FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Nuclear Dumb and Dumber

by JOHN LaFORGE

Kincardine, Ontario.

The thought “Dumb and Dumber” came to mind as I recorded the work of Canada’s Joint Review Panel Sept. 23 and 24, here in Ontario, on the east end of Lake Huron. The JRP is currently taking comments on a proposal to dump radioactive waste in a deep hole, 1mile from the shore of this magnificent inland sea.

What has to be called just plain dumb, is that the nuclear bomb industry branched out to build nuclear power reactors and, as E.F. Schumacher said, to “accumulate large amounts of highly toxic substances which nobody knows how to make safe and which remain an incalculable danger to the whole of creation for historical or even geological ages.” Unfortunately in the case of radioactive waste this has happened here, in Canada, etc.

Then, the giant Canadian utility Ontario Power Generation (OPG) proposes to bury its radioactive waste in a limestone dug-out, or “deep geologic repository,” one mile from the Great Lake Huron.

This must be considered “dumber”, but you’d be amazed at how much dumber it gets. Listening to the presentations of government regulators and utility propagandists for two long days normally puts reporters to sleep. But the staggering implausibility of some statements and the shockingly cavalier nature of others kept me blindingly awake.

The low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste that could be dumped in a 2,200-foot deep hole here — 200,000 cubic meters of it — contains long-lived, alpha radiation emitters like plutonium, the most toxic substance on Earth, which is dangerous for 240,000 years (10 half-lives).

Yet the reactor operator, Ontario Power Generation, had the nerve to say in a 2008 public handout: “[E]ven if the entire waste volume were to be dissolved into Lake Huron, the corresponding drinking water dose would be a factor of 100 below the regulatory criteria initially, and decreasing with time.”

This flabbergasting assertion prompted me to say to ask the oversight panel, “Why would the government dig a 1-billion-dollar waste repository, when it is safe to throw all the radiation into the lake?” The panel members must have considered my question rhetorical because they didn’t answer.

bruce

But it gets dumber.

There is much concern among Canadians over the fact that their government’s allowable limit for radioactive tritium in drinking water is 7,000 becquerels-per-liter. In the U.S., the EPA’s allowable limit is 740 bq/L — a standard almost ten times more strict. (A Becquerel is a single radioactive disintegration per second.) Tritium is the radioactive form of hydrogen, it can’t be filtered out of water, and it is both dumped and vented by operating nuclear reactors, and can leak from radioactive wastes in large amounts.

When the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission staff scientist at the hearing, Dr. Patsy Thompson, was asked why Canada’s allowable contamination was so much higher than the U.S.’s, Thompson said, “The U.S. limit is based on using wrong dose conversion factors from the 1970s that haven’t been corrected.”

This preposterous assertion went unchallenged (because of hearings rules that required questions to be reserved in advance), but it will certainly be contested by Canadian and U.S. who have all learned a lot about tritium hazards since the ‘70s.

Can you believe it got dumber still? Lothar Doehler, Manager of the Radiation Protection Service in the Occupational health and Safety Branch, Ministry of Labor, testified that “To ensure safety after a radiological accident, the labor ministry does monitoring of water, vegetables, soil and other foods.”

I rushed to reserve a question and said for the record, “When the Labor Ministry measures radiation releases in the environment during a radiological accident, those releases have already occurred and exposure to that radiation has already begun. Simply monitoring the extent of radiological contamination does not ‘ensure safety’ from that radiation in any sense. Measuring radiation merely quantifies the harm being done by exposure to what is measured. Does the ministry have the authority to order evacuations from contaminated areas, like in Fukushima? Or to order the replacement of contaminated water with safe water, like in Fukushima? Or to order the cessation of fishing or fish consumption in the event of their contamination, like at Fukushima?”

The Chair of the JRP, Dr. Stella Swanson answered that the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety was responsible for evacuation planning in the event of a disaster. For his part, Mr. Doehler added that he was responsible “… to see that radioactively contaminated food was safe to eat.”

Stupefied by Mr. Doehler’s “blunder,” I missed a direct follow-up question and had to hustle after the man in the parking lot during a break to ask, “Pardon me Mr. Doehler; You didn’t mean to say that eating radioactive contamination in food is safe did you?”

“Oh, no,” Mr. Doehler said, “I apologize if I left that impression” — as he handed me his card.

Now Mr. Doehler is a highly-paid, high-level professional government official and didn’t make a mistake as I’d assumed. He’s not dumb or dumber, but enjoys deliberately misstating the facts when he can get away with it and when it suits his interests — just as Dr. Patsy Thompson does.

No, the sad mistake here is that so many catastrophic government actions can move ahead toward approval because the general public is keeping too quiet, or “playing dumb.”

John LaForge works for Nukewatch, an environmental watchdog group in Wisconsin, and edits its Quarterly newsletter.

 

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
Kenneth Surin
The Neoliberal Stranglehold on the American Public University
Lawrence Davidson
Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?
Robert Fisk
The Foreign Correspondent in the Age of Twitter and Trump
Dale Bryan
“Where Do We Go from Here?”
David Swanson
The Deep State Wants to Deep Six Us
Dan Bacher
Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan
Mark Weisbrot
Obama Should Make Sure that Haitian Victims of UN-Caused Cholera are Compensated
Winslow Myers
The Light of the World
Bruce Mastron
My Latest Reason to Boycott the NFL: Guns
Weekend Edition
January 13, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Gregory Elich
Did the Russians Really Hack the DNC?
Jeffrey St. Clair
The President Who Wasn’t There: Barack Obama’s Legacy of Impotence
Anthony DiMaggio
Ethics Fiasco: Trump, Divestment and the Perversion of Executive Politics
Joshua Frank
Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers
Paul Street
Hit the Road, Barack: Some Farewell Reflections
Vijay Prashad
After Aleppo: the State of Syria
John Wight
Russia Must be Destroyed: John McCain and the Case of the Dodgy Dossier
Rob Urie
Meet the Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
The Russian Dossier Reminds Me of the Row Over Saddam’s WMDs
Eric Sommer
U.S.-China War: a Danger Hidden from the American People
Andrew Levine
Are Democrats Still the Lesser Evil?
Linda Pentz Gunter
What’s Really Behind the Indian Point Nuclear Deal?
Robert Fantina
Trucks, ‘Terror’ and Israel
Richard Moser
Universal Values are Revolutionary Values
Russell Mokhiber
Build the Bagdikian Wall: “Sponsored News” at the Washington Post
Yoav Litvin
Establishment Narcissism – The Democrats’ Game of Thrones
David Rosen
Return of the Repressed: Trump & the Revival of the Culture Wars
Robert Koehler
War Consciousness and the F-35
Rev. William Alberts
The New Smell of McCarthyism Demands Faith Leaders Speak Truth to Power
John Laforge
Federal Regulator Halts Move to Toughen Radiation Exposure Limits
Norman Pollack
Farewell Address: Nazification of Hope
David Swanson
Imagine the Confirmation Hearing for Secretary of Peace
CJ Hopkins
Why Ridiculous Official Propaganda Still Works
Ron Jacobs
Striking in Reagan Time
Missy Comley Beattie
The Streep
Graham Peebles
Climate Change: The Potential Impacts of Collective Inaction
Uri Avnery
Confessions of a Megalomaniac
Kenneth Worles
Black Without a Home: King’s Dream Still Deferred
Geoff Dutton
The Russian Patsy
Jill Richardson
The Coming War on Regulations
Jeremy Brecher
Resisting the Trump Agenda is Social Self-Defense
Peter Lee
Is Obama Behind the Hit on Trump?
Christopher Brauchli
Why Did Congress Do It? Because They Can
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail