Criticism Surrounds Plans to Ship Radioactive Waste through Great Lakes for Recycling into Consumer Goods
Opposition from the U.S., Canada and Europe is growing around plans involving 16 radioactive steam generators slated for shipment through the Great Lakes, down the St. Lawrence River, across the Atlantic Ocean and out to Sweden to a company called Studsvik for processing this the fall.
“The plan for transporting radioactive steam generators to Sweden has never come under public scrutiny, either by citizens and local governments along the trucking and shipping routes, or by provincial, state or national governments – including indigenous and sovereign First Nation and Tribal governments – along the waterways of the proposed Great Lakes/St.-Lawrence route, or by international bodies such as the International Joint Commission,” states a petition crafted by the Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination (CACC), Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility and the Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes.
Bruce Power requested a license to ship 16 of 32 generators from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Canada’s nuclear regulator. However, no one’s really been given a chance to consider the proposal. The final decision is being left up to the director of the commission’s Transport Licensing and Strategic Support Division.
“The impression that I have is that this is a rubber stamp process. I think it’s unfolding in a manner that is disrespectful to the public process,” said Mike Bradley, mayor of Sarnia.
The convoy of 16 generators, each about the size of a school bus, will be taken from the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station on Owen Sound, a peninsula on Lake Huron, where Bruce operates eight nuclear stations. The Studsvik AB’s facility, located in Nyköping, Sweden, will recycle 90 percent of the nuclear reactors, still containing radioactivity, for scrap metal. The other 10 percent that is too radioactive to be recycled will be shipped back to Bruce Power following the same route across the ocean and up connecting rivers for storage.
“We are opposed mainly due to the free-releasing of still radioactive metals to an unsuspecting, unconsenting public – and that it would set precedent in the Great Lakes for shipments of large radioactive components from nuclear reactors,” said Kay Cumbow, member of the Education Committee of CACC. “If there is an accident on the ship (the ship goes down or there’s a fire, or they lose one or more overboard, then it is a problem for the lakes. Plus, it would likely add more military escorts on the lakes.”
In addition to the potential for accidental radioactive contamination, Per Hegelund, member of the board in the new regional network Baltic Sea Region Radioactivity Watch, points out these ships, or “dirty bombs,” are also vulnerable to attacks by terrorists and pirates.
More than 50 nuclear sites circle the Great Lakes, looming beside the fragile ecosystems. The Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River systems create about 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater and are a source of drinking water for more than 40 million people.
As more and more radioactive contamination creeps unseen into our daily living environment, so too, does the increase in damage to DNA and the health of all living things, Cumbow said. Dr. Abram Petkau, former head of the Medical Biophysics Branch of the Canadian Atomic Energy research laboratory in Manitoba, documented that cell membranes were destroyed when continuously exposed to small amounts of nuclear radiation. Without a cell membrane, the cell is left wide open to destruction by free radicals. The longer the exposure, the lower the dose needed to break the membrane.
Since even very low levels of radiation can harm cells of humans and other living beings over time, one common goal of the organizations working to stop this is to keep these radioactive wastes (some of which are very long-lived) out of consumers goods and the workplace.
Environmentalists have raised additional concerns about selling radioactive metal to the scrap metal market for unrestricted use. Once it’s out there, there’s no way to trace it.
Studvik’s already come under fire for their recycling procedures and attempts to make radioactive waste profitable when an English steel company received deregulated metal and used it to make cans for baby food.
“This material would find it’s way into all sorts of household appliances, knives, forks and spoons, into all kinds of things,” said Gordon Edwards, of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.
Not only is this putting the Great Lakes and the public in danger, but Studsvik is also adding to environmental contamination in and around the Baltic Sea. According to a report by the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority, Studsvik is the main source of strontium-90 in the Baltic Sea region, which is known to cause bone cancer. Additional radioactive isotopes are also found in higher concentrations around Studsvik than most nuclear reactors.
Cesium is also found in offshore sludge and algae, and in higher concentrations in milk from cows in the area, than from those near any other reactor, with the exception of one that suffered fallout from the Chernobyl accident.
The radioactive contaminants in the 16 steam generators include alpha-emitters, beta- emitters and gamma-emitters, some of which have half-lives measured in decades, centuries or even millennia. Another 16, still in use at Bruce Nuclear Generating Stations, are also slated for the international shipment to Sweden.
“We invite other citizens and groups to add your names to this important resolution to let the nuclear industry and its regulators know that nuclear pollution of our communities and watersheds, especially that done without citizens’ knowledge or consent, is unacceptable and untenable in the long run, for all life on Earth,” said Cumbow.
Visit the Nuclear Information and Resource Service for more information.