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Mayor of Peterborough Diane Therrien, photographed in 2018. Photo by Berfin Aksoy.

Exclusive: Peterborough Mayor Diane Therrien Discusses Potential BWXT Canada Developments

Written by
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February 1, 2020
Exclusive: Peterborough Mayor Diane Therrien Discusses Potential BWXT Canada Developments
Mayor of Peterborough Diane Therrien, photographed in 2018. Photo by Berfin Aksoy.

Arthur: The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) says that BWXT is insured, and that the information about the insurance is “proprietary”. Do the people of Peterborough have a right to know beyond “proprietary?”

Diane Therrien: Certainly we are looking to both BWXT and the CNSC for transparency in providing as much information as possible; I certainly think that that’s important.

Arthur: They’ve said it is not possible to tell the community in Toronto and Peterborough anything other than they are insured, and that the information is proprietary. So they are not willing to demonstrate that they are properly insured?

DT: Again, federal legislation is sometimes difficult, and I think that that is unfortunate. I would prefer that we can see and have proof of that, but again, I think that the people in the community have serious concerns about it. And we can just keep asking to see that, and they can keep refusing if that is their legal right, but it is our legal right to keep asking.

Arthur: Public trust in the CNSC is at issue. Peterborough Shield Source Incorporated at the Peterborough airport was polluting tritium for 10 years, far beyond their license limits, and the CNSC continued licensing them. The CNSC is known as the poster-child for regulatory capture. Do you trust the CNSC when it comes to protecting public safety?

DT: I think that we can always push our public commissions to do better; governments and their quasi-judicial bodies have made mistakes for sure. I can’t say definitively whether or not I trust them or not. I think locally here what we are focused on is protecting our neighbourhoods, our environment, and our people; [and] conveying those concerns up through the federal government to the CNSC.

Arthur: In Toronto, the Medical Officer of Health said there are no expected health risks regarding the BWXT uranium pelleting factory. She told the Board of Health, “we have covered off that which is within the scope of our authority, and we are relying on our partners whose purview the regulation of this kind of facility falls.” What capacity does the Peterborough Medical Officer of Health have to make an independent determination free from the influence of industry and other governmental jurisdictions?

DT: Our Medical Officer of Health and our public health unit are going to be releasing a report on February 7 that pertains to this issue. I have full confidence in our Medical Officer of Health; she has demonstrated numerous times integrity, standing up for the community and standing up to outside forces. So I think that her and her team are fully able to provide that information.

Arthur: Currently, half of all nuclear fuel used in Canada arrives in Peterborough in pellets. It [then] goes on to nuclear reactors. Even if it is claimed that BWXT is safe in Peterborough, is it ethical to be manufacturing nuclear fuel that will become high-level spent fuel waste, which will be lethal to humanity for millions of years?

DT: I think that we are living in an age where we are trying to find sustainable ways to provide power to folks and to generate that kind of power. Whether or not it is ethical, I am not prepared to answer that. I think we need to be concerned with the safety and health of our people and environment, not just now, but in the future. So while nuclear [power] might not be the best form, while we have it and while it is still a part of our culture and community, we need to be monitoring it and trying to make sure that it is not doing any more damage.

Arthur: According to BWXT, their previous owner GE-Hitachi processed enriched uranium in Peterborough until the 1980s. In 2009, GE-Hitachi got a license amendment to produce low enriched uranium across the street from the Prince of Wales School, and they will not rule out the possibility of using enriched uranium in the future. Do the people of Peterborough deserve a guarantee from the company that they will rule out the use of enriched uranium in Peterborough?

DT: At the council meeting last night, there was a motion to send a letter to the CNSC expressing the concerns of the community around these issues. We know that GE has left a toxic legacy; we are of course concerned about BWXT potentially having a similar path. We have come a long way in terms of workers’ health and safety, and occupational health and safety since the 70s and 80s. But that said, whenever you are handling or working with hazardous materials, materials that have the ability to be harmful to not just people, but the environment and the health of the community in general, I think certainly that is a dangerous precedent.

Arthur: BWXT is involved in nuclear weapons manufacturing in the United States, and recently they were named in a class action lawsuit with contaminating a public school in Ohio with enriched uranium. What is your level of trust in BWXT?

DT: The regulations between the U.S. and Canada are quite different. Obviously I am not someone who is in favour of nuclear weaponry, or those kinds of high grade weaponry in general. I’ve talked to folks at BWXT [and] they have no, to my knowledge, no plans to do any manufacturing of weaponry. But certainly it is something we need to be having those on-going communications about. It is certainly something that we ought to be concerned about, and the community rightfully is concerned about that.

Arthur: Would you be okay living near BWXT if they brought the pelleting operation from Toronto to Peterborough?

DT: I do live in proximity to it, so you know I would certainly share a lot of the concerns of folks about any potential impact. But again, I do live in that neighbourhood and have for years. So it is unfortunate the situation that we are in, where these neighbourhoods built up around GE over the last century. [This] is why we have this big manufacturing plant in the middle of town, which isn’t always normal. I think again it is, you know, we work and put pressure on the CSNC and the company to work with us and to be transparent. To get that information and monitor what is coming out of the factory; if there are increases in Beryllium and Uranium, then certainly we have reason to be concerned.

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