Activists in Canada and the U-S are trying to stop plutonium from
dismantled warheads from being shipped to Canadian nuclear power
plants. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports… the
first shipment was recently slipped into Canada and another is coming
Activists in Canada and the U.S. are trying to stop plutonium from dismantled warheads
from being shipped to Canadian nuclear power plants. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Lester Graham reports the first shipment was recently slipped into Canada
and another is coming this spring:
The Canadian government plans to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium from dismantled
nuclear warheads from Russia. Canada suggested it could mix the weapons-grade
plutonium with uranium and use it for fuel in its nuclear power plants.
Protestors in the U.S. and Canada vowed they’d stop the shipments. During public
hearings in Michigan, some environmentalists and politicians said they’d lie down in
the road to stop trucks. So, when the U.S. Department of Energy planned a shipment of
sample material, the DOE made the shipment classified. Nobody was told when or where
the plutonium would be shipped. This month, the secret shipment left Los Alamos and
entered Canada at Sault Sainte Marie.
Verna Lawrence is the mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. She’s outraged her town was
not notified the shipment was coming.
“We’d have barricaded I-75. I had people that would go with me. How dare they do that
to us in our area with the Great Lakes Basin. It’s crazy!”
Mayor Lawrence says the federal government is shipping the plutonium against the
wishes of the people.
“See, the Canadian government and the United States government are in cahoots. They
don’t give a damn about anybody else. And let me tell you another thing: the governors
are not protecting their citizens. If I was the governor and I had the National Guard
and the State Police, they would not set foot on the state of Michigan.”
Just on the other side of the border, the mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario also was
Once in Canada, the shipment was put on a helicopter and flown to the Chalk River
Nuclear Power Plant where the fuel is being tested. Protestors say it was flown to
avoid blockades by activists and native people. The only road from Sault Ste. Marie to
the Chalk River Nuclear Plant runs through the Garden River Reservation. Cathy
Brosemer is with a coalition of environmental groups in Ontario called “Northwatch.”
She says the shipment was kept secret and the helicopter was used to avoid angry
peopole along the route.
“What we’ve been dealing with right now is the utter contempt the government holds its
citizens in. The government decided to ignore the public’s views on this issue and
literally fly over our heads.”
Canada’s nuclear industry says that’s not the case. Larry Shewchuck is a spokesperson
for Atomic Energy of Canada, Limited (AECL). AECL operates Canada’s nuclear power
plants. He says avoiding protestors was not the reason AECL used the helicopter.
“Quite frankly, AECL was just as happy to leave the shipment on the road. It was the
government of Canada that asked us to put it in the air because that’s what Canadians
were asking for. So, in the end, we did what the politicians wanted.”
Shewchuck says at public information stops this past fall, many people suggested if
the shipments were as safe as AECL and the Canadian government said they were, they
ought to fly them to the nuclear plant.
Protestors question whether a last minute switch from ground transportation to air was
a regulatory shell game to trick opponents of the plutonium shipments. Shewchuck says
the change was proper and followed the rules.
“The regulations in Canada did not have to be changed to accommodate air transport.
Air transport was made under existing Canadian regulations. Everything was done by the
book and nothing had to be changed.”
Environmental activists in the area don’t believe it. Cathy Brosemer says that flight
might have violated regulations and might be key in an effort to get an injunction.
“We believe that there have been some breaches in the way that this was handled and we
are going to try to get something to stop the test of the substance at the CANDU
reactors in Canton/Chalk River.”
The AECL plans to go ahead with tests of the plutonium mix fuel. Brosemer says the
environmentalists will also seek an injunction to stop future shipments. This spring,
Russian plutonium is scheduled to be shipped through the St. Lawrence Seaway, on
through the Great Lakes and finally to the Chalk River plant in Ontario.
The U.S. Department of Energy says there won’t be any more shipments from the States.
And official with the DOE spoke on the condition his name not be used. He says while
the United States is helping to pay for the disposal of plutonium from dismantled
Russian nuclear warheads, the U.S. has decided to use its plutonium in American
nuclear power plants.
The mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Verna Lawrence, doesn’t believe the Energy
Department. She says she and other people opposing the shipments have to be more
“We got to get somebody on the inside, I think. You know, that’s the only way we’re
going to – If you can’t lick ’em, trick ’em, you know. But we’ll figure out a way
because that’s just the first shipment. There’ll be many, many, many more.”
Officials in Canada and the U.S. say it’s ironic that the shipments are causing so
much controversy among some of the same people who opposed the nuclear arms race.
Canadian officials say the nuclear material as fuel is a safe and efficient way to
dispose of weapons-grade plutonium. If the mixed fuel works well in Canada’s nuclear
plants, regular shipments of plutonium from Russia’s dismantled warheads will travel
through the Great Lakes region for at least the next ten years.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.