The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) recently granted a ten-year licence renewal to BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada on Monaghan Road in downtown Peterborough-Nogojiwanong.
The decision to grant the licence is contentious because it allows BWXT to spew toxic radioactive uranium particles into the water and disperse them in the air across the street from Prince of Wales Elementary School.
BWXT is the new owner and operator of what was General Electric-Hitachi Canada, the nuclear operation of the General Electric factory known for poisoning generations of workers and families in addition to contaminating the Little Lake and Otonabee River system with numerous toxic chemicals.
The added pollution will come from relocating their current uranium pelleting factory from Toronto to Peterborough-Nogojiwanong.
Pelleting is the cooking of natural uranium fuel powder, at 1650 degrees centigrade, to form ceramic pellets that go into nuclear reactor fuel rods.
The factory will process over 150 tonnes of uranium per month to provide fuel for half of all nuclear energy produced in Canada.
The decision to allow nuclear fuel pellet production in the downtown core is being challenged in court by a local group called Citizens Against Radioactive Neighbourhoods (CARN) with the help of lawyers from the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA).
CARN alleges that the regulator unlawfully granted a ten-year licence to BWXT on the grounds that BWXT omitted details about the proposed operation’s physical design and environmental monitoring program which are required by the Nuclear Safety Control Act.
Although lawyers for CELA will ask the court to declare the licence to pellet unlawful, it is very unlikely that there is an Erin Brockovichesque moment in the cards because they are essentially arguing on a technicality.
That technicality will conceivably force BWXT to reveal potentially damaging information about their plans for the Peterborough-Nogojiwanong site that they would not like the public to know.
The information will include where they will be positioning the stacks that release uranium into the air.
In Toronto there are six stacks that release uranium into the air in all directions from the plant in a residential neighbourhood.
A detailed site and environmental monitoring plan would reveal if they are intending to release alpha-radiation emitting uranium particles in the direction of the Prince of Wales School or just on the rest of the downtown.
If required by the court, a detailed site plan may also reveal if BWXT is planning on moving the goal posts yet again to include working with highly radioactive enriched uranium to fuel a fleet of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMNRs) currently in development.
BWXT is a leader in developing SMNR technology in Canada backed by the federal government. In a January 2020 interview CARN representative Jane Scott said, “I am sure it is their plan to work with enriched uranium because Canada is investing a lot of money in small modular reactors which require enriched uranium.”
According to Scott, “we can see a lot of hits on our www.nopellets.ca website from places in the US where small modular reactor businesses are located, a company called NuScale wants to make small modular reactors in Canada and has partnerships with Ontario Power Generation, Bruce Power, and BWXT in the United States.”
Scott first got involved in the fight against BWXT (formerly General Electric-Hitachi Peterborough) in 2010 when Arthur broke a story on how the company had received permission in secret in 2009 to process enriched uranium without consulting the public.
BWXT has refused to rule out the possibility of working with enriched uranium.
In January 2020 I asked BWXT spokesperson Natalie Cutler the following question, “Can you guarantee local communities that you will never bring any enriched uranium on site in Toronto or Peterborough in the future?”
Cutler claimed “We have no plans to seek a change to our licence to allow us to process enriched uranium.”
For context, BWXT also claimed it had “no plans” to conduct pelleting in Peterborough-Nogojiwanong but were seeking the “flexibility” to conduct pelleting in Peterborough-Nogojiwanong “should the need arise.”
According to Kerrie Blaise, the lawyer representing CARN, BWXT denied multiple requests to share their business plan with the public.
Citing BWXT’s proximity to the Prince of Wales Elementary School, CARN media representative Bill Templeman suggests that if BWXT wanted to conduct pelleting outside of Peterborough on “unused land,” it wouldn’t be an issue.
According to Trent Alum, Shaelyn Wabegijig, who is Algonquin Timiskaming First Nation Caribou Clan, German and Irish, the notion of “unused” land is a colonial concept rooted in the concept of “terra nullius” (no one’s land) and the Doctrine of Discovery which was used as justification for the colonial dispossession of sovereign Indigenous Nations.
Wabegijig, who works as the Program and Outreach Coordinator at the Kawartha World Issues Centre (KWIC), says the members of CARN are “people who are speaking out and trying to protect our community from danger and disease.”
According to Wabegijig, the people living near the plant deserve “communication and transparency on their own terms to determine if they want this in their neighbourhood, and a stark majority say no.”
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