I started out for Ottawa on Monday Sept 27, 2010 in the pouring rain hoping this wasn’t an omen. The closer I got to the city, the more nervous I got. I arrived just in time to get to my 7:00 pm meeting at the Sierra Club office downtown.
I was finally going to meet some of the Green Energy Nuclear Free Task Force face to face. This group is made up of a number of NGO’s and individuals from Canada, the US and Sweden, most notably Dr. Gordon Edwards, co-founder and President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. He is an author, professor and a qualified nuclear expert for the courts. I had been communicating with this group by email, phone and snail mail for months. I was very excited.
It was overwhelming meeting these folks. They were all so kind and friendly and very supportive. For months I had been depending on the support of the small group of people I had connected with in Owen Sound and area. Then with a lot of time on the phone and computer I had also managed to build this network of people who shared the same passion as me. We simply want to keep our environment healthy and safe for all. It had become an international effort.
We did a few last-minute preparations for the press conference at the Parliament Buildings the next morning. There were press kits to put together and details to go over such as what we were allowed to take with us. I learned a new term….”ground logistics”. We also put finishing touches on our oral presentations to the CNSC panel. By the time I got to my brother’s condo I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep. My mind wouldn’t shut down.
The next morning I was excited and nervous. My brother accompanied me to the Sierra Club office. As the group gathered you could sense that something very important was happening. Reports were starting to trickle in about the press that this was getting today. It had been on the CBC radio that morning. Media were already calling Dr. Edwards for interviews. Apparently Duncan Hawthorne from Bruce Power had made a statement comparing an accident with the steam generators to a man with a pacemaker being thrown overboard! And so it had started.
We headed out to the Parliament Buildings. When we arrived on Parliament Hill I felt a sense of pride. I knew that I was doing the right thing. That morning I had questioned myself. “What if Bruce Power were to agree to build their own docks and ship from there at an enormous cost that they would transfer to the consumer and blame us?” I had created many “what if” scenarios in my mind that could turn me into a very unpopular person in my hometown. But now I didn’t quite feel that way. So many people along side me were fighting for the same cause, the right cause.
We went through security and were given our press passes. There I met Lorraine Rekkmans, Aboriginal affairs critic for the Green party of Canada. I was immediately impressed with her. She is an amazing woman, full of confidence and very intelligent. She commands attention when she speaks and when she speaks she has great things to say.
We were ushered into the green room and given strict instructions that our presentations were limited to 2 minutes each…NO MORE. There was a television on the wall and comfortable chairs for everyone, but there was a lot of anxiety. That is when Dr. Edwards told us that NDP MP Nathan Cullen was also holding a press conference about the steam generator issue. That was a major coup for us. A Member of Parliament was bringing the issue to the forefront. Our own federal MP had ignored the issue as had our MPP. This was good news.
When the press conference co-ordinator came in to tell us it was our time my heart was racing. Was I ready? We walked up to the stage and lined up behind the podium. I was the third to speak. Gordon told us that he thought there might not be many press there, but he was mistaken. There were quite a few reporters there that day. I saw CTV, CBC and the local Ottawa reporter. Margo McDermidd was sitting in the front and she looked at me and smiled. She is the CBC reporter who had come to my home on Sunday and interviewed me. Seeing a familiar face in the crowd calmed me down.
Then it was my turn. I went up to the podium with my 2 papers, looked at the audience filled with press either taking still shots, recording with video, or simply taking notes and I started talking. I wasn’t nervous at all. My message had been carefully prepared. I was articulate and looked confident. I wanted to do well for Owen Sound and I believe I did.
The press asked a few questions but they were rather one-sided as though they were proponents of the project. Gordon answered them. Then we went back to the green room. Next up was Nathan Cullen.
We watched his presentation on the tv in the room. A photographer came in and took photos of us watching the tv. That was strange. Nathan did a great job of his delivery. Then Nathan came to get us and we all left for lunch.
We went to the Parliament Hill Pub and Grill for lunch. It was an experience. The walls were filled with photos of politicians past and present. We sat down in the Bloc Québécois section and ordered lunch. I had a Steven Harper pepperoni pizza. It didn’t disappoint me. It was tasteless, overpriced, and hard to chew. Next we were on to the CNSC.
Day 1 and 2 of the Public Hearings.
The CNSC is a non descript building in downtown Ottawa. We were given visitor’s passes on arrival and taken up in separate visitors’ elevator with an escort. There were uniformed police on site at all times and plain clothes police also. Gee. How did I know the plain clothes police?
We took our seats and prepared to listen to the first presenters. In the front sat the CNSC tribunal which were a “jury” of 1 woman and 7 men including Michael Binder, President of the CNSC. They listened to the presentations and then asked questions of the interveners or the applicants. In the first section of about 6 rows were Bruce Power in one section, CNSC in one section and the representative from Studsvick in another. There were many lawyers and advisors in attendance also. A lot of money was spent in those first 6 rows of seats in 2 days.
First up was Bruce Power Inc. They gave their presentation. We followed along with the hard copy of the presentation they had submitted. Ironically they presented their documentation 2 days earlier but had “forgotten” to include plutonium in the contents of the generators. I’m not completely sure about this, but I believe one of the experts in our camp found this “omission” and pointed it out. Bruce Power then had to add plutonium into the document and redo all their calculations.
Duncan Hawthorne began by saying that the interveners that were not in favour of the proposed plan were anti nuclear special interest groups that want to shut down the nuclear industry.
We heard all about their plans for preparing the generators for transport. Then they described how minimal the radioactive risk is to humans and the environment.
Next up was the CNSC. Basically they repeated what we heard at an Owen Sound City council meeting. They ended their presentation saying they believed the transport was safe and they would recommend issuing a transport license.
Finally we heard from the Studsvick representative. He told us about the company, the process that would be involved and then the recycling of the steel. Now anti nuclear activists have been aware of this problem for a long time, but I had never even considered this issue…the recycling of radioactive steel. The steel from these generators will be melted down and then mixed 1/10th radioactive steel and 9/10 regular steel. Then it will be sold to plants being “free released.” These plants are supposed to sign agreements not to sell this in the marketplace.
Next the interveners gave their oral submissions. I won’t go into them all but I will give the highlights of what I learned.
– as I sat during the hearings a man sat behind me making negative remarks about the interveners’ submissions. I did not know who he was but it was annoying and he was rude. The interveners’ information was accurate and credible. The next day this man got up with the Mayor of the Saugeen Shores to give an oral submission and I finally found out his identity. He was the mayor of Huron-Kinloss, Mitch Twolan.
– the mayor of Saugeen Shores and Huron-Kinloss and the Power Workers’ Union all strongly support the plan by Bruce Power. I wonder how they feel now that they have heard all of the information
– Owen Sound city council did not submit a statement of any substance. Mayor Ruth Lovell Stanners read the oral submission from the city which reiterated what they said to Bruce Power after they learned they could not deny a Heavy Load permit. They have conditions which they want Bruce Power to meet in the way of insurance and security.
– Chief Randall Khagee made a powerful submission on behalf of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation. In closing he told Duncan Hawthorne who kept referring to SON as Bruce Power’s neighbours that they are not the SON’s neighbours, in fact Bruce Power is using their land. The SON strongly oppose the plan.
– we learned a lot about the 2005 environmental assessment that was done for the “Bruce A Restart” refurbishment. At that time Bruce Power promised to “reduce, reuse and recycle” the nuclear waste on site at the Western Waste Management Facility. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act requires another assessment to be done whenever waste leaves the facility. However Bruce Power says they do not need to do one. They are simply recycling like they agreed to so they don’t need to do another environmental assessment of this project. The CNSC has agreed up to this point. During the oral submissions this came up frequently and the panel asked a lot of questions about this. They found it confusing that Bruce Power was considering this a recycling project and not a new project which would require an environmental assessment.
This is a significant problem. An environmental assessment will give us accurate figures on the impact an accident will have on the environment and human health. We are talking about effects on humans, drinking water sources and the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway and Atlantic Ocean.
– next there is the issue of recycling radioactive steel. We learned from our own investigations that as part of the contract that Bruce Power has with Studsvick there is a clause that says that the “receivers of the classified metal castings [is to] to be classified as secret.” Unfortunately for Bruce Power the SSM (Sweden’s equivalent of the CNSC) insists that “information about the receivers of the classified metal castings is needed by the SSM for it to fulfill its role as a supervisor and overseer.” In other words, Bruce Power and Studsvick want to keep the recipients of this radioactive steel a secret but the SSM will not allow it.
During the hearings the panel questioned Studsvick extensively about radioactive steel in the marketplace. Several interveners made submissions about radioactive steel being discovered in flatware, elevator buttons, steel girders in new builds. There have even been cases of ships being turned away at ports because of the high levels of radioactivity in their construction.
It would appear that the recycling Bruce Power is doing is adding to the problem of radioactive steel in the marketplace. Bruce Power reps said something to the effect…we don’t care what happens to the shipment once it gets to Sweden.
– the panel asked the Studsvick representative if they had ever received any violations and he answered they had never had any violations in their plant in Sweden. One intervener accused Studsvick of being fined $160,000. The rep refused to answer to this and then the intervener said she was mistaken and the amount was $600,000.00. The panel said this questioning was not fair and that he didn’t have to answer to this in this hearing.
– I discovered on the US Equal Opportunity Commission website from a Press Release of December 31, 2009 that Studsvik did indeed settle a $650 thousand law suit with Courtney Britton and 22 other employees. A manager at the Memphis facility was accused of subjecting Britton and other African-American employees to excessive radiation exposure, more than their white co-workers.” He was also accused of calling them the “n” word and “boy”.
– my submission focused on the manner with which Bruce Power dealt with residents and Owen Sound city council. I spoke about my dealings with Ross Lamont and how he was not willing to discuss alternatives to their plans. The panel asked Duncan Hawthorne why they did not want to use the docks in Goderich (although I do NOT advocate using another city…this is not a NIMBY issue). Hawthorne answered, “there is a very big hill in Goderich and we can’t negotiate that hill”. I heard Mayor Lovell Stanners laugh out loud behind me at that.
– I also mentioned the fact that the ship was Danish, flying under an Aruban flag. I wondered would the ship’s crew be subject to Canadian employment, occupational, health and safety standards. The answer was “no”, but I really didn’t get an answer. There will NOT be anyone from Bruce Power on the ship although they will be responsible for the cargo until it docks in Sweden.
– as for insurance, Bruce Power will cover the ship with $75 million in insurance. The rest of the insurance costs will be covered by the Federal government. So consider this scenario. The ship sinks and the cargo is compromised. There is a leak and a drinking water source is contaminated. Bruce Power uses its’ insurance and the government (we the taxpayers) are responsible for the rest. If this project proceeds without an environmental assessment we DON’T know what environmental risks are at stake.
– one of my colleagues from Washington started to speak. He had no less than a sentence out before Mr. Binder said, how long have you been doing this? Do you want to shut down every nuclear power plant? Then he dismissed almost everything he had to say. This intervener had been in touch with Congress and the House of Representatives for weeks prior to coming to Ottawa. They are working very hard to stop this shipment on the US side. This is not a done deal from their perspective.
– about 12 Quebec municipalities submitted a signed petition to say that they did not want this shipment to pass by their regions. Mr. Binder asked the municipalities’ representative what exactly did the municipalities know about the transport project. They did not have all of the information but they knew enough that they did not want these radioactive generators passing by their land and water sources. Mr. Binder said that since they were not fully informed of the project this was not an informed consent and therefore invalid. What? So let me get this straight. Bruce Power can say they are going to do this and because you don’t know every detail about the project it is not an informed consent. Is this democracy?
– Dr. Edwards found a list of the contents of the generators that did not match the list that was included in Bruce Power’s submission. The list he had was a list from Bruce Power. They said it was an inventory list of different generators and tried to say his was not legitimate.
– Bruce Power said they applied for the transport license in April 2010. While I was giving my submission the lady sitting next to me was handed a document she had requested from the CNSC. It was a transport license that Bruce Power had applied for and it was dated January 2010. When questioned they said they had applied for one in January but it was for another project. But this license clearly said for 16 steam generators! I saw the document.
– Bruce Power is to do testing as part of the safety licensing. They do swabs of the exterior of the generators. It was revealed that they did random swabs of just 2 of the generators.
– the generators were welded shut when they were put into the western waste facility in 2006. They were then painted with a polymer to seal in the radioactivity…that is a layman’s version of the process. So this seal is now almost 5 years old. The panel questioned them on this quite a bit. The pictures showed the weld to be quite rusty at the point of painting.
There were many other points presented but I can’t accurately recount them so until I get the transcripts I’ll leave them for another day.
The 2 days of hearings were revealing. The most important thing to remember is that an environmental assessment has not been done. We don’t know what the impact of a breach in these generators would have on the health of individuals, the water, the drinking water sources, the air and the list goes on. This needs to be done. Many folks and organizations are in agreement with this. The tribunal asked many great questions. Now it is up to them to decide. They can issue the license and let this shipment proceed or they can be responsible and make Bruce Power and the licensing branch of CNSC be prudent and revisit their assessment of Bruce Power’s plan.
My experience was fascinating. I met many interesting people including Mayor Bradley of Sarnia and “Ziggy” a life long environmentalist previously of Lion’s Head. And I highly respect Mayor Ruth Lovell Stanners and Dr. Stanners.
When the decision is made many people will be watching. Many people will be affected and people will react. I don’t know how, but they will….peacefully I hope.