it," the
department said in a statement issued Friday.
MOX is the technical name for reactor fuel containing plutonium. The
department further intends to encase another 17 tonnes of plutonium in a
ceramic material, thereby making it hard to reuse in weapons.
All told, the United States is planning to eliminate enough plutonium to
make about 5,000 bombs. The Russians have a similar amount of weapons
material surplus to its security needs.
The Canadian proposal now is entirely dependent on Russian support, but one
analyst said yesterday that it will proceed only if subsidies are made
available to help facilitate Russian participation.
Franklyn Griffiths, a University of Toronto political scientist, said the
Russian plutonium would require major funding through the Group of Seven or
some other body in order to occur.
The Canadian proposal has been battling long odds almost since it was first
put forward in 1994, mainly because the U.S. Department of Energy found it
to be more costly than plutonium disposal at competing U.S. civilian
Prof. Griffiths said Canadian authorities "have known the U.S. wasn't
interested for quite some time. This is a blow in that now the [Canadian]
public knows it."
AECL and federal officials could not be reached yesterday for comment on the
U.S. decision, which was released in the Department of Energy's final
environmental impact statement on surplus plutonium disposition.
Under the Canadian plan, the federal government proposed that plutonium be
burned at reactors owned by Ontario Power Generation Inc. However, the
provincially owned utility indicated earlier this year that it wasn't
interested in participating.
The U.S. Department of Energy says Canada could still take plutonium based
on a bilateral agreement between Russia and Canada, a deal in which the
United States wouldn't be involved.
"If Russia and Canada agree to disposition Russian surplus plutonium in
Candu reactors in order to augment Russia's disposition capability,
shipments of the Russian MOX fuel would take place directly between Russia
and Canada," the department said.
When plutonium is used in reactors, not all of it is destroyed. But the
plutonium left over is harder to extract for nuclear weapons production
because it is contained in highly dangerous radioactive fuel bundles.