Technology Science - Nuclear shipments safe, agency head says

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Bruce Power wants to ship 16 decommissioned nuclear steam generators through the Great Lakes and across the Atlantic Ocean to Sweden for recycling.Bruce Power wants to ship 16 decommissioned nuclear steam generators through the Great Lakes and across the Atlantic Ocean to Sweden for recycling. (J.P. Moczulski/Canadian Press)

The head of Canada's nuclear safety commission defended his agency's controversial decision to allow Bruce Power to ship radioactive waste through the Great Lakes.

Michael Binder, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, told a parliamentary committee Tuesday that the decision was a transparent one that was based on science.

He told MPs that his agency did a thorough environmental and safety assessment of how Bruce Power plans to transport the radioactive material and is satisfied that it will be done safely and with no harm to residents or the environment.

Binder was the first witness heard by the natural resources committee, which is spending its next two meetings examining the nuclear agency's decision to allow the shipments through the Great Lakes and along the St. Lawrence Seaway. Representatives of the CNSC and Bruce Power were appearing as well.


On Thursday, the committee will hear from representatives of the Mohawk tribes of Kahnawake, Akwesasne and Tyendinaga, as well as the Union of Ontario Indians and other groups opposed to the shipments.

The shipments, which would carry 16 school bus-sized, radiation-contaminated steam generators from Tiverton, Ont., across the Atlantic Ocean to Sweden for reprocessing, were approved by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission on Feb. 4, but still face stiff opposition.

'And, it is safe'

Binder said a lot of "misinformation" has surrounded the decision. He told the committee that the shipment meets all of the regulatory agency's requirements, the ship is designed to carry the materials and the crew is well-trained to handle it. The plan is good for the environment and involves good waste management practices, he said.

"And, it is safe," said Binder.

But two environmental groups, the Canadian Environmental Law Association and Sierra Club Canada, said earlier Tuesday they are launching a court challenge over the decision.

"We have watched over the last five years the Canadian environmental assessment process and Canadian environmental law be steadily eroded and steadily reduced to less and less importance," said John Bennett, executive director of Sierra Club Canada, at a news conference in Ottawa.

Bennett said the groups will ask the Federal Court of Canada to review the legality of the CNSC's approval. They say a full environmental assessment must be done before a licence to transport can be granted.

Representatives from the Kahnawake, Akwesasne and Tyendinaga communities that are opposed to the shipments attended the announcement of the court challenge Tuesday, and they had a warning.

"We're prepared to do whatever's necessary in the coming months to stop this," warned Kahnawake Grand Chief Mike Delisle, who then added, "first and foremost we are going to take legal action and stand with our white brothers and sisters who have opposed this through the court system."

Bruce Power wants Studsvik, a Swedish company that specializes in decommissioning nuclear power plants, to reprocess the contaminated steam generators. Studsvik would separate the radioactive metal from the metal, and sell the clean metal on the scrap metal market.

The radioactive material â€Â" described by Bruce Power chief executive Duncan Hawthorned as being "the size of a ChapStick" â€Â"would come back to Canada for storage in an oil barrel-sized container.

Binder said millions of shipments of nuclear materials go in and out of Canada every year. At the end of his opening statement before the committee, Binder left MPs with what he described as his agency's "battle cry."

"The commission will never compromise safety," he said.

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