18. All states shall prioritize the long-term control and safe storage of radioactive wastes, with public review.

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Rapporteur: Metta Spencer


First, we should clarify what we mean by “radioactive wastes,” as distinct from some risks that are addressed in other planks of this platform.

Radioactivity can cause a lot of human misery. For one thing, under certain circumstances it can explode. Hence we devote planks 1 and 2 to measures intended to prevent the creation of nuclear bombs and certainly their detonation in a nuclear war.

But radioactive substances can also explode, not as bombs, but in nuclear reactors that are meant to generate electricity. So plank 17 focused primarily on the need to prevent nuclear reactors from exploding and melting down.

Finally, even without any explosion, the radiation from fissile elements can damage living cells. Ordinarily we want to avoid contact with radiation, though occasionally physicians deliberately irradiate cancer cells precisely to destroy them. This plank, number 18, will address these non-explosive effects of radioactivity.

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Title: 12 Years And Counting: Effort To Lock Hanford’s Radioactive Waste In Glass Faces More Delays
Author: Stang, John
Publication(s): Crosscut
Date: 14 February 2019
Link: https://crosscut.com/2019/11/12-years-and-counting-effort-lock-hanfords-radioactive-waste-glass-faces-more-delays
Notes: An interesting article about delays (12 years and counting now) in opening the glass vitrification plants at Hanford in Washington State, USA. There are allegedly issues with under-funding.

Article Excerpt:

“Already 12 years behind schedule, a project at the Hanford nuclear complex meant to transform millions of gallons of radioactive waste into benign glass faces yet another delay.

Since the 1990s, Washington state has been prodding the U.S. Department of Energy to build two “glassification” plants at Hanford that would permanently contain the waste stored in aging tanks on the site. Delays have added to the cost of the project, now estimated at $17 billion.

Glassification was supposed to begin in 2007. On the current schedule, lower-level radioactive waste wouldn’t be entombed in glass cylinders until 2023. And the high-level radioactive wastes? At present, glassification of that waste is set to begin in 2036, 29 years behind the original deadline.

The Energy Department wants to push that target back even further, and last month began negotiations with state leaders to do so. Those negotiations are also expected to address whether additional tanks must be built to hold the waste, a move the state supports, but which the DOE has been reluctant to adopt

“We want to try to come up with a schedule that doesn’t have to be revised every few years,” said Suzanne Dahl, section manager for tank waste management with the state Department of Ecology. Dahl noted that the longer the project takes, the more it will cost the federal government.

Located dead center in the 584-square-mile Hanford Nuclear Reservation is the most radiologically and chemically polluted spot in the Western Hemisphere. The site’s 177 underground tanks hold 56 million gallons of radioactive fluids, sludges and chunks, mixtures of roughly 100 different substances.

Hanford’s 149 single-shell tanks are all beyond their design lives, and at least 67 have leaked. More than 1 million gallons of waste have seeped into the ground in a plume extending toward the Columbia River, seven miles away. Some of the leaked waste has reached the river.

The site also has 28 newer, safer double-shell tanks, which are now at the end of their design lives. The inner shell has leaked in one of the double-shell tanks, rendering it useless.

Since the mid-1990s, Hanford’s master plan has been to build a facility to mix and melt the waste with glass flakes to encase the radioactive substances in huge glass logs capable of holding in the radiation for 10,000 years. The basic concept has been to create a pretreatment plant to separate highly radioactive waste from less radioactive, or “low-activity,” waste. A glassification plant would be built for each stream.

Roughly one-third of Hanford’s radioactive waste can be tackled in the low-activity waste facility, Dahl said. Another third is encased in salt cakes, which must be dissolved before the waste can be processed at the low-activity waste plant. The final third is just too radioactive and must wait until the high-level waste plant is up and running.

Construction of the glassification complex began in 2002. The cost of the project has increased from $4 billion in 2000 to about $17 billion today.

The Department of Ecology and Energy Department have anticipated new delays in the high-level waste glassification facility.

In late 2017, the Energy Department told the state it had concerns about the plants’ costs and design risks, hinting start-up of the low-activity waste plant could be 2024 instead of 2023. However, Dahl and Alex Smith, the Department of Ecology nuclear program manager, recently said in an interview that the state still expects the low-activity waste plant to open in 2023.

In May, Maia Bellon, director of the Department of Ecology, wrote to Ann White, who resigned a few days later as the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for environmental management. Bellon expressed concerns that the Energy Department could miss key deadlines. The federal department had agreed to have the main pretreatment plant running by 2033, and the high-level waste treatment plant would be ready by 2036. In September, it told the state it has concerns about meeting those deadlines.

“All this caused extensive heartburn at the state level,” Dahl said

In a statement to Crosscut, an Energy Department spokesperson said “the potential interplay” of otherwise manageable factors in the high-level waste glassification project requires a delay out of “an abundance of caution.” The department did not elaborate on those factors.

Tom Carpenter, executive director of the Seattle-based watchdog organization Hanford Challenge, contended that a major problem is that the Energy Department accepted a flawed approach to the glassification project at the turn of the century.

A basic piece of the project’s design is the use of black cells — sections that will become too radioactive for humans to enter — which would greatly hamper any work to fix inevitable mechanical and chemical troubles or replace equipment. Carpenter said the project should have adopted an approach used in plutonium processing plants built during World War II and the Cold War. Each plant contains a battleship-sized room called a “canyon,” with massive cranes set up to reach and move every piece of radioactive equipment in the massive chamber.

Carpenter also noted that having a single main pretreatment plant is a bottleneck.

The Energy Department is working on building a second, small pretreatment facility for the low-activity waste glassification plant. That quick-to-be-built facility will filter out cesium 137, one of the highly radioactive substances in the tank wastes. The Energy Department hopes that removing the cesium will be enough to convert some highly radioactive wastes to low-activity wastes.

Meanwhile, state officials argue that the feds have not funded the glassification effort at the level everyone agreed, almost two decades ago, was needed to keep the project on schedule.

The glassification complex’s annual budget has held steady at $690 million since the project began, despite predictions that the appropriation needed to be increased to keep construction on track. The state said it does not have a definitive figure on how much the annual budget should have grown; a 2011 Department of Ecology estimate suggested it would need to reach up to $900 million. No increase ever materialized.

Another problem has been the quality of construction.

In 2010, Walt Tamosaitis, an employee of the subcontractor designing the pretreatment plant, URS Corp., told his superiors and managers at lead contractor Bechtel National that several design problems had not been solved.

There was risk of hydrogen gas explosions that could bend and burst pipes in the plant, spraying radioactive fluids. Radioactive sludges could clog the pipes and tanks in the plant, increasing the chance of uncontrolled releases of radiation. And there was a risk of corrosion causing leaks in the pretreatment plant.

Tamosaitis’ superiors told the Energy Department that the design problems were fixed as of July 1, 2010 — over Tamosaitis’s protests but in time for Bechtel to collect a $5 million bonus from the department.

For raising the alarm, Tamosaitis alleges, he was demoted and exiled to an insignificant offsite job. He filed a lawsuit against Bechtel, alleging illegal retaliation, eventually winning a $4.1 million settlement. Meanwhile in 2011 and 2012, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a technical advisory body monitoring the Energy Department, and the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, confirmed Tamosaitis’ concerns.

In 2015, the Energy Department announced that it would not have the entire complex operational by the 2022 deadline. It pointed to the same issues Tamosaitis had identified.

The state contends the Energy Department needs to install two to four new underground tanks at an estimated cost of $100 million each. So far, the Energy Department has been disinclined to do so and has not budgeted for them. The state wants to tackle the matter during the ongoing negotiations, though the federal department has been noncommittal.

Waste will have to be shifted between the tanks before it is funneled into the low-activity waste plant. Water is sometimes sprayed into the tanks to break up solid wastes, another process that requires extra tanks to hold the liquids. At the same time, the specter looms of additional leaks showing up in the inner shells of the double-shell tanks.

Carpenter fears that the continual delays will prompt the feds to give up on glassification and return to a previously rejected cheaper method, encasing waste in concrete grout.

Carpenter said discussions have popped up in federal circles that grout should be considered again as a quicker, cheaper and less-headache-inducing approach. “Their fallback for all of that is concrete. All you hear is ‘grout, grout, grout,’ ” he said.

Concrete has a lifespan of decades, not millennia, before it falls apart, Carpenter said. “It’s not going to last,” he said. “These radionuclides have [lifespans of] hundreds of thousands of years, or even millions of years.”

The state-federal negotiations are tentatively set to be finished no later than July 31 [2020].”

Thank you to Evnur Taran for sharing with me this interesting article.

Title: The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Site Has Always Been A Political Football. Trump Is The Latest President To Fumble
Author: Macfarlane, Allison
Publication(s): Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Date: 21 February 2020
Link: https://thebulletin.org/2020/02/the-yucca-mountain-nuclear-waste-site-has-always-been-a-political-football-trump-is-the-latest-president-to-fumble
Notes: Discusses the ongoing challenge that the Yucca Mountain site poses – as well as the need for political innovation in the field of nuclear waste management and storage.

Article Excerpt:

“As with much policy-setting in the Trump administration, a single tweet from the president on February 6 appeared to reverse a previous stance. The message about Yucca Mountain, the nation’s proposed geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive waste, set the media alight with speculation about new actions in US nuclear waste policy. But has anything changed, really?

The new policy, if it is such a thing, is a little wobbly. It’s unclear whether the administration is or is not supporting Yucca Mountain as a waste repository. The Energy Department’s Undersecretary for Nuclear Energy and nominee for Deputy Secretary, Mark Menezes, stated six days later in a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing that “what we’re trying to do is to put together a process that will give us a path to permanent storage at Yucca.” A White House official tried to square the circle of conflicting messages, stating: “There is zero daylight between the President and Undersecretary Menezes on the issue.”

At the same time, Trump’s fiscal year 2021 budget did not include funds for Yucca Mountain, unlike in previous years. In point of fact, though, Congress has not appropriated funding for Yucca Mountain in the past decade. The proposed repository site made it about halfway through the licensing process at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and halted when the Obama administration’s Energy Department tried to pull the license application. The state of Nevada still strongly opposes Yucca Mountain and hasn’t changed its tune since passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act Amendments in 1987 (colloquially known in Nevada as the Screw Nevada Bill), which designated Yucca Mountain as the proposed repository site.

Trump’s tweet acknowledges the fierce and long-standing opposition to Yucca Mountain in a swing state he lost by a slim margin in 2016. The Democratic presidential candidates are unanimously opposed to storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.

A permanent impasse. Yucca Mountain has spent much of its existence as a political football. The original Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 required detailed characterization of three potential repository sites for the disposal of the nation’s spent commercial nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste from the nuclear weapons complex. By 1986 it was clear that work on three sites would be very costly, and Congress balked at the price tag. Political wrangling ensued, and it was no accident that among the three states under consideration—Nevada, Texas, and Washington—the one with the most-junior congressional delegation, including a newly elected Senator Harry Reid, was selected as the only site to be characterized by the Energy Department for suitability as a repository.

Thereafter, appropriation of funds for work on Yucca Mountain was continuously subject to political whims in Congress. Senator Reid, for instance, repeatedly blocked funding for Yucca Mountain after the House had approved it. And it’s an old adage among US nuclear waste experts that nothing ever happens with nuclear waste during an election year.

At the moment, no one involved in the process has an incentive to make progress. An extremely partisan House and Senate are at a permanent impasse on an issue that bears little on re-election chances (except in Nevada). The nuclear industry has found they can build new reactors—the two Westinghouse AP1000 units under construction in Georgia—without a solution to their spent fuel problem. The Energy Department, originally tasked with solving the problem, has no legal authority (or appropriations) to move forward. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which passed a Continued Storage Rule in 2014, vacated its ability to force a solution. And many anti-nuclear interest groups that oppose waste transport and repositories have called for “hardened on-site storage.”

Pressure to do something is building, though, as more reactors shut down around the country. Since 2013, nine reactors have permanently closed, and by 2025 at least six more are slated to join them. These 15 will join the 12 reactors already shut down, for a total of 27 around the country. Eleven of them have been or are being completely decommissioned, so all that will remain on site will be the spent fuel, awaiting a solution. Leaving spent fuel in dry storage in perpetuity is not a solution: The casks won’t last forever and will need to be changed out periodically (experts do not yet know how long they will last). Can the American public ensure that a benevolent government will exist 50, 100, or 1,000 years from now to carry out this task? We cannot.

“Solutions” that aren’t. Both President Trump and Undersecretary Menezes referenced “innovative approaches” to dealing with spent nuclear fuel. Are there actual alternatives to a repository at Yucca Mountain? There might be alternatives to the Yucca Mountain site, but there is no escaping the need for a deep geologic repository to dispose of spent nuclear fuel. Numerous studies have come to this conclusion, including the US National Research Council, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future established by the Obama administration to consider alternative strategies of nuclear waste disposal (I served on the commission), and a recent report out of Stanford and George Washington Universities (I was on the steering committee for the report).

Ideas such as “advanced” reactors that use waste as fuel, deep borehole disposal, and the perpetually-proposed reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel have all been presented as solutions to our current dilemma. None are. Studies that my colleagues and I have done, and the National Research Council consensus report, show that all reactors and reprocessing schemes produce wastes that are highly active and long-lived and therefore still require disposal.

The Trump administration appears interested in reviving reprocessing as a “solution” for spent nuclear fuel. It’s not a solution, simply a costly management strategy. The few countries that still reprocess spent fuel, such as France, plan to use a geologic repository for the high-level waste produced. France, in fact, has already selected a site for its repository. Even if somehow, as some claim, reprocessing reduced wastes to those dominated by 30-year half-lives, a repository would still be required as, again, institutions cannot be guaranteed to last 300 years, the amount of time needed for the waste to fully decay. With impending climate-change effects such as significant sea level rise by 2100, who knows what the world will look like in 300 years, both physically and politically?

Deep boreholes, though perhaps appropriate for some radioactive wastes, would be hard-pressed to handle spent fuel due in part to the narrow borehole diameter, limited to thin-walled canisters that can only hold one spent fuel assembly each. The thin walls and significantly more numerous canisters would increase worker doses and reduce the canisters’ strength to resist the overlying rock burden. The depth of the boreholes—up to 5 kilometers—and the limited ability to access them without disturbing the natural environment would result in a limited capability to adequately characterize the geologic environment at depth. Even more challenging would be to ensure that radioactivity cannot escape up the backfilled borehole.

Political innovations needed. All countries with commercial nuclear energy programs agree that geologic repositories are the only solution to the problem of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. The problems facing repositories are not primarily technical (though these exist), but political. Political innovations are truly needed to successfully site these facilities.

Such innovations already exist: Finland is currently constructing its deep geologic repository, and Sweden isn’t far behind. Switzerland, France, and Canada have all made significant progress in the last few years. The United States, in fact, is the only country with an operating deep geologic repository—the Waste Isolation Pilot Project that houses transuranic waste from the nuclear weapons complex in southeastern New Mexico—proving that it can be done here.

There are important lessons to learn from the mistakes and successes of these other programs: The host community must accept the site by a large majority; the host community must be compensated; it must be allowed to veto the site, up to a predefined point in the process; the process works best when the host community is allowed to participate in site development and conduct its own independent research; the nuclear waste management organization and the nuclear regulator must be trusted institutions; and the waste management organization must have the ability to manage its own budget and plan for the long term.

None of this is rocket science, and these lessons have been spelled out numerous times in the United States. The real question is whether anyone with political power is listening.”

On 3 and 4 March 2020, a two-day public hearing will be taking place regarding the renewal of BWXT’s operating license. BWXT operates two uranium processing plants which are up for licensing review – one in Peterborough ON and one in Toronto ON. Both of these are in increasingly dense residential neighbourhoods. The uranium processing plant in Peterborough ON is across the street from the Prince of Wales Public (Elementary) School and has requested to double the size of the plant via a licensing provision that would allow the Toronto operations to move to Peterborough if the Toronto plant closes down. Alarming – considering the adjacent residential areas and schools. The plant in Toronto is near Dupont Street and Lansdowne Avenue and is going to have new residential developments immediately across the street. Significant concerns have arisen around the transparency of the plant regarding operations – as well as response procedures should an emergency situation (explosion, fire, etc.) unfold. Is it time to move these uranium processing plants out of residential areas?

The Toronto Star recently published an article on community response to this matter. Here is the info:

Title: This Toronto Plant Makes Fuel for Ontario Nuclear Reactors. A group of Davenport Neighbours Want It Gone
Author: Winsa, Patty
Publications: The Toronto Star
Date: 16 February 2020
Link: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2020/02/16/this-toronto-plant-makes-fuel-for-ontario-nuclear-reactors-a-group-of-davenport-neighbours-want-it-gone.html
Notes: See comments above and article excerpt below – this is worth reading!

Article Excerpt:

Chris Muir can see the roofline of a storage building that houses radioactive uranium dioxide powder from his backyard in Toronto’s west-end.

The building is part of a nondescript plant on Lansdowne Avenue, north of Dupont Street, where more than half the uranium pellets that fuel Ontario’s nuclear reactors are made each year by BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada.

Muir said he knew the plant was there when he bought his house in 2015, but he is now one of a chorus of community members who are asking the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to deny BWXT’s application to renew its licence for 10 years.

He made up his mind at a public information meeting CNSC staff held near the end of January in the Davenport riding.

“It’s their inability to answer some pretty straightforward questions,” said Muir, sitting in the living room of the house he shares with his wife and two kids. “I was like, ‘What happens if there is an accident there?’” he said. “And the answer was, ‘Well there won’t be.’ That’s when I got really scared.”

The Toronto plant has never had an accident. And the nuclear safety commission said testing shows radiation levels in soil and air around the plant are not only far below allowable levels, but even lower than the radiation in our everyday lives, which comes from a variety of sources including the sun as well as the breakdown of radioactive minerals found naturally in rock and soil.

However, the application to renew the licence, which includes public hearings, is one of the first opportunities many residents will have to ask questions after finding out in 2012 from a Star story that the plant — owned by GE-Hitachi until December of 2016 — was making pellets.

The story was the result of activist Zach Ruiter, a freelance journalist and Trent University graduate, who knocked on doors to alert residents that the plant existed. Ruiter said he felt there was a lack of public awareness and not enough public consultation by the CNSC.
At that time, signs on buildings at the Toronto plant simply said the company’s name — there was no indication that it was a nuclear facility.

The CNSC required GE-Hitachi to have an outreach program, but most community members didn’t know what the plant manufactured despite its presence in the neighbourhood since 1965.

Now, nearly 250 individuals and organizations have registered to intervene either as speakers or in writing during hearings in March, when the commission will hold two-day public sessions in Toronto as well as Peterborough, where BWXT owns another former GE-Hitachi plant. The Peterborough plant consolidates the pellets into fuel bundles for Ontario Power Generation’s Pickering and Darlington nuclear generating stations.
The licence renewal, which CNSC staff have recommended be approved, is for both plants.

“From the CNSC staff perspective, there are no risks,” said Caroline Ducros, director of the safety commission’s nuclear processing facilities division. “The quantities (of uranium) that are leaving the (Toronto) plant are negligible.”

Despite the assurance, Muir said he didn’t feel confident after leaving the CNSC’s public information meeting.
There were a number of unanswered questions, he said, including what happens if the tank full of highly flammable liquid hydrogen — the pellets are baked in a furnace filled with hydrogen — catches fire? What’s the blast radius? Or the company’s emergency plan?

The company says it has an internal emergency response plan for both sites, with guidelines for emergency staff and plant personnel, which is sent to the CNSC.

And that “each BWXT facility has established emergency prevention programs to minimize the risk of fires and other hazardous events, as well as robust response plans that prescribe the actions to be taken to prevent or minimize potential health and environmental hazards,” wrote Natalie Cutler, BWXT’s director of communications and government relations, in an email.

Muir also wondered why, with such an increase in public interest, so few residents knew about the CNSC information meeting, where commission staff and experts, together with BWXT employees, anti-nuclear activists and politicians seemed to outnumber the 15 or so people from the community.

Kevin Lee, a senior regulatory policy officer at the CNSC, which employs 900 staff, said the commission couldn’t afford to notify the public by advertising in newspapers because it was too expensive. The organization relies on social media.

BWXT’s application is not only generating opposition in Toronto, but in Peterborough because of a provision in the new licence that would allow BWXT to move its Toronto pelleting operation anytime during its 10-year period to Peterborough.

Activists there say they are tired of dealing with the legacy waste from the GE-Hitachi plant, which used PCBs, asbestos as well as other chemicals at the Peterborough location, although in manufacturing operations that were unrelated to the nuclear fuel bundling division bought by BWXT.

At its height in the ’60s, the GE plant in Peterborough employed 6,000 people. But the numbers steadily decreased and in 2017 the company laid off 350 employees in its large motor division, where it made motors for cruise ship propellers or to pump oil, among other things. About 50 employees remained in engineering and sales.

“It’s just worrying because there’s alway accidents and fugitive emissions whenever there’s a factory,” said Jane Scott, who became aware of GE’s nuclear division in Peterborough about 10 years ago when her children were students at nearby Prince of Wales elementary school.

“I thought what the heck is a nuclear facility doing across from the school,” Scott said.

Scott co-founded Peterborough’s Citizens Against Radioactive Neighbourhoods (CARN) in April of last year after hearing that BWXT might move the pelleting operation to Peterborough.

“Extreme events happen and people make mistakes, as BWXT has in the past. And GE before that,” Scott said. “So it’s just a no-brainer that this should not be in the heart of our downtown.”

Scott was referring to an incident at BWXT in Peterborough where two workers wore the wrong respirator filters 15 times over a two-year period, from 2015 to 2017, exposing them to airborne beryllium, a highly toxic metal used to join parts of fuel bundles together.

“These employees were assessed and have been returned to normal duties,” said Cutler in an email. “There was no off-site exposure or release of beryllium, and there was no health or safety risk posed to the public or environment.”

In Toronto, Julie Dzerowicz, MP for the Davenport riding, said she has consulted a number of people about the BWXT pelleting plant on Lansdowne and has not heard any information that makes her think it’s a danger.

Canadians typically receive a 1.8 millisievert dose a year of background radiation, which is found naturally in the air, soil, rocks, water, plants and food, according to the CNSC. We are exposed to higher doses when we have x-rays or diagnostic imaging.
The CNSC said the annual public dose from the Toronto plant in 2018 was 0.0004 millisieverts and that epidemiological studies show there are no adverse health effects for any dose below 100 millisieverts.
Dzerowicz said if anyone presents her with evidence that shows she should be concerned for the health and safety of Davenport residents, she “will take urgent and immediate action.”

However, Dzerowicz was adamant residents in her riding be allowed to ask their own questions and requested the CNSC hold hearings in her riding, as opposed to the original location — a hotel near the Yorkdale Shopping Centre where the commission planned to simulcast proceedings from a physical location in Peterborough.

The CNSC complied and the Toronto hearings on March 2 and 3 will be held at Casa do Alentejo at 1130 Dupont St., where Dzerowicz plans to speak as an intervener.

“I’d like to represent what I’ve been hearing from Davenport residents,” she said.

Those concerns include more transparency regarding test results of air and soil samples, more safety audits of the plant by the CNSC and information about the company’s emergency plan.

BWXT does in-stack air monitoring every day and according to the company’s website, the sample results are verified by an independent laboratory. At the perimeter of the plant, five monitoring stations draw air into a filter and the amount of uranium dioxide captured by the filter is analyzed by a third-party lab.

Soil sampling is done less often — once a year by BWXT and about once every two years by the CNSC — because there has been little change in the concentration of uranium over time, said BWXT president John MacQuarrie.

Wastewater used in the plant to clean floors, equipment and protective clothing is held in storage tanks and treated to remove as much uranium dioxide as possible before it is released into the city’s sewage system.

“We all get radiation in our daily lives. And what our plant contributes to that is insignificant,” MacQuarrie said. “And we operate well below what the regulators consider as safe … And so we’re quite confident, after many years of the business being operated, that it’s a highly safe operation.”

According to company reports, from 2014 to 2018 BWXT emitted 46.2 grams of uranium dioxide into the air and 3.6 kilograms into the city’s wastewater, levels that are far below the allowable air emissions of 760 grams and water emissions of 9,000 kilograms per year. (The charitable organization Lake Ontario Waterkeeper has entered a submission recommending, among things, that what it calls “absurdly high” annual release limits be reduced.)

Among the experts Dzerowicz consulted was Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, who is contributing to a submission by the Canadian Environmental Law Association, which is intervening at the hearings on behalf of CARN.

Edwards is a former professor of math and science at Montreal’s Vanier College and has done consulting in the past on nuclear issues for government and industry.

He said studies about the effects of exposure to uranium dioxide have been largely inconclusive, mainly because there are few populations that have been exposed to breathing in the powder.

But he said the BWXT plant in Toronto is giving off “a small but significant” amount of radioactive heavy metal powder into the air that if inhaled could go deep into lung tissue and radiate a cell so that over time it could develop into cancer. He said it could take 20 years for any negative effects to appear because uranium releases its radioactive particles very slowly.

“In the case of Peterborough, there is an elementary school right across the street. And the outdoor playground faces onto the BWXT company just across the street,” possibly exposing kids to the powder for years if the pelleting operation is moved there, he said.

“I’m not saying they’re all going to get cancer. They’re not,” Edwards said. “But some of them could very well get cancer. So it’s a life-threatening situation for those few individuals who might suffer the consequences.”
BWXT says emissions from the Toronto facility are about one per cent of the regulatory limit and do not cause any health impacts to the public or the environment.

A group of scientists who live near the Peterborough fuel-bundling plant are also worried about beryllium.
In a letter to the Examiner newspaper, they expressed concern that recent testing by the CNSC showed concentrations of beryllium in local soil samples had increased since 2014.

“The clear increase of Be in soil samples is likely being driven by significant increases in air concentrations, which is particularly worrying because beryllium can be toxic if inhaled,” reads the letter. “More worryingly, the highest values of beryllium in 2019 were found in the samples in the Prince of Wales school.

“Although none of these samples have reached the threshold at which intervention is mandated, the increase alone mandates intervention and further evaluation to ascertain the source.”

Answers to whether that will happen, as well as other questions, may have to wait until commission hearings in March.

A spokesperson for the CNSC said in an email that questions about where the escaping uranium dioxide goes, what the health effects are or details about the emergency plan will have to wait until then.

“Since the Commission is a quasi-judicial administrative tribunal and currently seized with the matter of BWXT licence renewal, the Commission and CNSC staff cannot further address your followup questions,” according to the email, “as these are about substantive issues that are expected to be dealt with in the context of the upcoming hearing.”

Meanwhile, BWXT says it has no immediate plans to consolidate pellet making and fuel bundling in Peterborough.

But Dzerowicz thinks the company will move the operation from her Toronto riding in the next five years.
“What I would say to you is that over time, and my preference is sooner than later, I would love to see the uranium pelleting out of the riding and out of the city to a different location,” said Dzerowicz, explaining that given land values, it’s only natural the plant would move out to allow more housing.

“I’m not suggesting they move to Peterborough,” Dzerowicz said. “I think it needs to be in a safe area.”

Dr. Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR) recently provided this insightful update on the Deep Geological Disposal projects in Ontario – and subsequently Indigenous responses to these projects.

Here is Dr. Edwards statement – which was sent to the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR) mailing list on 1 February 2020:

“The Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) has voted against Ontario Power Generation’s Deep Geological Disposal (DGR) project, planned to house all of Ontario’s Low and Intermediate Level Waste at a site within a mile of the northwestern shore of Lake Huron.

To prevent confusion: there are two DGR (Deep Geological Disposal) Projects that have been under consideration in Ontario in recent years.

One DGR is for all of Canada’s irradiated nuclear fuel (called “High :Level Waste (HLW)”). That project is under the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) acting under the authority of Canada’s Nuclear Fuel Waste Act.

The NWMO site selection process has recently (late 2019) narrowed from 22 candidate sites (potential “willing host communities”) to 3 sites. One of the remaining three candidate sites is at Ignace, north of Lake Superior not far from the border between Ontario and Manitoba; the other two candidate sites are quite close to the Bruce Nuclear Power Station right beside Lake Huron. The process for finding a home for Canada’s HLW is still in its early stages even though it has been going on for decades — over 20 years under NWMO, and over 20 years before that under AECL, Ontario Power and the Seaborn Panel.

The following article has to do with another DGR project, completely different from the first. It is a separate facility proposed by Ontario Power Generations (OPG, a provincial crown corporation that owns all of Ontario’s nuclear power reactors). The OPG DGR is NOT intended for high level waste (HLW), but for storing Ontario’s low level radioactive waste (LLW) and intermediate level radioactive waste (ILW), from all of Ontario’s nuclear reactors — with the exception of “decommissioning waste”, for which there is at present no designated approach. The OPG DGR was intended for a precise selected site close to Lake Huron, not far from Kincardine Ontario, which is also in the vicinity of the Bruce Nuclear Power Plant.

The OPG DGR project — intended for Ontario’s Low and Intermediate Level Wastes (LILW) — was given a green light by an Environmental Review Panel that held public meetings on the matter, but the federal government has delayed giving its approval for various reasons — and that approval is necessary before the project can proceed. In recent months, the major remaining stumbling block has been the lack of explicit permission from the Saugueen Ojibway Nation (SON) on whose unceded territory the OPG DGR would be located. Ontario Power Generation has pledged repeatedly that the project will not proceed without the approval of SON, and the federal government has been awaiting word from the SON.

SON has now spoken. The answer is “No”. There will be no implementation of the OPG DGR project at the site beside Lake Huron that was selected for that purpose.

However, the OPG project for LILW has no direct bearing on the first DGR project for HLW that was described in the opening paragraph above. NWMO will continue to search for a willing host community to build a DGR to house all of Canada’s irradiated nuclear fuel, including two candidate sites in the same general neighbourhood as the OPG DGR project which has now been rejected.

The nuclear waste issue is nothing if not complicated! And the Age of Nuclear Waste is just beginning….”

For context, this statement was in response to this media article:

Title: Saugeen Ojibway Nation Votes No on DGR
Author: CNW Group
Date: 31 January 2020
Publication: Yahoo! Finance
Link: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/saugeen-ojibway-nation-votes-no-031600205.html

I hope all of you who worry about this are also planning to attend the conference to be held in Toronto on April 28 with 46 visiting Japanese activists. There will be an afternoon session in City Hall , Committee Room One, and there will be an open Zoom window with people calling in from all over the world to discuss nuclear contamination of all sorts.

Dr. Gordon Edwards recently shared this article with his Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility mailing list. I thought it would be of interest to this group:

Title: Nuclear waste dump proposal has many Ontario First Nations worried – Canada
Author: Cory Bilyea
Date: 24 January 2020
Link: https://nuclear-news.net/2020/01/29/nuclear-waste-dump-proposal-has-many-ontario-first-nations-worried-canada/

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is running out of time to find a permanent solution for storing radioactive nuclear waste.

Dry storage containers, the current method of storing contaminated items, have a minimum life span of fifty years and is ‘80s technology, according to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), a non-profit overseen by the government.

A permanent dumpsite is needed for low and intermediate-level nuclear waste. The secure Bruce nuclear site in Kincardine, Ont., is the proposed location but it’s on the unceded territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON).

The items, including contaminated worker clothing and tools, could be radioactive for 100 years while resins, filters and used reactor components could be toxic for 100,000 years, according to NWMO.

These items need to be buried in something called a deep geologic repository (DGR), which will be buried 680 metres underground, deeper than the CN Tower is tall.

A ratification vote has been called by the SON and will be held collectively on Chippewas of Saugeen First Nations at the James Mason Memorial, Culture & Recreation Centre and on Chippewas of Nawash First Nation at the Cape Croker Community Centre on Jan. 31.

Talks with OPG and several information sessions have been held to date. A detailed information booklet is available for the nearly 4,000 band members who are eligible to vote.

The voting age has been lowered to 16 and there will be a special information session for young people on Jan. 25-26 at the Outdoor Education Centre, between Sauble Beach and Wiarton.

Two community members said concerns over the proposal have been heightened by the accidental emergency broadcast message that was sent to thousands of people from the Pickering nuclear plant early on Sunday, Jan. 12.

London resident Jane Meathrel said in a Facebook post, the waste site should be located “as far away as possible from the Great Lakes. I do not trust ‘the experts’ that it is not dangerous.”

Concerns about the adverse impacts on water quality are a key reason people around the power plant are saying no to nuclear waste being buried so close to their homes and livelihoods. Many rely on the fish from Lake Huron for food and income.

“We the people who live on this continent are well aware that we have the worlds greatest freshwater resources,” said Sue Boles, who leases land for a cottage in Neyaashiinigaaming. “We have a duty and an obligation to protect it for future generations and the world.”

Boles brings her grandson to the beach near her cottage to swim every year.

President and CEO of Bruce Power, Mike Rencheck, was not available for comment, but said on their website, “We recognize our role and work to ensure our decision-making process incorporates environmental, social, cultural and economic systems.”

Saugeen resident and band member Kim George is voting no and if she had a voice when the plant was first built, she would have said no then too.

“I think most of us have always had an underlying fear of the nuke plant,” she said. “The planned nuclear DGR is compounding that fear.”

Online voting has begun for off-reserve band members and will be open until Jan. 31.

Even with a yes vote, there will still be many years, possibly decades before the facility is built.

Ontario Power Generation has guaranteed that if the vote is no, they will abide by the decision and begin to look for another location.

The Ojibway have said no to a proposal to bury low-level waste on their land. What is Plan B?

An interesting article from Thomas Nilsen at The Barents Observer [15 March 2018]:

Link: https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/ecology/2018/03/russias-arctic-nuclear-dump-may-become-promising-fishing-area

Russia’s Arctic Nuclear Dump May Become Promising Fishing Area


“Thousands of containers with radioactive waste were dumped in the Kara Sea during Soviet times. Now, Russia’s Federal Agency for Fishing believes it’s a good idea to start fishing.


“17 ships and barges loaded with radioactive waste are dumped here. So are 17,000 containers with radioactive waste. Even worse, along the east coast of Novaya Zemlya is 16 nuclear reactors dumped, six of them with spent uranium fuel still on board. ”


According to Sergey Gulovanov (Head of the Science and Education Department with the Federal Agency for Fisheries) the Kara Sea’s advantage for the fishing industry is that it is a shelf sea, it does not border any territorial waters of other nations. “This is why Russia can have own fishing regulations there,” he said according to TASS. ”


“Sergey Golovanov says fishing for rare species could be promising. Also halibut is living in the Kara Sea and the waters are rich on polar cod, capelin, in flounder, perch and snow crab. “We forecast a possible growth of crab, like it was in the Barents Sea,” Golovanov said.

At the conference in Murmansk, nothing was said about the Kara Sea being the main dumping ground for nuclear waste during Soviet times. No other oceans worldwide have more dumped radioactive waste than Russia’s Arctic Kara Sea.”

An interesting article on the Savannah River site in South Carolina. This plant was critical to the manufacturing of the United States’ hydrogen bombs.

Link: https://www.postandcourier.com/news/deadly-legacy-savannah-river-site-near-aiken-one-of-the/article_d325f494-12ff-11e7-9579-6b0721ccae53.html

Some excerpts:

“That burial ground is where the plant dumped much of its solid radioactive waste at the time, often in cardboard boxes. Radioactive contamination continues to leach from burial trenches into groundwater and periodically the Savannah River despite efforts to cap the trenches and stem the leakage. Plant engineers built a dam to block most of the flow and create a large pond. […] The contaminated pond water is used as irrigation and regularly sprayed into the surrounding forest where it is absorbed by the trees and evaporates harmlessly into the atmosphere. The pond also is home to two radioactive alligators dubbed by workers as Tritagator and Dioxinator — after two of the wastes, radioactive tritium and toxic dioxin. […] Plant officials acknowledged that technicians occasionally ignored warning alarms and instruments because of numerous false alarms. They didn’t want to risk the costly loss of time to shut down reactors, conduct safety checks and restart. […]
For thousands of current and former workers at the bomb plant it came too late. Many had been exposed to excessive, sometimes deadly, doses of radiation during the first three decades of the plant’s operation. The congressional hearings revealed that safety took a back seat to production. […] “But Anderson recalls an incident in 2000 when a man in her office building went to get some food at the canteen. A radiation monitor alerted on one of his shoes when he tried to enter the food area. Safety officials retraced his steps and discovered a roach he had kicked aside in a hallway. The roach was as hot from cesium-244, a radioactive isotope formerly used in a highly contaminated area of a secured lab.Plant officials cautioned workers to avoid encounters with roaches and told them to alert the radiation-control division if they saw one. Officials characterized the incident as an isolated case involving a roach that managed to creep out of the radioactive lab through some tiny crevice. The plant also studied ways to beef up pest control. Anderson believes the roach offers a sign that the entire bomb plant is radioactive and no place there is safe.”

I have heard several interesting reports of types of cat litter being used in fuel storage barrels at nuclear storage repositories. Apparently, certain types of cat litter can be used to assist with containing radioactive products. NPR identifies how “cat litter has been used for years to dispose of nuclear waste. Dump it into a drum of sludge and it will stabilize volatile radioactive chemicals. The litter prevents it from reacting with the environment.” Similarly, World Nuclear News identifies “each barrel of waste disposed of at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) contains around 26 kg of cat litter to stabilize liquids and nitrate salts.” An incident on 14 February 2014 unfolded at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in the USA where organic cat litter was used by accident – due to an administrative error in product ordering. Radiolytic processes caused the cellulose (the brand of cat litter was made partially of wheat products) to generate gasses, which expanded caused the barrel to explode. This is not an issue with cat litter brands that do not use these classes of wheat by-products.

This introduced radioactive materials into the ventilation system, unfortunately giving 21 workers low-level radiation exposure and shut down the plant for 1.5 years.

Newer plans from Hanford have indicated there are hopes to use forms of glass to stabilize certain radioactive materials. It is unclear if these are a safer choice than the kitty litter. Stabilizing radioactive materials can be a significant challenge in the long-term storage of these materials and products.



Imminent Threat of Uranium Mining in the Grand Canyon

By Miranda Green and Rebecca Beitsch, “Democrats Aim to Protect Grand Canyon from ‘Imminent’ Drilling Threat,” The Hill, October 29, 2019.

U.S. Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) has proposed a bill to protect the Grand Canyon from uranium mining. Although a 20-year ban was implemented in 2012 to protect the Grand Canyon from mining, Grijalva fears the ban is no longer enough to keep out mining groups.

In 2017, President Trump declared uranium to be a key component for national security. Grijalva expects the White House’s Nuclear Fuel Working Group to recommend mining uranium near the Grand Canyon. Grijalva has thus deemed legislation necessary to protect the national park from exploitation. While many Republicans support uranium mining — a core element for the production of nuclear weapons — many Democrats are in opposition due to its destructive effects on the environment.

Here’s that name again: “SNC Lavalin.” We heard about it for months before the Canadian election, but only as something the prime minister tried to protect (presumably as a way to sustain jobs in Quebcc). But it ought to be a bigger story that this company is managing Canada’s radioactive risks.

Has there been further research into using high-power lasers to transmute radioactive waste? An article published in 2003 by New Scientist indicated that the Vulcan Laser at the University of Strathclyde had begun researching ways to transmute radioactive waste to reduce its half-lives. Of interest was Iodine 129 with a half-live of 15.7 million years which could be transmuted to Iodine 128 with a half-life of 25 minutes. The laser is the size of a “small hotel” and a million billion watts – producing gamma radiation. One of the concerns is producing enough energy to use the laser to transmute the waste – which could require an entire power plant of its own to process the waste product from another. There would additionally be a surge of radioactivity during the transmutation process.

One of the 2018 Nobel Laureates – Dr. Gerard Mourou – has additionally been researching the use of high-powered lasers to transmute radioactive waste. This has been of interest to multiple nations – such as France – where over 70% of its energy is produced from nuclear reactors.

2003 Article: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn4056-giant-laser-transmutes-nuclear-waste/

Articles on Gerard Mourou: https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2019-nuclear-waste-storage-france/ and https://futurism.com/the-byte/nobel-prize-lasers-destroy-nuclear-waste

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An alarming article from 12 July 2018 Angela Bischoff for the Bulletin:

“The more than 760,000 spent fuel bundles stored at the Pickering nuclear plant are the legacy of 50 years of reactor operations with no long-term waste management solution in sight. This waste contains dangerous radioactive elements and enough plutonium to construct more than 11,000 nuclear warheads. Laid end-to-end, the radioactive fuel bundles stored at Pickering would stretch from Kingston to St. Catharines.

More than half the waste that Ontario Power Generation has been quietly piling up at Pickering nuclear plant is kept in open water pools. One of the biggest concerns during the Fukushima nuclear disaster was the possibility of a “pool fire” if the zircaloy cladding on spent fuel bundles combusted. All of Tokyo would have needed to be evacuated if a narrowly avoided pool fire had happened. Pickering’s fuel has the same cladding, except Pickering is 10 times closer to downtown Toronto than Fukushima is from Tokyo.”


A significant amount of low level radioactive waste was buried less than 150 meters from Lake Ontario near Port Hope.

“Share this
The Port Hope Area Initiative (PHAI) represents the Government of Canada’s commitment to the cleanup and safe, local, long-term management of historic low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) in two Southern Ontario municipalities – Port Hope and Clarington. The waste is the result of radium and uranium processing in Port Hope between 1933 and 1988 by the former Crown corporation Eldorado Nuclear Limited and its private-sector predecessors.

The PHAI is based on community-recommended solutions for the cleanup and safe long-term management of approximately 1.7 million cubic metres of LLRW. It is currently one of Canada’s largest environmental remediation projects.”

What are the risks of this contaminating adjacent farmlands? It is a few kilometers south of Newtonville, Ontario – near the lakeshore. Additionally, what are the chances of it contaminating the lake – due to erosion rates?

More information can be found here: https://www.cnl.ca/en/home/environmental-stewardship/phai.aspx

Canadian Plans for Nuclear Power Emergency
Canada does have some plans in place for situations where a leak or other safety emergency occurred at a nuclear power plant. For example, here is a link to the plans for intervening if something bad happens in the Point Lepreau reactor. (See a photo of the reactor on the attached PDF.)

The Conversation: Sharing Data can Help Prevent Public Health Emergencies in Africa

Global collaboration and sharing data on public health emergencies is important to fight the spread of infectious diseases. If scientists and health workers can openly share their data across regions and organisations, countries can be better prepared and respond faster to disease outbreaks.

This was the case in with the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Close to 100 scientists, clinicians, health workers and data analysts from around the world worked together to help contain the spread of the disease.

But there’s a lack of trust when it comes to sharing data in north-south collaborations. African researchers are suspicious that their northern partners could publish data without acknowledging the input from the less resourced southern institutions where the data was first generated. Until recently, the authorship of key scientific publications, based on collaborative work in Africa, was dominated by scientists from outside Africa.

The Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness, an international network of major research funding organisations, recently published a roadmap to data sharing. This may go some way to address the data sharing challenges. Members of the network are expected to encourage their grantees to be inclusive and publish their results in open access journals. The network includes major funders of research in Africa like the European Commission, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust.

The roadmap provides a guide on how funders can accelerate research data sharing by the scientists they fund. It recommends that research funding institutions make real-time, external data sharing a requirement. And that research needs to be part of a multi-disciplinary disease network to advance public health emergencies responses.

In addition, funding should focus on strengthening institutions’ capacity on a number of fronts. This includes data management, improving data policies, building trust and aligning tools for data sharing.

Allowing researchers to freely access data generated by global academic counterparts is critical for rapidly informing disease control strategies in public health emergencies.

Why share data

Mounting appropriate and timely responses to emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases requires global cooperation on data analysis across disciplines. Examples include Ebola, Lassa fever and Yellow fever.

During the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, field and laboratory data collected in real-time were shared between scientists from different countries. These data revealed how the Ebola virus was evolving and spreading in the region. The information was then used to contain the spread of the virus in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Ninety-six individual investigators, including clinicians and scientists, from 60 institutions in 18 countries worked together. They collected and analysed data by sequencing 1,610 Ebola virus genomes. The data informed policy decisions in West Africa because government ministers from Sierra Leone and Liberia were part of the investigators.

The work done in West Africa shows that global data sharing can work.

This north-south collaboration is the research partnership model that the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership uses on the continent.

This is a partnership between the European Union and national institutions in Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. It was initially created in response to the global health crisis caused by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Now it includes research and responses to neglected and emerging infections.

It currently supports several institutions that were involved in the West African study. As the regional director for Africa, I promote global collaborations that acknowledge inputs from Africa researchers and institutions.


Our north-south partnership is also making strides to improve the capacity for collaboration and data sharing.

The global research collaboration includes a number of members such as the African Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology in Egypt and the South African Medical Research Council.

There are several initiatives under way.

For one, the African Academy of Sciences is in the early stages of building a Coalition for African Research and Innovation. This platform will foster collaboration on research and innovation in Africa. It will also address the under investment in scientific talent and research infrastructure.

Another example is the Pan African Clinical Trials Registry. This is hosted by the South Africa Medical Research Council. The registry provides access to contacts for researchers as well as trial sites. It also provides information on which organisation or institution funds various research projects. This data can be used to map clinical trial activity in several disease conditions relevant to the continent such as Ebola.

In 2017, for example, two public health emergencies networks and four regional networks of excellence were funded. This was to ensure that African countries are better prepared to prevent, respond to and minimise the impact of infectious disease outbreaks.

Building partnerships

Collaboration and data sharing has become a serious focus in the fight against public health emergencies.

Funding agencies, ethics and regulatory bodies in Africa, reviewers and grant recipients have been looking for ways to consolidate a efforts for collaboration and data sharing.

Among the issues that need to be addressed are big data, the way that databases can be managed and the implementation of systemic reviews. This is critical to prevent the next epidemic.

What the Ebola crisis in West Africa has shown us is that wide scale collaboration is helpful and works. The Global Research Collaboration roadmap instils confidence for such inclusiveness.