J u l y  1 9 9 7

Part 5

Franklyn Griffiths

George Ignatieff Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies
University College, University of Toronto
15 King's College Circle
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3H7

tel (416) 978-7417 fax (416) 971-2027

. . . back to Table of Contents

4.2. Financial

The CANDU MOX initiative would be implemented by Ontario Hydro, or by a reconstituted entry in the event the utility were privatized. Ultimately it would be done on the basis of technical arrangements with the two fuel supplier countries. These arrangements would be made following ratification and regulatory assessment of a multi-billion dollar trilateral arrangement that might or might not enjoy the financial support of other G-7 members. As of today, we are again dealing with generalities rather than specifics when it comes to CANDU MOX money matters. Nevertheless, there are questions that need to be addressed now.

Ottawa has stated that an agreement to implement the initiative will impose no new burden on the Canadian Government and the Canadian taxpayer. Ontario Hydro, in claiming MOX fuel will be purchased at rates comparable to those incurred for conventional CANDU fuel, also implies no cost should be expected in the implementation of the initiative. Are these realistic assessments? Might the Canadian taxpayer and the Ontario taxpayer and electricity ratepayer reasonably expect to emerge from a CANDU MOX experience without absorbing financial costs over and above those currently being met?

The CANDU MOX proponents expect the United States to come up with most of the dollars required to finance the project. If other G-7 members were to provide financial assistance, it would be applied to Russian-related expenses only, namely (1) in setting up CANDU MOX fuel fabrication facilities, and (2) in contributing to the purchase of Russian weapons plutonium. Aside from these large items and counterpart U.S. expenses for U.S. MOX fuel manufacture, a trilateral agreement would provide a framework for financing and technical arrangements on (3) transportation of Russian and U.S. MOX fuel including provision of security to the Bruce NGS, (4) accommodation as well as security for fresh fuel at the site, (5) CANDU reactor modifications, (6) accommodation and security for spent fuel, and (7) added radiological protection for workers. None of these items should cost Canadians anything much if current Ontario Hydro and Canadian government stipulations are upheld. Modification of the Bruce B reactors to handle MOX fuel would be covered. Ontario Hydro could also pocket an irradiation services fee from the U.S. government. All things considered, it is fair to say that the CANDU MOX initiative will be an assured cost-free proposition for Canadians, and for Ontarians in particular, when the deal is struck.

The calculation changes, however, when liability to downstream costs is taken into account. A conspiracy theory comes into view here. It is not without plausibility. It could find favour among Canadians when those opposed had their say in public debate. It holds that the CANDU MOX proposal is an industrial initiative in international security disguise. The argument is worth considering because it is keyed to downstream benefits and costs. It runs roughly as follows.

AECL is the driving force behind the entire venture. It has captured the Ministry, Natural Resources Canada, through which it reports to Parliament. It has the ear of the Prime Minister. Its growth and indeed its institutional survival are at stake in a Canadian commercial and public spending environment that holds little prospect of sales and technological development required of a corporation that would come abreast of the international competition. AECL's unstated strategy is to enter the nuclear fuel cycle at midstream with the use of U.S. subsidies for reactor disposition of surplus Russian and U.S. weapons plutonium. Its pursuit of this strategy is multifaceted, flexible, patient, and not overly concerned to concentrate activity within Canada.

Specifically, the argument would go, the first step in the transition is to commit Canada to MOX fuel use, and to create conditions favouring downstream demand in Canada for increasingly advanced plutonium-based reactors. Simultaneously, opportunities would be explored for plutonium reprocessing and MOX fuel manufacture outside Canada or in the country in association with U.S., European, or Russian commercial partners. Efforts would also be made to secure Canadian regulatory approval for the construction in Canada of a repository for geological disposition of civil nuclear waste from Canadian and, in due course, foreign reactors. The effect of success in only some of these areas would be to make AECL or a reconstituted entity into a more significant player in North American and international plutonium fuel-cycle development.

The key to the transition, in this account, is MOX fuel use in Canada. Without it, AECL's prospects are greatly reduced. Yet neither the Canadian public nor the Canadian Government can be expected to favour the commitment of substantial new funds required for MOX fuel purchase and reactor modification for MOX fuel use. The outlook changes markedly, however, when the necessity for weapons plutonium disposition creates an opportunity to present MOX use in Canada as a valuable contribution to international security that can be made at no cost. Hence the CANDU MOX initiative as a swords-into-ploughshares venture, as a means of converting megatons of nuclear explosive potential into megawatts of socially productive electricity.

Though it is unrealistic to attribute to policy processes in Canada the coherence and rationality suggested by the notion that AECL calls the shots on the CANDU MOX initiative, conspiracy theory does have an appeal, particularly to those who feel powerless in the face of big industry and big government. Many Canadians feel this way about nuclear issues. A federal government that would gain the confidence of the Canadian people in promoting and implementing the CANDU MOX initiative will not find it easy, especially when downstream benefits are indeed to be had for the nuclear industry.

A long-term contractual commitment to irradiate MOX fuel at the Bruce NGS cannot but contribute to a business environment more favourable to a revival of the Canadian nuclear industry's fortunes. If past history is any guide, some of the industry's fortune will come from the public purse, whether or not the federal government comes out clearly against the spread of plutonium fuel-cycle technology. Should Ottawa fail to do so, AECL would be better placed to seek out international partners in MOX -related commercial projects. Should Ottawa do so, prospects could still open up for the renewal of reactors at the Bruce site.

Meanwhile, a long-term commitment to consume MOX fuel could end up costing Ontarians in the event that insufficient electricity demand or a strategic decision in favour of alternative energy sources made it desirable for Ontario Hydro or a successor entity to shut reactors down. Prospects for the deregulation of the North American electricity market already make reactor shutdown increasingly likely. But once they were launched into the business of disposition, Canada and Ontario would likely accept more business as it came along, rather than closing up shop on completion of a mission set in 1998 or 1999.

More business could come along if START II and III were followed by further measures of nuclear disarmament or, depending on how we regard it, nuclear weapons waste disposal. We are looking far ahead now, but the CANDU MOX initiative already takes us out to as late as 2040, depending on the size of the mission and when it begins. By 2040, all major nuclear powers could be moving down the road to reduced dependence on weapons of mass destruction and greater reliance on more useable force. Some will want to dispose of their weapons plutonium excess themselves. But Canadian-based disposition would offer an unparalleled advantage, which is to retain the spent fuel of others. This is something that is permitted only in one place, not in Europe, not in the Russian Federation, but in North Korea.

Canada's preparedness to retain the nuclear waste of others could make the country of continued interest as a site for the disposition of weapons plutonium after the START missions were concluded. Beyond that, there is downstream potential for the retention of the high-level civil nuclear waste of others. Today, proponents of the CANDU MOX initiative promise eventual geological burial of spent weapons MOX fuel.[122] An undertaking promoted by AECL for the burial of Canada's high-level nuclear waste[123] is now being assessed by a panel under the authority of Canada's Atomic Energy Board. Civil and military high-level nuclear waste are starting to be linked in Canada. If geological burial were now to go forward in tandem with weapons plutonium disposition, key preconditions would be in place for Canada to become, in due course, an international repository for nuclear waste. Income would surely be generated from this activity. Equally surely, it would come at a cost to the taxpayer and ratepayer. If the MOX initiative alone were to proceed, jobs would be sustained and created in the Bruce community and others. But otherwise I can discern no financial benefit, and only large potential costs, to Canada and Canadians in the CANDU MOX initiative as it stands. The assessment would however change if Canada required Russia and the United States to take back their nuclear waste.

If spent MOX fuel were to be returned to the country of origin, Bruce reactors, which in the ordinary course of events would generate spent uranium fuel which Ontario Hydro would retain forever, would be freed of waste until the end of their expected lifetimes (around 2028) or until the end of the disposition mission, whichever came first. Amidst all its disadvantages, there would be an advantage for Ontarians and Canadians in the CANDU MOX proposal. Correspondingly, its negotiability would suffer owing to the desire of the principals to make it as difficult as possible to recover excess weapons plutonium for renewed weapons use. Add the trouble and expense of transporting spent fuel back to Russia and the United States, and this could be perceived as a killer amendment. Nevertheless, the United States as well as the Russian Federation is giving serious consideration to disposition in domestic reactors. Washington and Moscow are clearly prepared to live with a disposition regime in which each retains its own waste. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Energy originally asked Canada to consider the alternatives of retaining spent U.S. MOX fuel in Canada, or returning it to the United States after a period of ten years.[124]

Accordingly, if Canada were determined to persist with the MOX initiative, it should see to it that a framework trilateral agreement provided for return of spent fuel to the country of origin. Further, to avert the expense of reactor renewal, Canada could stipulate 2028 as the date for the end of Canadian-based disposition and accept only a quantity of weapons MOX that could be processed by that date, and no more. This would rule out a prominent Canadian role in bringing the Russian Federation and the United States to retained weapons plutonium parity (Table 1, cell 8). In fact, it would move Canada towards a minimum, time -limited contribution (Table 1, cells 4 or 5) in which some of the initiative's internal security and safety costs to Canadians might be contained.

Everything we know about the nuclear industry in Canada tells us that commercial benefits come at substantial cost to the public. They are subsidized by the Canadian taxpayer and the Ontario electricity ratepayer. Implementation of the CANDU MOX initiative as currently formulated would likely come at no immediate cost to Canadians. But it would not come as an exception to the rule. It would abet a publicly-funded nuclear industry in mounting new ventures later, whether or not privatization occurred. It would create conditions favouring new outlays of public money on nuclear undertakings, international nuclear waste disposal among them. And it would constrain public choice to reduce, much less to eliminate, expenditure on nuclear energy.

4.3. Governance

The Canadian and Ontario governments will no doubt think twice before coming out as proponents of a scheme that is certain to evoke a measure of public dread, no matter what its international security benefits. And yet the cost here is not so much to the public standing of governments which in any case are accustomed to overriding substantial minorities when it is thought necessary. Rather, the cost is to governance itself. State and society alike will suffer if the CANDU MOX initiative is pursued without due regard for public sentiment, first as Ottawa decides whether or not to commit, and then as Ottawa and Queen's Park address wholly foreseeable problems of maintaining public trust in a regulatory process that is uniquely ill-equipped to deal with an international security project such as the CANDU MOX venture.

Handled poorly -- that is, as a done deal -- a CANDU MOX initiative that made it all the way to implementation would risk real damage to the integrity of government and the quality of public life in Canada. We are talking about a highly visible and indeed momentous public issue, one that could be fused with the assessment of permanent geological burial of nuclear waste in Canada. To avoid unnecessary costs to governance, public hearings will be indispensable. The governance question comes down to what constitutes a full and proper hearing for this extraordinary project.

An authentic hearing will have interrelated substantive and procedural requirements.[125] Substantively, it will need to address not only the validity of a proposed engineering solution to a physical and technical problem, but the merits of an ethical and moral appreciation of nuclear risk. Procedurally, a hearing will have to engage the public in a two-way interaction in which government listens as well as provides a flow of technical information to a populace in need of facts. A two-way discourse will consider not only the procedure for CANDU MOX reactor disposition of weapons plutonium, but public feeling and intuition on the larger business of nuclear power generation including its reverberations with "wartime holocaust, reactor accident, and mistrust of mysterious highly technical science."[126] The substance of the issues to be processed need not pit pro- against anti-nuclear feeling. Somewhere there is a more fruitful middle ground if the appropriate conditions can be created. Middle ground lies between Canadians' faith in technology and a rational-technical mode of choice, and their moral and spiritual questioning of the very need for technology that demands such severe safeguards. My guess is that on such a basis the unamended CANDU MOX proposal would fail, what with its marginal contribution to international security, its considerable internal social costs, and its lack of offsetting benefits. An amended proposal might fare better. But either way, this would be a hearing likely to produce a greater measure of consensus than can be achieved when one-way rational-technical discourse prevails.

Government acceptance of the legitimacy of contending world views is therefore essential if the CANDU MOX project is to have not only the hearing it deserves, but one that engenders public confidence and avoids inevitable costs to governance when substantial bodies of opinion are disenfranchised. This is obviously a very tall order, and not one that can soon be met. We are taking about the need for a new beginning in the way Canadians handle nuclear risk. We are talking about the CANDU MOX proposal as an opportunity to make a new beginning. Consider for example the aboriginal dimension of the CANDU MOX initiative. Things are so far gone here that it is difficult to see how even to start a beginning to greater legitimacy of alternative world views.

While the community in the region of the Bruce NGS would seem to favour the initiative strongly, the Chippewa of Saugeen are dead set against it. A band of some 2,500 persons who reside in the Bruce area, they are sufficiently alienated from Canada and Ontario to have declared exclusive jurisdiction over what they claim to be their offshore waters.[127] These extend out to 10 miles from a point near Goderich northwards around the Bruce Peninsula and down to the base of Georgian Bay. Without asserting the full bundle of jurisdictions over land, water, and superjacent airspace that would constitute an outright claim to sovereignty, the Saugeen nevertheless assert an unextinguished right to treat with Canada as one state to another on matters of offshore waters which, it happens, are employed by the Bruce NGS for intake and effluent. The Saugeen have not asserted a full bundle of jurisdictions, but they are wholly opposed to the appearance of MOX fuel bundles at the Bruce NGS on cultural, environmental, and international peace grounds.

As matters stand, the Saugeen would move out of the realm of Canadian governance altogether. Theirs is doubtless the most extreme case of a more widespread lack of public trust, of a sense of exclusion from the way governments do business on nuclear issues in Canada and Ontario. Environmental and nuclear watchdog non-governmental organizations (NGOs) already share a similar sense of exclusion and disbelief in the readiness of governments to allow a proper hearing of the questions that surround the CANDU MOX initiative. There is no need to consider what the media, aboriginal peoples, and NGOs might do with the initiative if it were to move forward in these circumstances. Rather, the challenge for government is to move forward itself towards a better way of taking public policy decisions on nuclear risk assessment and acceptance. Again, full-scope hearings will be of the essence in reducing costs to governance in the decision on whether to commit to the CANDU MOX initiative or not.

Beyond this, further costs lie waiting in the Canadian regulatory process, should it be called upon to assess the initiative as (1) embodied in a trilateral framework agreement, (2) translated into implementing agreements, and (3) formulated in a manner consistent with the terms of reference of the relevant federal and provincial regulatory bodies. Let us assume that Ontario and Canada as two levels of government agreed on a unified regulatory procedure, rather than having separate reviews. Let us also all but exclude current circumstantial evidence that could be construed to suggest that reviews would not be on the level -- for example, the federal Environment Minister's strong statement of approval of the initiative when the U.S. government announced it was among U.S. disposition options, or Canada's exemption of the recent CANDU sale to China from environmental review.[128] We are still left with a regulatory process that is all but certain to deny Canadians the confidence that all the significant issues were heard. This is in no way to suggest governments would not act within the law. The Atomic Energy Control Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA), the Transport of Dangerous Goods Act, the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act, and other legislation would apply. But to what?

The way the process is now set up, an Ontario Hydro request for a license amendment from the Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB) would trigger an impact assessment procedure under the CEAA. The latter Act allows Cabinet, on urgency grounds, to exempt a proposal from full environmental assessment including public hearings. Indeed, the situation could be one of some urgency if the Russian Federation and the United States had turned to Canada to deliver on its offer with the whole world watching. Let us nevertheless assume that public hearings would be held, that no steps would have been taken to set CANDU MOX fuel manufacture in motion in Russia or the United States, and that no work had been done to modify the Bruce B reactors for MOX use. Under current procedure, the question to the AECB would be the specific one of whether CANDU reactors at the Bruce NGS could be licensed for MOX fuel use without posing undue physical risk to public health, safety, or to the environment. The issues would revolve around a change of fuel for CANDU reactors. To ask whether Canada should in the first place be accepting weapons MOX from the Russian Federation and the United States would be out of order. So also would discussion of possible international alternatives to the proposal despite its being framed by governments as an international security measure. What might or might not be done to resolve the disposition problem in other jurisdictions would be ruled out. Ethical and spiritual considerations related to the use of MOX fuel in Bruce reactors could be adduced, but they would not go to the heart of issues defined in rational-technical terms. The discussion would centre on whether or not Canada and Ontario could be made safe for MOX use. Given the apparently modest technical modifications required for CANDU adaptation to MOX fuel and the Canadian capacity to conform to IAEA and other safeguards, the outcome of AECB hearings would almost certainly be perceived as a foregone conclusion. Governance would suffer.

As to the CEAA, in the normal course of events it would call for the establishment of a panel to assess the environmental effects, including possible adverse effects outside of Canada, and the alternatives to a major economic development project. Canadian-based reactor disposition of excess Russian and U.S. strategic plutonium is not an economic development project unless one were to hold to the conspiratorial view. It is an international security undertaking with far-reaching implications for Canadian policy on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. The CEAA is by definition unable to provide terms of reference for an assessment that would address these issues. Nor would it permit discussion of alternatives to the CANDU MOX proposal. As a practical matter, moreover, there might be no alternative to the proposal, since it could have been the only disposition means on which the G-7 and Russia were able to agree. Nor is it easy to see how the project could be turned down when plutonium is already an integral element in the workings of the CANDU reactor, and when safeguards would again be applied. As to possible environmental effects outside of Canada, would the review panel be mandated to assess the circumstances of MOX fuel fabrication in Russia and the United States, MOX fuel supply being a critical element of the project? My guess is that it would not.

The CEAA thus seems incapable of providing a full assessment of the CANDU MOX proposal except as project-related economic activity in Canada which bears on the physical environment and the well-being of humans in this country. Framed this way, a review process will be unable to say either yes or no to a far-reaching international security project. It is however more likely to say yes, or yes with provisos to a proposed economic development project in Canada. This is clearly a sign of bad governance in the making. The alternative would be to use implementation of the CANDU MOX initiative as a point of departure in designing a regulatory process that ensures authentic two-way interaction between society and state on the full range of issues at play in nuclear risk assessment. Given the abysmal record of ministerial interference and arbitrariness in Canadian environmental impact assessment over the years,[129] the capacity of the present federal government to break free of the past and rise to the challenge of the MOX initiative has to be doubted. The proponents could be proven correct in their sales claim that regulatory approval would be swift in Canada, an opinion which finds some acceptance within the U.S. Department of Energy.[130] Indeed, the proponents could have their way in obtaining a regulatory process that ran "in parallel with" the construction of CANDU MOX fuel fabrication plants in Russia and the United States.[131]

Viewed in its entirety, the CANDU MOX initiative offers no direct benefits to Canadians and Ontarians aside from locally valued employment and larger business opportunities for a nuclear industry that cannot survive without public subsidy. Not only would there be no substantial benefits, but considerable direct costs would have to be accepted. Canadians would sacrifice if the initiative were implemented. Taxpayers and ratepayers would be exposed to potential new levies for downstream activity on the part of AECL and Ontario Hydro. Canadians' and Ontarians' capacity to constrain public reliance on nuclear energy would be diminished irrespective of whether electricity demand continued to decline or whether electricity became less attractive relative to alternative energy sources. Public confidence in the ability to obtain a full hearing on the issues, and in the regulatory process as it is presently constituted, would both be sorely tested by a hearings procedure perceived to be capable only of affirming the project with or without modifications. As to the varied internal security and safety costs to Canadians, they are such as to make it clear that the swords-into-ploughshares argument for Canadian-based reactor disposition is not sustainable.

When plutonium is concerned, swords cannot be transmuted into ploughshares serving beneficial purposes alone or even effectively. Swords made of metallic plutonium can only be blunted when they are subjected to even the most burning economic purpose. They can still be picked up, sharpened, and used again. Canadians would have to live with this new reality for the duration. As to the ploughshares produced, one might as well plough water as try to show that plutonium in MOX fuel can be consumed in Ontario at overall cost no greater to Canadians than is presently being met with the use of uranium fuel.

5. Conclusions and Recommendations

This study finds that the CANDU MOX initiative is beyond redemption. It is certain to deliver substantial direct costs to Canadians. It is all but bereft of benefits for them. It is grossly inadequate in its capacity to achieve its stated international security purposes. It is unlikely to be much improved. It could nevertheless be taken up by the S-8. Before any such thing happens, the CANDU MOX initiative should be withdrawn by the Canadian government. If it is not withdrawn but formally approved, it should first be thoroughly reworked and bolstered with a score of corrective measures designed to make the best of a bad thing.

Foreseeable costs to Canadians are many and varied. None of them have as yet been publicly acknowledged by the Canadian government or by the proponents of the initiative. The reader's patience is sought as we march through a lengthy series of points that summarize these costs:

  1. new health risks of accident involving plutonium would be accepted in the transportation of weapons MOX fuel from the United States by land, and from the Russian Federation by air or sea and by land within Ontario;

  2. fresh MOX fuel made in the two supplier countries would be guarded and transported in Canada with the same armed security measures that are used to protect intact nuclear weapons;

  3. having the near-equivalent of nuclear weapons on its soil, Canada would become a partial nuclear-weapons state as it assisted the Russian Federation and the United States to divest themselves of their excess weapons plutonium;

  4. CANDU fuel bundles being small, moveable, and handled continuously in on-line refuelling, the presence of fresh MOX fuel in Canada poses risks of diversion and attack which are not a threat when standard CANDU fuel is used;

  5. within ten years, spent MOX fuel, which could also be used in the construction of nuclear weapons, would become vulnerable to human handling and would require additional safeguards over and above those already in place;

  6. Canada and Ontario would become effectively, for the first time, of interest to potential nuclear-weapons states, if not equally to terrorist organizations, as a source of plutonium;

  7. together with armed guard and other new physical security arrangements, Ontarians would have to live with new counter-intelligence and internal security activity required to protect fresh MOX fuel, when no such measures would be needed under an immobilization regime or other disposition option;

  8. Canadians would have to accept and live with the risk of contributing directly to nuclear proliferation or terrorist use of plutonium in the event their security measures were breached, a risk that scarcely applies when conventional uranium fuel is used in Ontario reactors;

  9. while the initiative entails no immediate direct financial cost to the Canadian or Ontarian taxpayer or to the Ontario Hydro ratepayer, public funding for downstream reactor retubing and prolongation of life would have to be accepted;

  10. in retaining spent MOX fuel of Russian and U.S. origin for ever, Canada and Ontario would not only be doing the two supplier countries a favour that is not permitted in most jurisdictions, but they would be increasing the potential for the development of an international civil nuclear waste repository in Canada;

  11. once embarked on a disposition mission providing for the retention of spent weapons MOX fuel, CANDU reactors could continue to be in demand in the event of a START III agreement and possible nuclear reductions by other countries later in the coming century, thereby generating an open-ended commitment to reactor use for weapons plutonium disposition in Canada;

  12. Ontarians' ability to constrain or terminate reliance on civil nuclear power would be constricted irrespective of electricity demand or increased cost-effectiveness of alternative energy sources;

  13. the integrity of the Canadian and Ontario regulatory process would be sorely stressed in providing for credible public assessment of the CANDU MOX initiative as an international security venture, or as an economic development project with due regard for its social, political, and environmental consequences in Canada and in other jurisdictions, and not as a proposal to alter the fuel for Bruce B reactors; and

  14. if regulatory approval were sought, as the proponents wish, concurrently with the construction of plants for CANDU MOX fuel fabrication in Russia and the United States, and with engineering and other modifications for MOX use at the Bruce station, still larger costs in public confidence and approval would be incurred.

As to direct benefits to Canadians and Ontarians, they are hard to find beyond employment in the region of the Bruce NGS and possibly others, a possible irradiation services fee to be paid by the United States to Ontario Hydro, and support for a nuclear industry that cannot survive without continued reliance on public monies.

If direct costs are significant and benefits slight or negligible, the case for CANDU MOX disposition comes down to its likely international security effects and the opportunity for Canadians to make a valued contribution to peace in carrying through with the initiative. Benefits to international security from Canadian-based reactor disposition of excess weapons plutonium prove to be marginal when the effects are not actually counterproductive in terms of physical security. Even when the benefits of the initiative are viewed in terms of its potential to contribute to perennial international political processes of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, the CANDU MOX initiative turns out to be very largely ineffectual:

  1. where nuclear non-proliferation is concerned, Canadian-based reactor disposition would not touch the most urgent threat which lies with the inventory of tactical nuclear weapons that are under the authority of Russia's Ministry of Defence, that are not subject to disarmament agreement, and that are in urgent need of improved materials control which could in some measure be achieved before the Bruce reactors began their work for nuclear non-proliferation around 2010;

  2. as to the proliferation threat posed by Russia's deployed and stockpiled strategic nuclear warheads, the CANDU MOX initiative stands to increase the proliferation risk by warranting the transfer of warheads from the Ministry of Defence, which is the preferred agency for strategic warhead control, to the stockpile that Minatom holds, may not be able to secure for some time to come, and may become a lessened proliferation threat as Minatom's materials control capacity is improved;

  3. for Russia's stock of intact strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, where the proliferation threat is best addressed by improved materials controls now, the CANDU MOX initiative proves to be highly inept in proposing to move weapons plutonium to Canada as of about 2010, by which time improved nuclear materials controls in Russia may deprive the initiative of much of its non-proliferation rationale that constitutes its justification today;

  4. the initiative proposes to support the cause of non-proliferation by relying on a working relationship with Minatom, itself a proliferation threat in its quasi-legal transfers of nuclear technology with which Canada and Ontario will in some measure be associated, and which are not offset either by a vigorous Canadian commitment to help Minatom develop its materials control capabilities or by any sign of Canadian interest in fostering a corporate culture of nuclear responsibility and legality within the ministry;

  5. by acquiescing in Russia's acquisition of MOX fuel fabrication facilities for eventual use in the manufacture of civil as well as weapons MOX reactor fuel, and in Russia's reprocessing of spent MOX fuel when the job of weapons plutonium disposition is done, Canada would by force of example contribute however slightly to the global spread of plutonium fuel-cycle technology and therefore to nuclear proliferation;

  6. use of MOX fuel in the Bruce B reactors would contribute directly to nuclear proliferation by offering a commercial demonstration for the use of plutonium in countries already possessing CANDU reactors, and indirectly by setting an example of responsible behaviour for countries contemplating the use of plutonium for civil power generation;

  7. the CANDU MOX initiative as it stands says nothing about what Minatom might do with a CANDU MOX fuel fabrication capability once weapons plutonium disposition were done, and thus risks contributing to the spread of the plutonium fuel cycle and therefore nuclear proliferation;

  8. where the potential of the CANDU MOX initiative to further nuclear disarmament is concerned, little will be accomplished owing to the predictable interest of the Russian Federation and the United States in the use of Canadian-based reactor disposition to unload degraded plutonium, plutonium fabricated for obsolescent warheads, reactor plutonium in unused and in irradiated form, residues and scraps, and even plutonium originally employed for peaceful purposes, all the while retaining quality weapons plutonium in abundance;

  9. the initiative's capacity to make irreversible the benefits of nuclear disarmament is further subverted by the intention of the Russian Federation and the United States to retain inactive strategic warhead and replacement pit reserves greatly in excess of anticipated START III limits on deployed weapons;

  10. in receiving the excess weapons plutonium of Russia and the United States, Canada would therefore very largely be in the business of processing the nuclear waste of the two supplier countries whose nuclear forces will remain very substantial, disarmament treaties notwithstanding, in an altered strategic environment.

Overall, there is no avoiding the conclusion that implementation of the CANDU MOX initiative would do little to make the world a safer place. Where nuclear non-proliferation is concerned, it promises actually to make the world more dangerous by making Canada appear increasingly permissive on fuel-cycle issues, substantiating permissiveness elsewhere, and possibly prompting others to follow Canada's lead if circumstance allowed. Nor can we see any substantial gain for nuclear disarmament by endeavouring to lock in the benefits of arms reductions when the principals have locked so much out in the first place. Nor does the assessment greatly improve when we turn to the initiative's promise in producing benefits for international processes of non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament:

  1. while Canada may hope in some small way to help acculturate Minatom to Western norms of nuclear responsibility, legality, and business practice, the potential is offset by the risk of close association with a Ministry inclined to play fast with nuclear technology transfer to potential nuclear-weapons states;

  2. potential support to the nuclear non-proliferation regime would be offset by the initiative's demonstration effects for commercial use of plutonium in CANDU reactors;

  3. possible contributions to the irreversibility of the nuclear disarmament process would very largely be undone by Russian and U.S. preferences to retain excessively large nuclear forces and to contrive to dispose of inferior grades of weapons plutonium through disposition;

  4. in the light of everything said here, a Canadian-based reactor contribution to the process of excess weapons plutonium disposition itself would at best be a highly compromised endeavour requiring much time, ingenuity, and the promotion of more demanding standards particularly for the nuclear disarmament policies of the United States as the leading power in the international system today.

Unable to accomplish much for either the substance or the process of nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament, the CANDU MOX initiative has to be called a sorry piece of work. It is wrong-headed on the problem of Russian nuclear leakage, blind to plutonium fuel-cycle effects on nuclear proliferation, driven by reactor mania, naive on the potential to assist in Russian-U.S. nuclear disarmament, careless of internal safety and financial costs to Canadians, and unconcerned about the dangers of doing damage to governance in Canada. The CANDU MOX initiative is so deeply flawed that it is impossible to see how it might adequately be safeguarded against its own deficiencies.

Though suggestions could be made for improvement, their acceptance in any substantial measure would constitute an abrupt turnabout in the stance of a government that has seen fit to give a very unwise offer its informal backing. Proposals for far-reaching change in the initiative, I conclude, are unlikely to be acted upon. The CANDU MOX initiative should therefore be withdrawn forthwith.

Should the Canadian government nevertheless decide to commit formally to the initiative, this study suggests an array of changes that ought to be required by Canadians and made both to the initiative itself and to the way it is handled by the government. Although it is difficult to marshal any great confidence that they would be enacted, they can be itemized as follows. If the federal government is inclined to endorse the CANDU MOX initiative, it should:

  1. hold public hearings on the proposal and on whether and how to proceed with it, before any decision on commitment;

  2. consider whether and how to support the immobilization option in internal U.S. policy debate over disposition;

  3. decisively terminate Canada's permissive policy on the use of plutonium fuel-cycle technology and prohibit Canadian corporations from all international activity that might contribute to closed fuel-cycle proliferation;

  4. depict CANDU MOX disposition as a complete and utter singularity, as a unique and time-limited use of Canadian reactors for purposes of weapons plutonium disposition only;

  5. come forth with a unique licensing and environmental impact assessment procedure that is capable of convincing Canadians that their views are being taken into account in the evaluation of an international security undertaking without precedent for Canada;

  6. require in a trilateral disposition agreement that the Russian Federation and the United States take back their spent MOX fuel, beginning ten years after irradiation of the first batch;

  7. require in a trilateral agreement that the Russian Federation and the United States undertake to negotiate limits on inactive strategic warhead and replacement pit reserves;

  8. require in a trilateral agreement that Russia and the United States undertake to commence negotiations for tactical nuclear weapons disarmament by a specified date;

  9. require in a trilateral agreement that the Russian side meet agreed criteria for nuclear materials control before Canadian-based reactor disposition would begin;

  10. commit in a trilateral agreement to provide Minatom with vigorous assistance in strengthening its nuclear materials accounting and control capabilities;

  11. require in a trilateral agreement a commitment from the supplier states not to manufacture CANDU MOX fuel for use in other countries possessing CANDU reactors;

  12. require in a trilateral agreement that no steps be taken to construct CANDU MOX fuel fabrication facilities in Russia or the United States until after all Canadian international security, licensing, and environmental impact assessment procedures have been completed;

  13. eliminate by announcement all possibility of Canada becoming a site for an international repository for nuclear waste;

  14. commit forcefully to nuclear abolition;

  15. lead in securing international acceptance of the illegitimacy of nuclear weapons;

  16. pursue a complete ban on the production of fissionable materials for military purposes;

  17. seek support for international agreement against first use of nuclear weapons; and

  18. offer international leadership against the global spread of plutonium fuel-cycle technology.

[ continuation of list ]

Finally, Canadians ought to recognize that whether or not the CANDU MOX initiative is greatly altered, it could be taken up by the S-8. It could be taken up as early as the end of 1998, or some 18 months from now, if Washington were to hold to its decision to select from among its disposition options by that date. Depending on the course of negotiations for an S-8 hybrid arrangement, the use of Canadian reactors could find favour. This is principally because of the ability of Canadian-based disposition to provide an answer to Russia's lack of safe reactor capacity, and to help the Eight to bridge their fuel-cycle disagreements.

In the ordinary course of events, we might expect an invitation for Canada to accept a modest role, something in the order of 30 tonnes from the Russian Federation and the United States. Canada could however be asked to process considerably more if Russia were to start reducing to retained weapons plutonium parity with the United States. There is a potential for surprise here. The question is how large a mission Canadians should be prepared to accept if the CANDU MOX initiative were to be sustained by the Canadian government and then taken up by the principals.

The answer involves a trade-off between potential benefits in enhanced international influence for Canada, and direct internal costs to Canadians. Costs we now know about. But the benefits here are to be understood in terms of enhanced international standing and leverage that would come directly to Canada for performing a singular and unappealing task of nuclear waste disposal for the S-8. They would not be benefits to international security. As we now also know, there is no real gain to be had for security in plutonium disposition as long as Russia and the United States retain the capacity to rebuild their Cold War nuclear arsenals and as long as the Russian custodial system is unreformed.

How much direct cost should Canadians accept for how much international influence among the S-8 and in the world at large if the CANDU MOX initiative were to be implemented? Simply put, how large a mission should be accepted for the Bruce reactors if it came to that?

The larger the mission is, the greater the international influence that could be expected, and the greater and more prolonged the direct cost of disposition to Canadians. The larger the mission asked of Canada, the more exacting Ottawa could be in making conditions for Canadian acceptance of a trilateral agreement. If, for example, Ottawa specified that it would take not less than half of a total Russian and U.S. excess of 150 tonnes on terms that committed Russia to retained weapons plutonium parity, and if it turned out there was a need for this degree of participation from Canada, the gain in influence could be quite substantial and Ottawa would be in a position to exact commitments from Moscow and Washington in a trilateral agreement. The effect would also be to prolong and enlarge direct security, safety, financial, and also governance costs to Canadians who would have to live with an open-ended commitment to CANDU MOX disposition.

On the other hand, the smaller the mission, the less the influence gained, the less Ottawa's ability to shape a trilateral agreement, and the shorter the aggravation of the CANDU MOX experience. If Canada were to accept some 30 tonnes, the whole thing might be gotten over with relatively quickly as long as Ottawa made it very clear to all concerned that further missions would not be accepted. Ottawa would not however be able to ask for some of the provisions suggested here for a trilateral agreement.

In my view, the realities of the situation come down to the fact that while international influence tends to be ephemeral, the costs of disposition to Canadians promise to be tangible. Accordingly, Canada should also:

  1. make clear in negotiation for a trilateral agreement that a disposition mission of not more than 30 tonnnes would be accepted;

  2. specify that once this mission were completed, there would be no more Canadian-based reactor disposition of excess weapons plutonium; and

  3. defer to and certainly do not compete with Ukraine if VVER-1000 reactors are judged to be safe for weapons plutonium disposition, and if Ukraine sought a role.

So there we have it: 21 suggestions which, if adopted by Canada and incorporated in a trilateral agreement, might go some way to improve an inept CANDU MOX initiative which is best rejected without further ado.

NEXT: MOX Experience, Part 6 : Notes

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