Nuclear Waste in the Great Lakes

By Cam Mather

I once spoke at a conference in Tiverton, Ontario that is close to Kincardine where the Bruce Nuclear Plant is. The person who spoke just before me was an engineer from Bruce Nuclear. A woman in the audience stood up and asked the engineer if there was nuclear waste in the water downstream from the plant. She said that her daughter swam at the provincial park downstream from where Bruce Nuclear dumped its cooling water. The engineer admitted that yes, there was a small amount of radioactive tritium released in to the water but that the amount “was less than the background radiation in some parts of Iran.”

I thought that was a weird response. It was as if the folks at Bruce Nuclear had had to work too hard to find something to compare the radioactive levels to in order to make people feel better. They managed to find a place with higher levels but it seemed like useless information since I have no way of knowing whether or not this area of Iran isn’t sitting on uranium and its inhabitants glow in the dark. My concerns weren’t put to rest.

Then I found a study by Greenpeace conducted by a European nuclear expert on the radioactive tritium that Canadian CANDU reactors put into the Great Lakes.

http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/campaigns/end-the-nuclear-threat/Resources/Reports/tritium-hazard-report-pollu/

I actually read the entire 100-page report, but the executive summary basically says pregnant women and children under 5 shouldn’t live within 10 km of a CANDU reactor. People who live near a reactor shouldn’t eat anything from their gardens. The report also stated that radioactive Tritium was found in my drinking water when I lived in Burlington since the city draws its drinking water from the great lakes. Radiation causes cancer and I don’t think we need radionuclide in our water. The releases from CANDU reactors are 100 to 1,000 times greater than discharges from other kinds of nuclear reactors.

In this crazy province of Ontario people protest just about every green energy project that is proposed… solar farms, wind turbines, hydro power – we just don’t seem to want green energy in Ontario. We like our nukes. We can’t see them and that makes us happy. Those of you who buy electricity from the grid might have noticed a line item on your monthly bill called “debt retirement.” This money is collected to pay for the nukes but few people notice the charge or know what it’s for. We as taxpayers pay for insurance on the reactors in case of an accident, and we pay to decommission them but nobody ever talks about those costs. It will supposedly cost more than $30 billion to permanently dispose of the waste that’s stored temporarily on site now but we won’t worry about that – we’ll leave that up to our grandkids to worry about. And how will we store it permanently? No one knows, no country on the planet has figured out how to or has taken steps to move forward on it. The technology that makes nuclear power also creates nuclear material that is used to make nuclear weapons. Suddenly those wind turbines are looking pretty good in my book.

Recently in the news though there are signs that perhaps some of us are waking up to the problems of nuclear power. Bruce Nuclear, which is a private company, wants to ship radiation-laced steel steam generators, with beta, gamma and alpha radiation, through the Great Lakes to Sweden for “decommissioning.” And not surprisingly, since 40 million North Americans get their drinking water from the Great Lakes, people are a little concerned. Apparently if there’s a risk of a big hunk of contaminated steel falling into a lake near your water intake, you get concerned. If it’s just a little tritium that floats by all the time, why worry? When they get to Sweden, they take 90% of the metals inside the generators and recycle it and then ship us back the 10% that is too radioactive to recycle. Then we get to pay to store the really bad stuff on site for the rest of its radioactive life. Tell me again why we have to ship this stuff to Sweden to do this? Why don’t we just build a radioactive steel recycling plant in the industrial park that you drive through on the way to the Bruce Nuclear plant? It looked to me like most of the serviced land was empty. Surely that would be cheaper than shipping it to Sweden and back and expose fewer people to a potential nuclear accident.

http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2010/09/27/bruce-power-nuclear-waste-great-lakes-cnsc.html

A spokesperson from Bruce Nuclear, which is a private company, was quoted as saying that as soon as the boat with the generators leaves their dock they have no responsibility for them. They’re used to shirking responsibility like this because taxpayers already pick up the liability insurance tab on their nuclear facility. Put up a wind turbine though, no way, the private company pays the insurance. It’s no wonder every time you see the President of Bruce Nuclear, Duncan Hawthorne on TV he claims that his nuclear plant makes the cheapest electricity in the province. Sure it does, taxpayers built it, taxpayers insure it, taxpayers will decommission it and taxpayers are building a new $700 million power transmission corridor to transmit electricity from Bruce Nuclear to the Greater Toronto Area. Not really a fair comparison is it?

Here’s the reality of nuclear power, plain and simple. It makes nuclear waste, which lasts for thousands of years. Some of this waste ends up in nuclear weapons. One of the most dangerous places on the planet is the border between India and Pakistan. They’ve had 3 declared wars and lots of skirmishes over the past few decades, and they are both nuclear armed. They made their nuclear weapons from plutonium created in their CANDU Nuclear power plants, which Canadian taxpayers underwrote. No one has ever created a nuclear weapon from a used solar panel or wind turbine.

So here’s my challenge to Duncan Hawthorne. I’ll go out and take any one of the solar panels off my tracker, and I’ll place it under my bed and I’ll sleep over top of it for a year. Or a decade for that matter. All you have to do it take one of those used steam generators and park it in your driveway beside your bedroom, and leave it there for a year. If you’re so confident that it’s safe to ship them through the Great Lakes, I’m sure you won’t mind sleeping beside it for a while.

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One Response to “Nuclear Waste in the Great Lakes”

  • Ron:

    Cam, again you make some really compelling arguments for going off-grid, or partially off-grid. Bruce Power have been given too many sweet deals by the government. It has to stop.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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