For release Wednesday, August 2, 2000
Ottawa--Citizens groups today charged that the federal government's plutonium airlift plan released last Friday continues to ignore widespread opposition along the flight path and proves that the government's position on plutonium imports is fundamentally dishonest.
"People want truth and fairness. We are calling on the Chrétien government to cancel the Russian weapons plutonium shipment altogether or, at the very least, to halt the shipment until independent public hearings have been held into the policy assumptions underlying the plutonium import scheme," said Kristen Ostling of the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout.
On Friday, July 28th, apparently in reaction to the timing of a recent judicial review application initiated by citizens groups and First Nations, the Chrétien government publicly announced that weapons plutonium MOX fuel would be transported by air from Russia to Chalk River, Ontario. The announcement provides for a 28-day period of public comment on a revised AECL transportation emergency response plan.
In the opinion on a number of citizens groups, the federal government has been dishonest and inconsistent in its message to the Canadian public on the following points:
- News reports quote the federal government as stating that air transport was chosen in accordance with suggestions made during public hearings last fall. However there were no public hearings last fall; there were only last-minute public-relations events hastily organized to counter a growing tide of public opposition to plutonium imports in Ontario.
Since then, municipalities have continued to pass resolutions against the plan. In Quebec, 155 municipalities have passed resolutions which explicitly object to the transportation of plutonium through Quebec by air as well as by land and sea.
"If Ottawa wants to respond to public suggestions," said Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club of Canada, "the overwhelming message is crystal clear: don't fly it, scrap it."
- In its November 1999 report, Transport Canada stated that "the material will not be flown" because a severe transportation accident "could result in the release of a heavy dust [which] has the potential for damage if inhaled."
Noting that AECL would be using a Type B container (rather than a Type C container as required by US Law for air transport), Transport Canada was firm that the MOX test samples could not be flown: "Not until there were a container deemed safe enough to survive all credible airplane accidents."
Last Friday, however, a new Emergency Plan from AECL was posted, based on flying more than four times as much Russian military plutonium in a similar Type B container. It is now claimed that this container is perfectly safe and can withstand any credible accidents.
However, Dr. Ed Lyman, Scientific Director of the Washington-based Nuclear Control Institute states, "There is no credible scientific evidence that a Type B container can withstand an air crash."
Dr. Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility also notes that a Type C container is still in the design stages.
Moreover, according to a July 20, 2000 letter received by CELA on July 27th, from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (formerly AECB), certification for the transport container lapsed some time ago.
- In its November 1999 report, Transport Canada stated five times that weapons plutonium "will not be flown", adding that "It is presently against both Canadian and United States law to fly the MOX test samples".
Yet two months later, in January 2000, 120 grams of US weapons plutonium was air-lifted to Chalk River by helicopter.
- The "Parallex Project" was originally intended to lay the groundwork for a parallel, symmetric reduction in the excess weapons plutonium stockpiles of the USA and Russia.
When the US announced earlier this year that they have no intention of sending any more plutonium to Canada, the stated rationale for the Parallex Project collapsed. Yet the Project still proceeds as if nothing has changed. "There is no parallelism anymore," said Kristen Ostling.
- The Chrétien government promotes the MOX scheme as a disarmament initiative. But the impetus for the idea of burning plutonium in reactors comes not from the peace and disarmament community, but from the nuclear power establishments of Russia, the US and Canada -- all of whom would like to see their aging reactors running for another 25 years.
"Ottawa's position is not sound," said Dr. Edwards. "Using plutonium to fuel reactors doesn't eliminate the plutonium, and therefore offers no permanent solution to the security problem. Yet circulating plutonium in civilian society does make plutonium more accessible, thereby making clandestine bombs more likely."
Kristen Ostling said, "A much more sensible approach would be to phase out nuclear reactors, thereby halting the production of new plutonium, while taking the existing plutonium out of circulation permanently through immobilization. A responsible government would welcome debate on these issues," she added.
- In the original emergency plan, the routes were delineated and therefore the communities that could be impacted were identifiable. In the new plan, there are no routes delineated, no communities specified, consequently no identifiable communities that can be impacted.
"We're concerned about all aspects of the planned plutonium import plan, including the resulting wastes which will remain in Canada. Ottawa seems intent on denying Canadians their basic democratic right to have specific input on decisions that may affect their communities," said Lynn Jones of Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County.
- The federal government has told Canadians that it is virtually impossible for plutonium to be released in a respirable form under any conceivable accident scenario. Yet the US Department of Energy, in a 1997 environmental assessment document, states:"Two credible transportation accident scenarios were analyzed for the shipment of MOX fuel to the Canadian border . . . .The report makes it clear that this scenario, while unlikely, has "a reasonable probability of occurrence".
"The first accident relates to an event that leads to the MOX fuel package container breaking open, igniting, and releasing plutonium dioxide particles into the air.... The public is assumed to be near enough to the accident to breathe air contaminated with plutonium dioxide."
from Section 5.2 "MOX Transportation Accidents"
In the previous AECL Emergency Plan for ground transport, AECL identified 4 out of 8 categories of accidents where the container would be destroyed. But in the new plan, there are no specific accident scenarios at all.
Citizens groups note that the government has chosen the worst time of year for a 28-day period of public comment.
"They could have done it earlier, as the Emergency Plan was ready in May. They could have done it later, simply by waiting until the weapons plutonium MOX fuel transport container had been certified by the regulatory agency. There is something distasteful about staging a public comment period when most people are not available for comment," said Gordon Edwards.
Theresa McClenaghan of the Canadian Environmental Law Association noted that, "the judicial review we launched for citizens groups in June played an important role in getting the government to reveal its plans to fly plutonium fuel from Russia. It is time now for the federal government to put the brakes on the project and subject it's plutonium policy to serious public scrutiny."
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For more information:
Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout,
Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility
Canadian Environmental Law Association ,
(519) 757-5266 cellphone, Wednesday only
(416) 960-2284 CELA
Sierra Club of Canada,
Associated of Iroquois and Allied Indians
Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County,
Nuclear Control Institute,
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