Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Consulting about Nuclear Waste in Communities along Transport Routes

My letter to the editor of the Sudbury Star was published in yesterday's paper (November 6/12).  The letter expresses concern about the Nuclear Waste Management Organization's site selection process for a long-term repository for high-level nuclear waste.

The timing of publication is pretty good, given that Indpendent Member of Parliament Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay-Superior North) will be in Sudbury on Monday, November 12th, to hear from residents about their concerns related to the potential transport of spent fuel bundles through our community.  Sudbury is Hyer's 3rd stop out of 4 (Oshawa, Parry Sound and Sault Ste. Marie are the others).  It's great that MP's from areas which may be impacted are beginning to express interest.  And I must include Sudbury's own Glenn Thibeault on that list, as I know for a fact that Thibeault is well briefed and very engaged on this matter.

Here's the original text of my letter:


After more than 40 years of producing energy through the process of nuclear fission, Canada has accumulated 2 million used fuel bundles, which have been sitting in temporary storage sites throughout the nation. Throughout the decades which Canadians have benefitted from what has appeared to be low-cost nuclear energy, we’ve been ignoring a dirty secret: that there is no plan in place for the safe, long-term storage of the very worst form of high-level nuclear waste.

Today, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), an industry-led group tasked by the federal government with finding a safe and secure long-term storage solution, estimates that a storage facility may cost as much as $24 billion. The cost of storage has never been built into the price of nuclear energy generation. This cost, which we’ve ignored, is sure to be one which our children will be on the hook to pay, even long after nuclear plants such as Quebec’s Gentilly have closed down. So much for the notion of “cheap nuclear energy”.

Beyond the $24 billion estimated by the nuclear industry, there will be additional costs related to transporting high level nuclear materials to which ever site is selected for a long-term repository. We here in Greater Sudbury should be concerned with the cost of transporting nuclear waste, and not just in the abstract. With several communities in Northern Ontario being considered as potential host sites by the NWMO (including Elliot Lake, Wawa and Schreiber), it’s clear that the major road and rail transport routes for nuclear waste go right through our City.

Despite communities along transport routes having a vested interest in the NWMO’s site selection process, the NWMO continues to follow a “cart before the horse” process sanctioned by the federal government. Instead of assessing sites for their environmental feasibility, long term safety, and examining issues related to the transport of radioactive materials, the NWMO will first select a willing community to host the storage facility. Only then will the NWMO figure out where the facility can physically locate within the community. Finally, the NWMO may do some consultation with communities along transport routes, but by that time the site will have already been selected, and there will be no going back. Clearly, transport issues, along with proper environmental assessments, are playing second-fiddle to the NWMO’s desire to find that host community.

With CP and CN rail lines crossing our City, and with the Trans-Canada highway bisecting our municipality, Greater Sudburians might wish to pay closer attention to the NWMO’s site selection process, as it is quite possible that the very worst form of nuclear waste could one day be shipped through our community. While the NWMO believes that it will be able to engineer suitable storage containers for trains and trucks, we all know that accidents happen.

When we’re dealing with radioactive materials which, if exposed to our air, soil and water, could render parts of our City uninhabitable for tens of thousands of years, Greater Sudburians are right to question whether the risks are worth the potential cost. These questions are starting to be asked throughout Canada in communities along potential transport routes. Our federal government must not take its cues solely from the nuclear industry. We all have a stake in locating a future storage facility for our decades-old dirty secret. We owe it to our children to get this right, given that we have enjoyed the benefits of nuclear power for decades by paying only a fraction of the real costs.

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