They don't make boxes big enough to hold used nuclear steam generators.
That is the reason the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission had to disclose Bruce Power's special request to transport nuclear waste on the Great Lakes. If the sixteen generators that Bruce Power wants to ship had fit into a container pre-approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Canada's public regulator would not have had to notify the public at all.
That is what we - and dozens of others - learned when we trekked to Ottawa on September 29th. Apparently, nuclear waste is already shipped on the Great Lakes fairly regularly. We only find out when the waste won’t fit in a box.
Because of the sheer size of the decommissioned steam generators, the public was finally able to engage in a transport licensing process for nuclear waste on the Great Lakes. And engage they did. An overwhelmingly upset group of representatives for Great Lakes communities made it clear that nuclear waste should never be floated on the drinking water for about forty-million people, unless very special circumstances warrant it and strict conditions are imposed.
Groups from across the eight states and two provinces that bound the Lakes felt that Bruce Power profits are not a good enough reason. Since this was the first opportunity for the public to engage in the decision making over nuclear waste shipments, many condemned the process and the poor quality of evidence submitted in support of the proposal.
At the hearing into the application, CNSC staff and Bruce Power representatives were not required to provide tested evidence, expertise or legal argument to support the proposal. Legal interpretations of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and other statutes were thrown around, but weren't subject to proper legal scrutiny. Instead, the submissions in support of the application were echoes of a public relations exercise that began long before the hearing itself.
In fact, the most oft-repeated argument by the CNSC staff, Bruce Power and the Power Workers Union in support of the project was that shipments of nuclear waste are already making their way around the Great Lakes. In comparison, they argued, this was a small, less risky proposal. Arguing that "others do it too" is, of course, not testament to the merits of the project and would never be persuasive in a legitimate legal forum. It is also alarming - not reassuring - that the public was never notified of these prior shipments and had never had an opportunity to comment on their appropriateness.
The Great Lakes are a central and enduring part of Canada, the U.S., and the world. These waters are globally significant, representing 21% of the world's fresh surface water. Only about 1% of that water flows out of the lakes each year, so that pollutants enter the system, stick around, and become more concentrated over time.
The world relies on the Great Lakes for drinking water, recreation, food, industry, and navigation. The prospect of regularly shipping hazardous waste on this water deserves special attention and scrutiny. It should only be approved on the basis of tested, impartial evidence. It should be subject to strict legal terms and conditions if approved.
The Great Lakes deserve special rules and regulations stricter than those applied to shipping on the ocean, where no one’s drinking water is at stake. The fact that past shipments were approved without public notice and comment should be seen as a major flaw in regulating nuclear waste on the Great Lakes. Not as a reason for approving new shipments. Not as a reason to approve more.
Canada needs to show it respects environmental processes and laws before granting risk-laden privileges to exploit our Great Lakes. No matter how big the box.