It was from Washington we learned Canada was about to accept U.S. = nuclear waste. Scrambling, Ottawa confirmed plans to "test burn" a shipment of U.S. plutonium in a Candu reactor.
"Canada has stepped up to the fore and is prepared to take its = responsibility for the greater peace of mankind," said federal Environment Minister Sergio Marchi.
The U.S. Department of Energy acknowledged the Candu is untested at = "burning" plutonium but added "there may be less public resistance than in the United States."
That half the plutonium would still exist after being "burned" and that the waste would become Canada's responsibility, was downplayed.
High level nuclear waste, the by-product of nuclear power reactors and nuclear weapons, contains some of the most deadly poisons known. Some will remain so a million years. Plutonium, for example, an entirely man-made substance, is created only in nuclear reactors and a minute speck in the lung (invisible to the eye) is enough to cause cancer.
Once we were told the nuclear waste problem could be "solved" by firing the waste in rockets into space where it could burn for infinity. The Challenger explosion showed how quickly that could contaminate the globe.
For years the nuclear industry dumped its waste in the ocean AD "sea bed burial" =AD until television cameras captured the act. Then "sub-seabed disposal" =AD burial in canisters just under the ocean floor AD was put forward as the "best solution" possible. Finally, in 1996, an outraged public forced global prohibition of dumping waste in, or under, the ocean.
The latest "safe" solution is "deep geological disposal." The federal government, AECL and Ontario Hydro officials in tow, is currently holding hearings across Canada on the "safety and acceptability" of burying high level nuclear waste containers deep underground.
The fact that no container could outlast its contents, that the waste will leak, that groundwater moves constantly (even through solid granite) and could thus carry this deadly cargo back to the surface and out of all human control =AD none of this has affected AECL's upbeat presentation before each hearing.
The U.S. spends about $5.5 billion annually managing and trying to clean up its radioactive debris: 50 tonnes of plutonium from its nuclear weapons stockpile, thousands of tonnes of high level reactor waste, plus more being produced each day in 110 nuclear reactors. This does not include plans to bring Russian nuclear weapons to the U.S. for dismantling and eventual shipment to Canada for final disposal, if Canadians cooperate.
No state in the U.S. wants a high level nuclear waste dump. The industry has tried many burial sites, including under the major aquifers of the Texas farmbelt. They were driven out by the citizens of each location. After $2 billion was spent on Nevada's Yucca Mountain site, 80% of that state says no, including its governor and senators.
Now the Canadian shield has become the "best location". Some commentators, parroting the industry line that "long term disposal is needed," have declared that Saskatchewan (and presumably Ontario also) have an "ethical" responsibility to provide a site because nuclear waste wouldn't exist if we hadn't unearthed uranium in the first place.=20
So the residents of Saskatchewan, who have repeatedly elected a political party whose stated policy was to phase out uranium mining, or, Canadians in general are now "responsible" for the waste produced by California reactors. Although nuclear waste is manmade, we're told it must go back from where it came.
Burying nuclear waste is a declaration of the failure of science. Dumping deadly toxins in the ocean, into the atmosphere or underground simply leaves unsuspecting future generations to cope with the inevitable catastrophic leakage.
Burial is a political strategy. If the nuclear industry can present the public with a "solution" (out of sight, out of mind) to its most serious problem, then it can continue, and even expand, its production of lethal waste.
Burial means precious little research will be done by the industry on neutralization, and nuclear powers from around the world will line up to dump their waste.
These nuclear scientist-politicians need to be told, No, you cannot bury these poisons. Go back to the drawing board and figure out how to neutralize the wastes you have created. After it is neutralized, i.e. rendered non-toxic, not simply "re-burned," then we can talk of disposal, not before. Until then Canadian waste should be left, as it is now, on the reactor sites monitored 24 hours a day.
In the meantime, stop producing more. This means phasing the industry out. And it most emphatically means rejecting U.S. nuclear waste. The U.S. must solve its own problem. Canada has enough of its own.
David Orchard is the author of The Fight for Canada: Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism (Stoddart, 1993) and chair of Citizens Concerned About Free Trade. He farms at Borden, Saskatchewan.
He can be reached in Toronto at (416) 466-0753 or (416) 922- 7867.