The Globe and Mail
TORONTO - - Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. will be allowed to keep its secrets. Provincial and federal information commissioners have turned down requests from an anti-nuclear group for documents related to the commercial viability of its CANDU nuclear reactors and safety hazards at AECL's Chalk River laboratories in Ontario.
The rulings are a major victory for AECL, the government-owned company that markets Canadian atomic technology and operates the nuclear research site at Chalk River, where there have been a number of radioactive spills. Nuclear Awareness Project, an environmental group based in Uxbridge, Ont., sought federal release of a study called Project Atom, a report on AECL's financial viability prepared for Ottawa in 1995 by Nesbitt Burns Inc.
But the Information Commissioner of Canada ruled late last month that disclosure of the report would undermine AECL's competitive position and reveal confidential financial information. Ontario officials recently ruled against the release of the safety documents.
"The governments of both Canada and Ontario are intent on maintaining a veil of secrecy around the nuclear industry," said David Martin, a spokesman for Nuclear Awareness Project. "There is virtually no public scrutiny of AECL's activities and no public involvement in nuclear policy at the federal or provincial levels."
The group cited public-interest clauses in access-to-information legislation in seeking to have the documents released. AECL receives about $100 million a year in subsidies from taxpayers. An AECL official said the documents contained vital corporate information that might give advantages to competitors, as well as compromise security arrangements at the Chalk River nuclear-research facility north of Ottawa.
"One thing about the nuclear industry is it's a hugely competitive industry," said AECL spokesman Larry Shewchuk. He said it's "simply prudent" to keep information about its technology and its research sites secret.
Although the report on the commercial viability of AECL's nuclear technology won't be released, a four-page summary in which Nesbitt Burns presented the framework for its review was issued. Nesbitt Burns was hired by Natural Resources Canada to offer the federal government alternatives on future funding and support for nuclear energy through AECL, according to the summary.
The investment banking firm performed a financial review of AECL and assessed the commercial viability of its CANDU technology - - the Canadian-designed nuclear reactors that cost about $2 billion each. The report compared AECL's competitive position with that of other major companies selling nuclear reactors. It also offered a view of the global market for the reactors and an independent assessment of prospects for the CANDU.
Other companies selling reactors are General Electric and Westinghouse in the United States and Siemens in Germany, along with companies in France and Russia. AECL receives about $100 million annually in subsidies from taxpayers.
In a related ruling, Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner denied a request by Nuclear Awareness Project for an AECL report on safety problems and hazards at contaminated sites at the Chalk River facility. The commissioner ruled that releasing the document would damage intergovernmental relations.
Mr. Shewchuk said the company did not want the safety document released "for site-security reasons". He would not elaborate, but when questioned he said information in the document might make the site vulnerable to such threats as industrial spying or terrorism.
The Ottawa Citizen
Less than two years before the breakup of its monopoly on the electricity market, Ontario Hydro is still using the provincial government's signature to borrow billions -- money Ontarians could have to pay back. It's a spending strategy that critics say may be aimed at helping Hydro maintain a virtual lock on the industry, even after private power companies are allowed into the market in 2000.
And here's the shocker for Ontario's energy consumers: Analysts estimate that more than half of Hydro's $32-billion debt -- likely to balloon if new loans are approved -- could soon be transferred to Ontarians through increases to hydro bills or income tax. Don Macdonald, a former federal finance minister who chaired a committee in 1996 on the introduction of competition into Ontario's electricity market, says Hydro should stop spending public money now.
"The Hydro management is trying to run (the company) in such a way that it'll continue to have the same dominating position in the market that it has now. I don't think that's acceptable from Ontario's standpoint. "These people are not competent to run a hydro system. We know that," he says. "They should only be getting enough money to prevent the system from breaking down."
Ontario Hydro is planning to borrow $10 billion in the next three years -- or more than $3,000 per bill-payer -- yet it will build nothing new. Even though $10 billion is roughly the price of a new nuclear generating station, the money is to be used largely for debt-refinancing. And a huge portion of Hydro's debt will likely be "stranded" before the opening of the free market -- meaning up to $20 billion would be written off its books and transferred to others.
The move would be used to prevent Hydro from going bankrupt in a free market because its prices are uncompetitive. And the probable victims of this "stranding" would be all Ontarians, who could end up paying $10 billion to $20 billion of Hydro's debt through their income tax or a special tax on electricity.
As a result, consumers would reap little immediate benefits from the breakup of Ontario Hydro's monopoly. Experts say that in order to pay for Hydro's debt, electricity prices in the province won't soon drop and may actually rise. They also claim that Ontario Hydro, with the help of borrowed money, is angling to secure a dominant position in the province's $10-billion-a-year electricity market, aiming to beat the newcomers that will appear in 2000.
Groups such as the Municipal Electric Association and the Independent Power Producers' Society of Ontario have asked the Ontario government to immediately stop guaranteeing, or co-signing, Ontario Hydro's loans. In November 1997, the Ontario government announced the introduction of retail competition in the province's electricity market in 2000 and the separation of Ontario Hydro's electricity production and transmission systems. It said Hydro's debt guarantee would end in 2000.
In the meantime, Ontario Hydro is planning to borrow $4.7 billion in 1998, $3 billion in 1999 and $2.5 billion in 2000. Some of the money will be used to refinance maturing debt, but some money could be used to prepare the utility for competition. In order to compete, Ontario Hydro's facilities, especially its nuclear plants, need massive investments.
The public utility also took a $6.6-billion writeoff last year, almost all of it to clear the way for future expenditures. In a sense, says Energy Probe's Tom Adams, Ontario Hydro is putting money in its 1997 books that it will only spend later. The $4.6 billion it set aside in 1997 for the Nuclear Assets Optimization Plan will be spent from 1998 to 2001 -- two years after private companies will have been allowed to compete with it.
For example, some of the coal that will be used to produce power in 2001 has already been paid for. When Ontario Hydro starts competing against private plants, from large American utilities to local co-generating companies, it will be benefitting from subsidized energy, Mr. Adams said. With the publication of its 1997 annual report yesterday, it is clear that Ontario Hydro is facing a debt nightmare unprecedented in Canadian business history:
- Its 1997 net losses were $6.3 billion; - It incurred a $6.58-billion writeoff last year; - Its debt and liabilities, at $45 billion according to the Ministry of Finance, are almost half the size of the Ontario government's own debt; - It has $4.5 billion in negative equity (it owes more that it's worth).
Another problem is that Ontario Hydro's accounting rules overestimate by almost 200 per cent the lifespan of nuclear generators. Hydro had long suggested that they would last 40 years, and used this figure to calculate the depreciation of nuclear assets such as heavy water. However, the average age of the nuclear units mothballed last August, as a result of a scathing report on their performance, was more like 22 years, said the Independent Power Producers' Society.
If Hydro changed its accounting practices, it could end up with even more liabilities. Jake Brooks, executive director of for the independent producers' society, says Hydro is using public money to finance its way out of its problems. Since the debt is co-signed by the government, he says, Hydro has access to easy capital and doesn't have to get the market's approval for its plans.
"This is being treated as the last hurrah with the public's money. The public won't be pleased to see the results, given what has happened with the last few billions." Mr. Brooks and others fear that the Nuclear Assets Optimization Plan, which was put in place to restore underperforming nuclear plants, won't solve ongoing problems at Bruce, Pickering and Darlington. The plan "didn't have detailed development of numbers and, what's worse, didn't offer any guarantees in term of power output or financial results," Mr. Brooks said.
The plan, which was set out by American nuclear expert Carl Andognini, is drastic: shutting down seven reactors and repairing 12 others, as well as a massive retraining and redeploying of employees. But economist David Argue, who has studied Ontario Hydro for 15 years, says it's only "more money down the black hole. "The philosophy behind Andognini's plan is: 'We know it's broken, but we can fix it.' That's always been the philosophy at Ontario Hydro: 'We know we've made mistakes in the past, but next time we'll do it right.' "
In fact, Mr. Andognini said in the 1997 annual report that last year, "We learned there was nothing wrong that could not be fixed." Mr. Argue pointed to Hydro's past nuclear blunders to illustrate the difficulties ahead, but also to warn that the cost of the plan could end up being substantially higher.
The Darlington plant was to be completed in 1983 at a cost of $2.5 billion. Instead, it was finished 10 years later at a cost of $14.4 billion. "It's certain that the amount of money spent on the (plan) will be above what they predicted," Mr. Argue said. "As they work on the plants, more problems will be uncovered. Once they get into it, we'll see costs well above what Andognini said was needed to get the plants back to world standards."
Analysts such as Mr. Argue and Mr. Adams also point out Hydro's long-standing habit of underestimating costs and overestimating benefits. As late as its November 1997 third-quarter report, Ontario Hydro was forecasting a potential writeoff of $475 million. Three months later, a writeoff of $6.58 billion was announced.
In its 1996-1999 corporate business plan, Ontario Hydro forecast nuclear production of 91.6 terawatt/hour for 1999. In this year's plan, the forecast is 59 terawatt/hour. In 1993, it was predicted that Ontario Hydro's debt-to-equity ratio for 1997 would be below 80 per cent. It is, in fact, 115 per cent (for every $1 in equity, there is $1.15 in debt). "Either they don't know what they are doing, or they are misleading decision makers," Mr. Argue contended.
The Kingston Whig-Standard
The peaks of the Alps still contain radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, a study released Saturday said. Campers, shepherds, park wardens, mushroom-lovers and others who frequent the mountainous heights could be at risk and should be warned, the report said.
The Paris-based Centre for Research and Independent Information on Radioactivity based its conclusions on tests conducted in 1996 and 1997 in the French, Italian, Swiss and Austrian Alps.
The Alps were particularly affected by radiation from the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant because of their height and the trajectory of the toxic cloud the blast produced, the study said.
The Los Angeles Times
By Gary Chapman
Some social impacts of modern technology -- such as threats to personal privacy -- can be scary. Others are terrifying. Take the ongoing, vexing interplay between computer security and nuclear weapons.
Over the last three weeks, a new group of computer hackers that calls itself the "Masters of Downloading" has released information to back up its claim to have penetrated sensitive Pentagon computer systems.
The group claims to have stolen software of the Defense Information Systems Network Equipment Manager, which controls military communications systems, including global-positioning satellites. The group of 15 hackers, which includes two from Russia, released a statement and a sample of the software, complete with interface screens.
The "masters" also announced that they had cracked communications links to U.S. submarines.
The Defense Department says it is treating the group's intrusion "very seriously," but it downplayed the significance of the break-ins.
Pentagon spokesmen reportedly say the military uses computers only to support weapons and people, and that computers are not essential to U.S. security.
Unfortunately, the picture is not quite that simple. Both people and firepower engaged in national security depend on information, and much of the required information is now managed by computers and networks. If this information is not reliable or is confusing, and this unreliability and confusion are combined with stressful time constraints, the results could be catastrophic, especially when the firepower is nuclear.
"The threat of accidental nuclear war is more dangerous now than ever," despite the end of the Cold War, said Bruce Blair, a senior researcher at the Brookings Institution in Washington and a former nuclear launch control officer. "The current alert postures are inherently dangerous and getting more dangerous."
An article published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, by Blair and coauthors associated with Physicians for Social Responsibility, calls for steps to "de-alert" U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons systems. They suggest an end to the current status of "launch on warning" -- the policy of launching nuclear-armed missiles when warning of an attack is received by defense authorities.
In 1979, the U.S. North American Air Defense Command, or NORAD, in Cheyenne Mountain, Colo., brought U.S. nuclear facilities to full-alert status when a computerized training tape was mistakenly mounted on the "live" early-warning system. In 1980, a 39-cent computer chip in a communications system between NORAD and the Strategic Air Command failed, producing a warning that the U.S. was under full nuclear attack.
In 1995, the Russians came ominously close to "launch on warning" when the U.S. lofted a satellite on a rocket launched from an island off Norway. Because of the rocket's unusual launch site and its trajectory, the Russians at first thought it was a U.S. Trident missile fired from a submarine. They went to full nuclear alert, even activating the nuclear "briefcase" that accompanies President Boris N. Yeltsin.
In these cases, and others, the time pressures on military decision makers have been intense. Blair notes that the Strategic Threat Assessment Team at NORAD, and its complementary Tactical Threat Assessment Team, have three minutes to decide if an attack warning is genuine. The Russians have 10 minutes before they need to make a decision. (The 1995 incident was resolved in eight minutes.)
The biggest danger now, say Blair and others, such as former Sen. Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat, is the frighteningly lax control the Russians maintain over their nuclear arsenals. Budget cuts, political instability and sheer neglect have brought the Russian air defense and command-and-control systems to a critically dangerous point.
Into this dark picture we can insert computer unreliability, such as the Year 2000 problem -- which Blair says the Russians haven't begun to solve -- and confusing and conflicting information scrambled or manipulated by anonymous hackers. While it is probably impossible for hackers to get into systems that might enable an unauthorized launch of nuclear weapons -- although even this is not completely certain -- the growing number of penetrations of Pentagon systems raises the specter of unreliability and confusion in a crisis. Computer data may not be the trigger on a nuclear warhead. But it could lead someone to pull that trigger hastily.
Defense computer systems need to be far more secure than they are now. Even Pentagon officials admit this. But the real solution is to deactivate nuclear weapons in both the U.S. and Russia. A nuclear standoff on a hair trigger is no longer necessary, if it ever was. Blair and his coauthors recommend a "stand-down" from constant alert status, removal of launch keys from missile silos and removal of warheads from missiles.
Without such measures, the door is open to a vast expansion of control and surveillance over computer networks by government agencies that are responsible for intelligence and computer security. The unnecessary extension of Cold War strategies in nuclear weapons systems might then infect the Internet itself.
Blair says a paper on "de-alerting" nuclear forces is on the desk of Defense Secretary William S. Cohen right now. Let's hope he reads it and is convinced by its arguments.
The Toronto Star
By Donna Jean MacKinnon
Dr. Rosalie Bertell perches on a wooden chair in her small Harbourfront apartment. Animated, her eyes bright, she has a no-nonsense look on her face.
Bertell has been a Grey Nun for 50 years and, along the way, earned a doctorate in biometry and written books about radiation and its effect on the health of humanity and Planet Earth. No Immediate Danger: Prognosis For A Radioactive Earth has been translated into four languages and is about to come out in Russian.
Bertell, an environmental epidemiologist, is neither a recluse nor a denizen of the Ivory Tower. She is an activist and a self-confessed whistle blower.
After the Bhopal disaster in 1984, Bertell directed the International Medical Commission investigating the effects of the Union Carbide chemical spill that contributed to some 15,000 deaths.
After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 resulted in 31 dead and forced the evacuation of 135,000, Bertell helped convene a tribunal to fight for the rights of those victims.
She has written reports on everything from radiation-related health problems, experienced by the Rongelap people after bomb testing in the Marshall Islands, to the effects of the Pickering nuclear plant on the health of local children.
In 1990, Bertell took on Ontario Hydro when it published "slick" booklets outlining a 25-year plan with no mention of potential health problems.
"We challenged them and ended up producing five volumes on what they should have known," says Bertell.
The "we" are Bertell and the 300 members of the International Institute of Concern for Public Health, a hard-hitting environmental organization formed in 1984.
Bertell, who retired "in theory" in 1994, is currently president of the institute where her mission is to integrate influential people, with environmental concerns, into a cohesive force so that they can lobby governments as a block.
"I'm connected to the world by E-mail and carry stories from one international group to another," explains Bertell, as the fax machine trills in her tiny office.
At 69, Bertell has a few pet peeves. She laments that once air and water are polluted, no one has a choice in the matter. She also objects to medical testing of vaccines only on the "standard Caucasian man, 20 to 30," rather than a broad spectrum of people. Bertell also has a few things to say about El Nino.
"It's the military who have messed up our weather and ozone," she maintains. "They blamed it on Mt. Pinatubo and now El Nino. Where did that come from all of a sudden? Everybody repeats El Nino and accepts it. It's public relations: not scientific data."
Bertell admits she is a feminist who believes that if women had more decision-making power, the world would be a better place. At the 1995 Forum on Women in Beijing, Bertell alerted delegates to the dangers of military-developed chemicals and their long-term impact on life.
She identified clorines as the worst offenders on the planet. Developed during World War I, chlorine did not exist in the atmosphere until then. Now there is evidence that one class of chlorines has "demasculinized and defeminized" birds and fish, and Bertell warns that studies on the implications for human sexuality and reproduction have just begun.
Bertell is routinely called a Cassandra and denounced by the nuclear industry. But she firmly maintains they and military policy makers are the world's main polluters.
Becoming a thorn-in-the-side of power mongers wasn't an easy path for Bertell. She was born in Buffalo, the daughter of a Canadian mother and American father. Paul Bertell was president of the Standard Mirror Co. and the inventor of the day-night auto mirror.
"My father never finished high school, but taught himself optics," says Bertell. "Later he delighted in my success in math and everything I did."
After Bertell earned a B.A. in 1951 from Buffalo's Marguerite D'Youville College in Buffalo (named for the only Canadian-born saint), she joined the Carmelites and stayed until a heart attack, five years later, forced her to leave.
"We plowed by hand and did hard physical work - laid cement and threaded pipes four feet underground. I learned a lot about women's self-sufficiency. But I was also a worry wart," she admits.
During her convalescence, Bertell discovered a knack for mathematics and later earned a degree in that subject. Then in 1957, at 29, Bertell joined the Grey Nuns.
"The religious life was right for me. My family has a long Christian history. I'm named after a great aunt who was a Daughter of Charity and a pharmacist."
Her religious commitment, Bertell adds, is like a marriage: Sometimes there are interpersonal problems, but they get worked out.
Although a high-profile public figure, Bertell has never forsaken her order and like all nuns, her earnings go to a community pot - the Mother House - which doles out living expenses.
In the '60s, Bertell attended the Catholic University of America in Washington and graduated with a Doctorate in Biometry - the science of biological measurement. "In those days it was a new field and there were 320 openings for every graduate. It was later filled up by areospace people when factories closed down."
Bertell landed a research job in Buffalo at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the world's first cancer research facility. While at the Roswell, Bertell also taught math at D'Youville College.
Drained by her dual work- load, Bertell suffered a second heart attack in 1972 and while recuperating, she "stumbled" on to Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb data.
"I spent 10 years in radiation data and emerged as the foremost expert in the field," says Bertell. A public meeting in Buffalo became a watershed in Bertell's life. Niagara County wanted to build a nuclear plant on a site next door to farms producing Gerber's Baby Food and people were concerned.
Bertell recalls her first experience with nuclear power: "There were only seats on stage for the five nuclear men. Their message was that radiation was like an x-ray and, obviously, caused no harm. It all irked me. I was the first citizen up to the mike and I insisted the nuclear men give up their seats. I didn't realize the concerned citizens were all women until we replaced the men."
In the end, the female protesters succeeded in getting a moratorium on the plant - the first one in the United States against the nuclear industry.
"Soon I was caught in the anti-nuclear network and, because I had a data base of medical information, I was constantly asked to speak," Bertell says. "I began to realize it was routine for the military to release radiation and that it also set radiation standards."
Meanwhile, "tension was high" at the Roswell Institute, which "favoured" the nuclear industry because it supplied research dollars.
"Scientists are economic prisoners. I was told what I could say, so I quit," says Bertell, with the air of someone who has just licked the school bully.
After dropping out in June, 1975, Bertell went to a Carmelite Monastery in Vermont and spent a year in contemplative prayer and considering her activism.
"There was no spiritual resistance. So I accepted, it was a calling and the crusade was on," explains Bertell. With intellectual sword in hand, Bertell faced her first windmill, when she testified before the U.S. Congress on the subject of medical x-rays, and succeeded in stopping x-rays in shoe stores and annual medical x-rays in schools and at work.
Since then Bertell has endured a breakneck schedule. ("People find me. I never advertise.") Recent speaking engagements included a conference on low-level radiation exposure in Milan, a session of the United Nations in Geneva and the World Conference on Breast Cancer in Kingston, Ont.
In January, Bertell travelled to a meeting of scientists in Brussels where she advised on protecting workers against ionizing radiation. She also spoke at the European Parliament in a bid to help Europe set up radiation protection standards for workers.
In February, Bertell completed a "reconstruction" for workers affected after three nuclear bombs were tested in Alaska. Bertell's model will help the men, exposed to radiation, get help with medical expenses from the U.S. government.
Bertell currently serves on the U.S.-Canada International Joint Commission Nuclear Task Force and is an adviser to Health Canada on the state of the Great Lakes. She has also worked on the relationship between diabetes, cancer and leukemia and radiation. And Bertell has a thought-provoking view of obesity.
"It's not just junk food. It's well-known that radioactive iodine in North American's atmosphere slows down the thyroid gland and that contributes to (being) overweight."
Bertell declares it's all about money. "War and money make the world go around. When you have money, you have to be prepared to go to war to protect it and that is the main concern of corporations and govern- ments."
This may sound cynical coming from a nun, but Bertell snaps, "Once your eyes are open, you can't close them again."
OWEN SOUND - Premier Mike Harris was slammed Friday for his support of Ontario Hydro's decision to close Generating Station A at the Bruce Nuclear Power Development.
Mark Kraemer, of Port Elgin, criticized the closure during a question-and-answer period after the 86th annual convention of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.
The provincially owned utility shut down the last of four reactors at the plant last month and expects to cut roughly 1,200 jobs from the 4,000-person work force at Bruce within a year.
Kraemer has led local efforts aimed at convincing Hydro to speed up repairs to Bruce A and ease the expected local economic impact of such massive job losses.
He raised doubts about the heavy use of new American management for Hydro's continuing reactor operations.
But Harris's response appeared to shut the door on any variation from an existing plan which places Bruce well down the list of stations due for rehabilitation.
"We brought in the best in the world because the regulator and Hydro itself with the concurrence of the union said we couldn't run them," Harris said.
Harris said he sees "no reason to intervene" in current nuclear rehabilitation plans.
"Government intervention in Hydro has been a cause of a lot of the problems they've had," Harris said.
The Toronto Star
By Peter Krivel
The union representing Ontario Hydro's workers wants to invest in the province's electricity industry, which could include buying the Bruce nuclear plant.
"Employee ownership is the purest form of profit-sharing and the surest way to motivate people to stick with the company and work hard to make it more profitable," John Murphy, president of the 15,000-member Power Workers' Union, said in a statement yesterday.
The union has teamed up with Contor Industries Ltd., a Canadian company that buys older manufacturing plants requiring turnaround strategies.
The union hopes to start by buying the Bruce generating plant near Kincardine and is looking to make other such financial investments using its $3.7 billion pension surplus, Murphy said.
"This will be beneficial to plan members, Ontario Hydro and its successor companies and, more important, to the ratepayers in Ontario," Murphy said during a news conference yesterday.
Contor has bought other nuclear industries in the past, including the nuclear products business of Westinghouse Canada.
Four of Bruce's nuclear power units have been shut down as part of a massive overhaul by Hydro.
Contor president Robert Bradshaw said buying the Bruce nuclear site would not only restore 1,000 jobs but likely improve efficiency because the units would be employee-owned.
Murphy said the union is also looking to invest in a planned water tunnel at the Sir Adam Beck station in Niagara Falls.
Bradshaw's company tried to buy two of Bruce's reactors back in 1995, but Hydro refused, saying it didn't like the concept of part of its facility being operated by the private sector.
The provincial government announced last fall that Ontario Hydro's monopoly is to end and homeowners and businesses will be able to shop for their electricity supplier in 2000.
The utility will be broken into three crown-owned corporations. Two of them will remain as monopolies, one handling transmission of electricity and the other overseeing the new market.
The third would keep all Hydro's nuclear, hydro-electric and fossil-fuel plants together in one company that competes against rival firms.
Back in 1995, it was estimated that Contor's company would have to assume Bruce's debt of $3 billion and spend another $1 billion to refurbish the power plant.
The Toronto Star
In his 1995 election platform, the Common Sense Revolution, Mike Harris talked about putting Ontario Hydro up for sale.
After the election, there were more musings from time to time.
But when the government unveiled its plan last year for introducing competition into the electricity market, privatization wasn't mentioned.
Instead, the Tories said the utility would be broken up into three new crown corporations: one to generate electricity, one to transmit it over the power grid, and a third to play the role of auctioneer in matching electricity suppliers with buyers. While the "wires" company would remain a regulated monopoly, the generating company would be run like a commercial firm - in competition with private and foreign producers. Its bottom line will be to make a profit for the shareholder, the government of Ontario.
But behind the scenes, talk about privatization seems to have surfaced again. Hydro has had an ongoing dialogue with British Energy, which has openly said that its preferred option would be to buy Hydro's nuclear plants.
Sensing that with all this smoke there must be fire, the Power Workers Union has been putting together its own offer to buy reactors at Hydro's Bruce facility with the surplus from its members' pension plan.
But many of these reactors are considered "stranded assets" - or assets that would not be able to cover the debts incurred to build them in a competitive environment. So naturally, both British Energy and the Power Workers would expect to get these reactors cheap, leaving taxpayers saddled with the debt.
The problem is, no one really knows for sure how stranded these reactors are. As Hydro itself explained two years ago, stranded costs can't be determined without knowledge of what future market prices for electricity will be: "To the extent that competition leads to lower prices, it could also lead to stranding. On this basis, estimating stranded costs therefore requires estimating future market prices. However, there is considerable uncertainty as to the level at which market prices will settle" (emphasis ours).
In other words, no one can say with any certainty how viable Hydro's nuclear plants would be under competition, which is only hypothetical in Ontario right now.
That's why any potential buyer would be looking for a bargain basement price to take the nukes off Hydro's hands. That's the only way they could make a profit in the uncertain world of competition.
It would, therefore, be foolish for the government to even contemplate giving away the nukes but keeping the debt, on the assumption that competition will drive electricity prices down. Harder information is needed.
Having created the smoke, the government should assure Ontarians there won't be any fire sale. It should declare a moratorium on privatization of our nuclear plants until there's evidence of how effectively competition works.
The Toronto StarBy Derek Baldwin
An eastern Ontario mine site used as a dumping ground for U.S. atomic waste in the 1940s ranks as one of the top environmental disasters in Ontario, if not the worst," Environment Minister Norm Sterling says. "This is going to cost taxpayers a lot of money. It's a very serious problem," Sterling said, referring to the mine site near Marmora, about 50 kilometres northeast of Peterborough.
The uranium waste, Sterling confirmed in an interview, came from the Manhattan Project - the U.S. government's crash program to build the first atomic bomb. There is no doubt that when the U.S. was first developing the atomic bomb, its officials took the excess materials and dumped them at what is commonly referred to as the Deloro mine site, Sterling said.
The U.S. production plant closest to Deloro was Clinton Engineering Works at Oak Ridge, near Knoxville, Tenn. The enriched uranium from that plant was shipped to Los Alamos, N.M., to assemble the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Estimates by some ministry officials peg high-end remediation measures in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
But the U.S. uranium is just the tip of the iceberg at the Deloro site, closer inspection reveals. Canadian radioactive waste from Eldorado Nuclear, a uranium refinery in Port Hope, also was shipped there, and for 50 years, the site was home to an insecticide manufacturing firm, which left behind tonnes of poisonous arsenic.
Ontario has spent $10 million to contain harmful radiation and heavy metals from migrating into the Moira River, said Jim Ritter, project manager for the environment ministry.
For now, he said, the hazardous materials are best left undisturbed to avoid further damage to the environment. This is a highly contaminated tract of land, and the Moira River runs directly through it," Ritter said.
The Kingston-based watchdog group, Environmental Bureau of Investigation, laid eight private charges against the ministry last fall under the Fisheries Act and the Water Resources Act for failure to prevent the pollutants from contaminating water. Ministry lawyers appeared in a Belleville courtroom last week to answer the charges but the case has been remanded until May 26.