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Bruce Power's nuclear power plant on Lake Huron
Bruce Power's nuclear power plant on Lake Huron

Groups raise alarm over shipping nuclear waste on Seaway

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A coalition is trying to stop a nuclear plant from shipping low-level radioactive waste to Sweden by way of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Bruce Power operates North America's largest nuclear power plant northwest of Toronto. The company says its plan is safe and good for the environment. David Sommerstein reports.

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Bruce Power is removing 16 old steam generators as part of a multibillion dollar upgrade of its nuclear plant on the shores of Lake Huron.  The company has a video on its website of a crane removing missile-like steel shells, each the size of a school bus...

"This old one weighs about one hundred tones.  Inside, there are 62 kilometers of piping, or yutubes…"

Those tubes are now contaminated.  They emit beta, gamma, and alpha radiation. 

Bruce Power is sending the generators to Sweden where the steel will be recycled.  The radioactive waste will be returned to Ontario.  Both times it’ll pass along the St. Lawrence River in the North Country.

Spokesman John Peevers says Bruce Power is doing the right thing.

Peevers says, "Instead of putting that whole big thing into long-term storage, we became aware of a company in Sweden that can separate out the clean exterior shell from the internal components, which are basically pipes that have become contaminated, so to us it makes sense to reduce our environmental footprint."

The plan flew below the radar, until the mayor of the port town of Owen Sound, Ontario caught wind of it.  It’s since drawn opposition from 50 groups, including environmental organizations, some local leaders, and two lawmakers from Michigan.

Jennifer Caddick directs Save the River, based in Clayton.  She says the plan should be subject to greater public scrutiny, especially since two freighters have run aground on the St. Lawrence just this summer.

Caddick says the St. Lawrence Seaway needs to be more transparent about the cargo on ships. "There are hazardous materials going up and down the St. Lawrence River every single day, but we are not able to know what they are, and most of our local responders, who frankly would be first on scene don’t know, so I think there’s a broader question of understanding what materials are being shipped so that we can all be prepared in case some sort of accident does happen," says Caddick.

John Peevers of Bruce Power says the whole thing is getting blown out of proportion.  He says the nuclear industry is subject to some of the strictest regulations in either Canada or the U.S.  And he reiterates the steam generators are low level radioactive waste. " Peevers says, "If you stood within two meters of this steam generator for two hours, you could get roughly the same radiation you would get from an X-ray, but people won’t be, y’know?  The radiation dose to the public will be for all intents and purposes zero."

Bowing to public pressure, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has agreed to hold a hearing on the plan September 29th in Ottawa.

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