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June 29/00 - Transport Minister faces lawsuit over plutonium shipment.

Toronto Star
page A8

Hoping to prevent future shipments of plutonium to Canada, a coalition of citizen groups is taking federal Transport Minister David Collenette to court.

Ottawa violated the public trust when it flew weapons-grade U.S. plutonium across Ontario by helicopter from Sault-Ste. Marie to Chalk River in January, a coalition representative told a news conference yesterday.

"The government explicitly ruled out air transport and then flew the plutonium at the last minute . . . without prior public notification or consultation," said Kristen Ostling of the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout.

The suit filed in Federal Court argues Ottawa's failure to consult before okaying the flight was unreasonable.

The coalition, which includes the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, Sierra Club of Canada and Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, says flying in the plutonium placed communities at great risk.

The shipment contained 119 grams of plutonium in 5 kilograms of mixed oxide (MOX), a blend of 97 per cent uranium and 3 per cent plutonium oxide. Tests on the MOX at Atomic Energy of Canada labs in Chalk River will determine if it can be destroyed by using it as reactor fuel.

The plutonium was held in a 250-kilogram reinforced steel drum, which met Canadian and international regulations for transport by land, sea and air, but not more stringent U.S. rules.

Plutonium, if inhaled, is a carcinogen.

The shipment was trucked to the Soo from Los Alamos, N.M., then flown to Chalk River. Federal officials say the flight broke no Canadian laws.

The coalition wants the court to declare the January shipment illegal and rule out future shipments, including soon-to-arrive, weapons-grade plutonium from Russia.

John Read, director-general of dangerous goods movements for Transport Canada, said the current safety plan allows three shipments each of 120 grams of plutonium from Russia.


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June 29/00 - Feds face court date over "illegal" plutonium shipments.

London Free Press
page A12

by Stephanie Rubec

Anti-nuclear and First Nations groups have joined forces to take the federal government to court over plutonium shipments.

The groups are calling on the Federal Court to stop the feds from flying in more of the weapons-grade plutonium to be tested as fuel in the Chalk River reactor.

Gordon Edwards, spokesperson for the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, admitted he can't stop the next shipment, but at least the courts will ensure it only travels by land.

"We don't have the power under the law to stop the shipment," Edwards said. "We're doing what we can with limited tools."

The coalition is claiming the federal government broke administrative laws when it made a last-minute decision to fly in U. S. plutonium in January, ditching the approved land transportation plan without consulting Canadians.

"They have violated the trust of the Canadian people," Edwards said. "It's a shame that in a democratic country we have to go to court to give Canadians the simple democratic right to be heard."

Atomic Energy Council Ltd. [should read "Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd] is expecting a shipment of Russian plutonium any day now to burn with the U.S. sample and determine whether it can be used as fuel in CANDU nuclear reactors.

The government's aim is to promote nuclear disarmament by burning the weapons-grade plutonium, rendering it useless.

The Energy Council [should read AECL] has kept the arrival date of each shipment a secret to avoid protests and has not ruled out flying the U.S. shipment in.

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June 28/00 - Groups sue Ottawa over illegal flights of plutonium fuel.

Sault Star
page A1

by Elaine Della-Mattia

Groups seek injunction against MOX :

Court action an attempt to prevent Ottawa
from altering shipping plans

Northwatch and five other groups concerned about Canada importing MOX fuel are seeking an injunction to keep the Minister of Transport from making last-minute changes in its shipping plans.

"We want to prevent the federal government from flouting the law by changing transportation plans in the case of the Russian plutonium shipment as they did with the U.S. plutonium shipment," said Northwatch spokesperson Kathy Brosemer.

In January, a small amount of the MOX fuel was shipped secretly through Sault Ste. Marie to Chalk River, Ont., for testing to see if it could be used for fuel in Canadian nuclear reactors. A similar shipment of weapons-grade plutonium is expected from Russia later this year.

The injunction application was filed late Monday in a federal court in Toronto and is expected to be heard in Ottawa in late July, said Brosemer.

Northwatch is a coalition of environmental groups in Northern Ontario. In opposing the MOX shipments, it is joined by the Sierra Club of Canada, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, the Mohawk Council of Akwasasne, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians.

"We looked at our options and we think that this is winable," Brosemer said.

"Although we strongly oppose any transport to Chalk River, this is a way that keeps the public informed about what is going on. It means that any changes made in the transportation plans would have to be the subject of public consultation first," she said.

The coalition has been working with the Canadian Environmental Law Association since the first MOX fuel shipment moved secretly through Sault Ste. Marie early this year.

In January, the MOX fuel was transported by truck from New Mexico to the Sault, across the International Bridge and to the airport in the Canadian Sault.

It was escorted by Sault city police and Ontario Provincial Police. It was then shipped by helicopter to Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. Chalk River laboratories.

The air shipment replaced an earlier plan to truck the test fuel, containing about 119 grams of weapons-grade plutonium from dismantled U.S. nuclear weapons, east along the Trans-Canada Highway.

AECL thereby avoided a potential storm of protest from environmental groups, residents and First Nations along the route.

AECL has said that the MOX shipments are safe. The plutonium is encased in ceramic and housed in a zirconium alloy container designed to resist breakage or fire.

AECL also has said that Canada has made no commitment to disposing of surplus plutonium from other countries.

Brosemer said CELA research suggests that the change in transportation methods the government used for the Sault Ste. Marie shipment was illegal.

"We could have gone to court on that battle but it's a moot point. The shipment has been made," Brosemer said.

"We decided that we should be looking ahead at the future to see what we could do now to keep this issue in front in the public's mind," she said.

Brosemer said this case aims to ensure that the Canadian public retains its full democratic right to be notified and to comment on all aspects of transportation plans associated with the imminent shipment of plutonium fuel from Russia.

To date, 171 municipalities in Quebec have passed resolutions calling on the federal government to scrap the plutonium import plan.

Northwatch spokesperson Kathy Brosemer

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June 28/00 - ''Burning'' plutonium Too Hot for Russian Reactors to handle.


MOSCOW, Russia (ENS) - An agreement to dispose of weapons grade plutonium by burning it as fuel in nuclear reactors might not be as attractive as first thought.

A report released at Moscow's National Press Institute on Monday, warns that the June 4 agreement signed by United States President Bill Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin to burn weapons grade plutonium in commercial Russian reactors will cause extensive plutonium pollution across Russia.

The report, "Consequences of Burning the Mixed Oxide Uranium Plutonium Fuel in Russian Reactors VVER-1000," concludes that contamination after an accident at a VVER-1000 plant loaded with mixed oxide fuel (MOX), would release two and a half to three times more radiation compared to the same accident at a VVER-1000 plant loaded with uranium fuel. "The negative influence on the health of the population will be two and a half to three times higher as well," said Vladimir Kuznetsov, one of the report's authors who is a former chief of inspection of GAN, the Nuclear Safety Authority of Russia, Russia's nuclear regulatory body.

The VVER is the Russian version of the Pressurized Water Reactor. One of the nuclear materials transported as part of the nuclear fuel cycle is mixed oxide fuel, known as MOX fuel. A nuclear reactor uses enriched uranium fuel to produce heat which in turn generates electricity. Within the reactor, plutonium is naturally produced and typically contributes more than one-third of the power.

Ecodefense! and the Anti-nuclear Campaign of the Socio-Ecological Union, the two groups behind the report, argue that given its poor safety record, the Russia's nuclear industry is ill equipped to carry out the plutonium program.

"More than 1,200 incidents have taken place at Russian nuclear reactors, said co-author Vladimir Slivyak, co-chairman of Ecodefense! and director of Anti-nuclear Campaign of the Socio-Ecological Union. "That is the best illustration for the poor level of nuclear safety."

Slivyak said the program does not make technical or economic sense.

The report analyzed the economic aspects of the Russian MOX program, and the technical characteristics of all Russian light water reactors at Balakovo, Kalinin, Kola and Novovoronezh plants, documenting accident information for the last 10 years.

Clinton and Putin's agreement requires each country to dispose of 34 metric tons of its plutonium stockpile over the next 20 years. Both countries have kept large stockpiles of weapons grade plutonium, which could be easily adapted to fuel nuclear weapons if it fell into terrorist hands. Unlike weapons grade uranium, which is being blended with other materials for use as nuclear power fuel in both the U.S. and in Russia, plutonium cannot be blended with other materials to make it unusable in weapons.

The Clinton/Putin agreement provides two options for disposing of the plutonium.

One alternative is to immobilize the plutonium with high level radioactive wastes and place it in permanent underground repositories, such as the proposed storage site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

The other alternative is to use the plutonium mixed with uranium as fuel in nuclear reactors. Once the plutonium has been irradiated in a reactor, it is unsuitable for weapons use.

Presidents Clinton and Putin agreed each country would dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium over the next 20 years. (Photo by David Scull, courtesy of the White House.) The United States intends to use 25.5 tons as fuel and to immobilize 8.5 tons. The Russian Federation intends to use all 34 tons as fuel. The countries agreed to accelerate their work to build new industrial scale facilities for turning the plutonium into fuel or immobilized waste, and attempt to open such facilities by 2007.

Once the facilities are open, each country must dispose of at least two metric tons of weapons grade plutonium per year, and work with other countries to identify additional means of at least doubling that disposition rate.

The Russian program is estimated to cost more than US$1.7 billion over 20 years. The U.S. program, which includes immobilization facilities as well as conversion and fuel fabrication facilities, is estimated to cost $4 billion.

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June 29/00 - Ottawa taken to court over plutonium flights from Us, Russia.


by Leanne Yohemas-Hayes

Ottawa - In an effort to prevent future shipments of plutonium to Canada, a coalition of citizen groups is taking federal Transport Minister David Collenette to court.

Ottawa violated the public trust when it flew weapons-grade U.S. plutonium across Ontario from Sault-Ste. Marie to Chalk River in January, a representative for the coalition said Wednesday.

"The government explicitly ruled out air transport and then flew the plutonium at the last minute," Kristen Ostling of the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout said at a news conference.

"They did this without prior public notification or consultation."

The suit filed in Federal Court argues that Ottawa's failure to consult before authorizing the flight was unreasonable.

The coalition, which includes the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, Sierra Club of Canada and Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, says flying the plutonium placed communities at great risk, and importing all plutonium should cease.

The shipment contained 119 grams of plutonium in five kilograms of mixed oxide, or MOX - a blend of 97 per cent uranium with three per cent plutonium oxide.

Tests are being performed on the mixed oxide at the Atomic Energy of Canada labs in Chalk River to determine whether it can be destroyed by using it as fuel in reactors.

The plutonium was held in a 250-kilogram reinforced steel drum, which met Canadian and international regulations for transport by land, sea and air, but not more stringent U.S. standards.

Shipping plutonium by air is outlawed in the United States.

Plutonium, if inhaled, is a carcinogen.

Activists argue that Ottawa was flouting Canadian laws by changing transportation plans at the last minute.

The shipment was trucked to Sault-Ste. Marie from Los Alamos, N.M. From there it was flown by helicopter Chalk River laboratories to avoid protesters who had threatened to block the shipment by road.

Federal officials say the flight broke no Canadian regulations.

The coalition wants the court to declare the previous Los Almos shipment illegal and rule that future shipments, including cargo from Russia, not be made.

"We're talking about tonnes of plutonium being imported over a period of 25 years," said Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.

If Ottawa ignores "the fact this is being heard by the court, I think it would be contempt of court as well contempt of democracy," said Edwards.

John Read, director general of the Transport of Dangerous Goods section of Transport Canada, said if plutonium from Russia were to be flown in, a new transportation plan would have to be drawn up.

Currently, the transportation safety plan allows for three shipments each of 120 grams of plutonium from Russia. After arriving by ship in Cornwall, Ont., it would be carried by truck to Chalk River, said Read.

Tom Hanson / The Canadian Press

Kristen Ostling of the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout listens as Gordon Edwards, front, of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, talks with reporters at a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday. The coalition has filed a lawsuit against Ottawa for importing plutonium.

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June 28/00 - Lawsuit seeks to block plutonium shipments from US, Russia.

CBC Radio News

OTTAWA - Environmental and native groups have joined forces in a legal battle in their bid to keep a Russian shipment of plutonium from coming to Canada.

The suit launched against the federal government calls for an injunction to stop the first shipment coming in by air.

It says the federal government broke the law when it allowed plutonium to be shipped by air from the United States last January. That shipment contained samples to be tested in Canadian Candu reactors.

Environmentalists claim the government violated transportation rules by not allowing consultation with the public about the means of transportation.

Gordon Edwards is with one of the parties in the suit, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. "What we want the court to do is to declare the previous action was illegal and they shouldn't do it again," he said.

Larry White is with the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, near Cornwall, where the shipment is slated to arrive. White says his band and others in Quebec and Ontario will try to stop this shipment from coming through their territory any way they can. "If that means human resistance, we're prepared to do that."

The plutonium shipment is due to head to Chalk River by truck. That was the plan last time as well, but at the last minute Ottawa decided to ship it by air instead in order to avoiding confrontations with protesters along the route.

The Department of Natural Resources say air travel has not been ruled out this time either.

The suit is asking the court to prevent the government from sending the plutonium by air again without consulting the public.

Applicants in the case include

The Minister of Transport is named as the respondent in the case.

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Feb 23/00 - German environment minister says nuclear plant should shut.

Agence France Presse

HANNOVER -- Germany's environment minister recommended Wednesday that production at a nuclear power plant in Unterweser should be halted following the delivery of British fuel rods with falsified documents.

Juergen Trittin said the plant's owner PreussenElektra should cut off production itself so that the four suspect fuel rods could be replaced, "in the spirit of preventative protection of the environment."

But PreussenElektra's spokeswoman, Petra Uhlmann, said "there is no reason for that" to take place.

She said the four mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel rods had been correctly manufactured and tested by British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), the company that runs the plutonium reprocessing plant in Sellafield.

Representatives from regional and federal environment ministeries on Wednesday met in Hannover to discuss a forced closure of the plant. A decision is expected to be taken over the next few days.

Lower-Saxony's environment ministry on Wednesday said it was still unclear whether all the fuel rods had arrived with falsified documents.

Britain's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) issued a damning report earlier this month on lax safety standards at Sellafield, Britain's biggest nuclear facility.

The state-owned BNFL admitted last year that its employees saved time by bypassing quality control checks on MOX at the plant.

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Feb 23/00 - US/Canada lawsuit seeks to block import of Russian plutonium.

North Bay Nugget
page A1

by Andrew Duffy
Southam News

Lawsuit may halt plutonium;

Michigan environmentalists
seek to block shipments
from Russia

Canada's plan to import weapons- grade plutonium from Russia later this year could soon become subject of court challenges on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

A Michigan environmental group, joined by six Canadian native and anti-nuclear organizations, is expected to file suit later this week in Kalamazoo, Mich., in an attempt to block a shipment of Russian plutonium to Ontario's Chalk River nuclear test facility.

The shipment is part of a plan, known as the Parallex Project, to test small amounts of Russian and American bomb material to determine if it would be suitable as fuel in CANDU nuclear reactors. The reactors normally use uranium fuel.

A small shipment of American plutonium was flown by helicopter from Sault Ste. Marie to Atomic Energy Canada Limited facilities at Chalk River on Jan. 14.

Terry Lodge, an American lawyer representing the anti-nuclear coalition, said he'll ask District Court Judge Richard Enslen to suspend American financing for the project.

U.S. funding project

Since the U.S. government is paying the full cost of the project, such a move could effectively halt the shipment of Russian plutonium.

Lodge said he intends to argue the shipment offends a nuclear non-proliferation agreement signed by countries including the United States, Russia and Canada.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy has repeatedly insisted that Canada's participation in the project is an important contribution to nuclear disarmament.

The test calls for Cold War plutonium to be mixed with regular reactor fuel; it's theorized that the mixture, known as mixed oxide or MOX fuel, will be rendered useless for nuclear warheads after being burned.

Meanwhile, Canadian environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists held a news conference Tuesday to announce they'll pursue a Federal Court case unless the government changes its plans to import Russian fuel.

A legal brief, prepared for the group by the Canadian Environmental Law Association, suggests the federal Transport Department broke the law by approving the movement of plutonium by helicopter.

Administrative law requires that the public officials make reasonable, fair decisions based on the "legitimate expectations" of the public.

The law association contends transport officials defied those principles by approving the air transport of plutonium even though they were aware the United States does not allow such shipments because of safety concerns.

Accident scenarios

Transport also failed to carry out an examination of credible air accident scenarios, said association lawyer Theresa McClenaghan and ignored evidence that air was the most dangerous transportation alternative.

"The government knew the issues were different with air accidents ... and ignored them," charged McClenaghan.

The department engaged in two months of public consultation before approving last November an emergency response plan based on the movement of plutonium by truck to Chalk River.

Plan Amended

Unbeknownst to most Canadians, AECL went back to the department and secured in January an amendment to the emergency response plan that allowed for the movement of the fuel by helicopter.

McClenaghan said the government, by granting the request, made a patently unfair decision that denied Canadians the right to voice their opinions.

John Read, a Transport Canada spokesman, said the department did not seek public consultation on the amended application because it was told by the Atomic Energy Control Board that the package being used by AECL to transport the American plutonium was strong enough to withstand a plane crash.

Read said the department's decision was reasonable since similar fuel is now flown regularly between Britain and Switzerland.

David Lyle, a spokesman for AECL, said the Russian plutonium is expected in Canada sometime this spring. AECL already has approval to move the plutonium by ship and truck within Canada, but it's expected the agency will again seek approval for air transport.

"We'll meet whatever regulations and whatever requirements are specified by the government," Lyle said.

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Feb 23/00 - If the Russian plutonium flies, then so does a lawsuit.

Ottawa Sun
page 18

by Stephanie Rubec

A coalition of anti-nuclear groups is threatening to sue the federal government if the next plutonium shipment takes to the air.

Kristen Ostling, co-ordinator of the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout, wants Transport Canada to promise that a Russian plutonium shipment will be driven through Canada to a test-burn in Chalk River, Ont., and not flown.


If not, Ostling said the government could be taken to Federal Court. "We reserve the right to seek judicial review," Ostling said, flanked by representatives of six other environmental organizations.

They're angry that the U.S. plutonium shipment was secretly flown from the border to Chalk River last month, ignoring an approved route to truck it in.

Lawyer Theresa McClenaghan said flying in the weapons-grade plutonium would break laws which protect against unreasonable decision-making by public officials.


Atomic Energy Council kept the U.S. shipment date under wraps to avoid terrorist attacks and protesters, and plans to do the same for the Russian shipment.

The plutonium will arrive in Cornwall, Ont., once the ice breaks on the St. Lawrence River. Then it's to be trucked to Chalk River.

Both the U.S. and Russian samples will be tested together to see if they can fuel the nuclear reactor.

Atomic Energy Canada hopes the test-burn will prove its CANDU reactors can turn dismantled U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads into fuel.

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Apr 11/00 - Japan utility says nuke reactor had crack in pipe.


TOKYO -- Kansai Electric Power Co Inc, Japan's second biggest utility, said on Monday it had found a small crack in a pipe at its nuclear reactor which was shut down last week after it leaked cooling water.

There was no leak of radiation into the environment from the incident at the number two Mihama power plant in Fukui Prefecture, some 350 km (220 miles) northwest of Tokyo on the Sea of Japan coast, he said.

A spokesman for Kansai Electric said it was not clear at this stage when the utility would be able to resume operations at the reactor. The leak was discovered at around 10 a.m. (0100 GMT) last Friday, and the company began manually shutting down the plant at around noon that day. The spokesman said the volume of the coolant leak was estimated at around 500-600 litres.

Nuclear power accounts for about a third of Japan's electricity demand.

A series of accidents at nuclear-related facilities in recent years, including the nation's worst nuclear accident at a uranium processing plant last September, has heightened public distrust of nuclear power.

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Apr 06/00 - Belgian shipment of nuclear waste arrives from France.


BRUSSELS -- The first part of a controversial shipment of reprocessed nuclear waste has arrived at its destination in Belgium, a spokeswoman for Belgium's nuclear waste agency Ondraf said yesterday.

The 28 canisters of "vitrified" waste left the Cogema plant at La Hague in northern France on Tuesday after a Belgian court reversed its decision at the weekend to ban the shipments on the grounds that Belgium had not properly prepared for an accident.

The shipment is the first of a planned 15, taking back 75 cubic metres (2,649 cu ft) of vitrified waste -- [left over from] used, re-processed fuel stored in canisters -- for long-term storage. The fuel originates from Belgian nuclear power stations.

Ondraf spokeswoman Evelyn Hooft confirmed the waste had arrived at Dessel storage depot in northern Belgium at 0830 GMT.

"It is now already inside the storage unit," she said. The rail shipment passed off without incident despite the verbal opposition of the environmental group Greenpeace, which got the court to block the delivery on Sunday.

"It went off without any events, everything happened very well, there was no problem," said Francoise Vanthemsche, a spokeswoman for Synatom, the nuclear power division of Belgian power utility Electrabel.

Vanthemsche said it was technically possible to make two to three shipments a year, but that the timetable was a political decision.

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Apr 06/00 - Radon gas poses health danger to cave explorers.

New Scientist

LONDON -- Caving enthusiasts who spend as little as 40 hours a year exploring underground could be exposing themselves to health risks from the radioactive gas radon.

New Scientist magazine said yesterday that cavers could be receiving radiation dosages as much as four times the recommended annual general safety limit.

"It is important that cavers are made aware of the radiation levels so that they can decide to restrict their activities," Malcolm Sperrin, of Princess Margaret Hospital in Swindon, southern England told the magazine.

Sperrin and researchers at the University College Northampton measured radon levels in popular caving areas in southwest England.

Radon is produced when uranium found naturally in rocks and soil breaks down. It disperses very quickly in the open air but can become concentrated in closed areas, such as caves. [The radioactive radon decay products, which are solid, built up in the air of enclosed places, greatly increasing the danger of inhalation.]

Studies of miners exposed to radon [in Canada, Colorado, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, South Africa, and other countries] have shown an increased risk of lung cancer.

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Mar 30/00 - Troubled BNFL may rethink its role in plutonium reprocessing.

Agence France Presse

LONDON -- The chairman of scandal-plagued British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) admitted Thursday that the company might have to think the "unthinkable" and switch from nuclear reprocessing to storage.

Hugh Collum's remarks to a parliamentary trade and industry committee came in the wake of a scandal over data falsification, and troubles abroad.

He conceded customer confidence had been "shaken" and the company now had to concentrate on regaining trust if it was to win new business.

BNFL, which is still owned by the state, runs a nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield in northwest England.

Its reputation has been tarnished by a series of problems over safety, ranging from employee sabotage to falsification of safety documents of reprocessed nuclear fuel shipments sent to Japan and mismanagement of safety controls.

Collum said BNFL had been "badly damaged" by the events, which forced the government Wednesday to announce it was delaying partial privatisation until after the next election.

Senior management at BNFL now had a duty to look at "all alternatives" and to study the strategy for the business, he warned.

Although he said he was not actively looking to move from reprocessing to storage, he added: "We must be in a position to look at the unthinkable. Over the course of time we will look at these alternatives.

"We have no plans to change our strategy. If we have a viable profit base we have no intention of getting out of reprocessing, but we must be prepared to look at alternatives."

Sellafield is in trouble abroad too.

Ireland and Denmark, concerned about possible radioactive discharges into the sea, have agreed a joint strategy to press for a halt to reprocessing at the complex.

Japan and Germany have banned imports of MOX fuel from Britain, while Switzerland has stopped sending waste for reprocessing -- all moves which have put Sellafield's commercial future in doubt.

Collum said it was unlikely BNFL would meet any of six government targets this year.

"We need more time to get our house in order," he said.

"We have a major job to get on the front foot and restore our reputation, and the confidence of our customers."

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Apr 07/00 - Virginia Power Co. pulls out of plutonium (MOX) fuel program.

Associated Press

by H. Josef Hebert

WASHINGTON лл The Virginia Power Co. has decided to pull out of a government program to burn plutonium-derived fuel in two of its nuclear power reactors, the utility said Friday.

The decision raises questions about whether the government will be able to dispose of as much as two tons of plutonium a year by burning it as a mixed oxide fuel in civilian power reactors as planned.

"We regret the decision by Virginia power to leave the consortium," the Energy Department said in a statement. But the department said another utility, Duke Power, "remains committed to this important nonproliferation initiative."

A department source, who declined to be named, said there are various options available including finding a new utility to replace Virginia Power or increasing the number of Duke Power reactors in the program.

"The department continues to rely on the irradiation of MOX fuel to eliminate surplus U.S. weapons plutonium," said the DOE statement. The plan calls for disposing of 33 metric tons of plutonium as MOX fuel by 2020.

The government a year ago awarded a $130 million contract to a consortium comprised of the French nuclear fuel manufacturer, Cogema, Virginia Power and Duke Power, for the burning of the MOX fuel in the six reactors, beginning in 2007.

Duke Power will use two reactors at its McGuire plant south of Charlotte, N.C., and two reactors at its Catawba plant near Rock Hill, S.C. Virginia Power had planned to use its two North Anna reactors near Mineral Va.

Jim Novelle, a spokesman for the utility, said the decision to no longer participate in the government program was made as "purely a business decision" in light of the corporations recent restructuring.

In January, Virginia Power's parent company, Dominion Resources, merged with Consolidated Natural Gas of Pittsburgh. "Our strategic focus as a company was to grow our generation assets in the Midwest and Northeast sections of the United States. And this (MOX) project does not fit into our business plan," said Novelle.

Nuclear nonproliferation watchdog groups, that oppose the burning of plutonium-based fuel in civilian reactors, said Virginia Power's decision may jeopardize the Energy Department's plans to dispose of all the plutonium it plans. That, in turn, could cause problems with an agreement with Russia on plutonium disposal, they said.

"I would think this would make it difficult to safely implement the plan," said Tom Clements of the Nuclear Control Institute, a nonproliferation advocacy group that had criticized the use of plutonium-based fuel in civilian reactors.

A $1.3 billion processing plant and other facilities, to be run by Cogema, for converting plutonium to MOX fuel has yet to be built, but is planned for the Savannah River weapons complex in South Carolina.

The plutonium to be converted to MOX is among the plutonium left over from the weapons program. About nine tons of less pure plutonium, not suitable for conversion, is to be encased in glass logs and buried.

The Nuclear Control Institute has maintained the use of MOX fuel in civilian reactors increases the safety risk and improperly links the military and civilian nuclear programs.

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Apr 08/00 - Kalamazoo federal judge won't stop plutonium shipment.

Associated Press

by Lisa Singhania

A federal judge Friday rejected an anti-nuclear coalition's motion to block an American-funded shipment of Russian plutonium to Canada, saying he lacked the jurisdiction to act on its newest legal argument.

The group of Canadian and American activists had argued that the Parallex Project violated an arms control agreement signed by the U.S government, but Chief Judge Richard Enslen said the issue was irrelevant.

"The judicial courts have nothing to do with this," Enslen said, after pointing out that treaties are between governments, not private citizens and governments.

"We're disappointed, but I'm not sure what we'll do next," said Terry Lodge, a lawyer for the coalition.

The government said it was pleased with the decision and the project would go forward.

This was the anti-nuclear coalition's second attempt to block a shipment associated with the joint American-Russian $20 million experiment to determine whether commercial nuclear reactors in Canada can use material from decommissioned Russian nuclear weapons as fuel.

For the project to go forward, both the United States and Russia have to send plutonium to Canada. The United States sent its plutonium -- about 4 ounces in all -- to Canada via Michigan and several other states in January after winning a court fight with the same group.

The U.S. government says the project is key to reducing the spread of nuclear weapons. But the anti-nuclear activists believe it will do the opposite, while creating potential for nuclear accidents during transport.

In December, the activists had asked Enslen to block the shipment on the grounds the Department of Energy had violated the law by doing an insufficient environmental study of the project.

The judge said that although the plaintiffs' contentions that the government violated the law appeared to have merit, the DOE's assertions that an injunction would hurt nuclear disarmament talks were more important.

On Friday, the group went back to court to try to block the transport of the Russian plutonium -- about 1.5 pounds total -- which is expected to be shipped early this summer. Several Canadian groups also joined the complaint, in addition to the original plaintiffs: six individuals and Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination.

In addition to arguing the project violated arms control agreements signed by the U.S. government, the group's lawyers reiterated an argument made in the December hearings -- the contention Parallex should be blocked until more environmental study has been done.

Although the Russian plutonium shipment is not expected to cross U.S. territory, the plaintiffs argued it still falls under U.S. law since the DOE is picking up the entire tab and the Canadian test site is near the U.S. border.

Enslen said Friday he remains convinced the Department likely violated the law by conducting a limited environmental study, but that violation would not be enough to stop the project given its importance to national security.

The anti-nuclear activists aren't sure what they'll do next. The case could still go to trial, but that likely would not happen before the shipments were completed.

A lawsuit in Canada is also possible. Some of the Indian tribes in Ontario, the province where the experiment will take place, say the Canadian government did not consult with them sufficiently before approving the shipments.

There were demonstrations against the U.S. shipment last year.

"There is more unity on this issue in Canada," says Grand Chief Larry Sault of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians. "We will fight this."

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Apr 13/00 - Canada may import five times more Russian plutonium than expected.

CBC Radio News

by David McLauchlin

MONTREAL -- An American official says there is more plutonium from Russia on its way to Canada -- five times more than originally expected.

The weapons-grade plutonium is to be processed at AECL's nuclear reactor in Chalk River, Ontario. It's part of an experiment involving Canada, the United States and Russia.

The U.S. department of energy is paying Canada to take in plutonium that would have been destined for American or Russian nuclear weapons to see if it can be disposed of as reactor fuel. [Note: ''disposed of'' is misleading, as more than half of the original amount of plutonium remains in the irradiated fuel.]

The American shipment arrived in January, 120 grams of plutonium. The terms of the agreement call for the same amount to be shipped in by the Russians, 120 grams.

Now the head of the American office in charge of the program, Laura Holgate, says Russia will ship not 120 grams, but five times that amount.

"I don't have the total figures but it's roughly 600 grams of plutonium," Holgate said.

But that's not the figure Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. is using. Company spokesperson David Lyle says, "It's not going to be significantly different from the shipment that occurred from the U.S."

But it is a significant difference, according to the Canadian Environmental Law Association. Theresa McClennahan is legal counsel for the association. She says the increase in the amount of plutonium is illegal.

"We would say no, it's not legal to amend the plan in this way. And this decision to take so much more fuel is also an extremely significant change to the original plan."

McClennahan says the changes to the plan should be the subject of public discussion, or at least parliamentary debate.

She says this apparent increase in the amount of fuel increases the hazard to which Canadians will be exposed and she expects some interested group will want to challenge it in court.

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Apr 14/00 - Britain refusing to take back MOX fuel it sent to Japan: report.

Agence France Presse

LONDON -- Britain is resisting Japanese government demands that it take back suspect nuclear fuel shipped to Japan with false documents, the Independent newspaper reported here Friday.

London is refusing to let the mixed plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel be shipped back to the reprocessing plant in Sellafield, northwest England, from where it had been despatched seven months ago, the paper said.

The discovery that test data by British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) was falsified caused an international scandal, but by then the MOX fuel pellets for Japan's Kansai Electric Power (Kepco) had already been unloaded.

Britain's deputy prime minister John Prescott personally expressed his government's regret during a meeting in Tokyo last weekend with new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.

BNFL said Monday that it would if necessary bring back the fuel consigment as a goodwill gesture.

However BNFL's marketing and planning manager Jeremy Rycroft was quoted in the Independent daily saying: "The British government's position is clear. It doesn't think it should take the fuel back.

"We would love to be able to help Kepco resolve the proble, but we are a government-owned organisation and we have to respect the government's policy as well as looking after our customers."

MOX fuel is a key part of the energy plans for Japan, which relies on 51 reactors to produce about one-third of its electricity.

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Apr 14/00 - Japanese firm vows to keep up pressure to return British MOX fuel.

Agence France Presse

TOKYO -- A Japanese power firm Friday vowed to keep up pressure on Britain to take back suspect [plutonium-based] nuclear fuel shipped with false data, after a report said that London is refusing to do so.

"We do not know whether the report is true but our stance is to keep demanding BNFL (British Nuclear Fuels Ltd.) take back the fuel," said Katsuhiko Takahashi, spokesman at Kansai Electric Power Co. Inc. (Kepco).

"There will be no change in our demand." The British state-owned BNFL faked quality control data on mixed plutonium-uranium oxide (MOX) shipped to Kepco, causing a row between the governments in London and Tokyo.

The discovery that test data from BNFL's reprocessing plant in Sellafield, northwest England, had been falsified came too late to stop a consignment of MOX fuel pellets destined for Kepco from being unloaded.

The Independent newspaper reported in London Friday that Britain was refusing to let the MOX fuel be shipped back to Sellafield.

BNFL said Monday that it would bring back the fuel consignment as a goodwill gesture if necessary.

However, BNFL's marketing and planning manager Jeremy Rycroft was quoted in the Independent as saying: "The British government's position is clear. It doesn't think it should take the fuel back.

"We would love to be able to help Kepco resolve the problem, but we are a government-owned organisation and we have to respect the government's policy as well as looking after our customers."

MOX fuel is a key part of the energy plans for Japan, which relies on 51 nuclear reactors to produce more than one-third of its electricity.

The British MOX scandal dealt a fresh blow to Japan's nuclear power programme after a fatal accident at a uranium plant last September in Tokaimura, 120 kilometers (74 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

The accident killed one worker and exposed hundreds of other people to radiation.

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Apr 14/00 - Expert urges loosening nuclear rules; says licences are too frequent.

Toronto Star

by Peter Calamai

OTTAWA -- Nuclear power stations should be allowed to operate 20 years between licence hearings by the federal safety watchdog, the former boss of Ontario's nuclear program told a Senate committee yesterday.

Carl Andognini said the current Canadian practice of licensing nuclear stations for only two years' operation consumed too much time and resources at the power company. American reactors routinely received licences for 20 or even 30 years' operation.

"The Atomic Energy Control Board can always close a station down if there's a problem," he said.

Andognini, a highly respected American nuclear power expert, worked on the rehabilitation of Three Mile Island, the Pennsylvania power station that suffered damage to its nuclear core in a 1979 accident.

He headed the team of consultants that blew the whistle in 1997 on poor performance at Ontario's nuclear plants, and he was hired to fix the problems. He left the post of chief nuclear officer earlier this year.

Stressing he was expressing a personal opinion and not speaking on behalf of Ontario Power Generation, Andognini said the nuclear industry in Canada was over-regulated.

Inspectors from the control board who have offices right inside Ontario's nuclear plants were always looking over management's shoulder and usurping safety decisions for which the plant managers ought to take responsibility, he said.

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Apr 14/00 - Bid to sell CANDU reactor to Turkey raises proliferation fears.

Globe and Mail
page A2

by Shawn McCarthy
Parliamentary Bureau

Officials deny bombs would be produced

Ottawa -- Canada's bid to sell a nuclear reactor to Turkey has sparked more controversy after a Turkish newspaper quoted a government minister saying the country should use the reactor to build nuclear bombs.

Federally owned AECL [Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.] is leading an international consortium competing to sell Turkey a $4-billion nuclear power station. The decision, which has been postponed several times, is now scheduled to be announced next week.

The proposal -- already controversial in Turkey -- became even more so recently when the country's Minister of Transportation, Enis Oksuz, was quoted as endorsing Turkey's right to build nuclear weapons.

Mr. Oksuz is a member of the right-wing MHP Party, a junior member of the government coalition.

He has denied making the statements.

Last month, Mr. Oksuz was quoted in the Milliyet newspaper as saying that if Turkey builds a nuclear power station, it could also produce nuclear weapons.

"Countries who are in danger want to own nuclear weapons as deterrents. Such countries have a right to own the atomic bomb," he reportedly said.

After his purported comments appeared, Canadian Ambassador Jean-Marc Duval spoke to Mr. Oksuz.

"Mr. Oksuz indicated that he did not make the statements attributed to him, and that it was pure fantasy," said Michael O'Shaughnessy, a press officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa.

This week, Milliyet, a mainstream, large-circulation daily, reported that the "government is looking favorably at the offer by the Canadian consortium for providing the possibility for nuclear bomb making."

In an interview yesterday, Turkey's ambassador to Canada, Erhan Ogut, played down the controversy surrounding Mr. Oksuz. He said the Turkish government has signed international agreements and a bilateral one with Canada pledging not to use the nuclear technology for military purposes.

"Turkey is a member of NATO -- we don't really need any additional guarantees or to seek any additional protection as we can always rely on the nuclear umbrella of the United States," Mr. Ogut said.

He added that Turkey is now trying to modernize its economy and join the European Union, and would not jeopardize that progress by embarking on a nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Ogut noted that Mr. Oksuz has denied saying that Turkey needed nuclear weapons, but added that -- even if he did say it -- he does not speak for the government on energy or military matters.

AECL vice-president Bill Hancox said he believes the story was planted in the media by "mischief makers" opposed to the deal.

AECL is competing with a French-German consortium, Nuclear Power International, and a group headed by U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric Co.

"I was aware that there were some minor newspapers that made reference to an MHP minister making such statements, but I understand that the minister has indicated he had never made such comments and that Turkey has no such plans," Mr. Hancox said.

"There is a lot of mischief-making of this nature."

Mr. Hancox said the Milliyet stories reflect long-standing international "myths" that the Canadian reactors are more vulnerable to rogue weapons production. That's because the CANDUs produce plutonium waste continuously, making it more difficult to track the material.

"The allegation is that the CANDU is less proliferation resistant, but that is untrue because of safeguards embodied in international agreements and the Canada-Turkey nuclear co-operation agreement," Mr. Hancox said.

However, opponents of Turkey's nuclear project argue it poses a security and environmental risk.

Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis, a Canadian of Greek background who has long opposed the reactor sale to Greece's traditional enemy, said he is worried about Turkey's long-term military ambitions, particularly if a right-wing party takes power.

"Yes, Turkey has signed all kinds of non-proliferation treaties but guess what, Iraq was one of the first countries to sign those treaties and that didn't stop them," [from embarking on a nuclear weapons program] Mr. Karygiannis said.

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