Synthesis/Regeneration 11   (Fall 1996)

Oakville, Ontario: A Slow Execution

by Dan Silvester, Citizens Organized for Responsible Process

During the 1950's through the 1970's Oakville, Ontario had a quality of life few people ever witnessed, much less experienced. On the shores of Lake Ontario, this upscale community breathed relatively clean air, drank relatively clean water, and was quiet, friendly, wealthy and beautiful. Crime was practically unheard of and people wanted to live there. Oakville was perceived by many as being somewhat of an oasis from reality.

Oakville is but a shell of its former self. It is dying, a victim of corporate and political greed.

Today, in 1996, reality has struck and Oakville is but a shell of its former self. It is dying, a victim of corporate and political greed. Few people want to live there now and many people want to move away. The greed has given rise to a proliferation of environmentally toxic substances in the area's ecosystem, courtesy of petroleum refineries, cement companies businesses using radioisotopes and X-rays, and, now, the proposed opening of a radioactive waste facility. Such a project will almost certainly be the proverbial death knell for this community. Moreover, the whole undertaking is a virtual indictment of nuclear industry decision-making, conveniently aided and abetted by political-corporate collusion and opportunism.

Deception and Lack of Evidence

The Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB) and Canatom Radioactive Waste Services (a subsidiary of Canatom Inc and its parent companies, Monenco Agra and SNC Lavelin) have indicated that the proposed facility will handle and store "low-level waste" (LLW) only. Of course, we know that Canada, like the US, classifies its radioactive waste (unlike the Europeans) according to the source of the waste, not according to the radiotoxic levels of the waste. Ergo, LLW may be highly radiotoxic and, perhaps, even more so than that classified as actual "high-level waste" (HLW). In Canada, HLW consists exclusively of irradiated fuel rods (and possibly their assemblies, though this is less clear) from nuclear reactors. Preprocessed irradiated fuel, which could be transported to Canada, would also fall under the rubric of HLW. All other waste is necessarily LLW. The important point that needs to be made here is this: "low" does not necessarily mean low.

Such deception reflects pejoratively on the underlying values, philosophies and policies of the AECB, creators of this classification system, and goes directly to their credibility. Exacerbating this scenario is the "standard" lack of accountability accorded to such quasi-judicial bodies as the AECB, giving it sweeping powers on nuclear issues. The people of Oakville have now been witness to such powers and watched with horror as the AECB dismissed the over 3000 signatures (collected in less than a week ) as constituting "insignificant public opposition." As a result of this deliberation no environmental assessment was deemed warranted. The fact that the facility is to be located in a densely populated area of this town of 130,000 is, apparently, not a concern. The fact that a food processing facility is just across the wall from what will eventually be Canatom is also not a concern. Of course the fact that nobody knows exactly what concentration of what radionuclide at what distance and under what environmental conditions (including barriers) leads to what genetic damage and other untoward effects in humans, and over what time-frame, is also apparently of no concern.

Arguably no valid, reliable, long-term empirical data exists in the world today to shed further light on the health effects of ionizing radiation. The nuclear hierarchy, meanwhile, has no desire to fund research which will impact negatively on it. And all "data" currently available strongly suggests that there is no known safe level of radiation exposure. Profits and power continue to be more important than health and safety issues. Ergo, you can expect the current dearth of empirical data to also continue.

Licensing & the Medical/Hospital Facade

Once a license has been issued to an applicant like Canatom by the AECB, the AECB has no obligation whatsoever to inform the public of "certain" amendments having been made to the original license. Such amendments would invariably allow for handling and storage of previously unauthorized radioactive waste, to the exclusion of HLW. Whether such changes could also allow for "processing" of waste is not clear at this time. What is clear is that Canatom has no experience in the storage and handling of radioactive waste and Oakville has no desire to be used as a testing ground. With 186 "significant" incidents ("violations") having been recorded by the AECB during the 1994-95 fiscal year, Oakville has good reason to worry. Canatom cannot be expected to operate without incident.

The fact is, nobody knows how much of what kind of waste is going to be coming from where.

The AECB has actually gone on record as stating that most of the waste will be medical/hospital waste. The town now believes that, without this facility, treatment for cancer patients may have to be cut back. This is an attempt to hide behind the legacy of the unfortunate cancer patient and play the old "victim" role. Such comments as these are as shameful and spineless as those who articulated them. The fact is, nobody knows how much of what kind of waste is going to be coming from where. Estimates are that only 2-4% of all the radioactive waste generated comes from medical sources. Speculation is, the dictatorial Mike Harris government in Ontario is about to downsize numerous hospitals and close many others via Bill 26. Certainly, there is money to be made in the radioactive waste "business," but, not by focussing one's services on medical/hospital sources.

Liability Issues

The Nuclear Liability Act only provides insurance to the radioactive facilities themselves. Given the potential magnitude of a "major" nuclear accident, it's questionable as to whether the insurance coverage available is going to be sufficient to appropriately remediate the area, as well as compensate for any personal injuries incurred. As for "Emergency Response Preparedness" expect there to be no preparedness, opinions by the Oakville Fire Dept. notwithstanding. This has nothing to do with the individual firefighter. Rather, it's a statement about reality. You can't expect someone without experience to perform the job of someone with experience. Oakville has no such experience just as Canatom has no experience in operating such a facility.

Other concerns requiring attention include the following:

1. Given the long half-lives of some of the radionuclides, radiation dose may amount to more than simple "accumulation." Could there be a synergistic effect created?

2. Different sensitivities to radiation by different individuals may result in different effects.

3. The lack of a bona fide clinical study by the AECB on the effects of "low-level" ionizing radiation on the citizens of Deep River, Ontario-Canada's only authorized permanent disposal site - is more than curious. This community has been exposed to radioactive waste, spills, etc. for decades. This would have been a valuable use of the AECB's financial resources and would have yielded invaluable data. A comparable study on the similarly afflicted citizens of Port Hope, Ontario would also have been enlightening. Such empirical data would circumvent the need by the AECB to make use of "equations" which yield reliably faulty information. The tendency by the AECB to provide estimates, talk in generalities and simply "be vague" must be attenuated. We need more accurate, reliable data in order to make informed decisions, regardless of whether they are ignored by the AECB or not.

4. There is no guarantee that "compliance " reports submitted to the AECB by companies in the nuclear industry are accurate. These companies are self-monitored. No company is likely to risk losing its license by reporting all "accidents."

5. Canada's permissible background radiation levels (i.e.: 0.5 milliSieverts) continue to be higher than in the US and other countries despite several well-known studies that point toward the need to reduce those levels.

6. The carcinogenic effects of exposure to "low-level" ionizing radiation continue to be most prominent in fetuses, infants and young children. Still, the definition of "low" needs to be more accurately pinpointed.

7. Given Canada's unsatisfactory track record in safeguarding the public from nuclear health and safety concerns as well as being evasive (even silent) on specific queries sent to the AECB, is it any wonder why people have tremendous difficulty trusting what this body has to say. The AECB is its own worse enemy.

8. "Risk assessments" are based on statistics and probability and only serve to average or smooth out the risks involved, whatever they might be. They are little consolation for those unfortunate people who are adversely affected by a given nuclear accident, regardless of how small the number of people might be.

Finally, and completely undaunted, is a small group of local citizens called CORP (Citizens Organized for Responsible Process) who have retained legal counsel in order to fight the Canatom project. Their environmental lawyer is Ms. Theresa McClenaghan. Ms. McClenaghan's comprehensive legal opinion has been presented to CORP and is a unique legal strategy indeed. The cost is steep—some $15 to $20,000. However CORP believes that fighting this issue on behalf of our children is something that has to be done. Anyone reading this who has any ideas as to creative fundraising or who has technical information they wish to pass on to us is encouraged to contact us at 905-815-0207 (fax: 905-827-8417, e-mail:

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